Apologetics 101: The Biblical Approach
By Robie Day
When I started this series of posts, my intent was to help other Christians provide a basic defense for their faith, something that many faithful Christians are simply unable to do. I began by providing the basic definition of apologetics (Greek apologia), and more importantly, Christian apologetics. Last week, my second post sought to explain the biblical warrant for defending our faith by providing key passages of Scripture and biblical examples of apologetics. However, before we continue to examine the different perspectives and methodologies of apologetics, I feel that it is necessary to take the time to re-examine a verse that I cited in last week’s post. In that post, I mentioned that one of the strongest verses of Scripture that supports the need for Christians to be able to defend their faith is 1 Peter 3:15, which states, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV). My focus last week was on our need to be prepared to defend our faith to those who ask for the reason we believe. However, before anyone begins to prepare to engage others in such discussions, it is important that they have an understanding of the biblical approach for doing so.
In 1 Peter 3:15, just before giving his instruction to be prepared to give a reasoned defense for the hope that is in us, Peter tells us that the purpose for doing so is to “honor” Christ. The point of engaging others in discussions of worldview and apologetics is not, and never should be, about our own desire to win an argument. And, the point is certainly not to embarrass or belittle those we are engaging. Peter makes it expressly clear that providing such a defense is to “honor Christ the Lord as holy.” He then clarifies by explaining how this is accomplished. The end of the verse goes on to explain that in order to honor Christ with our defense, we must do so “with gentleness and respect.” It is all too easy for such discussions to turn into hostile debates in which tempers allow the discussion to escalate into a brutal exchange that does very little, if anything at all, to honor Christ. This type of exchange will only push those we are engaging further from the Christian faith. Peter teaches that these exchanges must be done with a gentle disposition and with respect for those we are engaging. Just like in every other aspect of our lives, when we do apologetics, the love of Christ should be seen in us. Paul provides an excellent example of just such an approach when he preached to the Athenians in Acts 17. He did not come to the Areopagus immediately condemning them for their many pagan idols and idol worship. He began his address by saying, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (vv. 22-23 ESV). He does not start his address by immediately condemning their religious beliefs, but by identifying a common ground with which he can make his case, demonstrating that very gentleness and respect that Peter instructs us to use in 1 Peter 3:15. Of all the ideas, concepts, and methodologies that we address as Christian apologists, we must always remember that our purpose for engaging others is not for the glory of winning the argument, but for the purpose of honoring Christ.