3 ways the gospel changes apologetics
We defend the gospel with gospel-changed hearts.
First Peter 3:15 serves as the clarion call for Christians to be ready to give an answer for their faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian Standard Bible captures the urgency in Peter’s exhortation when it states: “be ready at any time” to give an answer. Believers of all ages must expect to face situations where their faith is challenged or questioned. Further, believers are to think through what they believe, and why they believe it.
Christians in the 21st century—particularly in the West— have gladly taken up Peter’s call in 1 Peter 3:15 to be ready to give an answer for their faith. We are blessed with a wealth of apologetic resources to aid in understanding the various charges brought against Christianity and in answering these charges. Believers have at their disposal numerous books, websites, conferences, videos—you name it—such that Christians today are well-equipped to proclaim and defend the Gospel.
While Christians have understandably emphasized Peter’s call to action in verse 15, not enough attention is given to the manner in which we are to carry out our defense of the Christian faith. Note the entirety of Peter’s exhortation:
But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Taken in isolation, Peter’s exhortation to be ready to give an answer seem to give warrant to various manners in which to do apologetics. Today, the general sense of some apologists is that giving an answer becomes more about winning arguments and demolishing ideas antithetical to the gospel. Granted, Paul states in 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 that we are to demolish everything raised against the truth of God and to take captive every thought in obedience to Christ. However, the manner in which we do apologetics is not left to our own discretion.
How we conduct our apologetics is just as important as our obedience to defend the faith.
“In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy.”
Peter’s exhortation to defend the faith occurs within his larger discussion of how believers are to conduct themselves. Specific to the passage in question, Peter addresses the believer’s conduct in the midst of suffering. Though believers may suffer for their faith, they shall not fear. Instead, they are to regard Christ as holy. That is, they are to remember for whom they live and act, and to whom they are accountable. Believers do not live for the approval of man; rather, they live as holy unto the Lord.
Likewise, believers in the 21st century do not do apologetics for the applause of man or to win an argument. These should not be what believers aim for. Rather, we are accountable to the Lord for how we act toward others—even enemies of Christianity—and for whom we act. We are accountable to the Lord for how and why we do our apologetics.
“Yet do this with gentleness and respect”
There is a growing trend in apologetic literature that calls for a change in how Christians do apologetics. The Enlightenment focus on rationality as led modern Christian apologetics to emphasize argumentation at the expense of more existential challenges to Christianity. When the apologist focuses primarily on presenting the right arguments, they address only the intellect and fail to address the unbeliever in their humanity.
There is a grain of truth in the current challenges brought against modern apologetics—somehow, we have become more about addressing ideas as opposed to the very person to whom the ideas belong. As such, apologetics becomes more about warfare than engagement, and the unbeliever becomes an object of attack than a person in need of a Savior. As a guard against such an approach, Peter exhorts believers to defend the faith “with gentleness and respect.”
Gentleness and respect does not refer to a sort of George McFly attitude; rather, the attitude Peter describes contrasts with the fool in Proverbs. For instance, in Proverbs 12:15, the fool always assumes he is right. According to Proverbs 18:2, the fool cares not about understanding, but only with stating their opinion. Finally, the fool is quick-tempered and easily agitated (Prov. 12:16-18). The fool is not concerned about proclaim and defending the truth; rather, the fool cares only about being heard at the expense of others.
Contrary to the fool, the Christian is a lover of wisdom (God’s truth). Our conduct, according to James 3:13, is to “show that [our] works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom” (CSB). No longer is the believer concerned about pushing their own agenda. Instead, the believer seeks to align their life according to God’s will and Word. Zeal for winning an argument (i.e. the fool) is transformed to a passion for seeing the lost respond in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Apologetics becomes less about mere argumentation and more about listening and patiently giving answers (see Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in John 4).
Further, Paul notes in Romans 11:20 that believers are not to be conceited in their faith; rather, we are to walk in fear, or respect. Christians are to remember who they are before God—sinners saved by grace—and that prior to their faith in Christ, they were once like the sinner. Our salvation in Christ, then, is not an occasion to boast; rather, our salvation in Christ ought to lead to humility before God and humankind. This humility ought to be manifested in our apologetics.
“…keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame”
Finally, when we are active in giving an answer for our faith, Peter encourages us to act such that we have a clear conscience. Paul speaks to this issue as well in Hebrews 13:18: “Pray for us, for we are convinced that we have a clear conscience, wanting to conduct ourselves honorably in everything.” Walking uprightly before God entails that we walk uprightly before others.
But, what does this look like in apologetics? In another post, I addressed the propensity for some Christians to rant about the culture as opposed to engage it with the truth of the gospel. When one merely rants, they do little by way of defending the gospel and more about broadcasting their opinions.
Doing apologetics with a clear conscience, on the other hand, avoids ranting, ad hominem attacks, straw man fallacies, contentious arguing, and self-promotion. Instead, the apologist is to defend the gospel in such a way as to magnify Christ and the truth of his Word. The apologist is secondary to the truth of the gospel. As such, the matter becomes less about the emphasizing certain arguments and methods (though these are important) and more about reflecting the image of Christ through word and deed.
Go, do it
There is no better time than now for every believer to be active in and prepared for giving an answer for their faith. God has blessed us with a wealth of resources such that everyone can be aware of the challenges and the responses to Christianity’s challenges. Let us not forget, however, that Peter’s call to action carries with it great responsibility for the believer. We are ambassadors for Christ, not cultural warriors exacting scorched-earth warfare nor apologetic experts peddling our wares in the marketplace of ideas. May we do well in defending the faith in “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”
Paul’s words to the church in Colossae aptly elaborate upon Peter’s call to apologetics:
Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)