Updated: May 15, 2020
You might be starting this post asking yourself, "what in the world is Christian apologetics?" There may also be some of you that say Christian apologetics are for those that love to study theology, philosophy, and form eloquent thoughts and ideas - but not for you. In this post today I'll both explain what Christian apologetics is and why I believe it is an important concept for all Christians to understand and practice correctly. This subject might feel hard, anxiety-ridden, or boring to you, but I promise there's beauty in this instruction found in 1 Peter 3.
During my time in the stay at home order, God has been refining my heart in certain areas of Biblical truth. He's grown in me a deeper love for His word and studying it. He's also humbled me in relation to how I both present and live out my Christian faith. Since I became a Christian, God has slowly and miraculously transformed my life. Through His sanctification in my heart and growth in my identity in Christ, He has truly made me new. For those of you who knew me before I was writing Christian blogs and posting scriptures on social media, you would probably wholly agree. I was anything but God-honoring in my ways, and it is only by His grace that I am still not still living in such a way. God has allowed opportunities for me to share my testimony with others in order to speak to the transformative work of Christ in my life. Although uncomfortable and far more vulnerable than I am inherently comfortable with, I was able to do it time and time again through His strength alone. While our stories are incredible tools for sharing the redemptive and transmuting work of Jesus, God has humbled me in both my desire and approach to sharing my faith in Christ. Insert the new and reformed view on Christian apologetics, defending the faith, and speaking to why I know Christ to be true.
If you're anything like I was, you might tense up at the idea of being a Christian apologist. Many believe being a Christian apologist means you are actively involved in deep theological discussions with those that believe differently than you. Apologetics has to many even become a separate sector for certain Christians that are trained in defending the Christian faith. Maybe to some of you, defending why you believe in Christ might make you clench your jaw in angst. I used to feel similarly. The thought of encountering a well-read and deep thinker that didn't believe in God and then also finding myself in a conversation with them in regards to my faith made me uneasy. Furthermore, when the words Christian apologetics is brought up, any number of us might picture any of the thousands of Youtube videos where a person behind a microphone goes up to strangers asking them if they believe in God. Again, if you're anything like me, some of these videos might make you cringe a little bit. While some of those doing this feel more argumentative than loving, there are some that do, do it in a way that is both grace and truth-filled (Preston Perry for example).
Naively, I would watch these videos and think that it was either too hard, too beyond my knowledge, or too uncomfortable for all involved in order for me to ever do - microphone and camera or not. I even spent a lot of time watching incredible minds like Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, and Nabeel Qureshi answer questions from people within both Christian and secular audiences, while thinking that was something I could and would never be able to engage in - regardless of how few or how many people were refuting my faith. Because of this, I continued to instead just enjoy watching others defend their faith eloquently and boldly, but I decided for myself that I would do nothing of the like it if that's what Christian apologetics was. I remained in this thought pattern until God opened my eyes to the truth of what 1 Peter 3:15-16 was saying. In this passage, Peter instructs Christians to,
"in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having good conscience so that, when you are slandered, those that revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
Always being prepared. That's a considerable instruction. "So, is that verse the definition then of Christian apologetics", you may be asking. Yes, if understood correctly. At first glance, if you read this scripture without both studying the context and the meaning behind each word and line, there is incredible opportunity to misunderstand and misapply what Peter is saying. Instead, if you unload the deep and beautiful instructions and allow for its fullness to embody how you live your life, it is wholly what Christian apologetics is. Let me explain. First, we will briefly start with what Christian apologetics is not.
It is not:
Arguing in order to be right
Trying to defeat someone in a debate
Attempting to assert your dominant intellect over any individual
Converting people to the Christian faith only in order to feel like you're winning
Attempting to dominate a conversation just to sound smart
Seeking out individuals that aren't asking any questions in order to argue for arguing sake
Putting you at the center of the discussion and not Christ
Trying to disprove every person you come in contact with, without first hearing, listening, and respecting what they have to say
I could keep going, but I think you get my point. Christian apologetics aim is and always should be as Ravi Zacharias says, "to defend the person of Jesus Christ and who He is... while not simply just answering ones question but to understand the heart of the questioner." So, how does Christian apologetics play out in the lives of those who follow Christ? Let's go back to 1 Peter 3 for that.
In this passage, Peter was writing to Christians at a time where expulsion and ill-treatment were rampant if you chose to speak of your faith. Christians at the time could lose everything even to the point of their life for trying to give an answer to defend Jesus. Peter ultimately is telling them that even if death meets them after the answer they give for their hope, they are to always give it; always be prepared to defend the risen Lord, Jesus. 1 Peter 3 is not simply just about defending the faith. Rather, Peter is giving many instructions to Christians on how to live their lives. All of the verses surrounding 15 & 16 are instructions on how to live a transformed and changed life - lives that then draw questions from others on why you now live in such a way. If you’re reading this and saying, “people don’t ask me any questions about my faith” we then, as Michael Ramsden points out in a lecture, need to ask ourselves a very hard and humbling question - “what do our lives actually look like then?” We need to both individually and corporately as the Church look at how we are living and being examples of Christ.
I don't write that to be condemning because I, myself, am right along with all of you in that boat sometimes. It truly is only by God's grace that I live a transformed life now. Maybe, though, you are aiming to live according to the instruction of God's word and maybe others around you have noticed the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22) that manifests through the work of Christ in your life. Praise God! Maybe you've had others notice the transformation of life and behaviors that Christ did in you, but you have shied away from their questions or comments out of fear or anxiety. I can imagine much of this derives from the thought of, "I don't even know enough scripture or information that points towards the truth of the gospel in order to defend what I believe." Similarly, others of you might feel as though you aren't intelligent enough to engage in any conversation about the Bible. I've been there, and I am still often there. Scripture is endless with revelations about God and the redemptive plan of Christ. It is living, applicable, and inerrant for all generations. Therefore, no one person will ever "master" all of what the Bible says or means this side of Heaven. You can breathe a sigh of relief in that. There's relief that comes from knowing that we have to rely fully on the work of the Holy Spirit in us always, but as I have said in other posts, it does not mean we let our Bibles collect dust and become idle in our desire to know more of God through His word. Since Peter was not talking to one certain group of theologically elite when he wrote this, this then means it is a spiritual command for all believers. As Michael Ramsden points out in the same lecture, we have to see that the entire spiritual command of defending our faith is not given to specialists, ones naturally interested in deep theology, or just those that call themselves Christian apologists. Rather, this is a general expectation that Peter gave to any member of the church that when asked about their faith, they are able to defend it. So, we'll start here.
Christian apologetics, or defending the person of Christ, is not about sharing more of us. That has to always be at the forefront of all that we do. The word of God (the Bible) is not about us. I am guilty of inserting myself as the star of any passage in the Bible, forgetting that it is Christ alone to whom all scripture points to. This is why, in 1 Peter 3:15 Peter says first "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy". We must first ensure that we are making Christ the Lord of our hearts. Furthermore, Peter says we are to honor him in our hearts as Lord as well. Any attempt at sharing the gospel or engaging in a defense of it that separates itself from this first instruction of Peter, will then primarily and almost inherently be centered around your desire to be right rather than your desire to share the hope you have in Christ. In order to understand Christian apologetics in practice for everyday life (not just those with a microphone or up on a stage being asked questions) let's dive into what each part of Peter's instruction means for all believers as a spiritual command in our lives.
In verse 15, it says to always be prepared to give an answer. I want you to consider any time you have prepared for something big in your life. This could be a musical performance, career, sporting event, or starting a family. When preparing for any of these things, I think it would be safe to guess you didn't just prepare for a season, but you continued to take the steps necessary to ensure you're always growing, evolving, and sharpening your skills. Preparation doesn't mean we are perfect in how we approach anything, but it does lend towards the idea of consistency and continuity. In this passage, when Peter says to always prepare, he is not meaning to prepare one time and then live your life based upon that preparation. Rather, he is instructing believers to always prepare - never stop preparing. Your life should be one of consistent preparation; always growing, learning, and seeking God's heart. What does this look like for Christians today? In a few posts prior, I discussed the commandment of loving the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and mind. God is faithful to sanctify and grow us as we seek Him, but it doesn't mean we prepare by idling waiting for Him to reveal all of the Bible to us. We should study His word, grow in Christian community, ask questions to wise teachers, and dive into the heart of God found both in prayer and the Bible. In this passage, Peter says be prepared to give an answer. The word answer or defense derives from the Greek word apologia. This word in Greek means to formal defense of a position. What Peter is telling the people at the time is the same that is being called of us today. Be prepared to defend the truth of our Risen Lord.
To recap, we are to first and always honor Christ as Lord in our hearts. As we do this, we are to then always be prepared to make a defense or answer to whom? Peter says to anyone that asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. The hope that is in you, as we know, is Christ Jesus. We have hope beyond this world because for those that are his, we can look towards God's kingdom being fulfilled and spending eternity with Him one day; eternity away from all pain and suffering while being in the presence of the Holy God. It's truly a beautiful thing. The word we are going to focus on here, though, is 'asks'. For anyone that has seen cringe-worthy videos or experienced in person or online people yelling at you about going to hell, I am sorry. When giving an answer for our faith, this is not the way Peter is instructing Christians to do it. Rather, in order to avoid “preaching” or just yelling at others, we have to interact with those that are asking the questions. These could be random people like in some apologetics videos online, but I would argue for most of us, these are people we are 'rubbing shoulders with'; people we do life with. This could be your physical neighbor, classmates, people you work with, friends, peers, family members, etc. These are people that you are in relationship with or are close enough to you, to see the transformative work of Christ in your life. People that see then and then ask questions or make comments because of it. It is a difficult balance between preaching in an unwarranted manner and engaging in someone's comments or questions in a grace-filled way. It's something, again, we have to always be guided by the Holy Spirit on. Do not lead on your own accord, wants, or desires but always by allowing Christ to be Lord in your hearts and lives be lead by the Holy Spirit to move through you.
We are in the weeds of all of this. I know it can feel like a lot, but I pray we each settle into this instruction from Peter as being a beautiful invitation from the Lord to speak to why we have hope in Jesus. In my next post, I'll discuss why we do have hope in Jesus for any of you that feel like you don't know or are even questioning currently yourselves. Before I get to that, though, I want us to understand how we are to conduct ourselves when we do aim to answer the questions or engage in conversation on the hope we have in Christ.
Peter ends these verses by guiding both those at the time and all of us on how we are to give an answer or defense for what we believe. He tells us, "yet do it with gentleness and respect, having good conscience so that, when you are slandered, those that revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." In a class I'm taking from Ravi Zacharias's Academy, Michael Ramsden explains what this means incredibly well. In the lecture he says, we need to respect the questioner and what they say at all times. We should interact with them in such a way that if they were to slander us, they would feel ashamed of it. Anytime we engage in conversation, we should be doing it with a clear conscience. This means we do not lie. If we don’t know answers to questions they ask, we say we don’t and ask if we can look into it and answer it for them. Then get back with them! As always, we interact in such a way that shows that it is Christ at work in us; remembering ultimately we do all of this because we want to see people’s lives changed in Christ. We have to always check our heart’s motive in any conversation we have, apologetics based or not.
You might be reading all of this and be thinking, "wow, that is a large undertaking." I want to drive this message home. It is through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we are to answer questions or comments that those around us have in regards to the hope we have in Christ. Please don't read this and feel empowered to shout at everyone about eternal damnation. We seek to love others well not for our good but to actually show them the hope we have in Christ is real. We love them well, interact with them in whatever way God allows us to, and defend our faith if the opportunity actually presents itself. We are to live our lives in preparation always to do this, even if we get only two opportunities to do so the entirety of our lives. We prepare not in a militaristic way but because we as Christians know fullness of life comes as a result of living changed lives in Christ. Whether we get to talk to thousands of people defending our faith or just a sibling, God is moving regardless. Ultimately, it is He who transforms hearts. We are all just invited into a beautiful opportunity to share, answer, and defend why we have hope beyond ourselves in the form of Christ the Savior of our lives.
Remember, we don't practice Christian apologetics because we are special, elite, or even wholly talented in all things defending the faith. We practice the instruction Peter gave us because it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Apart from abiding in Him, we can do nothing for His glory and our and others good. If you have the opportunity to discuss your faith with someone, always keep in the forefront of your mind that it is your job, like Ravi continually says, is to care just as much for the heart of the questioner as you do for the question being asked.