David and I have just come back from a week of philosophy and apologetics conference sessions. There was no shortage of the oft-quoted, passion-instilling, lock-yourself-in-a-room-to-read-Plantinga inducing slogan for apologetics that is 1 Peter 3:15—“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I’ve seen and heard this phrase quoted more times than I can count. It has essentially become the Great Commission for Apologetics.
The exhortation is simple: Christians need to be ready to defend what they believe. This verse provides the biblical charge for Christians to engage in apologetics. But this is not all that we are commanded to do in 1 Peter 3:15. The beginning portion of the passage is rarely, if ever, quoted as a charge to those engaging in apologetics. Yet it provides the foundation for apologetics! Without it, apologetics is utterly useless.
Here is the entire passage, in context:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
The first thing we are commanded to do is to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts. This is the foundation for our apologetic. To “set apart” Christ as Lord means to acknowledge that he holds the reins in every area of our lives. We ought to dedicate and consecrate our hearts for God, making Jesus the Lord of our desires, motives, inadequacies—all of who we are. This makes our apologetic more than a mere intellectual exercise; it’s an opportunity to defend the hope we have within us.
We must first have this hope before we defend it. If Christ is not the foundation of our lives from which our apologetic can spring forth and produce fruit, then it is done in vain. All the long hours of study avail nothing if they are not built upon the foundation of who Christ is and what he has done in our lives.
Defending the faith cannot simply be an intellectual pursuit for the faithful apologist; it must be an earnest endeavor to make Christ, the hope of glory, known to those around us. Our defense should stem from the lordship of Christ, who is our hope. Because God has made us “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), we can build our apologetic on this very hope. This is the hope we need to express, articulate, and defend to those who ask us. This hope should drive our apologetic.
And because Christ is Lord in our lives, we can fulfill the end of the passage, as well: “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.” That part essentially speaks for itself. No senseless quarreling. No name calling. No outbursts of rage. We must present ourselves and our arguments with gentleness and respect, always seeking to truly understand opposing positions and being charitable in our responses.
To sum it up, the Great Commission for Apologetics gives us three commands:
1. Set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.
2. Be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope within you.
3. Do this with gentleness and respect.
The next time you feel the urge to quote 1 Peter 3:15, it might be helpful to share the whole passage. Then let the late nights studying Plantinga commence.