“Defending the faith” is a hobby for Christians who like to debate—right? Let’s think biblically and critically about what apologetics really means, to answer related lies that can sneak into churches.
Let’s take a look at what apologetics really is—and what it’s not—to catch a few misconceptions that may tiptoe into church circles.
The best way to understand the word apologetics is to travel back in time and get arrested in Ancient Greece. At your trial, the prosecution will present the charges against you in a formal speech called a katagoria (κατηγορία). After the katagoria, you’ll be able to answer the prosecution, refute their charges, and justify your position by delivering a defense speech, or apologia (ἀπολογία).
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
Apologia is the word Peter used when he wrote, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”1
Being ready to deliver this defense is what apologetics, the study and practice named after the word apologia, is all about.2 Apologetics helps us answer why a biblical worldview makes rational sense, often drawing on fields like science, history, and philosophy to show that the real world confirms the Bible’s truth.
Because of the connections between these academic fields and apologetics, what I suspect may happen in church circles is that apologetics can become so associated with intellectualism that we begin buying into a set of three intertwined lies. Let’s unravel these lies by checking how 1 Peter 3:15 responds.
According to this lie, defending the gospel is not a mandate for every believer so much as an “elective” for Christians who like science, speak Latin, and can probably quote the entire New Testament in the original Greek.
I viewed apologetics—and especially the defense of Biblical creation—this way as a teenager. I thought that hunting for flood fossils or deliberating animals’ design features was a quaint pastime for a handful of Christians. But I didn’t know that all major doctrines in Scripture are ultimately founded in Genesis 1–11. So, the relevance of everything else in Scripture—including biblical teachings on morals, human dignity, and the gospel itself—depends on Genesis too.
You can see how it’d be strategic for our enemy to tell Christians that defending Scripture—and especially Genesis—is not for everyone. That way, we’ll be caught off-guard when we, our kids, or the non-believers we interact with have questions about the reliability of Genesis (and therefore, the rest of the Bible).
Peter didn’t say to be ready with a defense if you’re philosophical and a pro at science.
How does 1 Peter 3:15 respond to this strategic lie? Peter didn’t say to be ready with a defense if you’re philosophical and a pro at science. He wrote this command for all believers. That doesn’t mean we all need to run off and earn degrees in ancient Hebrew or nuclear physics. It simply means we all must be ready to explain why we’ve staked our trust in God’s Word and our hope in Jesus.
While we’re sharing our hope in Christ, we may worry about encountering an objection we don’t know how to answer. But thankfully, 1 Peter 3:15 doesn’t say, “Always be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks about the hope that you have, and if they raise a question about something you’ve never heard of and you cannot immediately respond, then you’ve failed in your Christian witness.”
Being humans with finite knowledge, we’ll almost certainly run into questions that we don’t know how to answer. But the good news is, that’s okay. We can be honest that no human has all the answers, but we trust that our all-knowing God does. We can ask him for wisdom—and the right words—to respond (Matthew 10:19). And we can take time to seek answers together by consulting God, biblical mentors, and apologetics resources.
Knowing where to find answers is key, because there’s no way any of us can memorize responses to all the questions which others—or we ourselves—could possibly raise about a biblical worldview. That’s one reason why it’s so important to have critical thinking skills for processing novel questions and arriving at a biblical, logical conclusion yourself.
Some questions, however, do tend to pop up more often than others. So, it’s helpful to learn biblical answers to the most common objections we’re likely to encounter, like, “How could a loving God exist if there’s so much suffering in the world?” “Isn’t the church full of hypocrisy?” or “Doesn't science contradict the Bible?” Having answers to such questions is essential not only for removing others’ obstacles to embracing the Gospel, but also for strengthening our own faith.
Another lie we may encounter implies that apologetics is all about winning arguments; it’s about pointing out others’ logical errors, proving that we can argue in Latin, and—above all—being perpetually right.
First Peter 3:15 speaks to this mentality too. Peter didn’t say that the point of being ready with an answer is to knock down debate opponents, but to share the hope of the gospel with gentleness and respect. In fact, approaching apologetics as an opportunity to flaunt our intellects would go against the Bible’s teaching, including Colossians 4:6 (ESV): “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
To catch the subtle lies which may sneak into church circles, we must constantly compare our ideas against the truth of God’s Word—including our ideas about apologetics. When we do, we find apologetics is hardly an optional hobby for Christians who “know everything” and relish winning debates.
Instead, a careful look at Scripture reveals apologetics for what it’s meant to be: an accessible tool for all believers to strengthen their faith, to equip the church, and ultimately to share the gospel’s hope in love.