Can you defend your Christian faith? How would you do it? Would you try your hand at Christian apologetics?
Many Christian apologists turn to the first letter of St. Peter and quote the following words as a defense of the practice of Christian apologetics: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) This makes sense. The word “defense” is “apologia” in the Greek. And some go so far as to say that St. Peter has given us a mandate properly defined as “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.” (Frame, 1994) But I would argue that what we often call apologetics, that is, the disciplined and frequently systematic mounting of arguments defending the Christian faith from corresponding challenges, is not exactly what St. Peter means. I think it is much more fundamental.
More often than not, people are converted through witness. Consider the larger passage in 1 Peter from which the verse above it taken:
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.”
In the early days of the the Church many Christians suffered. Many lost jobs, were ostracized, kicked out of their synagogue, shunned by family, thrown in prison, tortured, and even killed. Imagine how common it must have been for non-Christian family and friends to say, “Why are you doing this to yourself and your family? Why don’t you give the sacrifice to Caesar at the temple? Why don’t you worship our city’s god, or Caesar? Why don’t you renounce this Jesus? Don’t you realize you will die if you keep this up? Do you not love us, love your spouse, love your children?” Imagine the pressure. Why would a person refuse to capitulate? Why not give up and worship Caesar? Or renounce Christ? Not because of a well crafted argument. Not for a cosmological argument for God’s existence. Rather, because of the hope that is in you; that Jesus rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of the encounter with Christ. Those without eyes to see or ears to hear will not understand, but perhaps they might see the joy, hear the words of the Gospel, experience the witness, and begin to ponder these things in their hearts. They might see the sacrificial love, the service and joy, hear the words of love and truth, and perhaps they just might begin to be open to the calling of the Holy Spirit.
Should one be able to mount a well argued defense of the faith? Yes, if possible. It would be good if more could do that, but consider this recent story of an 80 year old Christian woman in Iraq was told by IS forces to convert to Islam or face death:
“You must convert,” IS forces told them. “Our faith can promise you paradise,” they added.
Victoria and Gazella responded: “We believe that if we show love and kindness, forgiveness and mercy we can bring about the kingdom of God on earth as well as in heaven. Paradise is about love. If you want to kill us for our faith then we are prepared to die here and now.”
IS forces had no answer. The dozen Christians, who included many elderly and infirm, were let go.
That, it seems to me, is the truest apologetic.
Frame, John M. Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 1994.