Recently I have been thinking about retaliation and it’s connection to apologetics. If you are talking with someone who is hostile, aggressive, or uncivil, what does one do?
It’s rare when I write on apologetics that 1 Peter 3:15-16 doesn’t come up, and it is going to do so again. Specifically, it is at the end of verse 15 that I wish to highlight:
15 But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)
The “gentleness and respect” clause follows the command to be prepared to give a defense – it is the ethical precedent for how this defense is to be given. Anyone who studies apologetics has heard that so many times, it is almost redundant for me to even expound on it. But I wish to point out a distinct feature of the “gentleness and respect” clause.
I write this because I have recently seen a few examples of people who are apologists who have ignored this principle in their discussions. Notice that the ethical command “do it with gentleness and respect” comes with no qualifier, i.e. “only if the other person is nice to you, or doesn’t say something that hurts you, etc”. It stands by itself in that gentleness and respect is required…period. It is not optional. This entails that your responses are to be one with gentleness and respect regardless of what the other person is saying or how they are saying it.
This principle does not go away if the other person in the discussion violates it. Apologetic discussions (or any kind of discussion, for that matter) should never be discussions where “the gloves come off” if someone gets out of line; this is especially true for discussion amongst apologists. Just because person x responds in a hostile way does not mean person y has any right or obligation to respond in a similar manner. In fact, if person x responds in a hostile way, it is all the more reason why person y cannot respond in a similar manner. Why? Because person x has given person y a chance to grow or stumble as an apologist. Person y, by the situation given to him by person x, can either respond in a similar manner and thus stray from the command to do apologetics “with gentleness and respect”, or person y can grow as an apologist by responding in the way person x is lacking. It is an opportunity too good to miss.
In our pursuit of the “what” of apologetics, we must never lose sight of the “how” in terms of how we present our defense. If the “how” is compromised or faulty, the “what” suffers with it. And in light of eternity, the “what” matters just as much as the “how”. Show good behavior in Christ, that your adversaries might be put to shame.
(Note: This post first appeared in February 2012 on my personal blog, Another Ascending Lark)