14 March 2012

Crawl out of Our Books

by Frank Turk

After having a little spat with Collin Hansen at TGC yesterday, I thought that the following post needed some review and updating.

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:
[1] They do not say about it what this reader said about it, and
[2] 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 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 ...
And for laughs, here’s John Calvin on that passage:
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.

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.
You know: because we say we’re “Calvinists”, right?

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]
The first thing we have to recognize – and by “have to” I mean “in order that we understand what Peter actually says” – is that Peter is not talking about what happens every day in the life of the Christian here. This is not an exortation for what you do at lunch when someone starts yammering about the new Dan Brown book or what have you. This is what one ought to do “if [one] should suffer for righteousness’ sake”. That’s a far cry from the raison d’etre for blogging or writing books, isn’t it? Peter is talking about the martyr’s role, the persecution which will come to some.

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.

Think about that, legions of warrior children: elsewhere Paul instructs Titus that we should “adorn the Gospel”, and here Peter instructs those in persecution to “honor Christ”. And we have to wonder what kind of “honor” it is that is full of “gentleness and respect”, but not actually specifically said to be (for example) systematic, argumentative, logical, philosophical, fully-reasoned, or convincing.

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.


DannyPB said...

Very good article. However, I'm not sure I agree that Alpha Omega Ministries should get the pass you give them at the beginning. Well I'm sure James White and the others there are not the WWE style apologists you mention, using the verse as they do seems to still use it as the basis for apologetics, even if they don't outright say it.

Frank Turk said...

Danny -

The original commenter at this blog tried to use 1Pet3 as "the basis for the entire concept of apologetics". That is: we wouldn't know we ought to have "a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity" without 1Pet 3:15.

That's hogwash. That means we woud have never read Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees, or Paul's ministry as described in Acts, or the final sermon of Stephen, or the book of Hebrews, etc. etc., in such a way that we would know that we do not merely proclaim a historical fact but indeed we also spell out the boundaries of our beliefs so that we can distinguish ourselves from those with false versions of the faith.

When AOMin uses the verse as their mission verse, they are speaking for themselves and not in such a way that they think all apologetics hangs on the statement of that verse. It's a good mission statement for the kind of work they do, but I don't think they would disagree with any of the magisterial statements I have furnished here.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"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."

Wouldn't Don Miller say that's what he's doing?

Doug Hibbard said...

"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."

Wouldn't Don Miller say that's what he's doing?

Lots of people, him included, would state that this is what they are doing.

Yet "crawl out of our books" does not equal "cast aside Scripture and do what seems like a good idea."

And you can't cast aside what being "disciples first" means before you get into walking into other people's lives. Greater minds will give you a better answer than mine, but isn't a disciple in this case one who is striving to be like Jesus in all He said to be like Him? Following all of His example? Which is found in 66 united sections of The Book, not in just the parts we like?

Leslie Wolf said...

I agreed with everything I read until I reached the last four paragraphs, and I may agree with everything in those paragraphs as well. I just had one question: do you think that it is wrong for Christians to engage in what is usually called "apologetics" under any circumstances? I think that such apologetics can be incredibly valuable myself, but I would agree that Peter isn't talking about that kind of thing in 1 Peter 3:15, and I would also agree that Christians should evangelize through personal relationships, missions work, etc.

DJP said...

Who's Collin Hansen?

CCinTn said...

Great post. Christians often make great cherry-pickers. A verse here a verse there and voila! we have a new 'doctrine'.

BTW, is Chantry at Disney World with his kids or something? I've missed him the last couple of weeks. Maybe Dan hired him, some other guy and a truck to move to Houston?

CCinTn said...

Per TGC blog, he is the editorial director for TGC and formerly an associate editor for Christianity Today. Hansen is the author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists and co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. He earned an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and an undergraduate degree in journalism and history from Northwestern University.

I wonder what his treatment of the YRR were in his book. Has anyone here read it that might offer a quick critique?

Jared Miller said...

1) I love that "poppycock" is a tag; you'll have to make more use of it.

2) I missed the original TGC discussion but I am aware there were posts regarding prepositional/evidential apologetics yesterday. Did this originate from one of those discussions? If so, does Hansen favor one over the other or is this a broader topic speaking of apologetics per se?

3) I apologize for so many questions in my "comment." :)

Jake said...

5 stars for the last sentence.

We love ourselves far too much and are far too easily offended.

Strong Tower said...

"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."

So, if we walk into people's lives their going to persecute us?

Chuck said...

I think the case can be made that Peter's larger point is not the answer given as much as it is honoring Christ the Lord as Holy. "Do not fear persecution- instead work to honor Christ."

The defense Peter seems to be talking about is in response to people wondering why and how they can live like THAT under persecution, which prompts questions. And when they answer, do so with love and expectation that it won't stop the persecution.

My biggest problem is when I find no one is asking me those sort of questions.

Frank Turk said...

Jared --

TGC gave a favorable review of the /Blue Like Jazz/ movie yesterday, and I objected for very clear and plain reasons. From my side of the table, Collin then chimed in to defend the review (of course: not to defend endorsing Donald Miller, which he knows is a bad idea) and denigrate the fact that I think the TGC team let Miller completely off the hook for being a really bad influence on the state of Evangelicalism and English-speaking Christianity.

It speaks to how that group approaches its own mission and how that group can receive criticism from inside the camp. So this post -- which is really from my blog about 3 years ago -- came back around as a lecture on what apologetics ought to be, and at the same time how we ought to receive complaints about ourselves when we go wobbly.

Solameanie said...

Frank, I wish you hadn't used the world "magisterial." I am now going to see you in my mind's eye wearing a mitre. ;)

Frank Turk said...


Aha! and by "Aha" I mean: AHA!

"What questions are they asking?" would be my Socratic and tricksie response. Because here's the thing: the problem is not the questions being asking, but the answers being supplied.

The answers being supplied by most people who call themselves "apologists" are not for the questions being asked.

The answers of the folks like Donald Miller are answrs to the questions being asked, to be sure, but they are not the answers one expects to find in Christ.

And the answers which are needed, it seems to me, are not not being provided by the folks at TGC because they are so urgent to show that they are "listening". Imagine saying this about Rob Bell:

But on the whole, I think we should address the issues at an almost personal level---understanding that [Bell] is just a guy with a writing gift, telling his story and the stories around him. Descriptive, not prescriptive. Witness, not authority. I tend to believe that [Bell] would agree with those categories, and I'd be interested to hear him speak about it.

I'll bet you can't imagine it -- yet this is what is said about Miller's work here as a concluding affirmation of his work on /Blue Like Jazz/. "He's just a guy with a gift, dude."

It's mind-boggling. This is a situation where something has been said and asked in an utterly-contemporary context, and the response from TGC is, "Oh, just let boys be boys," or more pointedly, "Oh just let a writer write."

It really is unbelievable, and it speaks to why TGC will probably get a wide audience but not change that audience one iota.

Solameanie said...

BTW, serious comment now. Just went to TGC and read the little dust up and the movie review that ignited it.

I get frustrated at people who seem to insist that unless a person wears a "Rev" or "Dr." in front of their name and are currently engaged in a preaching/teaching office, that somehow excuses them from scrutiny when they reach huge numbers of people through a book, movie, or even blog. "They're storytellers, not theologians." Excuse me? On that count, maybe we shouldn't take the Lord Jesus seriously because He told stories (parables).

When anyone posits something out there in the public eye and claims it to be spiritual/theological truth, and that something reaches vast numbers of people and influences their view of Scripture plus overall worldview, it's fair game. These people are "teachers" whether they like the label or not.

Emergent-friendlies like Miller deserved the criticism they received. And I find it hugely disappointing that the good guys over at TGC would put something like this up on their blog. Might as well invite Brian McLaren to be a contributor.

If that seemed harsh, my advance apologies. I'm crabby when I have the flu. And now I just broke one of Rick Warren's rules, i.e. don't qualify a good apology with an excuse.

Sorry, Rick.

Chuck said...


I am right with you. I read bits and pieces of BLJ and had two thoughts.

1. He's a good writer, but he's not the second coming of C.S. Lewis. People seem to think that being better than other Christian writers means he's great. Meh.

2. I don't see a whole lot of Bibley stuff in here.

And while I have had some people push me on theistic proofs and the like, most people just want to know what to do when they can't get along with their wife and their kids are sick and they can't pay their bills.

I contend that while things like proofs and inerrancy are important and can be defended from 1 Peter 3, it's not the main thrust of 1 Peter 3. And while people might not say it that way that's how it comes across.

I think we can look at Paul's argument in Galatians 1 for help. "I was this- I am now this- God changed me- this is what I preach." In other words, Paul's first line apologetic is the quality of his life, which is undergirded by his theology.

Sir Aaron said...

I'm always concerned when somebody says a doctrine is based on a single verse.

A lot of apologetics ministries use Jude 3 as their "theme verse." A theme verse is exactly that. It's a verse chosen to convey a general sense of the ministry not the "basis for the entire concept."

BerlinerinPoet said...

Rob Bell is a pastor and is saying ACTUAL heretical things. Wouldn't you say there is a BIT of a difference?

Frank Turk said...


Nope. Here's why.

In case you don't understand what's at that link, the difference between advocating for absurd theology and equating run-of-the-mill Baptists with Jihadis is the difference between denying who Christ is and denying that his people belong to Him.

Robert said...

I just read through the comments...wow. It is almost like they are just laying down and rolling over for the pomo movement. One might say that it is just Collin Hansen, but surely one of the guys at TGC could speak out about it. This is becoming a disturbing pattern.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Mr. Turk,

Looking at my comment it looks a lot more antagonistic than I actually meant it to look. I just think pastors ought to be held to a higher standard. And preaching heresy and advocating postmodern feel good...ness, are very different. I guess what I mean is I'm willing to believe Donald Miller is a Christian, with kinda bad theology, and I don't think Rob Bell is at all.

It's been a while since I read Blue Like Jazz, but I really don't remember him comparing Baptists with "Jihadis". I do know that I didn't come away from the book thinking that. I didn't even think I was reading theology at the time I was reading it. Some of it was pretty meaningless to me, a conservative, former homeschool student solidly in the OPC church, but it just sounded like a memoir. Some of it was good, the rest I discarded.

Jim Pemberton said...

For what it's worth, anyone who engages in evangelism is functioning as an apologist. I would categorize apologists as teaching evangelists. On major ministry I know, for example, has a Christian apologist debate with an apologist of another religion on a street corner. "Ordinary" Christians will skirt the crowd that gathers and strike up conversations with people of the other religion who are interested in the debate but not invested enough to squeeze in close to the action and try to insert their 2 cents in the verbal fray. These conversations often lead to conversions.

Brian Jones said...

I know when you start a post with "poppycock" its going to be a good one.

We ARE far too sensitive to criticism and even rebuke by thoughtful brothers in Christ.

Sir Brass said...

"When AOMin uses the verse as their mission verse, they are speaking for themselves and not in such a way that they think all apologetics hangs on the statement of that verse. It's a good mission statement for the kind of work they do, but I don't think they would disagree with any of the magisterial statements I have furnished here."

I don't believe we would disagree, indeed.

It should also be noted that as of late, Dr. White has taken a particular interest in the first part of the verse as it applies to the more-well-known part of the verse.

That is, "Sanctify YWHW as holy in your hearts." It is from that that we can give a defense from the hope that is within us.

~The Rookie/The Probie

Ken said...

What the original commenter may have meant is that the English word, "apologetics" comes from the Greek word, απολογιαν (apologian) in I Peter 3:15.

I appreciate Dr. White's emphasis on "sanctifying Christ as Lord in your hearts" part that I have indeed noticed over the past several years, when he teaches and preaches on that verse and passage.

"crawl out of your books and get into people's lives" - yes. I appreciate that, Frank!

This is a great need when dealing with Muslims - not everyone can debate the "big guys" of Muslim debaters like Shabir Ally and Abdullah Kunde and Adbullah Al Andalousi and Adnan Rashid - like Dr. White and Sam Shamoun and David Wood and Nabil Qareshi - There is a still a great need to "regular Christians" to be disciples and get out of their books and get into Muslims lives and witness to them and learn to establish friendships enough with them so that they will listen at least to several sessions of gospel witness without avoiding us as "Conservative-Fox News-Patriotic-George Bush- like Zionist-Christian- patriotic type Evangelicals" (the average Muslim thinks of us that way first, rather than as disciples of Jesus Christ who love their enemies).

If we honor the Lord Christ and fear Him above the fear of man, (one of the main points of I Peter 3:13-18), we will learn to reach out and also be ready for persecution that may come.