This morning, I was meeting with a good friend from church and talking to him about some of his struggles in feeling adequate enough to give an answer to the intellectual crowd around him. I have no doubt this is true for many others as well, including myself. The world’s wisdom is built on understanding. If we can’t see it, taste it, touch it, prove it, it simply cannot exist. How is it logical that God is simultaneously three distinct beings and one complete being? Who could be silly enough to believe that the earth was actually created by the Voice of God in six 24 hour periods of time?
It is easy for me to feel inadequate when big questions stump me. I feel like I am doing the Gospel an injustice through my inability to provide an answer. Apologetics are important and we should know what the Bible says and teaches, but I think 1 Peter 3:14a-15 is often taken out of context to make the case for answers being of supreme importance. It says,
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.
This is the warrior motto for the apologetic because we must know the answers (or reasons) in order to respond to the questions. The context of this verse addresses suffering for Christ though. It’s not talking about writing books or having debates. Peter is telling us that, in Christ, we are able to cling to hope in the midst of trial. When we do that, others will see our hope and ask us about it. The questions we need to answer don’t simply come from books and difficult passages in Scripture, they come from how others see us live our lives in light of the Gospel – Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-5)
I was reminded of a quote from Russell Moore in his book, Tempted and Tried that is a great reminder of Gospel transformation.
The temptation toward self-protection moves with us as we move forward in the Christian life. In our dialogue with those outside the faith, we often fall for this temptation not only in tone (as we’ll see shortly) but also in content. We often want an incontrovertible, airtight argument for the truthfulness of the Christian gospel, something that can be tested and verified. We want to see Jesus – and thus ourselves – protected from any possible attack. Some do this by resting everything on intellectually rigorous arguments – historical evidence for the resurrection, say, or on the intricate structure of the human eye, or whatever. Others do this by looking for dramatic public evidences of God’s existence – in miracles or healings or revivals. This is an old and persistent strain in the Christian life. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that the Greeks demanded signs of wisdom and the Jews demanded signs of power, but it was through the apostolic preaching that the aspirations of both were found in Christ, who is “the power and God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Humanly speaking, this was a paradoxically weak power and a paradoxically foolish wisdom. But Christ alone could illuminate and overcome the darkness out there and in here.
Sometimes believers will throw up their hands in frustration with non-Christian people they know. “I have said everything I know to say to her about the gospel,” one might say. “She already knows it all and still doesn’t believe.” Often what we seek is another argument, a hidden angle that our interlocutor hasn’t thought through before. But that’s rarely how the gospel is heard and received. Think about it in your own case. Did you believe the gospel the first time you ever heard it? Perhaps you did, but if so, you’re quite unusual. Most of us heard the gospel over and over and over again until one day it hit us in a very different way. And what was different about it? Was it a new argument? Did you say to yourself, “Wait, you mean there’s archaeological evidence proving the historical existence of the Hittites?” or “Hold on, there were five hundred witnesses to the resurrection? Well, what must I do to be saved?”
No, in most cases what we heard was the same old gospel – Christ crucified for us, buried, raised from the dead – and suddenly there was light (2 Cor. 4:6). Suddenly what had seemed boring or irrelevant to us now seemed quite personal. We heard a man’s voice in that gospel, and we wanted to follow that voice (John 10:3, 16). We saw a light of glory that overwhelmed us (2 Cor. 4:6). The same is true with the as-of-yet unbelieving world around us or the as-of-yet unbelieving relatives we have waiting for us at the Thanksgiving dinner table. You need not be intimidated by unbelievers, as though what you need is a more nuanced “worldview” to protect the kingdom of God from their threats. Yes, we engage in apologetic arguments, but those aren’t at the hub of our mission. By talking with unbelievers about arguments against the existence of God or scientific evidence for blind natural selection or whatever, all we’re doing is listening to the defense mechanisms of those who are, as we were, scared of the sound of God’s presence in the garden. We should talk about those things lovingly, but not so we can defend the faith. We engage others only so we can get to know the only announcement that assaults the blinding power of the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). The gospel is big enough to fight for itself.