The Lost Purpose of Christian Apologetics

This is the first of a planned weekly series on How to Have a Ministry Through Apologetics. Not your usual apologetics training, where it’s how to understand the argument or even how to have a great apologetics interaction — this is how to have an apologetics ministry in your local area: church, school, work, etc., especially church. We begin today not with methods, but with a way of thinking about apologetics ministry.

Here’s a Bible challenge for my fellow apologists: How well do you know your Bible? This New Testament quotation is incomplete; i left something out of it, not the Psalm 34 quotation I’ve marked off in brackets, but something else instead. See if you recognize the passage, and if you know what’s missing:

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For

… [quotation from Psalm 34, which is not the part I’m asking you to identify] …

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled. Have a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Do you know what’s missing? There’s a reason I’m asking, as you’ll see shortly.

Let’s start by looking carefully at what’s there in what I quoted. You can see the passage has a clear focus on doing good even while being mistreated. It talks about doing good and being zealous in it, even though we may suffer for it. It says we should offer a blessing to those who mistreat us, especially when they do so on account of our faith, and that this will show them the true goodness that comes by way of following Christ.

Conflict, Persecution, Humility

The Bible is many things, not all of them comfortable. I’ve just read through the Old Testament histories again, and frankly I didn’t like how much of it as about war. But the Bible is about life, and life is filled with conflict. Ninety of our 150 psalms mention enemies. Jesus himself told us to expect opposition – but no, that’s too weak a word for it. He said we should plan on being hated.

It is a book of humility as well. (I’m not always so comfortable with this part, either.). Paul writes, “For such were some of you,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:11, at the end of a long list of tawdry evils. We who follow Christ are not superior, but rather we have been rescued – saved from ourselves and our sins.

In Romans 3 Paul leaves out that softening word “some.” as verse upon verse, quoting from the Old Testament and then summarizing it himself, he tells us all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

No One (Including You and Me) Deserves Better

So, returning to the mystery passage I’ve quoted from, we can make out two group of people. The two groups differ in important ways: one group suffers for following Christ, the other group makes them suffer.

releasedLet us not think, though, that they differ in every way. It’s not the case that one group deserves better and the other group deserves worse. No one deserves better. No one deserves what Christ offers. No one would have his life, or know his truth, or love his goodness, or even appreciate his goodness if he did not freely grant us the gift of knowing it.

So Christ calls us to bear mistreatment with humility, letting it be our way of sharing the fellowship of Christ in all joy (see Philippians 3:10 and 1 Peter 4:12-14) knowing that “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”

Apologetics, Suffering, and Conflict

And with that last quotation I have just returned to the same chapter as our mystery verses above, 1 Peter 3. Again we see that it’s about suffering and conflict, and how God calls us to respond to it. That’s the overall theme. Bear that firmly in mind, please, as I fill in the part now that I left out earlier. It picks up after “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,” and then it goes on,

In your hearts regard Christ as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect [and here we re-enter the quote I gave earlier], having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

That’s our favorite apologetics verse, isn’t it! And it’s in the middle of a conflict passage. And – if this isn’t cool, then what is? – it’s about putting our opponents to shame!

What Apologetics Is For

Except it’s not about shaming them with skillful argumentation. It’s not about proving how foolish they are. I don’t say that we should avoid skillful debate, and I also don’t say it’s always wrong to call them out for foolishness. Here’s what I do want to say, though. It’s the wrap-up, the summary, the conclusion I draw from all the above:

Apologetics is for sharing reasons for our hope, so that they, too may learn that same hope. It belongs, it fits, in situations of conflict, situations in which we hope to prevail over our opponents. If we win, though, it will be primarily on account of our loving, gentle, respectful behavior.

That’s what apologetics is for. More accurately, it’s some of what apologetics is for. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 teaches on it, too, and there the arguments themselves are part of the weaponry by which we “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

In this key passage, though, the central message is that we should prepare to explain in seasons of conflict the reason for the hope in us. Those who are shamed over abusing us need to know how it is that we’ve been able to show such unexpected love toward them. They need to know it’s not only a stoic behavior but an expression of hope, and this hope isn’t mere wishful thinking. It is a reasoned hope, one that stands up to questions of fact, evidence and rationality.

The Lost Purpose of Apologetics

One final thought before I finish. Some of us think apologetics is the weapon by which win the war. Maybe you could draw that out of 2 Corinthians 10, so maybe it isn’t totally wrong. In this passage, though, it’s a battle of behaviors. Where then does apologetics fit in?

Apologetics explains how the love we’re showing is genuine, real, and well-founded. Surely it includes explaining how they can know and experience that love, too. It’s how they can know the peace and love of God.

So where does apologetics fit in? Behaviors are the battle. Apologetics is the peace treaty. Share it in peace!

Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, , a founding leader of the Apologetics Fellowship, and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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