Always be prepared to make a defense
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord has 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” 1 Pet. 3:15 (ESV) I’ve had the privilege of teaching Introduction to Philosophy and Introduction to…
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord has 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” 1 Pet. 3:15 (ESV)
I’ve had the privilege of teaching Introduction to Philosophy and Introduction to Ethics this semester at Boyce College. So far we have spent a good part of our time discussing the “why” behind each course – why do we need to study philosophy, and why do we need to study ethics? One verse that I’ve found pertinent in answering both questions is 1 Peter 3:15.
When Peter wrote his first epistle (around the mid-60s), the young church had already experienced persecution for their faith at the hands of Jews. Some Christians in the Roman empire began experiencing persecution from the state at the hands of Nero. For the Jews, Christians falsely taught that Jesus Christ was the promised messiah. For the Romans, Christianity’s monotheism and absolute devotion to Jesus Christ directly opposed the nation’s polytheism and threatened the peace of Roman society. As Christianity grew, so did the reality of persecution at the hands of an unbelieving nation.
Peter’s first epistle was written to believers who had faced or were facing persecution. As such, Peter’s call to “always being prepared to make a defense” meant that believers had to be ready to answer objections to Christianity. When the Christians in Peter’s time were charged by the Roman state with atheism and ordered to recant their faith, they had to be ready to defend their hope in Christ despite threats of prison and torture. 1 Peter 3:15, then, meant that believers were to have already reflected upon the answer for their faith.
Know your opponent
Fast forward two millennia. Despite the change in prevalent attitudes in America toward Christianity, the church in the United States is blessed to be able to freely worship Jesus Christ without fear of persecution. So, how are believers in America (and Western culture in general) to understand 1 Peter 3:15? Implied in Peter’s command is the idea that for one make a defense, they must be aware of their opponent’s tactics. That is, there is an idea of anticipating objections to and questions against Christianity in order to have ready one’s defense.
Let’s take college football as an illustration—one that many of us (I am sure) will readily grasp. It has been well-documented the amount of time a football coach spends preparing for just one game. The day after a game is over, the coach and his assistants are busy watching game film of their upcoming opponent to detect the weaknesses, strengths, and general patterns in their game plan. For the coach to know how defend against their opponent and to “answer” with their own offensive attacks, he must study his opponent’s every move to increase his team’s chances in winning the game. Likewise, as believers in the 21st century, we must study our opponents in order to be able to “make a defense” for and advance the truth of Christianity.
Philosophy a handmaiden to theology
If we are to make a defense for our faith in an increasingly secular and naturalistic culture, then we need to understand what informs their faith and beliefs. Key tenets of the Christian faith address questions that are asked in some form in many other disciplines, but more so in philosophy. Here, then, is where a basic understanding of philosophy can be of service to our theology. For instance, the claim that there is absolute truth involves epistemological (the study of knowledge) and metaphysical (the study of the really real) claims. The Christian’s belief in the divinity and personhood of Jesus Christ involves not only metaphysical claims, but anthropological claims (philosophy of human nature), historical claims about Jesus (philosophy of history and epistemology), and testimonial claims (a form of epistemology). The exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation involves belief in the authority of Scripture as God’s Word (an espistemological and metaphysical claim) and one’s religious experience of the work of the Holy Spirit (philosophy of religion and epistemology).
Being prepared to make a defense for the reason of our faith also involves engaging the culture on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage (both of which involve, in part, anthropology, metaphysics, and ethics) and the relationship of church and state (which involves the philosophy of politics, philosophy of religion, and anthropology). In short, if we are to be an effective witness of Jesus Christ in a lost world, it behooves us to be familiar with the ideas that underlie competing philosophies and worldviews. Such familiarity will then help us to provide effective, penetrating answers for our faith in Jesus Christ.
C. S. Lewis once declared that “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” I believe Lewis has something here, but a more robust view of philosophy’s value for the believer is in order. Rightly viewed, philosophy—in the service of theology and under the authority of Scripture—can be a boon to Christians as they defend the faith in a secular culture that’s increasingly hostile to the claims of Christianity.
Peter’s call in 1 Peter 3:15 is just as relevant today as it was almost 2000 years ago. God has blessed us with a wealth of resources to understand the ideologies that stand against Christ and the gospel. May we “always be ready” to defend the faith, for the day will come, if it has not already, where you will have to give an answer for your faith.
J. Daniel McDonald, Ph.D., serves as adjunct professor of Christian Worldview and Apologetics at Boyce College.