28 December 2011

Give An Account in the New Year

by Frank Turk

This is a carry-over from my TeamPyro post from 2009, so forgive me for cross-blogging, and traversing the space-time continuum to do it.

One of our readers over there 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.

So Happy New Year -- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Should Old Acquaintance Be forgot and so on.  Make next year a year for Christ's sake and not a year for making the wrong kind of offense.


Anonymous said...

Context, context, context. What you did was point out again how easy it is for Christians to take a verse out of context. Just the simple act of reading what is around a verse and really paying attention can help with the cause of not misinterpreting. I have to keep learning this lesson over and over again. It's like I want a "bumper sticker" faith sometimes. Just give me my little soundbite from the bible and I'll be on my way. My little word of wisdom. But then, in context, that word of wisdom becomes something more challenging than what I might want. So easy to use the bible incorrectly when we just use verses like tweets (I think I saw that idea somewhere, about the bible NOT being a series of tweets).


donsands said...

"...and stop pretending..."

Be real. Even with our shortcomings, and not only how God's grace is helping us live godly, but how His amazing grace brings forgiveness for our wayward hearts.

I love the word Paul gives us in the epistle to the Galatian believers: "But far be it from me to boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

And I know the context is circumcision, but this one sentence does fit full and wonderfully in my heart, and mind.

Thanks for the good post this morning! A good devotional to begin the day.

Citation Squirrel said...

“… crawl out of our books and walk into people’s lives in a way that actually causes them to ask …”

That is a powerful line.

Kerry James Allen said...

"To answer objections is an endless task; it is like trying to empty a flowing fountain with bottomless buckets." CHS

Solameanie said...

Troublemaker. I'm calling the tone police. ;)

Deb said...

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.

Jesus even eludes to this in the story of the rich man and Lazarus:

Luke 16:31
"He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Great article Frank and reminder for someone like me who is prone to get way into the weeds with these proof type arguments (via our college ministry). Happy New Year!

Jeremy D. Troxler said...

"So the reason for doing whatever it is one is doing here is the motive to honor Christ."

Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this point to light. One of the dangers I see in spotlighting apologetics is this very tendency to lose focus on the motivation by which we should strive to think, reason and learn - namely, to honor Christ. It should be common and constant practice to preach the Gospel to ourselves and do all things for the glory of our Lord so all our interpersonal communications will be filled with the love of Christ as the Holy Spirit empowers.

It's my first time on this blog and i'll be back. Thanks again for a much needed reminder.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm left wondering exactly what your intentions are here. Is your intention to "knock" people like William Lane Craig, or people like my own dad who have committed their lives to the work of apologetics... or am I mis-reading something?

Mike Westfall said...


What about the "debate blog?"

FX Turk said...


Read the post again until it comes to you.

FX Turk said...



Strong Tower said...

So... how's that needle-point coming along?

Tyrone said...


Anonymous said...

I did read it again, and now I'm fairly confident you're presenting a false dichotomy 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 don't have to use argumentation in a obnoxious or over-bearing way. Exhibiting a deep knowledge of a subject in a systematic and useful way does not equal bludgeoning people over the head. I think you're limiting the application of this verse to an overly narrow set of circumstances.

FX Turk said...


Then read the post again, because you have not really gotten it yet. You are close, I'll admit -- but start at the beginning and see if you can't get the other 2/3rds of what I posted.

Anonymous said...

How can I be "close" and yet be missing 2/3 of your point? ;)