The oft-quoted, passion-instilling, lock-yourself-in-a-room-to-read-Plantinga inducing slogan for apologetics comes from 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” How many times have we heard this at conferences and seminars or read this on blogs and apologetics posts? I know I’ve seen or heard this phrase more times that I can count! It’s the Great Commission for Apologetics! The message is simple: Christians need to be ready to give a defense for what they believe. And this verse provides the biblical charge for Christians to engage in apologetics. But, this is not all that we are commanded to do in 1 Peter 3:15! The beginning portion of the passage is rarely, if ever, quoted as a charge to those engaging in apologetics! And yet it provides the basis for apologetics! Without it, apologetics is utterly useless.
Here is the entire passage, in context:
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
The first thing we are commanded to do is to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts. This is the foundation for our apologetic. To set apart means to dedicate and consecrate our hearts for God, making Jesus Lord of our desires, motives, inadequacies, and all of who we are. This makes our apologetic, not simply an intellectual exercise or an excuse to engage in petty debate, but a golden opportunity to defend the hope that we have within us. If we are told to defend the hope that we have, then we must first have that hope. If Christ is not the foundation of our lives from which our apologetic can spring forth and produce fruit, then it is done in vain. All the long hours of study avail nothing if they are not built upon the foundation of who Christ is and what He has done in our lives.
Defending the faith cannot simply be an intellectual pursuit for the faithful apologist; it must be an earnest endeavor to make Christ, the hope of glory, known to those around us. Our defense should stem from the Lordship of Christ in our lives, which produces hope. And because Christ is Lord in our lives, we can fulfill the end of the passage, as well: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” That part essentially speaks for itself. No senseless quarreling. No name calling. No outbursts of rage. We must present ourselves and our arguments with gentleness and respect.
To sum it up, the Great Commission for Apologetics gives us three commands:
1. Set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts
2. Be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope within you
3. Do this with gentleness and respect
The next time you need to whip out 1 Peter 3:15, it might be helpful to share the whole passage and explain the foundation for defending the faith and how we should go about fulfilling the Great Commission for Apologetics…then let the late nights with Plantinga commence!