AN OFFENSIVE DEFENSE
A Meditation on 1 Peter 3:15
The apostle Peter instructs God’s people to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, from which we get the English word apologetics. According to Wikipedia, “Apologetics have based their defense of Christianity on historical evidence, philosophical arguments, scientific evidence, and arguments from other disciplines.” No wonder the average Christian has left apologetics to the brilliant, well-educated, paid professionals. Who is sufficient for these things? But what if we translated apologia as “reply” or “answer” as it is in the NIV and the KJV? From this perspective, “apologetics” is simply responding to people who ask why you seem so hopeful. You could answer, “Jesus.” And then after pausing a moment, perhaps, you could follow up by asking, “Would you like me to elaborate?”
“Apologetics for dummies” is what I am advocating. You might find this method much more effective than the “evidentialist scheme” (i.e., the approach that says evidence is of primary importance in questions of belief). It will certainly be easier to use, which in and of itself is a victory. I’m not saying that there is never a place to provide evidence or logical arguments for our hope. Nevertheless, there are two common dangers with the evidentialist approach that I often see and would like to address. First, it can operate under the false assumption that all unbelievers are lacking is solid, convincing proof from history, philosophy, science, etc. Second, this approach usually puts us on defense as though God is on trial, and our job is to be His defense attorney. This explains why Christians feel anxious if they don’t have a ready response to such demands as, “Prove that God exists!” Or, “Demonstrate that the Bible is reliable!”
Ask an avowed atheist, “If I could prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God of the Bible exist, would you worship Him?” Many atheists have been asked this question and the overwhelming majority responds with a definitive no. We’re not surprised by that answer, because we understand, at least in part, the psychology of atheism. Simply put, “atheism” isn’t unbelief in the existence of God, it is the rejection of God, whom they know exist from the compelling and irrefutable evidence of creation (Rom. 1:18-20).
Consider the testimonies you have heard of those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I thought God didn’t exist, but lo and behold I came to realize that He does exist after all.” It’s important to realize that atheists (or even those who refer to themselves as agnostics) are really antitheists, meaning they are against God. C.S. Lewis described his life before his conversion this way: “I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.”
If the sun, the moon, the stars, and the Milky Way, which all declare the glory of God, are insufficient evidence to convince an “atheist” of the existence of God, what evidence or arguments could we possible present to persuade them? The cosmological argument? The intricacy of the eyeball? The birth of a baby? The clamor for more evidence is a ruse, don’t fall for it.
What the apostle is calling for in 1 Peter 3:15 is an offensive defense for the hope that is in us. Providing evidence is usually defensive, while proclamation is offensive. Remember, unbelievers are on trial, not God. In a courtroom, to whom do you present evidence? The judge and jury, right? God is the judge and jury, so let us be careful not to respond to unbelievers as though they are the judge and jury. Our role in this courtroom drama is that of prosecuting attorney. In other words, if you’re providing unbelievers with evidence you’re responding to them, but if you are declaring the message of the gospel, then they have to respond to you. This tactic is crucial, because you want to leave unbelievers in a position where they have to respond for or against Jesus.
Invariably, you will hear the response, “But I don’t believe in the Bible.” That response is irrelevant to the Christian, because the Bible is living and active, regardless of whether or not they accept it as the Word of God. The power of God’s Word comes from the Spirit. The ultimate goal of apologetics is faith in Jesus Christ, and “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” Rom. 10:17). This requires more offense and less defense.
Pastor Wayne Christensen, www.foxlakechurch.org, April 17, 2016