For most of us, the thought of somebody asking us a question about our faith brings a strange mixture of excitement and terror. We are excited to be able to share with somebody the reason for our faith and hope in Christ but also terrified that they will raise a question we cannot answer. Being able to give a defense for our faith is an area that is known as apologetics. But what does it mean to be trained in the area of apologetics, and isn’t that just for pastors and theologians?
Imagine for a moment somebody who is trained in apologetics, and ask yourself what comes to mind. Is it somebody who owns a lot of books and is like a human encyclopedia? Is it somebody who can give you the rundown of the beliefs of every major religion or cult? Or, is it somebody who is simply a know it all, and frankly kind of a jerk? I would submit that these pictures of what an apologist is, actually inhibit many Christians who falsely believe they could never be smart enough to do apologetics. So, before you think you need to be well versed in creation arguments, philosophy, cults, archaeology, and textual criticism before you can give a defense for your faith, let’s think through what apologetics is in its most basic form. We will do so by looking at the flagship verse for the study of apologetics.
“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” – 1 Peter 3:15
Where We Begin Matters
The first and most important thing I want to point out from this verse is something that is often missing when you hear this verse quoted. It is important for us to first and foremost honor Jesus as Lord in our heart, and that he be set apart as holy and be reverenced in our life. What this means is that we recognize Christ as our source of truth and that he has all authority over our life, which includes the way we defend the faith. We are not to pretend neutrality with the unbeliever; because we believe God has ultimate authority and has spoken through his Word, which is God’s revelation to us of truth. Jeff Durbin put it well when speaking to Christians, he states, “Philosophically speaking, neutrality is a myth…the unbeliever’s not neutral and you’re not supposed to be.” Ultimately there is a difference between world-views taking place when an unbeliever and a Christian are having this type of discussion, and that needs to be kept in mind to know what we are supposed to be defending.
What Are We Defending?
The term apologetics comes from the Greek word we find in this passage which means, “make a defense.” But the question we need to be asking ourselves is, what exactly are we defending? If we don’t know what we are meant to defend, I would argue that we will never be able to effectively defend much of anything. What we need to see is that we are being asked to be prepared to make a defense for the hope we have in Christ as our Lord and Savior; not ultimately getting caught up in arguments merely about philosophy, archeology, and science. The primary thing we are meant to be giving a reasoned defense for is what it is we believe, and why we believe it. Do not hear me saying there is no benefit in having some knowledge in those other areas I mentioned earlier, but that is not primarily what is being asked of us in this verse. What is being required is a reasoned defense for the hope that is in you, which means that you have to know what it is you believe. So to break apologetics down to its most basic form is to say:
- Understanding what you believe
- Knowing why you believe it
- Being able to explain it to somebody in an understandable way
When I first heard apologetics broken down to these three simple categories, I cannot tell you how freeing it was for me. While it is helpful for me to verse myself in some other areas like creation or understanding the cults, it is not what I am primarily meant to be defending. What is primary is that I know what I believe, why I believe it, and be able to explain it clearly to somebody else to make a defense for the hope within me. The benefit of having this perspective is that you find yourself not getting bogged down by secondary issues. Instead of allowing the panic to set in that I don’t know enough about what every world religion believes, I primarily need to concern myself with what I believe and why I believe it. If you look throughout church history, you will see that people have long recognized the importance of having clarity on their beliefs. This is in large part why Confessions were written, and why Catechisms were developed to teach those Confessions in a question and answer format. In our day, many have written Systematic Theologies, or Doctrinal Statements in order to convey much of the same information, all of which are very helpful tools in helping us to have clarity on what we believe. These tools do not have the authority of God’s Word, but are a means to better understand what the Bible teaches about our faith; the authority they have is derived from Scripture itself.
Knowing What We Believe
In a post-Christian culture, it is perhaps even more vital than ever to know what we believe and why, because it is no longer common knowledge. All you have to do is listen to some of the unchurched people around you to discover that they have no idea what genuine Christians believe. As the church in our day begins to encounter more direct opposition from the culture, it will become increasingly important to have clarity on what we believe, not only for our own souls and spiritual health but in order to give a reasoned defense for the hope that is in us. Study the cults to be able to engage with them in a way that shows respect, research the archeological evidence for the exodus and the conquest of Canaan, and look into the evidence for a biblical flood in the geological record; all those things are helpful when we engage people about our faith. But remember, they are not primary, and what you ultimately need to know is what you believe, so when you give somebody an answer to their question about the archeological evidence for the fall of Jericho, you can get them to what is most important, which is sharing the gospel.
“I am convinced that there is an urgent need in the church today for much greater understanding of Christian doctrine, or systematic theology. Not only pastors and teachers need to understand theology in greater depth – the whole church does as well.”
– Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg. 18
How well do you know what you believe so that you can share your faith with others? Where is an area you need to invest some time in study?