The Importance of 1 Peter 3:15-16 for Apologetics

The text of Scripture that most clearly teaches us about every believer’s responsibility to be involved in apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15-16. In this passage, every believer is commanded to be prepared to “give and answer,” lit. “make a defense” (Greek: apologia) for what he believes. This defense is made through appeal to a “reason,” (Greek: logos) or a logical, rational argument. And the content of the argument is the hope within us (essentially our belief in Christ’s resurrection and return). The rest of the passage proceeds to tell us how to do so: gently, with respect, and supported by a pure life and conscience.

Many believers find such an injunction daunting. Yet, this passage also contains the seeds of encouragement by what it does not command us to do. Greg Bahnsen summarizes the encouragement:

1. This text does not say that believers are supposed to take the initiative to start arrogant arguments with unbelievers, telling them we have all the answers. We do not have to go looking for a fight. Rather, we offer a reasonable defense in answer to those who ask for such from us, whether they do so as an opening challenge to the integrity of God’s Word or as the natural response to our evangelistic witness.

2. This text does not say that believers are responsible to persuade anybody who challenges or questions our faith. We can offer sound reasons to the unbeliever, but we cannot make him subjectively believe those reasons. We can refute the poor argumentation of the unbeliever, but still not persuade him. We can close the mouth of the critic, but only God can open the heart. Only God can regenerate a dead heart and give sight to the blind. This is why apologists should not evaluate their success or adjust their message on the basis of whether the unbeliever finally comes to agree with them or not.

3. This text does not say that defending the faith has a different ultimate authority than does the task of expounding the faith. It is a common  mistake to think that the Scriptures are an adequate basis for our theology, but inadequate or inappropriate for defending our faith. Believers are often misled into thinking that whatever they take as the ultimate standard in apologetic thinking must be neutral and agreed upon by believer and unbeliever alike; and from here they go on to make the second mistake of thinking that something like “reason” is such a commonly understood and accepted standard.

1 Peter 3:15 teaches us that the precondition of presenting a defense of the faith (apologetics) is the same as doing theology—setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts. It would be a mistake to think that Peter is speaking of the heart here as though it is our center of emotions over against the mind with which we think.

Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Covenant Media Press, 1996), 111-12.

These observations relieve much of my anxiety about sharing the gospel. The burden is not on me to convince anyone or convert anyone (although that is my desire). My responsibility is simply to prepare myself to answer those who ask me why I believe the gospel. God does the convicting, convincing and converting. I can’t persuade people, but I can prepare myself.

For those interested in getting started in the basics of preparation for apologetics, I recommend two books. Although there are many websites that contain helpful information, I have found these two books to be the best introduction:

Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Greg Bahnsen

and

The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith by K. Scott Oliphint

About Mark Farnham
Associate Professor and Coordinator of Pastoral and Pre-Seminary Majors at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church (apologeticsforthechurch.org). PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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