by Rob Lundberg
Not too long ago there was a running thread on my Facebook wall about being dumbfounded about why Christians see apologetics as an unnecessary discipline in the Christian life and witness. That posting created what I call “blog fodder” which is now prompting me write this post after about a week of study, and research. So what I would like to present here is a biblical understanding of apologetics from 1 Peter 3:15 and how it relates to contemporary evangelism.
This posting is going to address the definition of apologetics rooting it firmly as a spiritual discipline indispensable to and indivisible from evangelism in a post-Christian America.
This is going to be a two part presentation, where in the second part, I am going to bring in how we are to engage in apologetics.
Someone once said that “The trouble with most theologians is that they go down deeper, stay down longer and come up murkier than anyone else I know.” Apologetics is not about injecting a dose of confusion into the Christian gospel to try and make it sound more profound. Apologetics is about communicating the profundity of the gospel so that it removes the confusion surrounding it.
Apologetics, in its primary sense, is really about evangelism. The word apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia”, which literally means a reasoned or rational defense.
Paul uses the word to describe his own ministry. In Philippians 1:7, he states that he is “appointed for the defense and confirmation of the Gospel.”
In 1 Peter a command is given that we should “always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) for the reason for the hope” that we have. For both Apostles, Peter and Paul, they are clearly thinking of evangelism in these contexts. If we look at the context (the setting) in which this letter is penned, we can see first that,
1 Peter is a Letter to the Persecuted Church
“But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…” 1 Peter 3:15-16
This passionate letter is to the wider church, which is suffering under persecution under Roman rule under the Caesars. The readers are exhorted to lead holy and obedient lives, which is an endeavor made possible because of the new birth that has occurred in their lives through the living word of God (1 Peter 1:17-24). Every “chapter” contains practical instruction as to how we should live and the attitude we should adopt when confronted with a question about our faith. In the midst of all of this instruction, there comes a very clear command – “be prepared” to give an apologetic for the hope that you have. What then can we learn from this brief text about apologetics?
1. The Lordship of Christ: the term “heart” does not just refer this muscle in our chest cavity pushing blood throughout our body. This is often a confusion by preachers invoking the need for “inviting Jesus into our hearts.” Again this does not mean that we are inviting Him into our “physiological ticker.”
What it does say, in this context, refers to the seat of our emotions and our reasoning (vis-a-vis our thoughts). Every part of us needs to be under the authority of Christ (Romans 12:1, 2).
2. James tells us that the double-minded man (1:8). This is someone who is trying to look in two different directions. He is caught between two opinions and has not made a commitment either way. In contrast. The one who asks in faith is stable, and his prayers for wisdom are effective. He has been persuaded by the Holy Spirit, and has put his trust into that which is truthful, the gospel message.
3. We should speak from the context of holiness. Our attitude, our actions. and how we treat other people is vitally important. In fact the entire context of verse 1 Peter 3:8-17 reflects this attitude. Even when we are faced with persecution, evil is not to be repaid with evil. The reason for the persecution is not because Christians are not obeying God’s commands – it is because they are obeying His commands. First Peter 3:15 is saying that because our lives and attitudes are different, due to living in obedience to God’s commands, people will ask questions as to why we believe and behave the way we do; and we should therefore be prepared to give a response to those questions. In other words, there should actually be a demand for an apologetic because of the quality of our lives.
4. The letter of 1 Peter is addressed to the church. Despite the fact that there folks who are trained in apologetics, the command to give an apologetic in 1 Peter is NOT directed to a handful of carefully, academically well-trained, and philosophically minded specialists. The command to give an apologetic is one that is directed to every single member of the body of Christ. No one who is a Christian can excuse themselves from this command.
Now when we talk about evangelism, let me clarify what is meant by evangelism. There is a difference between the process of evangelism and the gift of the evangelist. Many Christians will avoid doing evangelism because they say “they don’t have the gift.” What’s the difference?
An evangelist is someone who has the gift of precipitating a decision in someone’s life concerning their standing before Christ. Not everyone has this gift. But as Christians, we are ALL to be involved in the process of evangelism (e.g. asking someone to church). It is precisely in that process that apologetics plays a role. It is not a question of whether we engage in apologetics or not, but what kind of apologetic we give when the opportunity comes by.
5. We need to be prepared. With the paradigm shifts in culture providing increasing complexity and diversity of the choices we face in life, coupled with a rapidly changing post-modern/post-Christian society, means that the easiest course is to run away. However, the Christian is called to an engagement with the world, and not to retreat from it.
The word translated “prepared” or “always being ready” has its root in the idea of being physically fit. Opportunities to share our faith should not be lost because we haven’t taken the time to think through what and why we believe and be trained or prepared in how we should respond. We need to “stop thinking like children,” being like infants in regard to evil, while being like adults in our thinking (1 Corinthians 14:20).
6. We must give answer for the reason for the hope that we have. Peter is quite clear: believing that Christ died so that we might be saved is not a superstition. Instead there is a reason for the hope that we have – there is a logic behind the Gospel – there are reasons that can be communicated and explained concerning the atonement. We must be ready to give an explanation, a defense, of why the Gospel is true and why we have committed our lives to Christ.
7. With the Lordship of Christ in our own lives as the starting point for giving an apologetic, any apologia must therefore lead to or flow from the cross. Since apologetics is the handmaiden to evangelism, it should be a (super)natural goal for us to point people to the cross and resurrection provide their hope. It is also the cross and the resurrection that gives us no other reason for our confidence.
However, at the same time we must recognize that there are some people who may no intention on believing what we believe because of some other “legitimate” questions that need to be dealt with before they are prepared to give us a hearing. Popular views of evangelism need to shift and understand that before Scripture can be shared, we should, not should, we NEED to deal with these issues so that we can clear away false ideas (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). By doing this we can give clear picture of who Jesus Christ is and that He can be seen for who he is.
8. Our attitude is of utmost importance. The Gospel is to be shared with “gentleness and respect.” The message we share is a message that is brought to be one of grace and peace. The gospel is not to be compromised in any way. But the way we present it must be consistent with its content.
Our confidence rests in the reality of the relationship we enjoy with Christ, the change He has brought into our lives and the truthfulness of His claims. Our confidence is not in a system of thought. It is in the person of Christ. That is why the Apostle Paul says, “I know whom I have believed,” and not what I have believed.
Like the Apostle Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17:32-34, there will be some who believe; there will be those who will continue to mock; and there will be those who will continue to watch our consistency and come back with more questions. So it is also not just our attitude, but also how we carry ourselves in the public square before an unbelieving world.
This is why we are also told that we should keep a clear conscience as we talk to others. We are not called on to pretend we know something when we don’t. Nor are we boasting of how great our own minds are, as if we had figured out everything by ourselves. With humility, fear of God and honesty, we testify to the truth and reality of the Gospel message, that Christ is still alive.
The Gospel promises to change lives. It is no surprise that people expect to see lives changed before they are willing to investigate the God who can change their lives. If our attitude indicate that Christ makes no difference as to how we live or how we treat others, we immediately undermine its credibility. Ultimately, our goal is not win arguments, but to see people come to know Christ.
 There is no separation of the heart and the mind as the mind is also a facet of the soul. The soul is the seat of the emotions where the heart lies. We have to make sure that we communicate this correctly! The best passage to see this is in Mark 2:6, 8: “But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts. . . 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, *said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?