Introductory Note:

How can we be ready, as Peter advised the early Church to be, to help people understand the hope that is in us, with gentleness and fear (1 Peter 3:15)? Dallas Willard gives the best possible answer: be ready to engage in apologetics “in the manner of Jesus”—with patience, love, humility, and a servant’s heart.

When we do the work of apolo­get­ics we do it as dis­ci­ples of Jesus, and there­fore in the man­ner in which he would do it. This means, first of all, that we do it to help peo­ple, and espe­cial­ly those who want to be helped. Apolo­get­ics is a help­ing ministry.

The pic­ture pre­sent­ed in the con­text of I Peter 3:15 is that of dis­ci­ples who are devot­ed to pro­mot­ing what is good, but are being per­se­cut­ed for it. Their response, as Jesus had taught them, was to rejoice and be glad.” And that led those look­ing on to inquire how the dis­ci­ples could be joy­ous and hope­ful in such cir­cum­stances. This ques­tion would, of course, be inevitable in an angry, hope­less and joy­less world. So the dis­ci­ples were charged by Peter to be ready to help peo­ple under­stand the hope that is in them, but with gen­tle­ness and fear” (vs. 15), and always with a clear con­science that one has done what is right. (vs. 16)

So we give our expla­na­tion, our apolo­getic, as an act of neigh­bor love. And as we do so we are to be as shrewd as ser­pents and as inno­cent as doves. (Matt 10:16) The ser­pen­t’s wis­dom is time­li­ness based on watch­ful obser­va­tion. And doves are inca­pable of guile or of mis­lead­ing any­one. So are we to be. Love of those we deal with will help us to observe them accu­rate­ly and to stay entire­ly away from manip­u­lat­ing them — mean­while intense­ly long­ing and pray­ing for them to rec­og­nize that Jesus Christ is mas­ter of the cos­mos in which they live.

Love will also purge us of any desire mere­ly to win, as well as of intel­lec­tu­al self-right­eous­ness and con­tempt for the opin­ions and abil­i­ties of oth­ers. The apolo­gete for Christ is one char­ac­ter­ized hum­ble­ness of mind”(tapeinophro­sunen; Col 3:12, Acts 20:19, 1 Pet 5:5) — a vital New Tes­ta­ment con­cept which can­not be cap­tured by our word humil­i­ty” alone.

So the call to give an account” is not a call to beat unwill­ing peo­ple into intel­lec­tu­al sub­mis­sion, but to be the ser­vant of those in need: often, indeed, the ser­vant of those who are in the grip of their own intel­lec­tu­al self-right­eous­ness and pride, usu­al­ly rein­forced by their social surroundings.

But sec­ond­ly, we do the work of apolo­get­ics as relent­less ser­vants of truth. Jesus said that he came into the world to tes­ti­fy to the truth” (John 19:37), and he is called the faith­ful and true wit­ness.” (Rev 3:14) This is why we fear” as we give our account. Truth reveals real­i­ty, and real­i­ty can be described as what we humans run into when we are wrong. In the col­li­sion we always lose.

Being mis­tak­en about life and about the things of God and the human soul is a dead­ly seri­ous mat­ter. That is why the work of apolo­get­ics is so impor­tant. So we speak the truth in love. (Eph 5:14) And we speak with all the clar­i­ty and rea­son­able­ness we can muster, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly count­ing on the Spir­it of truth (John 16:13) to accom­plish with what we do an effect that lies far beyond our nat­ur­al abilities.

Truth is the point of ref­er­ence which we share with all human beings. No one can live with­out truth. Though we may dis­agree about which par­tic­u­lar things are true or false, alle­giance to truth — what­ev­er the truth may be — per­mits us to stand along­side every per­son as hon­est fel­low inquir­ers. Our atti­tude is there­fore not one of us and them,” but of we.” And we are for­ev­er here to learn and not only to teach.

So, if at all pos­si­ble — some­times it is not, due to oth­ers — we give our account” in an atmos­phere of mutu­al inquiry ani­mat­ed by gen­er­ous love. How­ev­er firm we may be in our con­vic­tions, we do not become over­bear­ing, con­temp­tu­ous, hos­tile or defen­sive. For we know that Jesus him­self would not do so because we can­not help peo­ple in that way. He had no need of it, nor do we. And in apolo­get­ics as every­where, he is our mod­el and our mas­ter. Our con­fi­dence is total­ly in him. That is the spe­cial place” we give him in our hearts — how we sanc­ti­fy Christ in our hearts as Lord” — in the cru­cial ser­vice of apologetic.


📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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