The rationale for Christian apologetics stems primarily from St. Peter’s prescient admonition for his readers to be “ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Pt 3:15) Peter’s exhortation “to give a defense” comes from the Greek transliteration apologia, meaning, “a verbal defense; a reasoned statement or argument.” It is in this way that Peter was commissioning his audience to stand resolute and upright in the midst of suffering, upholding the veritable truths of Christ even as they sharing in his sufferings. (1 Pt 4:12–14) Like Christ himself, who withstood insults and torments without returning the favor (1 Pt 2:22–23), the readers of 1 Peter are invited to persevere in the face of persecution by following in those same footsteps which Christ left for them (1 Pt 2:21), enduring the mistreatment and abuse without confusion or retaliation. (1 Pt 4:12) “The persecution in view,” writes J. R. Michaels, “is the kind carried out not with fire or sword but with words — words of ridicule, stand and sometimes formal accusations of crimes against society.”1
In response, then, to the verbal ridicule and “various trials” with which they were being assaulted, Peter’s readers are stirred to ready themselves “for action,” setting their “hope completely on the grace” that is to come to them “at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 1:13) The apostle spends less time unfolding the doctrines to which he surely clung, desiring to instill in his audience a sterling and prodigious faith that is able to weather dreadful trials. Peter’s apologetic counsel in his epistle, therefore, is not to be taken lightly or casually by the contemporary church. Indeed, rather, the apostle’s appeal for not only a reasoned defense but also a respectful one is just as apropos now as it was then.
The defense to which Peter calls his readers finds its origination in Scripture, in the “living and enduring word of God.” (1 Pt 1:23) It is significant that Peter urges his audience to remember “the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that would come” to them. (1 Pt 1:10) “These things,” Peter affirms, “have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” (1 Pt 1:12) In so doing, he is impressing upon them the incalculable certitude of Scripture which not only assures them of their blood-bought redemption by the “precious blood of Christ . . . before the foundation of the world,” but also manifests their present assignment to live as holily “obedient children,” resisting their former desires and showing sincere brotherly love for each other.” (1 Pt 1:14, 19–20, 22) In like manner, too, the church’s prerogative is not to reason with man’s philosophies. Rather, it is to aver from God’s Word the words of God. (1 Pt 4:11) “The reason for the hope” that resides in the church is its certainty of Christ’s death and resurrection, which is the sum and substance of God’s words. (1 Pt 1:21) “This word,” Peter continues, “is the gospel that was proclaimed to you.” (1 Pt 1:25)
Even still, in this commission for practical ecclesiastical apologetics, Peter urges this endeavor to be conducted “with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pt 3:16) Such conditions on the manner in which this defense is made is of great consequence to the Christian. Within this rallying cry to an ecclesiological defense of the faith is the cautionary injunction to avoid seeking out unnecessary skirmishes. Peter’s theme of the glory of suffering for the sake of Christ is not indicative that martyrdom is required for Christ’s disciples. (1 Pt 4:14–16) Neither, then, are Christ’s followers to position themselves as theological mercenaries in quest of philosophical quarrels with which to assert their intellect. Such rationale defies the errand of apologetics altogether, which is, namely, to maintain a positive case for the claims of Jesus Christ. “Apologetics can be used to remove or diminish intellectual obstacles that hinder people from embracing Christ as Lord,” Douglas Groothuis affirms; “thus it serves as pre-evangelism.”2 Mark Mittelberg even goes so far as to dub apologetics as “the handmaiden to evangelism.”3 Giving “a defense” of the “reason for the hope that is in you” is the prevailing method by which to introduce the unregenerate to the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of Scripture. The church’s incentive in its apologetical assignment is not realized in arguing, bullying, or reasoning someone to faith in Christ. Rather, it is the preliminary missiological ministry of God’s people in their fulfillment of their God-given evangelical errand. (Mt 28:18–20)
J. R. Michaels, “1 Peter,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, edited by Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 919.
Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 28.
Mark Mittelberg, “An Apologetic for Apologetics,” in Reasons for Faith, edited by Norman L. Geisler and Chad V. Meister (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 18.