“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”(1 Peter 3:15b NIV)
I am doing my daily Bible readings in the book of 1 Peter these days and I came across the above verse again. It is a verse that is often used as the basis for Christian apologetics. Often, apologetics is understood as giving the rational reasons why we believe in the Christian faith. But it struck be once again that the verse is contained in a passage that talks about Christians suffering for doing good. An onlooking world wonders why on earth followers of Jesus choose to live like that, and in response to their queries we give an answer. Here is the passage in full:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13–17 NIV)
The context for 1 Peter 3:15 is a people of God committed to obeying God and willing to suffer for doing so if need be. That is the foundation of Christian apologetics, not just clever ideas. As Dean Flemming points out:
. . . Peter sees the experience of undeserved suffering as something quite “normal” when God’s people engage the world. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself under fire, Peter admonishes, “as though something strange were happening to you” (1Pet 3:12). As Leonard Goppelt explains, “Conflict arose because Christians living in institutions were always conducting themselves on the basis of other motives, and according to other criteria, and therefore always differently than their non-Christian partners expected.” (Dean Flemming, Recovering the Full Mission of God [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013], 220 )
We note that Peter is not speaking to a special group of Christian apologists. He is speaking to believers in general. And when we have to engage the world, he calls us to speak with gentleness and respect, clear about what we believe but surely not to take part in any “who is cleverer” contest that may lead to an arrogance that may turn off the very people we are trying to reach.
There is a place for verbal witness of course. We are told to give an answer for the reasons for our faith. But again Dean Flemming is helpful when he reminds us:
Christians must always be prepared to give a “defense” (apologia) to those who demand a “reason” (logos) for their hope. This “apology” is probably not a formal defense, as might take place in a courtroom. Rather, “Peter sees his readers as being ‘on trial’ every day as they live for Christ in a pagan society.” What is clear is that the church’s witness in this passage is responsive, not proactive. It is triggered when an unbeliever asks a question that demands an explanation. (Dean Flemming, Recovering The Full Mission of God, 225.)
I am not arguing that Christians shouldn’t initiate evangelistic conversations, but it seems that the power of the gospel is first seen in the changed lives of those who have been transformed by that gospel. I often say that the best evangelism happens when our lives provoke the question for which Christ is the answer (something I adapted from Lesslie Newbigin).
I see a church that is often not interested in apologetics or one that defines apologetics purely as a contest of ideas. More than ever we need to take apologetics seriously, but it begins with the hard work of disciple making, helping all believers mature in their faith.
I remember once, a long time ago, when I was an undergraduate, a good friend who was not a follower of Christ asked me why I didn’t have many girlfriends and sleep around. He was perplexed because he thought I could do it but saw that I chose not to. With some degree of awkwardness I explained my reasons based on my biblical convictions. He seemed to accept what I said. I wonder why I don’t get such exchanges more often. Am I fitting too neatly into the world?