Apologetics coram Deo
“Apologetics” is a word thrown around in Christian circles that is often misunderstood. Many people envision apologetics to be the discipline of winning “Christian” arguments or the practice of “proving” the existence of God to random strangers. Others think this word means the art of apologizing to people. However, the Scriptures have something entirely different in mind when they use the word, apologia. Let us explore the Text above to see what is expected of us:
Make a Defense
The word that we get “apologetics” from is the Greek word, απολογια (apologia). Although this is where we get our word “apologize,” that was not the original meaning of the word. In the Greco-Roman world, apologia literally refers to a defense. The setting in which this term was used was the court where a defense attorney would respond to charges by making a defense for the defendant.
This is the term Peter chose to use when telling Christians what to be prepared to do. There will be times when people question or even raise an objection against our faith. Because we don’t know when or where we will have such encounters, the Christian is to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks the reason for our hope.
The Reason for Our Hope
Now we must ask this question: what kind of a defense are we to be making?
The Scriptures are clear that God doesn’t need us to go to battle for Him (Ex. 14:14; 2 Chr. 20:17). Nor are we to be defending our own reputation (Phil. 2:3-4). The case that we are to present to the world is the reason for the hope in us. What is this hope? I contend that the hope in every believer rests on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we are people with hope. The way that the Bible uses “hope” is not the same way people today use that word. “Hope” in the Bible is not wishful thinking, something we want but have no guarantee of. Rather, hope is something that lays ahead of us that is secured for us. Hope is grounded and true. It is something that cannot and will not fail. The hope that we have in Christ is manifold:
- We have the hope of eternal life (1 John 5:13).
- We have the hope of a future existence removed from the presence of sin (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
- We have the hope of receiving resurrected and incorruptible bodies (1 Cor. 15).
- We have the hope of enjoying the presence of Christ forever as the church united (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
- The inheritance before us is so great that Paul, knowing he cannot describe it all, uses a catch-all: “Every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
Listen how Peter describes this hope:
Does this hope sound like it is is unsure or up in the air? Not at all! What we will receive in the future (our “inheritance”) is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” Peter can speak with such assurance because our hope is “living.” And our hope is living because it has been secured by the living, Resurrected Lord Jesus. Because He is alive, so is our hope.
That is the “reason” for our hope. We have hope because of the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who secured for us our full redemption and glorious inheritance! This is the Gospel. This is our defense.
Therefore, if our approach to apologetics does not involve sharing the Gospel then we are not giving a defense for the hope that is in us. We are doing something else entirely.
With Gentleness & Respect
But Peter doesn’t stop at “make a defense;” he is quick to qualify this command by saying, “yet do this with gentleness and respect.“
We are to be gentle in our tone towards others and respect (literally, φόβου – fear) the Lord when giving the reason for our hope.
It seems Peter understands the potential abuses that we see before us today. When giving a case for something you hold so deeply, it can be easy to fall into a debate mode where your goal becomes “winning” the argument instead of pleasing God. It is true that when we engage in apologetics, our reputation is put on the line. We fear that if we are not convincing enough people will think we are illogical (or worse, they might think that Christianity is illogical). However, we must be careful and resist the inclination to go from giving a defense to becoming defensive. When we become defensive, we can lose our gentle and compassionate tone for our neighbor and leave behind our respect for God. Christ desires that we be more concerned about the spiritual condition of our neighbor than what the world thinks of our intelligence.
That is why we must do apologetics coram Deo (before the face of God). When we are conscious of His presence while we share the Gospel with nonbelievers, we maintain a gentle disposition towards our neighbor and a loving respect towards our Lord. This is how we “in [our] hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:15).
A Working Definition of Apologetics
If you are looking for a working definition of apologetics, there are many that can be found, but the definition I prefer comes from K. Scott Oliphint: