1 Peter 3:15-16: ‘…Being Prepared to Make a Defence…’
Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor talks about these times of late modernity we live in as the twilight of the idols and the gods. Contrary to every prognostication and resistant to every attempt faith and religion continue to haunt us. The age of Christendom has come to end and the privileged position of unchallenged supremacy is lost to us. However, contrary to the hopes of the New Atheists religion is still with us. However, we now live in an age where there is no doubt without faith and no faith without doubt. This presents us with a double challenge. On the one hand we have an opportunity to address the mixed Neo Darwinian materialistic and humanistic/New Age/Therapeutic view on things coming to dominate modern society. Apologist Douglas Groothuis reports, ‘Through hundreds of interviews over a period of twenty years, my students in Christian apologetics at Denver Seminary have found that people often hold a smorgasbord of beliefs that do not easily fit into a unified worldview. There may be a dash of Christianity (left over from Sunday School), heaps of New Age spirituality (for personal enrichment), a dose of naturalism (about scientific matters) and, of course substantial seasoning by relativism (which is everywhere).’1 This presents us with a ripe opportunity.
But we also have to shore up believers against the growing tirade of critiques, objections, questions, and challenges. Since 9/11 the outspoken vitriol against Christianity in particular has been astounding. Through the ability of instant information where we are seeing books published, debates aired, blogs written, social media disseminating opinion, we are constantly bombarded with the latest opinion and argument against Christianity. Objections which give rise to answers which give rise to counter-objections have amped up the pressure on the believer to give an answer for why they believe what they believe. The accusations against Christians today are legion. We are now seen as anti-social because we do not support the new gender equality push. We are branded as puritanical, judgemental, unloving, and intolerant. On the scientific front we are accused of dishonesty, obscurantism, being primitive, beings enemies to education and truth. We are accused of harming our children by lying to them about matters of faith instead of allowing secular state policy driven schools to indoctrinate them with naturalistic views. We are accused of being chauvinistic, haters of women, abusers of children, hypocrites, that we institutionalise racism and on and on we could go.
This is why I feel the need for this series on apologetics. For those who don’t know what apologetics is, it has nothing to do with saying sorry, it comes from the Greek word apologia which means to make a defence. I am deeply aware of the pressures modern Christians face and the need to equip them. It is my hope that through these series we will be able to shore up some of your doubts, to equip you to answer the tough questions, in particular we need to think of this sort of enterprise as an inoculation for our children. By exposing them to the main objections to the faith and looking honestly at them and attempting to answer them, this will prepare them before they meet the assault waiting for them at university or the work place.
Perhaps an outline of what to expect would be helpful. There are two main things to consider in the apologetic endeavour. Firstly, there are the objections. This includes every challenge to faith both historical and present. Secondly, there are those arguments for Christianity, this would include a discussion of all those things that go to showing that Christianity is true or at best reasonable. We will begin with the positive things that go to show how Christianity is in fact the truth. Then after setting forth all the reasons why it is right to believe, we will then turn to the objections and defend against them.
Today we are going to being by looking at one of the classic apologetic texts, 1 Peter 3:15-16, ‘but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.’
This is a very helpful text for us. Firstly, it is helpful because of when it was written and who it was written to. It was written by Peter to Christian who were being persecuted during the reign of Nero. It was not the open and direct persecution of Christians under Nero where he dipped them in tar and used them as lanterns in his garden. No it was an earlier form of persecution where more financial and social penalties were involved. This is helpful because Christianity was a minority religion in an antagonistic setting much like we are experiencing today. Peter’s advice will be relevant to us for this reason. Secondly, many of the attitudes and accusations against these early Christians and Peter’s tactics on how to respond are very fitting for us as well. Christians because they did not worship the Roman gods were seen as disturbers of the peace, part of the problem and not the cure for societal ills. They were slandered and falsely accused of all sorts of things that were not true. So as we look at our text today to help us negotiate our own response to the antagonistic unbelief we face we will see three things. More than just the single concern of trying to be smarter than the unbeliever, Peter directs us to three things necessary to our response, that we honour Christ as Lord in our hearts; that we have prepared answers for our hope; and that we follow up our confession with a holy life.