by Stephen Nichols (Ligonier.org)
My professor of apologetics in seminary told stories of odd reactions he received when he would tell people what he did for a living. The best story involved a bank loan officer. When he told the loan officer that he was a professor of apologetics, she replied, “That’s wonderful.” Then she added, “These days, we really do need to teach people how to say they are sorry.”
The loan officer was both right and wrong. We do need apologetics professors, but apologetics isn’t about saying we’re sorry. Rather, it’s about defending the faith. In fact, defending the faith is so urgent today that we need more than apologetics professors—we need all Christians to realize that they are apologists.
One of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s recent books is titled Everyone’s a Theologian. We could say equally that “everyone’s an apologist.” Those who are in Christ and have been brought to see the truth and beauty of the gospel have both the obligation and the privilege to defend it. We are compelled “to give an answer.” We can’t simply rely on the philosophically gifted or the culturally adept to carry the weight here. Everyone is an apologist.
The Greek word apologia means literally “to speak to.” Over time, it came to mean “to make a defense.” When Athens accused Socrates of being harmful to society, Socrates had to offer his defense. He titled it Apologia. He stood before the “men of Athens,” offering his reasoned defense. The New Testament uses the word seventeen times. Many instances concern court cases, such as the time Paul appeared before the Jewish Council in Acts 22 and before Festus in Acts 25. Paul also speaks of his imprisonment in Rome as an apologia of the gospel (Phil. 1:7, 16).
The classic text for the Greek word apologia is 1 Peter 3:15–16. Peter’s first epistle was written to the “exiles” living in Asia Minor, located in modern-day Turkey. These exiled Christians were ostracized for their faith and suffered persecution. They were insulted and slandered. Some of them suffered at the hands of their own family members.
Peter commands these exiles not to live in fear or cower before opposition. Instead, he commands these exiled Christians—and us—to be always ready to make a defense. The main verb “to make a defense,” from the Greek word apologia, is in the imperative mood. The imperative mood is used for commands. There’s no procedure for deferment here. The command extends to all of us.
Further, Peter tells how to make our defense. He notes that we should “always be prepared.” That’s a tall order. Questions about our faith tend to come at unexpected times. In order to be always ready, we must know our faith, which means knowing our theology. We must also know our audience. We see this in Paul’s example of being an apologist on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:16–34).
Peter also tells us that we need to make our defense “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). That’s an even taller order. The word translated “respect” could equally be translated “reverence.” It’s the same word used of how we should approach God. So we exiles are to treat our examiners with gentleness and reverence.
Then there’s verse 16. Peter reminds us that who we are is every bit as crucial as what we say. May the testimony of our lives not put the testimony of our words to shame. Instead, “may our good behavior in Christ” also be our apologetic.
Before Paul stood up and made his defense at Athens, Acts 17:16 records that Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him.”
If someone, especially in the United States, had fallen into a “Rip Van Winkle” sleep in 2011 and awoken five years later in 2016, he would likely ask, “What happened to my country?” The recent cultural change has been cataclysmic and elicits a response. May our response not be cowardice or compromise. Otherwise, we would violate the command of 1 Peter 3:15–16. We would cease to be the church.
Instead, may our hearts be stirred within us. May we be apologists, confident in the gospel and compassionate toward our persecutors. May we always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us—the only hope for a world in desperate need of the gospel.