While pastors generally understand apologetics, we often misunderstand the apologist.
According to the Scriptures, apologetics is not a discipline so much as it is a calling for everyone who professes Jesus as Lord. In this sense, all believers are apologists. 1 Peter is a classic place to find this definition.
In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter begins with the word but, which is a reaction to what he has said in chapters one and two. In chapter 1, Peter encourages believers of their salvation in Christ (1 Peter 1:10-11). However, Peter also describes believers as “scattered” (1 Peter 1:1), using the word exiles to describe their place in the world. The idea is that believers should not expect to be at home in culture.
There is tension here. If we are not careful, believers can focus on our homelessness in the world at the expense of our residence in Christ. This can fundamentally impact how the believer pursues apologetics. Peter’s point, however, is that a believer cannot understand exile apart from salvation. He tells the early Christians their identity is not found in their circumstances but in their salvation.
The contextual foundation of “apologetics,” therefore, isn’t the believer’s scatteredness in the world, but his or her rootedness in Christ. This theme is extended and emphasized in chapter 2 and serves as the background for what it means to “make a defense” of the faith in chapter 3.
Like modern-day believers, first-century believers were tempted to lose hope in their salvation as they lived as exiles in a foreign land. Peter’s apologetical response to this is to encourage believers to sanctify “Jesus as Lord” in their hearts and, from that understanding, defend the faith.
Apologetics, therefore, is less about trying to do apologetics and more about being an apologist. Apologetics isn’t about working “toward” engagement so much as it is working “from” being engaged. Believers don’t need to “stay engaged” with apologetics so much as apologetics stays engaged with the believer; apologetics is an inherent part of the Christian’s identity in Christ.
Another way of saying this is that apologetics is less like an engagement and more like a marriage. And, when you’re married, you don’t worry about “staying married” so much as you work from the blessing of being married.
Peter expresses this in 1 Peter 3:9, wherein he says believers were blessed to be a blessing. God’s salvation in Christ blesses us so we might display that salvation in our defense.
While it’s true that all believers are apologists, pastors have a unique calling from the Lord. Primarily, this is because the pastor’s vocation is “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Therefore, staying engaged in apologetics means administering the Word.
Exodus 3 provides an illustration of this. In the story, God commissions Moses from the unburning bush to deliver God’s people from Egyptian enslavement, a place of exile. God tells Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt … Certainly I will be with you” (Exodus 3:10,12).
Once God commissioned Moses, he didn’t need to work to stay engaged to defend the faith. Instead, he worked from God’s supernatural commission. The same is true for the pastor who, not unlike Moses, is called by God to defend the hope of Christ in him.
Like Peter’s address to the early Christians, pastors can understand our modern congregants as living in exile. The pastor-apologist must dispense the Word faithfully in his preaching, counseling, discipleship, and evangelism. When God sent Moses to Egypt, God promised Moses would have God’s words. The same is true for pastors today. Therefore, remaining rooted in the Word is the primary way for the pastor-apologist to stay engaged in apologetics.
This is critical. Statistics show that the average American spends 1,029 minutes weekly on social media. The pastor has about 30 minutes and a Bible.
Congregants ask questions about abortion, marriage, gender, and political elections. The pastor-apologist must show the relevancy of the Word in a skeptical world.
Pastors can stay engaged in apologetics by knowing they are apologists by virtue of their salvation in Christ. And, from this place, they can express the hope in them as they develop and deliver God’s Word each week, sanctifying Jesus as Lord over all creation.
Published February 6, 2023