I was recently challenged as I thought about apologetics and was reading 1 Peter. I was reading chapter 3 where the famous verse 15 gives us the apologetic mandate.
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, (ESV)
At first blush, this seems to support the standard model of apologetics. Broadly defined, apologetics is the discipline of rationally defending the Christian faith. Typically this discipline is concerned with proving the veracity of the Bible, defending the reasonableness of the resurrection, and things of the like. However, as I read chapter 3, I began to wonder if this really lines up with what Peter is saying.

I asked a group of apologists "what is the reason for the hope we have?" The answer from the few who responded was basically "Jesus." I cannot help but agree... Jesus is the reason for the hope we have. So it got me thinking, when we do apologetics it is often wrapped up in defending a particular aspect of Christian faith. More than once an apologist has been told that their arguments only support theism in general, but not Christianity specifically.

Let us take a look at the whole context of the so-called apologetic mandate.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 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.For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (13-22, ESV)

The context of this passage is persecution. Peter is saying that when people persecute you because of the good work that you do in Christ, that you should be ready to explain to them why you have the hope you do. In the face of persecution, the hope that we have is that the punishment of the body is temporal and fleeting and that our bodies will ultimately be raised imperishable.

This scene, a person explaining that they have hope in their God in the face of immediate persecution and suffering, should remind us of three young Israelites who were standing up to an idolatrous king. Our apologia should look like theirs. When faced with persecution they did not give a long scientific explanation on how the universe could only have been created by YHWH, nor did they draft an ontological argument for the existence of a maximally great being. They didn't even seek to prove that the Law they were obeying was reliable. They simply looked the king in the eye and said "Our God will save us."

Now, I'm not saying that defending the Bible from critique, or proving the reasonableness of the Christian faith is bad. However, often times our apologia stops short of actually giving a reason for the hope we have. Simply put, our hope is not found in the Kalam Cosmological Argument or the latest archaeological find that proves that Samson existed. To put it in the words of one of my favorite hymns.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
Next time you find yourself giving a reason for the hope you have, don't stop short. Peter is not simply telling us to defend the faith, he is telling us to preach the Gospel. When someone persecutes you, preach the Gospel. When someone says that the Christian faith is irrational, preach the Gospel. When someone says that there are irreconcilable contradictions in the Bible, preach the Gospel.


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