The purpose of this series of articles is to present a simple, Biblical apologetic method for the average layperson who may think it is only the role of scholars. In our last article, we looked at the biblical definition and foundation of Christian apologetics. We saw that there is no neutrality and that even the unbeliever has their own worldview that is in opposition to Christ. Their fundamental problem is not a lack of knowledge, but rather that they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It is this suppression of truth that is the problem and which we seek to expose as Christian apologists.
In this article, we’ll start to look at what the content of our apologetic should be.
“...always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15b)
It should not be lost on us that the text calls us to ‘always be ready to give a defence.’ This clearly implies preparation.
We don’t wait until we’re in a situation where we must give an answer and then we try to scramble together some sort of answer in our own strength and cleverness. Rather, this passage is talking about living your life in such a way that you are ‘always prepared.’
I. Preparation: Bible Study
This may sound daunting to many of you. Does this mean that I have to read stacks of books as thick as law textbooks, watch apologetics lectures and get a Ph.D. in world religions? Well, no. You may do those things if you’d like to, and they may be very beneficial - however, when we understand what God’s word says to us, we realize that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3)
This verse is speaking about the knowledge of Christ. Colossians 2:3 says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So, if we want all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we need to know Christ more. And we learn about Christ through His Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Every good work includes giving a reasoned defence for our hope. Therefore, God’s Word is sufficient to equip us for the task to which it calls us. So, the way that we prepare ourselves is by studying God’s word.
Let me ask you this:
Do you think that God would call you to a task that He has not also given you what you need to prepare you?
So, what does preparing yourself for the task of apologetics look like primarily? Well, it looks a lot like being a Christian who is intentional about growing in their faith! It’s about learning to love and know Jesus more through His Word. This is a lot more doable for the working businessman trying to manage home and work life, or the busy mom trying to manage all her responsibilities and caring for children since this is just basic to Christianity. We all should be putting a high priority to knowing, understanding and applying God’s Word to every area of our lives.
This shows us that all of our growth in knowing Christ actually serves to help us to be “prepared to give an answer for the hope in us” because we are getting to know that hope more deeply. As we spend time in Bible study, small groups, listening to sermons, reading books, serving together and living in community, we’re learning to love that hope, express that hope, and live out that hope more passionately in our lives. One of the most important things we can do to be prepared is to learn how to apply God’s word to our own hearts first, to answer our own areas of unbelief and doubt. Because we face similar struggles to that of unbelievers also and as we learn to apply God’s word to our own lives, we can lead others to do likewise.
So, when you face problems in your own life or doubts how do you use God's word to respond to them? Can you? Do you have the word hidden in your heart - memorized - so that when situations come up it's ready? Or are you so unfamiliar with your bible that you couldn't even find Nahum if your life depended on it? If not, how then do we expect to be able to apply God's word to an unbeliever’s questions and doubts? Basic biblical literacy is a non-negotiable and fundamental starting point.
But how is it that studying God’s word prepares us to answer questions from atheists, Muslims, Mormons, etc? Because whether they believe it or not, they still live in God’s world, and His word is objectively true. It is not just true for me, or true for you, but it is ultimately true and therefore answers all people with the truth necessary for them to come to saving knowledge of the Gospel. We’ll come back to some examples of this at the end. However, this simple truth should revolutionize the way you approach studying God’s Word. Not only are you gleaning insights and knowledge for your own life, but also you are equipping yourself to use the word (the sword) to cut down false philosophies and ideologies that you may have inadvertently believed in. Thus, it becomes a training ground for sharing that with others also.
Why is it that we act schizophrenic when we approach apologetics to unbelievers? In the church, we believe wholeheartedly that God’s Word is the solution for all of our most pressing problems - it pierces through our souls, showing us our sin and need for God, it is alive and active, empowered by the very Spirit of God! Yet somehow, when we leave the church, we act as if there is something else, some other source of power to convert the soul and battle unbelief. Is anything more powerful than God’s Word? It’s God’s word that created all things! God’s word is not confined. It is powerful, inside and outside of the walls of the church (cf. Heb. 4:12; Rom. 10:17; Isa. 55:11; 2 Tim. 2:9). And its truth is not contingent on the approval of unbelieving men.
Remember our definition from the start of this series, “apologetics is knowing what we believe and why we believe it, and being able to communicate that to others effectively.”
II. Preparation: Prayer
Perhaps you still feel unfit for the task of defending the faith, or you’re like, ‘man, I struggle with even reading the Bible daily or understanding what I just read and you expect me to defend it to unbelievers?’ Good. Welcome to the club.
We sometimes look to ‘giants of the faith’ like the apostle Paul giving a defence of the faith before the Greek philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17 and think, “I could never do that!” Yet, the ‘great apostle’ Paul himself when considering the Gospel he is tasked to proclaim asks, “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16b) He answers his own question in 2 Cor. 3:4-6 that our sufficiency is from God. It is the Spirit that makes us sufficient for the task, for we are only “jars of clay“, having no power of ourselves, but having the treasure of the Gospel inside of us to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:7)
God chooses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame the strong and wise of this world. (v.26-28) Why? Because since the Fall, that’s all He’s got to work with! We’re all fallen and weak. But aren’t you glad that God’s requirement for using you is not that you be a scholar or strong in yourself - but rather that you just be a weak thing submitting yourself to be an instrument in His mighty hands? This is so that no one can boast in themselves (v.29), but rather our boast is in the Lord! (v.31) Sometimes we can tend to think that apologetics is the job of the famous, noted and scholarly “giants” of the faith. Yet these verses remind us that God’s choice is often of the weak things. Are you weak? Then God can use you, and He does!
You must understand that the Gospel will always be foolishness and a stumbling block to those who do not believe (1 Cor. 1:23) but to us who believe, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (v.24) This wisdom of the Gospel is not discerned or accepted by the natural man. This means that the person apart from the work of the Spirit illuminating His truth in their life - it is ‘folly’ to him, and he CAN NOT understand it because it is spiritually discerned. (v.14) What we are desiring to see done in an unbeliever’s life is nothing short of a supernatural work of God. No amount of scholarship or clever argumentation can do that. We’re speaking to spiritually dead and deaf people when we engage with unbelievers. But fret not! Jesus Christ didn’t come to make bad men good, he came to make dead men live.
We must feel the weight of this - that the natural man is not only unwilling (due to his rebellion) but also unable to accept the truth (because these truths are spiritually discerned). Therefore, we need to be prayerful. Because we’re asking for God to do what none of us can do in our own strength.
If you want to be a good apologist - you’ve got to be a prayer warrior! No apologist is greater than his/her prayer life.
So, how burdened are you with the people who you’re engaging with? How much does that express itself in passionate prayer crying out to the Lord for their soul? How much do you feel your own insufficiency to take a person dead in sins, blinded to the truth and deaf to the message of the Gospel and to make them alive? Only God raises the dead.
Before we continue on, I don’t want it to be lost on you… just in case you’re still thinking this apologetics thing is so complicated, in this series I just told you that the way to prepare yourself for apologetics (the task of defending the faith) is to live sold out for Jesus, study your Bible and pray. Yep. That’s it. Basic Christianity - but are we doing it?
Apologetics is essentially about doing the basics and doing them well. Everything else we will cover in this workshop is just expanding on these core principles.
PEOPLE ASKING YOU
The second thing this passage implies is that people are asking you for reasons for your hope. This assumes that you are living your Christian faith out in such a way that it stands out and people are compelled to ask - why are you different? This connects directly with our previous point from the first article about living holy lives sold out for Christ.
This is a point which we cannot pass over too quickly. Ask yourself, “when last has someone asked me about the hope in me?” When was the last time that someone observed my walk with Christ and it so baffled them that they just had to ask me?
Too often, many ambitious and eager young men see apologetics as just another excuse to go pick an argument with people to prove them wrong. That’s not apologetics - that’s arrogance! Wrong A-word. Our text clearly implies that Peter expects that people should be asking you about the hope in you. Therefore, while there is a place for offering a critique of false beliefs when we see them, apologetics is primarily responsive in nature, not argumentative and offensive. (For further study on this point, see Ephesians 5:1-2 & 7-11 & 15-16)
4 TYPES OF QUESTIONS TO THE FAITH
When we consider the questions that people ask us about our faith, there are four popular challenges we must face today. Christianity is:
Weird - What you believe is strange or odd
Untrue - What you believe is false
Irrelevant - What you believe is not important or applicable to my life
Harmful - What you believe is evil or hurtful
Now, these aren't an exhaustive list of challenges, but in a large part, apologetics is the application of God’s Word to these 4 major challenges. How we respond to people challenging our beliefs will depend on what challenges they bring. For example, when an unbeliever may think that Christian beliefs are harmful, we may respond by living out a life of sacrificial deeds of love and service towards them because of what we believe - showing them in our deeds and our words that Christianity is actually not harmful, but rather God’s design for true joy and human flourishing. Or they may think it's weird - in which case we bring them into contact with Christians who show them what real love looks like and help explain why we do some things that are strange to them.
I hope you’re seeing that actually when we Biblically consider the vision of apologetics that the Bible gives us, it is very much about the everyday faithfulness of Christians who love God, love His Word, and love others. As we noted in the first article, a life lived fully sold out to Christ is one of the most powerful components of a Christian’s apologetic. So, ask yourself:
WHO is asking me (is my life bearing witness?) and WHAT are they asking me (weird, untrue, irrelevant, harmful)?
THE HOPE IN YOU
Why is it that the Bible is the foundation for our apologetic? Because what we are called to give a defence for is “the hope that is in you”, then what is that hope? It is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). The hope is the Gospel! Not your testimony. Not clever arguments, proofs and scientific data (though they may be helpful as supplemental resources).
This brings us back to what we noted at the beginning - that apologetics is not an end in itself. Our goal should not be just to give people some good arguments for a generic god, or some probability that a god exists, or a bunch of facts and evidence and thereby make them a deist believing in some vague notion of a higher power and yet still lost in their sins. Deists still go to Hell. As we saw in Romans 1, the problem is not a lack of evidence - all creation screams that God exists (Psalm 19:1-3)!
If our problem were a lack of information, God would have sent a scholar… but our problem is a lack of righteousness, that’s why He sent a Saviour.
This is why the only solution is the Gospel. This is why Paul even says explicitly that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16a) Only the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Sometimes we put our trust in evidence and clever arguments, but that’s not where the power is! And though God may use various evidence and arguments in calling a person to faith, it is the Gospel that is the power. This is why the end goal of apologetics is to get to the Gospel.
John Frame puts it this way:
“apologetics is also the application of Scripture to unbelief. The unregenerate heart desires a god that it can handle with a revelation that it finds palatable. The Christian defender is not free to water down the faith to suit the tastes of rebels. The unbeliever may be without excuse with regard to God's existence and moral requirements (Rom. 1:18-32), but the apologist is likewise without excuse with regard to the truth that he or she must uphold and defend.” (John Frame)
Conversion is not just simply ‘accepting Jesus into your heart’ - it is actually an overthrowing of a person’s entire worldview, expelling any other thing that exalts itself over the One True God and putting Christ at His rightful place as the uncontested Lord of their life. The Gospel is not just “come have a relationship with Jesus”, for everyone already has a relationship with him, either as Judge or Saviour. The Gospel is a call to repent and believe in Christ’s work to change that relationship from enemy to friend.
As Biblical apologists, we point people to Christ and call them to repent and believe. We are constantly showing people how foolish and dangerous it is to trust in anything but Christ. At the bottom, the Biblical apologist is an evangelist. We must not separate apologetics from evangelism.
Evangelism is more than merely convincing people of the rightness of Christianity or getting them to walk an aisle and pray a prayer. Evangelism is about making disciples— calling people away from the kingdom of man and into the kingdom of God. This kind of transfer of allegiance is at the heart of expository apologetics. (Voddie Baucham)
Cornelius Van Til put it this way:
"The [Christian apologist] does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its non-acceptance by the natural man… [Apologetics] is valuable to the precise extent that it presses the truth upon the attention of the natural man. The natural man must be blasted out of his hideouts, his caves, his last lurking places." (Cornelius Van Til, "Christian Apologetics," 4.2)
The sinner still in rebellion against his Creator wants to suppress the truth because it exposes them to the judgement of God which they desperately want to avoid. So they will hide under every possible objection and seek cover under the lies which they have exchanged the truth for. We may use evidence, arguments and proofs, but at every point, the sinner will try to avoid the truth or simply divert to another topic. What we do then is call the sinner to account for the truth we’ve already presented and show them their suppression of that truth - their unwillingness to deal with the truth and not dismiss it or distract from it.
Apologetics is essentially exposing the unbeliever's suppression so that they are put face to face with the core of their problem - unrighteousness.
Only then can the Gospel be seen as truly beautiful. Only when you’ve diagnosed this fatal disease of unrighteousness before a Holy God can the cure of the Gospel be loved and accepted.
OBJECTION: You cannot use the Bible to prove the Bible
I know this objection is probably on the minds of many of you now. Isn’t it circular reasoning to use the Bible to prove the Bible?
However, what many don’t realize is that we all use circular reasoning at some point. There’s a difference between vicious circularity (it’s true just because it’s true) and virtuous circularity (appealing to an ultimate standard).
“Every philosophy must use its own standards in proving its conclusions; otherwise, it is simply inconsistent. Those who believe that human reason is the ultimate authority (rationalists) must presuppose the authority of reason in their arguments for rationalism. Those who believe in the ultimacy of sense-experience must presuppose it in arguing for their philosophy (empiricism). And skepticism must be skeptical of their own skepticism (a fact that is, of course, the Achilles heel of skepticism). The point is that when one is arguing for an ultimate criterion, whether Scripture, the Qur'an, human reason, sensation, or whatever, one must use criteria compatible with that conclusion. If that is circularity, then everybody is guilty of circularity.” (John Frame)
This goes back to what we talked about earlier there’s no such thing as a neutral person. Don’t buy into the myth. They have their standards which they presuppose. Don’t put down yours and try to fight from their ground which has no foundation. If the Bible is the ultimate standard, then by very definition, an ultimate standard cannot point to something else to prove its legitimacy because then that other thing would be more ultimate than it! Every true standard rests on the Bible.
Put down your sword!
Perhaps it is best to illustrate this with an example. I got this story from Voddie Baucham’s book Expository Apologetics.
Imagine that two people meet on the field of battle, and the one is wielding an incredibly powerful and sharp sword in his hand, and the other comes empty-handed. But the second person calls out to the one with the sword, “I don’t believe in swords.” Now, the person with the sword could do one of two things. He could put his sword down and explain to his opponent the science of metallurgy, he could show him how sharp the blade is, he could point to the history of warfare and how swords are deadly, and he could examine the evidence for his swordsmith who made the sword… Or, he could just strike his opponent with the sword. Either he’ll start believing in swords really quickly, or he shall perish.
We believe that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10: 17). As a result, like a warrior whose opponent does not believe in the existence of his sword, we refuse to lay down our arms and argue, opting instead to hack away, knowing that eventually, he will believe . . . or he will perish! (Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr., Expository Apologetics, loc. 895)
Don’t put your sword down. The Enemy knows that is the weapon given to us (Eph. 6) and he does all that he can to get us to lay it down and not know how to use it. Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17) when you go into battle!
In our final article in this series (coming out July 13), we’ll look at the conduct of the Christian apologist and some practical tips.
Articles in this series:
If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it on social media. Thanks!