The Christian Apologist
Do you have visions of being on a stage under the heat of a spotlight, defending the faith against an angry atheist? Or speaking up in a classroom full of your peers against an outspoken Biology tutor? It is possible that for the vast majority, the idea of being a Christian apologist makes us anxious. Regardless, Peter tells us that we are all called to do it (1 Pe. 3:15). All Christians are, at the very least, 'required to give an answer, or make an apology, for the hope that is within us.'
So why do we find it so daunting? Is it possible that you have a skewed perception of what apologetics is? Do you equate apologetics with the big stage, an audience, a microphone and a camera? Be comforted; this is not everyday apologetics. This is not Biblical apologetics.
First, let's consider why we assume it is. I'm convinced that the advent of popular apologists with their YouTube channels has much to do with it. Who hasn't watched Lee Strobel and Ravi Zacharias? Or for the higher brow, Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig? We admire them for the command they have of their subject and the fluency with which they construct their argument. Without a doubt, this plays a vital role and is within the remit of biblical apologetics. But if it were left only to these dear believers to 'do' apologetics, not much ground would be covered. Few would be giving an answer for their resident hope.
It might surprise you to learn that when Peter wrote about apologetics, he did not have YouTube debates in mind. It has been pointed out on this blog before that the greek word apologia actually means the exact opposite to what the English equivalent means today. Instead of making an excuse, it actually means exlpain the reason. Let's look at what he says;
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you. (1 Pet. 3:15)
The Sanctified Life
The first step in doing apologetics is sanctifying the Lord God in your heart, or living in step with the Bible. The ESV puts it like this;
but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy.
The heart speaks of the inner person, and in the context, it refers to the sphere of our influence. Notice the connection between the start and finish of the verse: in your hearts–the hope that is in you. The two amount to the same thing. The believer who is honouring God in his heart shows there is a hope within him, even in the midst of persecution. What is on the inside always reflects on the outside. This is why our outward appearance is important. Step 1 is to ensure that we are living a God honouring life.
The Ready Explanation
Next, Peter states that we should be ready, or prepared, to give an explanation. But what for? For the cause of the hope that is within us. He is anticipating that the believer's God honouring life will be noticed, and questions raised as to the cause of their hope, even in extreme circumstances. In this case, a believer is required–the verb is a command–to give a response to the question.
What would you answer? 'Well, I've analysed the fossil records, and I'm convinced that they prove a Biblical flood.' Or, 'this hope comes from the fact that evolution has never been able to explain where consciousness comes from, so instead, I believe the Bible.' No!
Instead, you could answer with Samuel O'Malley Clough's words;
I have a Saviour, He’s pleading in glory, A dear loving Saviour, though earth-friends be few; And now He is watching in tenderness o’er me, But oh, that my Saviour were your Saviour too!
Notice the difference between these two approaches. Approach one requires that you have done your scientific research, and can articulate it. It focuses on evidence and an intellectual response. But the gospel 'argument' is not won in the head; it is won in the heart. The issue is not a matter of evidence, it's a matter of volition. Man does not want to believe in God, and so, no amount of discussion about logic or evidence will suffice. Man's mind is warped by sin so that he cannot think in a logical manner about spiritual matters. I'm not calling for a ban on all discussion of evidence; it can be very useful. But our primary goal is to communicate the gospel.
Recently I heard a popular apologist speak at a public lecture near my home. I listened with interest to his persuasive arguments. He focused only on classical and logical arguments for the existence of God. Afterwards, there was a time for written questions from the audience. One of the questioners asked the man to tell what he should do if the debate had convinced him of the bankruptcy of atheism. His response staggered me: 'Whatever, you like! I'm not here to prescribe. You have to go where the evidence leads.'
Likely he delighted the atheists present with his open, scientific, unbiased approach. But God has not called us to be free from bias. He has called us to unabashedly give whoever cares to ask, a reason for the hope that is obvious within us. In other words, preach the gospel; give your testimony. All can do that. All must do that.