“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” (2Peter 3:15)
If you are teaching a class on apologetics, it’s almost a necessity that you begin the class with this verse. If you don’t begin the class with this verse, you at least have to address it very early on in the course as you build a biblical foundation for apologetics.
This notion seems to be driven by our belief that our role as Christians in this world is to convince people that God exists and that Christianity is the way to know God and that the best way to do that is through rational argument.
In practice, the practice of apologetics works from the assumption that humanity is dumb more than it is sinful. If we can just get people to think rightly about things then we can get them to believe in Jesus. It is the work of the apologist to argue well with people who don’t see the world the way we do and this (we claim) is what Peter first called us to do.
Two problems. One, it doesn’t work that well.
Two, we’ve proof texted this passage to death. Christian apologetics as it is practiced today is more accurately called Christian polemics; it’s an aggressive attack on differing views of reality through the use rational arguments and it’s practiced by going to the streets, the debate halls, and the classrooms in order to argue with anyone that doesn’t agree with our Christian worldview.
We often treat 1 Peter 3:15 as a standalone verse but the greek doesn’t allow us to read this verse this way. This verse begins with a coordinating conjunction and connects it to what directly precedes it which reads; “even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed.” (1 Peter 3:14). Without this part of the sentence verse 15 doesn’t necessarily make sense. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we are to be prepared to make an apologia. Apologia is the act of making a defense, but apologia is not the first action. Apologia wouldn’t be defense if it was the first thing we did, if it were our first action then it would be considered an ‘attack’.
Peter begins by saying that ‘even if you should suffer’. He’s not guaranteeing that there will be suffering, but if there were suffering it would come because of our righteous living not because we are arguing with people and definitely not because we are seeking out those who disagree us in order to argue them into the Kingdom.
The church today doesn’t have an intellectual problem, it has an ethical problem. We’ve worked really hard to make sure that our faith sounds intellectually tenable and now we’ve got great weapons to defend the faith but nobody cares because they see the way we live and aren’t compelled to ask about the ‘hope that is in us’ because we seem to live just like everyone else. The only difference between our ethics and theirs is that they don’t seem to feel nearly as guilty and shameful as we do.
Righteousness is the reason for apologetics. Love is the reason for apologetics. Submitting ourselves to others is the reason for apologetics. Voluntarily disadvantaging ourselves so that the disadvantaged would be lifted up is the reason for apologetics.
Without righteousness, we have no need to defend the faith. Throughout 1st Peter we are called to spend our lives loving God and Loving neighbor as ourselves and when we do this, there is a possibility that we will be persecuted for it, and when that happens (if it happens) we are to be prepared to give a defense for the Hope that is in us.
Tim Keller tells the story of a TV Exec and one of his direct reports. The story sounds something like this:
There was a young woman who failed to do something at her job that caused the company to incur a huge financial loss. The exec knew that if the responsibility were placed at the feet of the woman, then she would be fired. He also knew that if he took responsibility for the problem, it would cause him to blemish his reputation and he would take a hit but it would not cost him his job. So the exec claimed responsibility for the issue and the girl kept her job.
Well the woman knew he did this and she kept coming to him and asking ‘why?’ Why did you do this for me? For a long time he kept saying; “It’s no big deal, I could take the hit but you couldn’t.” That answer didn’t satisfy the woman so she persisted. Finally, the executive, who was a Christian, said; “I’m a Christian and I believe in a God who took the hit for me. He put himself in my place so that I could be considered righteous like Him. My faith calls me to lay my life down for another, and that’s why I did this for you.”
The woman is now a Christian and she is the one who told Keller the story. This executive acted with righteousness, and was called to give a defense. Francis Schaeffer speaks of this practice as the untried apologetic. It is a righteousness that is compelled by love.
This is what we are called to, and it’s made possible because of the one who goes before us; “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,”
Receive from the one who suffered for your sins so that you might come to God and be reconciled in order to go and lay your life down for the sake of others. Amen.