We have been making our way through a few of the foundations that drive and energize our church's vision. And so far we have looked at a victorious hope, secondly at a victorious, conquering grace and thirdly at a victorious comprehensive plan (what I like to speak of as God's blueprints for life).
But today I want to give a cursory introduction to our viewpoint on apologetics. And I think your viewpoint on this subject makes a huge difference in your confidence about the bible and your aggressiveness in applying Christianity when people oppose it.
But I want to start by defining the term. We are used to thinking of an apology as expressing regret for something that you have done wrong. And that is one meaning of the term apology. Webster's dictionary gives that as the second meaning. But the dictionary gives as its first and its primary meaning this definition: "apology: from the Greek apologia, something said or written in defense; an argument to show that some idea, religion, etc. is right." "[An] apologist. One who … speaks or writes in defense of a doctrine, faith, action, etc." "Apologetics. That branch of theology having to do with the defense and proof of Christianity." That's the meaning of the term that we are using today. Apologetics is not where you are sorry and you apologize for your Christianity. The Greek word apologia is translated in verse 15 as "give a defense."
And how we give a defense of our faith can make the difference between being faithful to Christ's Word and His authority or being humanistic in our approach to Christianity. Now some of you might think that this is an egg-head issue that doesn't affect you. But it does.
All Christians are apologists whether they like it or not. We are either good ones or compromised ones, but all Christians are apologists for something.
And the first thing that I want to demonstrate is that all Christians are apologists whether they like it or not. We are either good ones or compromised ones, but all Christians are apologists or defenders of something. We might be defending ourselves from looking stupid in the eyes of unbelievers. That's not a good motivation. We might be defending our Christianity by appealing simply to our opinions. That's not a good method. We might be defending Christianity with the sole goal of making our opponents look like idiots. That's not a good goal. But whether our motive, goal or standard is good or bad, being an apologist is inescapable unless we totally give up the faith. There will be people who will challenge what you do, or say, or think. Your response is an apology.
For example, people may question why you homeschool. If you are embarrassed by your real reasons for homeschooling, you might just bring up issues the unbeliever can identify with – that the educational standards out there are poor, that they are receiving poor socialization, that Abraham Lincoln homeschooled, etc. And those can have a place in your apologetic (and we will get to that later), but if you argue neutrally from the standpoint of what will be appealing to an unbeliever, your apologetic will not be faithful and it will not be powerful because it has not challenged the root of their objections.
So right off the bat, let's take this idea of apologetics out of the realm of heady, hard to understand, philosophy department fare (that's where most people think of apologetics), and let me show you that apologetics (the defense of the faith that verse 15 talks about) is something that relates to what you do every day of your lives.
First of all, who is he talking to in this passage? Is it professional theologians or professional philosophers? No. Verse 8 says, "Finally, all of you be of one mind…" etc. If you look at the prepositions in this chapter you will find that "you" of verse 13 is the same person who has been suffering persecution in the previous verses. Includes the husband of verse 7, the wife of verses 1-6, the masters and servants of the previous chapter. In other words, Peter is talking to the average Christian church member. Every one of you needs to be ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within you. What does he mean by that? Well, in part he means, what is it that's driving you for any given action? What's your goals? Your answer will show what your apologetic is.
There are different styles of apologetic that you find in Scripture. Acts 17 shows Paul clashing with the intellectual philosophers of Athens. Not everybody is an intellectual, or as gifted with words. But you know what? Peter shows an apologetic in the same book of Acts which is uneducated. Acts 4:13 says, "Now when [the members of the Sanhedrin] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus."
They weren't impressed with their education. They realized that they weren't educated. But they were blown away with the boldness and confidence that Peter and John had. Did you know that there have been Jehovah's Witnesses who have come to Christ simply because of the peace and assurance that they saw in the Christian they had been talking to. The JW's were walking all over them in terms of arguments, but the Christian's confidence in the promises of God and in God's grace made the JW witnessing it hunger for a similar assurance. That's part of apologetics.
But let's just stick to the book of 1 Peter. Peter shows average Christians engaging in apologetics, and doing so with the whole of their lives. A lot of Academic apologists like to quote verse 15, but I want you to notice how it flows into verse 16. Let's read both verses. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." Peter's point is that there is far more to apologetics than having a good argument. He says that your good conduct will override their arguments and make them ashamed.
In fact, if we view apologetics as a refined intellectual sort of chess game, most of us will give up and leave apologetics to the expert. But Peter doesn't want you to do that. He commands all believers to be ready, even the most humble. Remember that this verse on apologetics is the culmination of a long discussion on holy living. Look at 2:11-12: "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation." Peter is saying that as much as their conduct may be reviled, their conduct will be an apologetic in God's favor.
So in verses 12-17 he tells them that how you relate to citizenship can be a good or a bad apologetic. Verses 18-25 shows how a slave's work ethic can be a good or a bad apologetic. 1 Peter 3:1-6 shows how a wife's behavior with an unbelieving husband can be a good or a bad apologetic. In fact, though these verses imply that she has shared the truth with her husband and he has rejected it, she does not nag. That ought to be encouraging to those of us who aren't good with our words. This wife has obviously talked to the husband about the truth because it says in verse 1 that the husband refuses to obey the word. She has sought to win him to Christ. So she has brought the word, but she hasn't nagged. Her goal now is to live an apologetic that can match what she has said. It says, "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives." So apologetics or winning people to Christ can involve our conduct without a battle of words.
Verse 7 says the same about a believing husband. The rest of the chapter shows how our relations to each other and our relations to unbelievers can be a powerful turn off or can be a powerful turn on. Francis Schaeffer said that the best apologetic for the world is seeing that Christians love one another. Christ said, "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another." That's an apologetic.
So don't be intimidated by apologetics. Paul says 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.
1 Cor. 1:26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 1 Cor. 1:27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
If they are being put to shame, the foolish and weak Christians are winning the argument, right? God's grace is enabling them to be apologists to those who are far more intellectually savvy that they are. We are going to be talking about presuppositional apologetics today. I believe it is the only apologetics that can enable even a child to put to shame an intellectual professor. He goes on in verse 28.
1 Cor. 1:28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 1 Cor. 1:29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
Apologetics is not about pride, glorying in having put some atheist in his place. Apologetics (if it is rightly used) is about bringing the power of God's Word effectively to tear down strong holds and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to obey Jesus. It's not about our power, but bringing the power of God's Word and God's methods and watching God work.
So my first point in this passage on apologetics is that it was intended for everyone. You don't need to be intimidated. The smallest of children can be taught to be effective apologists for God's grace if they start and end with God's authority. In fact, the younger our children are, sometimes the more effective they are at shamelessly defending the faith. I've been embarrassed sometimes at the sheer transparent belief in God that my children have had when they are two or three years old. They can tell a stranger why what they are doing is wrong, and get away with it. But as soon as the feeling of shame came to me, I realized that this shame came from the pit of hell and betrayed how strongly my flesh still dominated me. And my child has been an encouragement for me to be unashamed about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So point number 1 is that apologetics is for every believer. Now there are books that I can recommend that can enable you to be more sophisticated in it, but we won't be dealing with that this morning.
There are opportunities for apologetics everywhere
Point number 2 is that there are opportunities for apologetics everywhere. One opportunity is mentioned in verse 14: threats and persecution. Another is where a person asks him a question about his hope. We don't know if the question was, "Why in the world do you believe that nonsense?" or if it was a sincere question, but we ought not to let questions go by without directing people to God's truth. And think about this: if we are commanded to eat and drink and to do all to the glory of God, that means that everything we do relates to the hope that drives us, right? So the question, "Why do you homeschool?" could be answered with any number of Biblical answers that show that we are hoping our children will make their mark of dominion upon our culture. One person's answer might be that we want our children socialized in Biblical values rather than evolutionary and materialistic answers, if we suspect that the person is worried about socialization. That answer may lead to an in depth discussion that could make the unbeliever wish that his child had been educated in a Christian way. Or if you suspect that the person is asking the question because he thinks your child is not getting a good education, you might answer, "Because I want my child educated in truth, rather than being propagandized into the latest politically correct fads."
But the occasion for apologetics may be something totally different. It may be a kind deed that you did for an unbeliever. In a booklet on apologetics, Gover Gunn said:
What does it matter if one has honed his apologetic skills to a fine art if he never has an opportunity to use them? Before one can defend the faith, he must first earn a hearing for the faith. I believe the foremost duty of the Christian apologist is to live his daily life in obedience to Jesus in the power of Jesus. That is what, more than anything else, will earn a hearing. It will draw the interest and attention, the amazement and wonder of a watching world.
He is saying that the evidence of grace in your life – that you are doing things no unbeliever can do – this becomes a powerful part of apologetics. When wives act their part in verses 1-6, when husbands act their part in verse 7, when Christians show the unexpected actions of verses 8-12 (of returning good for evil, love for hate, etc.), that they not only receive God's blessing and favor (verses 9-12), but they cause unbelievers to ask questions. I think it is that kind of lifestyle that causes unbelievers to ask the question in verse 15: "What is the hope that is in you? Your life has caught my attention. I would have thought you would feel overwhelmed and devastated, yet you are full of hope. Why is that?' Even when it is the persecutors who asks that as a hostile challenge, it is precisely because your lifestyle is in such stark contrast to their own that makes the question come out.
If you are not living the supernatural life of the Holy Spirit that is described in this chapter, then it doesn't matter how sophisticated your arguments may be, the world will not care. The world is used to arguments they can't answer. There are academic journals constantly debating issues. Disagreements are dime a dozen. But what makes the Christian disagreement so powerful is the lifestyle that accompanies it.
J.I. Packer described the fruit of the Spirit this way: "Each is a habit of reaction that is most strikingly seen in situations where, humanly speaking, a different reaction would have been expected."
It's those situations where you smash your finger with a hammer, or respond with self-control when you are cut off by a car, that are opportunities for apologetics. When you are woken up in the middle of the night with a wrong number ringing in, does your reaction elicit from your wife an admiration of the hope that lies within you, or is it evidence simply of the flesh? When your child asks you to make a decision, will your apologetic be for your own autonomy or for God's authority. Apologetics is inescapable. When a child says, "But Daddy, everybody is doing it, why can't I?" she is giving an apologetic or a defense from humanism. And to be technical, she is appealing to statistical ethics rather than the ethics of the bible. And anyone who is looking on from outside will see that apologetic and will know that it is not the hope to which the Christian is called. It's the same hope that the world has, an independent, autonomous humanistic hope. You are constantly showing what drives you to your spouse, your children, your parents, you neighbors, your business associates. You can't say, "I will leave apologetics out of my office." When we get to point 4, I will be mentioning that it is appropriate to tell employees not to justify their arrogance or their misuse of company time in the name of Christ. But that in itself is a bad apologetic. You cannot escape apologetics. In your office your whole life either has the savor of Christ or points to your autonomy. Does your life elicit the wonderment of believers that makes them ask, "What is the hope that lies within you?" Simple academic debate is not enough. Think about the opportunities that came up this past week, and evaluate if you handled those opportunities properly.
We must avoid unbiblical methods of apologetics
But the third point is that we must avoid unbiblical methods of apologetics. And though most people only look at three forms of apologetics (evidentialism, fideism and presuppositionalism), there are really numerous forms that we could look at. I'm just going to examine six that you see very commonly used.
The first is called authoritarianism. In a nutshell it is convincing people to believe or else. Most of the world was conquered by Islam by this method of apologetics. Believe, or else! And usually people find it more convenient to believe than to face the sword, or prison, or ostracism or persecution, or loss of privileges, etc. This was the method of apologetics that was being used by the Roman empire at the time that this book was written. Look at verse 14. "But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.*
We will see in a moment why this apologetic was useless against Christians. Christians were driven by truth, had experienced God's grace and power and had an eternal perspective that overshadowed any immediate threats. But this method is not even effective with unbelievers because the moment the threat is lifted, what happens? People will tend to abandon their belief, right? Or if they don't abandon it, it still doesn't grip their hearts. I think that our student from a muslim country was a case in point. In his country he wore a prayer turban, prayed at the appointed times facing Mecca right in the middle of the street and basically conformed to every prescribed rule. He knew what the "or else" was in his country. But when he came here, he still called himself a muslim, but he wasn't consistent or passionate about it. He ditched prayer, his turban and many other marks of his religion. It really wasn't something that gripped his heart.
And you might say, "OK. We don't need to dwell on this apologetic. Christians don't use that." But you're not looking far enough if you think that. Many good, Reformed, Christian homes use this unbiblical method in getting their children to embrace Christianity. And don't get me wrong – there is a place for discipline on religious issues. But if all that you have done is to say, "believe it, practice it, follow it or else" you are using the authoritarian method, and you are failing to shepherd their hearts. You are failing to reach their hearts. What will happen is that your children will (more likely than not) change their behaviors when they are out of your home. Authoritarianism is not an effective apologetic to convince your unbelieving wives (according to verse 7). Rather than intimidating the wife, the husband should love and woo the wife. It is not an effective apologetic for wives to use with their unbelieving husbands according to verses 1-6. Now let me explain that, because you might be wondering how a wife could be authoritarian. They aren't authoritarian with physical force. (At least not usually.) They tend to use this apologetic of defense of what they want with domineering words and attitudes and manipulation. But Peter says that that will never win the husband's heart. Verse 1 says you don't need the intimidation machine of nagging.
It is not an effective apologetic tool in winning the hearts of your children. God calls us to shepherd their hearts. In chapter 5 Peter says that this is not an effective apologetic of pastors. Chapter 5:2 says, "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion…" See that phrase? "not by compulsion." Authoritarianism is the easiest apologetic to use. In argument you try to bully or intimidate a person into submission. Sometimes people even shout to win an argument. But presuppositional apologetics should have nothing to do with that method. It is a false apologetic method.
Another apologetic that I have frequently seen Christians use is pragmatism. This one doesn't say, "Believe or else." Instead this says, "Try it, you'll like it." Or "Christianity works." Now I believe that Christianity works too. That's not the issue. The issue is how do you define what works, and how in the world can that be a basis for it being true? Let me just illustrate what I mean. A wife in rebellion who wants comfort, not holiness is going to say, "Nah. That submission thing in 1 Peter 3 doesn't work." It doesn't matter how much you mention the peace, joy, effectiveness and functionality of the home to such a person, they are still not going to think it is worth it, because their definition of what works is what is easy and serves her selfish comforts.
Do you think that these Christians could realistically tell the pagans who were throwing them to the lions, "Try it, you'll like it?" I don't think so. Certainly Christians could point to that "joy unspeakable and full of glory" that Peter says they had been experiencing, but pagans are going to be thinking about the torture chamber, the confiscation of goods and the other parts of the fiery trial that these Christians are going through. Pragmatism will not cut it as an apologetic in this chapter. The name it and claim it Gospel frequently uses this argument.
Now I'm not saying that you should tell your children or your neighbors that Christianity doesn't work. I tell unbelievers that it is the only system of thought that really works, but I have to define my terms. I think Biblical free market economics works, but when a socialist is arguing with me about widows who can't afford insurance and need government assistance, or when I am arguing with the labor union boss who is saying that it is unfair for CEO's to be getting 2 million a year while they only get 45,000 a year, pragmatism won't get me far. I have to argue from truth in the bible, and then point out the impossibility of rationally being able to defend the opposite viewpont that they are standing for. I need to show him that apart from a standard of truth, it is just his viewpoint versus the CEO's viewpoint and who is to say that his viewpoint is preferable. If you don't have a Biblical basis on which to stand, then you have no absolute basis to criticize anything being done.
I'm afraid that we parents many times say that we believe in presuppositionalism, but in reality we are pragmatists in business, pragmatists in family rearing. Our defense of what we are doing is that it works. That's not enough.
A third faulty and inadequate approach is mysticism or belief because we just know it by intuition. And it's not just the Charismatics that are at fault here. Pietism and mysticism is everywhere. Where authoritarianism says, "Believe or else," and pragmatism says, "Believe, because it will solve all your problems, or try it, you'll like it," mysticism says, "the reason I know Christianity is true is because I have Jesus in my heart," or "deep down I know it is true." When I was a kid we used to sing a pietistic hymn that says, "You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart." And I would say, "No. That is not why you know Christ lives. You know it because the infallible Word of God has told you.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to mystical experiences. I have them all the time. They are a comfort to me. Verse 15 starts with a mystical, intuitive act – "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." OK? That's something subjective. We must experience the reality of what Scripture says is truth. So I'm not opposed to subjective experience. I glory in the subjective presence of God in my heart. But mysticism goes way beyond that. It bases its belief in the fact that I have experienced it. Which means what? It's based Christianity in the human experience rather than in the divine word. I'm fallible. I can be mistaken. My experience is a faulty place to start. And that my friends, is not enough to convince others. Almost every religious group claims experiences. How do we know its not a demonic experience? The Bible says that Christians have experienced demonic deception. Experiences are subjective, unprovable and changing. We can feel down because of a cold and attribute our feelings to something more fundamental.
I want you to notice that Peter does not say that it is the mystical experience that is the basis of the defense. I want to read the verse again and I want you to notice two key words: hope and reason. Notice that this apologetic method involves both reason and hope in the context of faith. "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." Reason involves the mind. Hope involves the mind. Over and over again the Christian hope is said to be grounded in Scripture. The bible says, "I have hoped in Your ordinances…I have hoped in Your word… In His word do I hope… "the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers… through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope…" (Ps. 119:43, 74; 130:5; Acts 26:6; Rom. 15:4). Ephesians 2:12 says that those without the word are without hope. The hope that we defend is grounded in the word and is reasonable and rational.
A related method of defending the faith is often called Fideism. Where authoritarianism says, "Believe it or else," and pragmatism says "Try it, you'll like it," and mysticism says, "God is so real to me that you've got to believe it," Fideism says, "You've got to make a blind leap of faith (even though there is no evidence) and trust that God is there." Fideism gives no effort to argue. It simply presents an assertion and tells people to believe it. In some circles they ask for implicit faith. You don't even need to read the Scripture. Just trust the church's interpretation.
Barthianism is another form of Fideism. Karl Barth, the father of neo-orthodoxy which is neither new nor orthodox, but simply reworked liberalism, thought that apologetics was an illegitimate pursuit. He said that it is impossible to defend the faith. You simply believe. Let me read a quote to you:
"Neo-orthodoxy teaches that God is transcendent or wholly other in the sense that He cannot communicate to us in a manner we can comprehend with our minds. Thus the Bible is not the Word of God. The Bible contains the word of God in that when we read the Bible, God can communicate to us through a spiritual encounter deep within our being, a spiritual encounter which does not directly involve the mind. Thus, to use the language of neo-orthodoxy, God is wholly revealed to us in terms of an irrational encounter but He simultaneously remains totally hidden from us in terms of our mental comprehension." (Grover Gunn)
But that is not Biblical Christianity. Peter says not only that we have a hope, but that there is a reason for the hope and secondly, that there is a rational defense that we need to be ready to give.
But where Fideism offers hope without reason, evidentialism offers reasons without presupposing our hope. In fact, they strenuously object to inserting the hope of Scripture into the equation. Instead, they say that we must reason from a neutral standpoint about the facts of this world to try to demonstrate that there is a hope to be believed. Evidentialism starts with the so-called facts of history and is convinced that if they are fairly and neutrally looked at, they will lead a person to believe that Jesus was raised from the grave, and if he was raised, he is to be trusted because he predicted that he would be raised, and if He is to be trusted, then we need to believe His statements about being God, and His resurrection authenticates His power over death, and if He was God, that He was true in what He said about Himself and the Word, and if the Word is what Jesus says it is, it can be trusted, and if it can be trusted, we have a probability that its message is true. And the safe thing to do is to follow the Scripture.
If you want a nice concise critique of Evidentialism, Bob Fugate has written a tract on the subject entitled "Taking Every Thought Captive." But the main problem of starting with creation and arguing to God is that the most you could argue for is a finite God since you can't get infinite from finite. A second problem is that the mind becomes a higher authority than the bible. A third problem Bob brings up is that this method assumes that unbelievers have not become believers simply because they lack sufficient evidence, whereas Scripture says that they have overwhelming evidence and yet they still willfully reject it. A fourth problem Bob brings up is that it wrongly assumes that there is such a thing as a neutral fact or that we can be neutral. The bottom line is that evidentialism uses unbelief to try to defend belief. It's as if the apologist is saying this (and I'm quoting from another author here):
"I want to reason as you reason so that you will accept my reasoning. I don't want to argue in a circle and beg the question by assuming what I am trying to prove. Therefore, I will set aside for the moment my belief in God, my belief in Christ, my belief in the Bible as a divinely inspired book. I am going to set aside my faith in everything but my faith in my own ability to reason, and then I will use that ability to prove my faith in God, Christ and the Bible."
It really proves the opposite. Proving that Jesus was raised from the dead means nothing if you are starting from an unbelieving viewpoint. There are many non-Christians who believe Jesus was raised from the dead. I even know of a Jewish professor who is convinced of Jesus' resurrection. But his response was not faith, but that its just one more strange occurrence in a strange universe.
The biblical method is called presuppositionalism. It starts with a precommittment to God. Notice in verse 15 he starts with a precommitment to Jesus before the argument even begins. "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense…" The Christian needs to start with a commitment to God, and since he is defending a hope, it shows that he is already committed to that hope. Peter does not allow us to use the world's reason which has no hope and which is without God in order to try to prove our hope in Christ. Peter wants us to admit to unbelievers that we are starting with a commitment of dependence upon God and His Word, and then to demonstrate that the unbeliever is starting from a commitment to independence, and that nothing can be defended if you start from man's puny mind. If there is no God then there is no way of demonstrating that rape is wrong. You can't appeal to animals because they do so all the time. You can't appeal to culture because there are cultures (like the one I grew up in in Ethiopia) where rape was considered the norm, and loving relations were the rare exception.
Or setting aside ethics, you can't come up with any universal axioms on which to base your disciplines unless you are omniscient. Only God knows what always is and what always is not. Those are universals. But man cannot function without universals. And this was the ancient temptation that Satan gave to Adam and Eve that they could judge truth and error for themselves; they could judge right and wrong for themselves. He tempted them to think independently. And so, your strategy is to give God's universals or axioms which provide a basis for every discipline and every area of thinking and dominion. When those axioms of Scripture (our hope and our confidence) are rejected, then we proceed to show the only option is to know nothing, to be certain of nothing and to have a flimsy hope rather than what Hebrews 6:19 speaks of as a sure and steadfast hope.
Peter says that this apologetic can be so effective that even if they don't obey the truth, they will be ashamed. Their mouths will be shut. They will not be able to answer. And presuppositional apologetics has one goal – to remove every argument that exalts itself against Christ and to bring people to the place where they either acknowledge the truth of God and submit, or acknowledge the truth of God and continue to rebel. But in either case, their defense is taken away. That's the purpose of apologetics. To give Christians certainty, and to remove all certainty from unbelief.
I was really impressed with Ken Ham's most recent article in his newsletter. He's come a long ways, and in this article he gives a brief exposition of Proverbs 26:4-5 and defends presuppositionalism completely. I hope all of the six day creation movement goes that direction. This is a wonderful development. Proverbs 26:4 says, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him." If you agree with the unbeliever that it is legitimate to start from a neutral stance and that anything in life can be properly interpreted apart from God, then you will have no basis for moving him from independence to dependence. Why? Because you are just like him; you are independent in your reasoning. You just happen to have Christian doctrines, but your presuppositions are the same as the unbelievers. Why should he move to dependence if you as a believer act as if your mind determines truth? That's what the proverb means when it says, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him." To argue neutrally is to grant the unbeliever exactly what he wants – independence. You have removed all your armor and dropped your sword in the fight.
But the next verse goes on to say "Answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes." Once you have established that the bible is the only legitimate starting point, you can turn around and show that if the unbeliever continues in his independence, there is no way that he can prove anything with absolute certainty. So it is a two-fold methodology. You provide the blueprints of Scripture and then tear down any competition. And this apologetics gives such confidence, such certainty, such aggressiveness, that you might liken it to the navy seal approach to the defense of the faith. It is a victorious apologetic that matches the victorious hope, the victorious grace and the victorious blueprints that we have already covered in this foundations series.
We must defend the faith in a godly manner
But there is one danger that we need to be on guard against. (And this brings us to our last point.) It is that this weapon of apologetics (when practiced and understood) is so powerful that it can make the people who use it arrogant, proud and not fun to be around. And so Peter goes on to say that we must defend the faith in a godly manner. "…give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience…"
I know people who have incredible minds and can run circles around any pagan, but they do so with such arrogance, that it is a total turn off. There was a period of time when I took pride in being able to run circles around Jehovah's Witnesses, and stump them. But all it did was embarrass them. I showed no compassion or concern for their souls. That's not right. Paul said,
And though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2)
Don't push yourself on them
So let me end with five things that Peter says need to accompany apologetics. First, don't push yourself on unbelievers. Verse 15 says be ready with a defense to everyone who asks you…. When you see what a powerful handgun this methodology is, you have a tendency to pick fights. That's not what Peter recommends. Don't be pushy in the workplace. Defend yourself, be confidence, be unapologetic, yes. But don't be pushy. Now having said that, I think there needs to be enough savor of Christ about all that we do, and God and bible needs to be such a natural part of what we think and say, that it will be obvious to others that you are a Christian. They won't think to ask you about the hope that is in you if you don't demonstrate and reveal that hope. That's OK. But that's not the defense part. That's the Christian living part. All I'm saying is don't pick fights. People aren't won into the kingdom by being nasty.
The second thing that Peter admonishes is that we do so with meekness or humility. If we lack pride we won't need to get defensive. If we are confident in God we will be humble before God. Nothing ruins apologetics quicker than a prideful attitude. Jesus said the meek will inherit the earth. They are the ones who will have an effective apologetic.
Third, fear God. Peter says that we should engage in apologetics with meekness and fear. Fearing lest we also stumble into independent thinking and become infected with humanism. But especially fearing God. The man who fears God fears no man. It is the fear of man that makes us want to compromise so much. It's the fear of man that makes us lust for academic respectability. Hugh Ross' apologetics are pandering to the fear of man. So fearing God is a prerequisite to being effective in apologetics.
With a clear conscience
The fourth thing that should be present is a clean conscience. Verse 16 says, "having a clean conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed." You want to know why a clean conscience before God is so important? It's because there is a tendancy of humans to resort to personal attacks and smear campaigns when they can't win an argument on its own merits. And when they do this, you will crumble and become defensive and be taken off of the apologetic purpose of bringing thoughts captive to Christ if you are trying to defend your own honor. If your conscience is clean before God, it is easier to handle being falsely accused before men. This is a major weakness that needs to be shored up if we are to be effective apologetes.
Accompanied with godly conduct
And then finally, we need to accompany our apologetic with what verse 16 calls "good conduct." If you are an indispensable employee, your dominion will sell you to your employer long before your words will. If you are a good employer, your following of good (verses 13,16 and 17) will be far more powerful than your words. They may still hate you, but it will be pretty hard for them to be successful in convincing others that you are wrong.
This may have been a challenging lesson for some of you. Some will be able to carry out apologetics in an academic setting better than others. But all of us can be effective apologists if we will (Roman numeral II) keep our eyes open for those providential opportunities that God gives us every day (opportunities to demonstrate what our hope is placed in to our children, to our spouse, our friends and neighbors, etc), if (Roman numeral III) we will use Biblical methods of apologetics that do not compromise the sure foundation of God's Word and authority, and then if (Roman numeral IV) we will defend the faith in a godly manner. We have covered the motive, goal and standard of apologetics. May each of you aspire to be apologists for king Jesus; defending the faith. Amen.