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, (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
Q: “One of my friend’s pastors said that most apologists take 1 Peter 3:15 out of context and don’t consider the meaning behind the verse. He said that the verse was intended only for those suffering and receiving threats for doing what is right, not for Christians in general to make a practice of defending their beliefs. Do you think apologists take this verse out of context?” — Mason S.
A: If by taking out of context, he means that apologists misapply this verse, I don’t think they do. Yes, the immediate context concerns being able to offer a gentle and respectful reason for your hope if you suffer for doing good (3:14). However, I think it’s silly to think that Peter would then say, “But if you’re not suffering for doing good, this teaching doesn’t apply to you. Carry on spreading the Gospel without any reasons, gentleness, or respect.”
In this letter, the Apostle Peter is challenging the followers of Jesus Christ to always be ready to demonstrate why they hope in Jesus. Can you imagine the absurdity of preparing to give reasons for your faith but then being like, “Well, dang it. I’m not really suffering right now. I can’t give my skeptical friend a reason for my hope. If only he’d punch me in the face, then I could share why I believe what I believe.”
The above scenario is ridiculous and clearly not the example set for us by Jesus, Paul, and Peter himself. These men gave reasons for people to believe their claims, and not every evangelistic opportunity was in the context of suffering. Jesus healed a paralytic man so that the people would know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). Paul reasoned with Jews, explaining and proving that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:2-4). And Peter delivered a powerful message at Pentecost arguing for the messiahship of Jesus, explaining how David in Psalm 19 was prophesying about the Messiah dying and being raised (Acts 2:14-41).
Providing reasons for our faith (apologetics) is not unbiblical or even niche. It is part of the tradition of the historic Christian faith. Jesus argued, his disciples argued, the early church fathers argued, and the great saints of old like Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther all argued. They gave reasons why their teaching should be accepted and why one’s faith should be placed in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is lazy and irresponsible for us to do any less.
In a world that uses force rather than good arguments to get people to adopt what they think is true, Christians can bring peace by winsomely and gently demonstrating the validity of their claims.