I would say that as Christians and disciples of God’s Word, we are inherently called to be theologians. Many before me have rightly said that everyone’s a theologian. The only issue at hand is whether or not you’re a good one. For instance, an atheist is intrinsically making a deeply theological assertion by denying God’s existence — albeit a very wrong assertion. Nevertheless, I’d concur with the sentiment that all people are theologians, to one degree or another. But we ought not to let that word scare us.
I think some people shrink at the notion of diligently studying theology because they don’t necessarily know what that term entails. Being a theologian doesn’t mean you know all the original languages — nor does it require you to have half the New Testament memorized. Being a theologian simply means you have a desire to pursue an intimate relationship with God by getting to know him through his Word. It means being an ardent reader and studier of the Scriptures. Reading God’s Word will naturally result in thoughts and reflection regarding what you read — and it’s these thoughts, then, that begin to form the basis of our theology.
But I’d like to add that just as all Christians called to be good theologians, all Christians are called to be good apologists. Some might be unfamiliar with that term, “apologist,” but it has nothing to do with making excuses for, or compromising on, what you believe. An apologist isn’t apologizing for his or her beliefs. In fact, quite the opposite is true. An apologist is defined as someone who gives “reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something.” As a Christian apologist, therefore, we’re called to give proofs and evidences for what we believe. An apologist can also be defined as one who “offers an argument in defense of something controversial.” And as Christians living in an age so diametrically opposed to the notion of Christian religion and ethics, finding something “controversial” to stand for isn’t difficult.
In Peter’s first epistle, we’re given a few words that make the case for every Christian to be an apologist. The letter is primarily addressed to Gentile Christians living in modern-day Turkey. The apostle’s charge is for these new, unseasoned Gentile believers to stand for what they believe, to be “ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope” that was in them. (1 Pt 3:15) The encouragement is for them to be resolute in the truth of the gospel which was delivered to them — for it is that truth that will make them unshakeable, uncompromising, and unshrinking, even in the face of intense persecution and trial. Throughout the letter, Peter seeks to instill a deeper, richer faith in the hearts of his readers (and us too!). His desire, as his contemporary Paul would elsewhere write, is that they’d be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.” (Col 2:7)
The manner of our defense.
The apostle’s charge is that they’d 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) That is, be good apologists for — be good defenders of — the Christian faith. The directive for our lives is that we’d always be disciples of the Word of God. Our commission is for proclamation and defense of the gospel. Therefore, God wants us to equip ourselves in his truth in order to defend the faith. But what’s important to note is the manner in which he suggest they go about this defense. “Yet do this,” Peter continues, “with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” (1 Pt 3:16) “With gentleness and respect.” Such important words when approaching any apologetic, but especially so in religion.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be going around looking for a fight. Seeking out debate and controversy are traits that I don’t think belong in the hearts of the redeemed. We’re not religious mercenaries, or spiritual assassins. We’re not called to track down or invent disputations — but when they do arise, our faith should be such that we can disarm man-made religion and corrupt philosophy with the truth of God’s gospel. As someone once said, we’re to be “dangerous on-call,” always able to share the joy and peace and truth of the gospel — “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) We should always have the reason for our hope on the tip of our tongues.
Likewise, Peter’s admonition to be “ready at any time to give a defense” of your faith doesn’t mean that we have to have an answer for every question that’s raised. A false understanding — a bad theology — would say that being a Christians means you have a solution for every apologetic inquiry. I think this is false. Peter’s charge, here, isn’t that we’d be “know-it-all’s” for Jesus. That doesn’t help anyone. The exhortation is just for a readiness and willingness to stand up and speak out when necessary. This means giving a reason for our hope in a way that not only encourages hope but showcases the love and mercy of God the Father.
The message of our defense.
The beauty of the biblical apologetic is that it’s a practice that anyone can engage in. If you’ve been redeemed from your sin, you’re now an apologist. You don’t have to be special. You don’t have to be talented. You don’t have to go to seminary in order to be “qualified” to defend the faith. You just have to be passionate about salvation by grace through faith in Christ, which is made known to us in the Scriptures. At times, I think we scare ourselves into thinking that we have to have degrees after our name in order to effectively share and defend our faith. But nothing could be further from the truth! God’s good news isn’t for “know-it-alls” — it’s for mess-ups, for deadbeats, for sinners! The only you need thing you need to share the gospel is an intense passion for the gospel, and how much you need it. And as long as you’re conscious of your continued sin and weakness, you’ll be enthusiastic for God’s unending grace for you.
And how is this enthusiasm and passion cultivated? How do we grow in our pursuit of the knowledge of God and his gospel? Ironically, by simply remembering how sinful we are. Have you ever felt convicted? Have you ever felt guilt because of something you did? Furthermore, have you ever felt the relief of God’s forgiveness for that guilt? Have you felt the deliverance from sin and shame because of Christ’s victory for you? If you answered yes to those questions, then you’re going to make a great apologist for the Christian faith.
The best preparation for the study of [the gospel] is — neither great intellectual ability, nor much scholastic learning, — but a conscience impressed with a sense of our actual condition as sinners in the sight of God. A deep conviction of sin is the one thing needful in such an inquiry.1
The best apologetic of the Christian faith is your story. Your personal testimony of salvation is the quintessential evidence that the gospel is true. The gospel is the declaration of deliverance for sinners. And as a sinner, claiming and proclaiming your experience with this gospel and the God of it is all the scholarship needed “to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Pt 3:15) As a believer, you posses a unique story to share, one that reveals a fresh gleam of grace reflecting the jewel of the gospel. Storytelling is the premier manner in which men and women are drawn in by the love of God to the God of love.
Furthermore, the best preachers of grace are sinners saved by grace. An eagerness to prove and defend the gospel — to give “a reason for the hope” that’s in us — is grown out of an acute recognition of just how sinful we are, and just how good God is. Until we become keenly aware of desperate need for the gospel, we’ll never be enthusiastic for the gospel. Until we see our continual sinfulness, we’ll never see just how serious our need is for God’s redemption of us. Until we become desperate, we’ll never truly appreciate what’s been done.
The magnitude of our defense.
Some make the mistake in believing that the gospel is just the entry point to the Christian faith. But it’s not merely the entry point, it’s everything! The gospel’s not the only the diving board into the waters of religion, it’s the whole pool!2 God’s glad tidings of grace for delinquent sinners like you and me is something we’re made to wade in, to become immersed in, for our entire lives. We’re never made to move on from Jesus. We never graduate from the gospel!
And so it is that to get better at defending the gospel, we have to keep studying the gospel. It’s a well known fact that federal agents spot counterfeit currency not by studying the counterfeits but by studying the real thing. The same principle is true for believers. The best way to prepare yourself to defend the Christian faith isn’t by studying all the false religions out there, but by continually immersing yourself in the gospel of God. Every philosophy we investigate and every doctrine we study ought to always lead us back to the cross, back to what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Right theology will always lead you to Jesus. A good apologetic of Christianity never settles until Christ has been found. And the remarkable part is that there’s always more of Jesus to be discovered. (Job 5:8–9) We’ll never run out of new discoveries to make about God and his Word. His gospel is like a infinite abyss, an endless cave into which we’re forever diving deeper and deeper into. And as soon as we think we’ve found the bottom, a new cavern of undiscovered truth and grace is opened to us.
Studying apologetics is critical for the Christian — whether you’ve been saved for 5 days or 5 months or 50 years. Knowing what we believe and why we believe is crucial because it keeps us from drifting. It keeps us resolute in the redemption that rescued us in the beginning. The underlying reason for all that we do isn’t merely obedience and submission, it’s faith. Faith in a God who’s eternally faithful. Who promises deliverance and peace and forgiveness of sins. Who covenants his spiritual work in us till the day of his return. The reason we’re here is the same “reason for the hope” that’s in us. It all traces back to Golgotha. It’s all because of Jesus.
James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church, and of Its Exposition from Scripture (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 222.
J. D. Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2011), 21.