One of our readers, back in 2010, said this:
It’s well accepted that 1 Peter 3:15 forms the basis for the entire concept of apologetics. But for our purpose, let’s keep it simple, without straying into the specific aspects of apologetics theory.And to that I say “poppycock”.
Before I tread one word further in my disabusing of that fallacy, I know that this verse is one of the theme verses of Alpha Omega Ministries, and it’s important to note two things about their use of that verse:
 They do not say about it what this reader said about it, and
 They use it exactly as Peter does use it, not anticipating that every Christian will be a debating machine.
So when this reader says his piece here about 1Pet 3:15, he’s putting himself out on a limb which, if he were an adequate apologist and a reasonable commentator, he wouldn’t do. This verse is not hardly “the entire basis for the concept of apologetics”. And frankly, I’m not the first one to say so. Here’s the Geneva Study Bible on this passage:
He will have us, when we are afflicted for righteousness sake, to be careful not for redeeming of our life, either with denying or renouncing the truth, or with like violence, or any such means: but rather to give an account of our faith boldly, and yet with a meek spirit, and full of godly reverence, that the enemies may not have anything justly to object, but may rather be ashamed of themselves.”Here’s the emminant John Gill on the same passage:
Now, a ‘reason’ of this is to be given; not that they are to account for the Gospel, upon the foot of carnal reason; for that is not of men, nor according to the carnal reason of men. Nor is it to be thought that every Christian should be capable of defending the Gospel, either in whole, or in part, by arguments and reasons, in a disputatious way, or to give a reason and argument for every particular truth, but that he should be well acquainted with the ground and foundation of the Christian religion. At least, with the first principles of the oracles of God, and be conversant with the Scriptures, and be able to point out that in them, which is the reason of his holding this and the other truth, though he is not able to give a gainsayer satisfaction, or to stop his mouth.And for laughs, here’s John Calvin on that passage:
And this is to be done with meekness and fear; with meekness, before men; in an humble modest way; not with an haughty air, and in a morose and surly manner, which serves only to irritate and provoke: and with fear; either of God, and so the Ethiopic Version renders it, with the fear of the Lord. Considering the subject of the argument, and the importance of it, and how much the honour of God is concerned in it; and taking care lest the answer should be delivered in a light, trifling, and negligent manner, and that no part of truth be dropped or concealed, in order to please men, and be screened from their resentments; or with all due reverence of, and respect to men, to superiors, to the civil magistrates, who may ask the reason; for they are to be treated with honour and esteem, and to be answered in an handsome and becoming manner, suitable to the dignity of their persons and office ...
But it ought to be noticed, that Peter here does not command us to be prepared to solve any question that may be mooted; for it is not the duty of all to speak on every subject. But it is the general doctrine that is meant, which belongs to the ignorant and the simple. Then Peter had in view no other thing, than that Christians should make it evident to unbelievers that they truly worshipped God, and had a holy and good religion. And in this there is no difficulty, for it would be strange if we could bring nothing to defend our faith when any one made inquiries respecting it. For we ought always to take care that all may know that we fear God, and that we piously and reverently regard his legitimate worship.You know: because we say we’re “Calvinists”, right?
This was also required by the state of the times: the Christian name was much hated and deemed infamous; many thought the sect wicked and guilty of many sacrileges. It would have been, therefore, the highest perfidy against God, if, when asked, they had neglected to give a testimony in favor of their religion. And this, as I think, is the meaning of the word apology, which Peter uses, that is, that the Christians were to make it evident to the world that they were far off from every impiety, and did not corrupt true religion, on which account they were suspected by the ignorant.
What this passage is talking about – as these learned men make clear – is that Peter is not establishing the office of apologist here: Peter is calling the believer to respond in trial and persecution with the testimony of the Gospel and not the mace and broadsword of argumentation.
You’re not trying to shut anyone up if you abide by 1Pet 3:15, but the only way to see that is to see how Peter has positioned this statement in his larger exhortation.
- 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, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord 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, having 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. [ESV]
But the next thing we have to notice here is that there’s no fear motive in this passage. Peter actually says, “have no fear”, right? So the reason for doing whatever it is one is doing here is the motive to honor Christ.
That is not to say it would be just a bunch of blubbering when you’re in trouble – but it is to say that Peter is here saying that whatever it is you will do, it will be “good behavior” which put slanders and reviling “to shame”.
And let me suggest something to you about “a reason for the hope that is in you”: When Peter does this at Pentecost, it’s not a philosophical display of forensic acumen. When Stephen does it at his stoning, he didn’t appeal to the Cosmological argument. When Paul was at Mars Hill or before Agrippa, we didn’t address the existential matter of the problem of evil.
To these men – who are our examples – the “defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” is that Christ has died and risen from the dead.
If that’s what you want to call “apologetics”, then it turns out you are saying what I am saying. But look around you – seriously: look at all the “apologists” running around starting fights for Jesus with unbelievers. Is that what Peter was talking about here – being the WWE champion of apologetics for Jesus?
There’s no way that’s what Peter’s talking about here – yet that’s what most “lay apologists” for the faith do every day. Let’s stop doing what we want to do here and start doing what Peter actually asks us to do here – and stop pretending that we’re “apologists”. Let’s be disciples first, and foremost, and crawl out of our books and walk into people’s lives in a way that actually causes them to ask us what kind of hope causes that – in an unironic way.
Now, that's great, yes? So how to I get away with adding comments to the TGC blog which basically call out any of the authors there for apologetic matters? It's easy: they ought to know better.
That's not actually about apologetics: that's about Christians having a responsibility to each other to tell the truth when we are slack or slippery or somehow enamored with things that the world loves but from which we ought to be walking away. That's more like James 5 or Matthew 5 than 1Pet 3. And we should be of sturdy enough stuff to take that sort of rebuke at face value.