By Bob Stewart, Professor of Theology and Philsophy
[img_assist|nid=7594|title=Bob Stewart|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=66]Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:13-16)
The foundation for apologetics
1. The foundation for any truly Christian apologetic is Jesus Christ as Lord; sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (3:15). When Peter says to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, he does not mean to make him Lord only in our feelings. In his culture, the term “heart” meant the center of who a person was. If Jesus is the most important thing in your life, then you will have an answer. I will defend my wife and kids – even if doing so puts me at risk – because I love them.
Peter assumes that if Christ is Lord in our hearts, then we will defend our faith. Peter has told them over and over to live humbly and be non-confrontational – but he never tells them to abandon their convictions. Your degree of effectiveness in evangelism, missions, and apologetics will be determined in large part by the degree to which you are committed to Christ.
To be effective as an apologist other ingredients must also be present, such as biblical and theological knowledge, winsomeness, an awareness and sensitivity to culture, the ability to reason well and speak clearly. Commitment to Christ is a primary ingredient for an apologist.
The time for apologetics
Peter says we should always be ready to give an answer. This implies preparation. For instance, I never cease to be amazed at how few Christians – even seminary students – can properly state the doctrine of trinity – much less defend it.
But the Trinity is a central Christian doctrine – it tells us who God is. The most important thing you can do to be an effective apologist is not learn philosophy – although that’s a very good thing to do. The best thing you can do is be a sound biblical systematic theologian. Know how to express doctrine clearly and support it biblically. But before you can defend the truth you have to know the truth. To defend the truth at all times, the truth must be internalized. When people say, “I know what I believe but I can’t express it,” they generally don’t know what they believe. This doesn’t mean that you never take time to prepare specifically for a particular apologetic encounter, or set a time to meet with someone, or that you never pray about a person prior to stating your case, or that you have all the answers to all questions immediately available to use upon demand. There will be times when you have to study a particular question in order to formulate a credible response. But all Christians are to be prepared to defend their faith at all times.
The range of apologetics
We are to make a case for faith to anyone and everyone who asks. Let’s be honest, witnessing in Vacation Bible School is easier to talking to an atheist professor, or a Jehovah’s Witness, a Mormon, or a Muslim. But Jesus died for every person and it’s our job to share the Gospel with all sorts of people. It’s possible to understand “make a defense to everyone who asks” to mean that apologetics is purely a responsive endeavor – that we never take the initiative. The Greek word used in this passage, apologia, commonly referred to a courtroom-type defense. It means “make a case” for your belief, not simply to share only if asked to do so.
The mode of apologetics
How do we make this defense? How we do things is as important as what we do. Peter tells us that we are to make our case with gentleness and reverence.
Gentle doesn’t mean wimpy!
We must have conviction and passion as we state our position. But it’s possible to be brutal in apologetics. I remember well an encounter with some young Mormon missionaries when I was in my 20s. I fancied myself quite an evangelist to Mormons – even though I had never led a Mormon to faith in the genuine Jesus Christ at that time. My wife and I welcomed them into our home, whereupon I peppered them with difficult questions about some of their more obscure beliefs.
Many of my questions were appropriate but the obvious joy I took in their inability to provide convincing answers to my questions was not honoring to Christ. Shortly after they had entered our home a torrential rainstorm began. I was therefore quite stunned when they announced that they were leaving – at the height of the storm. Initially I thought that I had “defeated” them.
Later I came to realize that my attitude was one in which it was preferable to be out in a North Texas thunderstorm on a bicycle than indoors with me. This way of sharing the truth was not what Peter had in mind when he said to share with gentleness and reverence. We must never forget that we are trying to win people – not merely to win arguments. A bad delivery can derail a good argument.
Two apologetic principles immediately come to mind. One: You will never win anyone that you don’t love! Two: You will never win anyone who doesn’t know that you love them!
Not only does our attitude matter, our method does as well. Different people process information in different ways. This point was made crystal clear to me several years ago in our annual faculty workshop kicking off the academic year.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Rick Yount, a specialist in adult education, shared with our faculty about different kinds of learners.
He shared with us that broadly speaking there were three kinds of learners: thinkers, feelers, and doers. People in these groups characteristically learn in very different ways. To make this abundantly clear to us he concluded by designating three different parts of the room and asking those who thought they were thinkers to go to section one, those who felt like they were feelers to go to section two, and those who had determined that they were doers to go to section three. We then counted the people in each group and found that we were divided into groups that were roughly equal in number.
The significance of this is that people tend to teach others using the methods by which they prefer to be taught. If our faculty is representative of the general population, and if we only communicate the Gospel – and defend the Gospel – in the manner which we relate to most readily, then we normally present our case in a way that is not the best way for most people. We not only need to know the right things to communicate but also the right way to communicate the right things to different individuals.
This doesn’t mean that truth is relative – it means that people learn the truth in different ways. Truth is objective but communication and persuasion are person-relative. The fact that people learn in different ways means that our apologetic has to be holistic in nature.
We need to speak the truth in such a way that it addresses all the needs of the human heart – and that it speaks to all sorts of personalities.
Our apologetic must address rational, relational, aesthetic, and existential concerns.
Robert B. Stewart Ph.D. is associate professor of Philosophy and Theology, and chair of the Greer-Heard Chair of Faith and Culture, at NOBTS.