How should we do apologetics?

One can look at the ministries of Jesus in the Gospels, or read the sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts, and note the differing approaches they have to defending the faith. Certainly, apologetics is not a one-size-fits-all kind of discipline. There are a multitude of approaches to demonstrating the truthfulness of the Christian faith, whether it be through archaeological evidence, logical reasoning, or challenging someone’s presupposed beliefs. Whatever approach one might take, however, there is a unifying theme as we have these kinds of discussions, and that theme is found in a famous passage related to apologetics.

1 Peter 3:14-16 states, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but 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 a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (ESV)

The context of 1 Peter is one of a suffering people who are “elect exiles” (1 Pe. 1:1). They are God’s “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,” (1 Pe. 2:9), but they also exist as “sojourners and strangers” (1 Pe. 2:11). In chapter 3, Peter is exhorting his readers not to repay evil for evil, but to bless those who persecute them and persevere in their faith (1 Pe. 3:8-9). In so doing, they can stand — as can we — as a witness and testimony to Jesus Christ.

Hope is a contagious thing. Peter is anticipating that in this kind of environment, where people are skeptical and even hostile toward the Christian faith, questions will arise. When people see hope in a difficult environment, they tend to ask why it is present. Thus, Peter instructs his readers to do three things: honor Christ the Lord as holy, always be prepared to make a defense when asked about the hope that is in you, and make that defense with gentleness, respect, and a good conscience.

Each of these points deserves some attention, especially because we also deal with skepticism and hostility toward the Christian faith in our day.

Honor Christ

First, we are to honor Christ. The idea of this phrase is that we are to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts. We are to recognize that Jesus is worthy of adoration and obedience because he is Lord (the Old testament equivalent to “Yahweh,” the covenant name for God [cf. Ex. 3:13-15]). We thus recognize the uniqueness of Christ in his divinity and authority, and we do so from the heart. The heart is the origin of human behavior (cf. 1 Pe. 1:22; 3:4), and from it flows everything people do. As such, setting apart Christ as Lord in the heart is not something we do in our private lives, but publicly in such a way that it will be evident to all.

Make a defense

Second, we should always be prepared to make a defense when asked about the hope within us. The word “defense” is the Greek word apologia, from which we derive the term “apologetics.” Believers are to be ready constantly to respond to those who ask about their faith. This does not mean every believer on the planet will be a world-class apologist, able to dialogue about the latest scientific discoveries, cryptic philosophical arguments, or every skeptic’s question. It does mean, however, that every Christian should grasp the essentials of the faith, possess the ability to a certain extent to explain to others why they think the Christian faith is true, and articulate why they are filled with such hope.

Be gentle

Third, Christians should do this with gentleness, respect, and a good conscience. When having conversations like this it is easy to become overly emotional and begin to attack the person, instead of focusing on the questions. At times, our dialogue partners may even try to bait us so we lose our cool, but we must keep these terms in mind. We must be gentle in our truth-telling. Excessive volume is not needed, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). We are speaking to fellow image-bearers of God and, as such, we must show respect to them, even if they are disrespectful. If we do this, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can leave such conversations with a good conscience, knowing we have given a firm, biblical defense for the hope we have in Christ.

This passage spells out a clear pathway as we engage in these kinds of discussions. We may talk about any variety of questions, dealing with evil in the world, creation and evolution, the nature of humanity, and our purpose in life. Whatever the topic, we want the conversation to possess a certain demeanor that comes from hope-filled people living under the lordship of Christ, offering a defense of the Christian faith with gentleness and respect.


Published April 2, 2018