The Consequences of Suppressing the Truth

David Foster Wallace world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie
David Foster Wallace
world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie

In the last post we looked at the Bible’s description of the unbeliever’s epistemic situation. He knows God clearly, but tries to hold back the rising knowledge of God in his life (Rom. 1:18-20). In this post we look at the intellectual and moral consequences for the unbeliever of his constant denial of what he knows to be true.

First, suppression leads to self-deception. Romans 1 tells us that the unbeliever suppresses what is clear and obvious to him. When a person denies reality long enough, he will be unable to tell when he is wrong. The brain’s elasticity combined with the heart’s depravity can make it such that an unbeliever can thoroughly convince himself that he does not know God. This is the most blatant form of self-deception possible. The implanted knowledge of God that is reinforced by the testimony of the created order is so clear, that to deny it is to jeopardize one’s ability to think clearly. This is exactly what we see described in Ephesians 4:17-19.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19 ESV)

The second consequence of suppression is irrationality. That is, a person who deceives himself will begin to think and act against reason. What is ironic is that many unbelievers accuse Christians of being irrational. They are guilty of the very charge they bring against Christianity.

For example, philosophers who deny the existence of God will, in the same breath, speak of nature and the universe as infinite, powerful, creative, intentional, and benevolent. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the well-known evolutionary astronomer, speaks of the universe “choosing” him to be a scientist. These characteristics are all true of God, yet these scholars refuse to acknowledge God. They would rather attribute these properties to an impersonal universe.

Likewise, Richard Dawkins, when pressed about the origins of the universe, is forced to admit that he simply doesn’t know where the first elements that began the universe came from. His only solution to the problem is that perhaps aliens seeded the universe with the chemical building blocks that begin the Big Bang (The God Delusion). That answer, however, simply pushed the question back to the next—from where did the aliens come? In both these examples, when the truth of God is denied, the alternate explanations are completely irrational and should not be believed by thinking people.

The third consequence of suppression is that it leads to idolatry. When a person deceives himself long enough, he begins to think irrationally. And when irrationality takes root in the heart, he will do what no clear-headed person would do—he worships false gods. The irrationality is so strong at this point that the ludicrous nature of his actions escapes the unbeliever. Isaiah 44:9-20 describes the irrationality in vivid terms. A man goes into a forest, chops down a tree ad hauls it home. With half a log of wood he makes a fire and cooks his dinner over it. He takes the other half a log to a craftsman who carves it into an idol and overlays it with gold. He then falls down and worships the idol, even though it is nothing more than firewood.

This is the height of self-deception and irrationality. Yet, it is no different than many people in the modern world who worship what they know cannot restore them to God or satisfy the brokenness of their souls. People worship all kinds of objects, values, and abstract ideas. To worship means “to give oneself over to and to find one’s significance in.” And the truth is, everybody worships something. Tim Keller explains this so eloquently in his book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters.

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essen-tial to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought…An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” there are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship (page xviii).

David Foster Wallace was a rising star in American Literature when he suddenly took his own life at the age of 46. A few years before his untimely death, Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon University that spoke powerfully to the inescapable urge to worship in humans. An atheist himself, Wallace delivered this statement in the speech:

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

 

Wallace confirms the teaching of Romans 1, that everybody worships something. And whatever an individual worships that is not God is an idol. So even atheists who often argue that they don’t worship anything cannot escape the fact that they inescapably attach their hopes to something in a manner that meets Keller’s criteria for worship.

We have looked at how a person becomes an idolater, but another important question is how people continue in idolatry, even when it is so obvious that they are being irrational in their worship. The rest of Romans 1 explains how it is possible, and that will be the subject of the next post.

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Suppression: Like Holding a Beach Ball Under Water

Beach_BallRomans 1:18 contains the key to understanding how unbelievers know God, and yet so many deny that He exists. Paul says that they “suppress” the truth unrighteously. That is, they actively resist in a dishonest fashion the knowledge of God of which they are quite aware. The word suppress means to push down or hold back that which is trying to rise to the surface.

Think about the fun that a beach ball can bring. This large, light, inflatable ball can be batted around, used as a kickball, or launched into the wind to see how far it will go. One think that you cannot do with a beach ball, however, is to play with it under water. The buoyancy of a beach ball means that while you can, with great effort, momentarily hold it under water, it will quickly rise to the surface.

In the same way, unbelievers daily push down on the knowledge of God that rises in them through both the implanted knowledge of God and the testimony of the created order that they see and experience every day. This knowledge of God is inescapable, as is the guilt for sin. The only way a person can live with such an in-your-face awareness and not be overwhelmed with God’s presence is to resist this knowledge.

Suppression happens in a thousand ways. Some people suppress the truth by turning to other religions and redirecting the worship that is due to God alone to other deities. This is one of the explanations for why there are so many religions in the world. Every one of them is an attempt to worship something other than the one true God so that the individual does not have to confess his guilt and accept God’s terms for salvation. The truth of this is confirmed in the common attempts by all religions to practice a way for the adherents to offer a sacrifice to atone for their sins. By redirecting their worship to other religions, unbelievers mute the voice of God in their hearts and satisfy themselves that they are fine the way they are.

Another way of suppressing the knowledge of God is through filling their lives with distractions. Some people get busy with their job, their hobbies, their possessions, and a thousand other time-consuming activities so they won’t have time to think about their souls and eternal destiny. By flooding their schedules with constant busyness, they never have to face up to the darkness within that haunts them.

A third way that people suppress the truth is by drugging themselves with substances that dull the pain of guilt. Drugs, alcohol, food, sex, television, internet, sleep, music, and other substances, many of which are good things within the bounds of God’s commandments, are misused to satisfy physically what is wrong spiritually. By exchanging relationship with God for substances that reduce the longing of the soul, some people don’t have to face up to their estrangement from God.

A fourth way to suppress the knowledge of God is to simply deny that there is any evidence for God and to refuse to look at anything that claims to be evidence. In this case the individual refuses to listen to arguments for God, and discounts anything that is put forth as evidence. This shows the lack of objectivity in an unbeliever, because he doesn’t want God to exist.

For example, Thomas Nagel, Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University expresses this candidly when he writes,

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. The Last Word (Oxford, 1997), p. 130-31

Why would someone knowingly reject something solely on the basis that he didn’t want it to be true? The answer is that people reject God because they do not want to be accountable to Him. They do not want to believe that they have sinned against a God who will call the to account and judge them someday. The truth or falsity of the situation is beside the point. If a person doesn’t want something to be true, he can talk himself into believing that it is, in fact, not true.

Suppression, then, is the common experience of unbelievers everywhere. When you talk to someone who doesn’t know Christ, you can be sure that in some way, or in many ways, they are holding back the knowledge of God. One of the strategies of apologetics that will be discussed in later posts, is to ask questions that reveal how a person is suppressing the truth so you can get to the heart of their resistance of God. The reason this is important is because suppression has consequences. When a person fights the knowledge of God, there is a price to pay. In the next post we’ll look at the consequences of suppression.

Understanding Unbelievers

Teamwork and Leadership with education symbol represented by two human heads shaped with gears with red and gold brain idea made of  cogs representing the concept of intellectual communication through technology exchange.

One of the primary reasons Christians do not share their faith freely is fear. This fear comes in many forms. Some are afraid to be mocked or ridiculed. Others are afraid that they will be asked questions they can’t answer. Some fear the high levels of discomfort they experience when they do try to witness. Others fear that they may experience persecution of some kind.

One of the most important truths that can be learned to alleviate fear in witnessing is the nature of unbelievers according to the Bible. In other words, God tells us in his Word exactly what is happening inside the heart and mind of every unbeliever. By learning this, believers can approach unbelievers with more confidence, knowing that regardless of his appearance, every unbeliever shares the same basic characteristics in relation to God.

You Don’t Have to Prove God Exists!

Although Scripture has much to say about the nature of unbelievers, no passage is as clear and definitive as Romans 1. In this chapter we have a detailed description from God’s view of the inner workings of the unregenerate human heart. By coming to understand the Bible’s teaching in this chapter, we can begin to shed the irrational fear of sharing the gospel that often grips us.

Every unbeliever already knows God exists and knows some things about him (1:18-21)

The question that often arises when people consider sharing their faith is, “What if someone demands that I prove God exists before they will believe?” This is a difficult question, but the answer is surprisingly easy—you don’t have to. These verses are clear about what the unbeliever already knows. Repeatedly we are told here that unbelievers already know God, and are in a relationship of wrath with Him. In verse 19 we see that what the unbeliever is able to know about God is already clear to him for the very reason that God has shown it to him. If God shows someone something, it is unmistakable. Verse 20 tells us that even God’s invisible attributes are clearly understood by the unbeliever every time he looks at the world. This corresponds with Psalm 19:1-2, which tells us that the heavens proclaim God’s glory every day. Theologians call this natural revelation, and Romans 1:20 tells us that this has been true ever since the world was made.

The net effect of this knowledge is that the unbeliever has no excuse for not believing in God. The phrase “without excuse” is a translation of the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word apologetics. In other words, the unbeliever has no way to plead ignorance before God if he does not believe, because he already knows God exists.

He also knows certain truths about God. Verse 20 tells us that the unbeliever knows quite a bit about God, even though His attributes are invisible to the human eye. The reason this is true is that the knowledge of God is implanted in every person who is born. This implanted knowledge of God is part of being made in the image of God. Being God’s image begins with inescapably knowing the One we are called to reflect. Specifically, people know God is eternal, all-powerful and divine. This last item speaks to God’s holiness and otherness. God’s deity is contrasted to our creatureliness. He is wholly different than we are because he is God and we are not. In addition, he cannot tolerate sin. God’s holiness is the root of his wrath against sin, which has been revealed to every unbeliever (v. 18). That is, the unbeliever knows he is guilty before God

The implications of this are critical. Every unbeliever I talk to, whether he wants to admit it or not, knows God exists and knows that he is guilty before God. Even if he denies knowing God, in his heart he knows God and knows that God’s wrath is awaiting him if he does not repent. That means that I am talking to someone who is trying to avoid the obvious—God exists and man should believe him.

The question that arises from this, however, is why some unbelievers resort to atheism and deny God if they know him to be true. How can the Bible say that all unbelievers truly know God? We’ll address this in the next post.

Persuasion versus Argument in Apologetics

persuade_othersPersuasion versus Argument

The good news when it comes to evangelism and apologetics is that Jesus does not call us to argue with people in a contentious manner, but rather to seek to persuade. The good news of Jesus was never spread through quarreling, but through persuasion. Persuasion can be defined as the art of speaking to people who are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say, and moving them closer to our position.[1] Returning to 1 Peter 3:15-16 we note several principles regarding persuasion in apologetics:[2]

  1. Apologetics is not about starting arrogant arguments with unbelievers. We are not trying to prove them wrong, humiliate them, or make ourselves feel smarter. Rather, our goal is to present a reasonable defense of the truths of the Christian faith. As Kevin DeYoung says, “We don’t want people to think that we are always right, but we want them to know that the Bible is never wrong.” We show how Christianity is built on rational truth that does not contradict itself, as well as on verifiable historical events. In doing this we aim to continue the conversation until it can be focused on Jesus.

We also need to discern between arguing and being argumentative. Argument is a natural part of life, and simply denotes the way we seek to logically present ideas. Being argumentative, on the other hand, is an attitude of opposing ideas just for the sake of it, or for the love of conflict. This is the equivalent of being contentious or quarrelsome. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “A quarrel can end a good argument. Most people today quarrel because they cannot argue.”

Because apologetics involves the give and take of conversation, arguing your point is a natural means of persuasion. Just as Paul argued and reasoned with those to whom he shared the gospel (Acts 19:8-9; 25:8), so in seeking to persuade people of the gospel, we argue the truth of Christianity, albeit with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15-16).

  1. We are not responsible to convince anyone of the truth of the gospel, simply to present it in a convincing way. As Bahnsen says, “We can offer sound reasons to the unbeliever, but we cannot make him subjectively believe those reasons. We can refute the poor argumentation of the unbeliever, but still not persuade him. We can close the mouth of the critic, but only God can open the heart. Only God can regenerate a dead heart and give sight to the blind. This is why apologists should not evaluate their success or adjust their message on the basis of whether the unbeliever finally comes to agree with them or not.”

This is one of the truths that alleviates our fear of witnessing. While I want to be as persuasive as I can, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately convinces the unbeliever of his sin and need of salvation.

The same authority that serves as the basis for our theology (the Scriptures), serves as the basis for our apologetics, too. Even if the unbeliever I am talking to doesn’t believe the Bible to be true, I must base my apologetic on the living and powerful Word of God if I want to be as persuasive as possible (Heb. 4:12). We dare not capitulate on that which is the basis for all our arguments. That does not mean that we only quote Scripture in response to arguments against the Christian faith. Rather, in addition to quoting Scripture, we also present our arguments as the consistent outworking of our belief in the Christian worldview as taught in the Bible.

[1] Adapted from Os Guiness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 18.

[2] See Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith. (Covenant Media Press, 1995), 111-12.

The Holy Spirit and Prayer in Apologetics

woman-sincere-prayer_si_0Because apologetics is a spiritual endeavor more than it is a philosophical one, believers can never forget two simple truths:

  1. The Holy Spirit is the power and ultimate persuasion behind apologetics. We dare not seek to persuade unbelievers of the truth of the gospel in our own power. Since salvation is essentially the supernatural regeneration of a person dead in sin, the Spirit must be the active power behind someone getting saved. Human effort and persuasion cannot bring about regeneration. This means that when I share the gospel with someone, I am not trying to convert him by my own power, but rather sharing and defending the truth that he must embrace in order to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

This is important to remember, or else we can quickly depend on our own persuasiveness and personality to evangelize. We can come to believe that it is our eloquence and ability that brings people to Christ. This often results in a focus on techniques that pressure, manipulate, or coerce unbelievers into “making a decision.” However, the Bible never describes salvation as the result of making a decision. A person is saved when he repents of his sin and places his faith in Jesus.

In order for a person to repent he must first be convicted of his sin to the point that he wants to turn from it to Christ. This will not happen if the Holy Spirit is not changing his heart toward his sin. Esau tried to the point of tears to repent, but could not because the Spirit had not convicted him (Heb. 12:17). We realize, then, that while we confront unbelievers with the need to repent of sin, only the Holy Spirit can produce real repentance in the heart. Likewise, unless the Holy Spirit convinces the unbeliever that Jesus is the Son of God who is the way the truth and the life, he will not turn to Jesus for salvation.

The Holy Spirit’s role in salvation is mentioned throughout the New Testament. The Holy Spirit and prayer are the means by which closed doors and closed hearts are opened (Col. 4:2-6)

  1. Prayer is the means by which we remain cognizant of Point #1. Apologetics is a spiritual battle more than it is an intellectual battle, since an unbeliever’s opposition to the truth is primarily an ethical one, not an intellectual one. Prayer is the primary evidence that we are depending on God and not ourselves. Those who pray much are fully dependent. Those who pray little demonstrate self-reliance for the persuasiveness of their witness.

When we pray for God to save someone we are asking God to override their blindness to help them see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:6). We are asking God to stop the person from continuing in unbelief. We are asking God to show them the emptiness of life without Christ. In every version of our prayers for unbelievers we are asking God to do what we cannot. Our prayers show our reliance on the Holy Spirit’s convicting work in the heart of our conversation partner.

The roles of the Holy Spirit and prayer should increase our confidence to share the gospel, because we know the power does not come from us. Our role is to simply pray and speak. God’s job is to save.

This leads us into the next topic—the difference between persuasion and argument. When many people hear the word apologetics they think of arguing with unbelievers about the truth. For those who love arguing, this sounds fun. For the majority of Christians, however, the prospect of arguing with unbelievers about the truth of the Christian faith holds no appeal. The next post will deal with persuasion in apologetics.

The Power of Apologetics

When an opportunity arises to engage an unbeliever with the gospel, a Christian can often feel he is at a disadvantage when it comes to the authority of his message. The world considers its “wise men” to be the only authorities in a discussion—scientists, philosophers, politicians, etc. The Bible is often dismissed out of hand as an authority, and so is discounted. To appeal to it often seems to be a sure sign that an argument has no merit on its own.

In fact, however, when we compare the authority of God’s Word to the so-called “wisdom” of this age, the Scriptures prove themselves to be in a different class altogether (1 Cor. 1:18-21). While these necessary and good aspects of culture can be channels for God’s truth, they are often presented as autonomous authorities. Autonomy is a word that means “a law by itself.” In other words, when a person refuses to base his ideas or beliefs on anything outside himself, he is trying to act autonomously. He is essentially saying, “I don’t need anyone to tell me what to think or do.”

When human authorities, such as scientists and philosophers, declare themselves to be autonomous, they always proceed to demean the authority of God. God becomes a competitor to them, someone who is a rival to their power and authority. They may allow other human authorities to weigh in on issues, but they will not allow God to exercise his authority in a matter of truth. This explains the disdain and hostility toward the Bible, which is so common in the world. Christians may be intimidated by this disregard for God’s Word, but our confidence can be restored when we remember God’s authority.

God’s Authority

Contrary to those who believe in an evolutionary worldview, this is God’s world. God is the one who created it, rules over it, sustains it, and will bring it to an end. The way God describes the world is not just one view among many. Rather, God’s words call the world into being, and only he has the wisdom and omniscience to accurately describe the world as it truly is. The Christian’s authority starts with the person of God himself. The Trinity is the beginning of all authority in heaven and earth. And everything God does is authoritative and unalterable.

Nothing happens in the universe without God’s sovereign guidance and control. He is the true authority in this world. First Corinthians 1:17-25 tells us that the so-called authorities of the day—the wise man, the scribe, and the debater—have been silenced by the wisdom of God. All the wisdom of the world put together cannot lead a person to the knowledge of God or anything else of significance. These authorities face several problems:

  1. They have limited knowledge. Being limited and creaturely, even the best and brightest people have only a very tiny knowledge and understanding of the universe. For example, scientists know that the universe consists of roughly 95% of either dark energy or dark matter, yet they don’t know what dark energy or matter are.
  2. They have to constantly admit they were wrong. The very nature of science is such that it is constantly turning over previous claims of knowledge. What was once declared to be certain is often proven to be wrong and is replaced by still other declaration.
  3. Even experts in the same areas disagree. Sometimes even within the same discipline experts disagree strongly with one another. Philosopher Peter van Inwagen notes that after 4,000 years of philosophy, no established body of facts has been determined among philosophers on the nature of reality. Each philosopher is perfectly free to disagree with the other and still be considered competent in metaphysics (the study of the nature of reality).

What does this all mean? Although these areas of study are good, useful tools to discover our world, they can never stand as final authorities on any question of truth. And when an unbeliever appeals to science or philosophy to defend his rejection of the Christian gospel, he often doesn’t realize the authority to which he is appealing is not sufficient to support his arguments.

In contrast, the Christian has the authority of the risen Messiah Jesus when they share the truth of Christianity. Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus reminded his disciples that all authority in heaven and earth resides in him (Matt. 28:18). In the task that Jesus gave us to make disciples, we have his authority when we go. We do not go alone when we speak to others about Jesus. We go as ambassadors with the authority of God to proclaim Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 6:18-20).

Rather than base our message on human authorities, we base it on God’s authority. God is the one who has commanded everyone everywhere to be saved (Acts 17:30). Since this is God’s world and he has given his Son to be the ransom for sin, God has the authority both to command people to be saved, and to serve as our sufficient authority in our evangelism.

One of the implications of this is that the source of power in evangelism and apologetics is not our own, but is God’s. God the Holy Spirit is the active, dynamic, supernatural power behind the transformation that takes place in salvation. In the next post we look at the roles of the Holy Spirit and prayer in apologetics.

The New Testament Basis for Apologetics

In a previous post we looked at Old Testament precedence for God’s defense of his glory. In this post we look at the primary New Testament support for the Christian’s call to defend the faith.

The New Testament’s Primary Instruction on Apologetics—1 Peter 3:15-16

A number of New Testament passages speak directly to the practice of apologetics. Some of these will be developed in greater depth in the lessons to come, so this section will focus exclusively on the locus classicus (the best known or most authoritative passage on the topic) of apologetics in the New Testament.
1 Peter 3:15-16

This is the primary passage in the New Testament laying out the responsibility of every Christian to practice apologetics. 1 Peter is written in the context of suffering and persecution. The audience of the book is a combination of Jewish and Gentile Christians who have been scattered by persecution and are struggling to know how to live in a hostile world. Their former place of inclusion in pagan culture before conversion has been replaced with antagonistic exclusion from society. They have been marginalized as members of society who don’t count, and therefore, could be exploited.

Yet, Peter calls them to live boldly and triumphantly, knowing that the opposition they face has already been doomed by the victorious resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As a result, he calls them to engage those who persecute them. Ultimately no one can harm the Christian, even though temporarily believers can suffer great tribulation (John 16:33). Peter encourages his readers to resist the fear that results from the threats of their persecutors (3:13-14).

Rather than fear, Peter commands them to turn the table on their persecutors when they are questioned about their faith and challenged to explain themselves. He admonishes every believer, not simply pastors or scholars, to prepare themselves for this inevitable event. The apologetic task includes several elements:

  1. Begin with a settled assurance that Jesus is the Lord (v. 15a)

Peter’s first concern is for the believer’s own heart. The command is a Greek word that is variously translated “sanctify,” “set apart,” or “consider to be holy.” The idea is that the Christian must begin with both a knowledge of his faith and a confidence that it is true. Unless you believe firmly that Jesus is the true King over all the earth, that his Word is true, and that He is what every person needs most, you will not possess the confidence needed to engage unbelievers effectively.

As Peter is writing his epistle, his audience is suffering under the oppressive Roman Empire that declared that Caesar was Lord. Therefore, Peter’s words stand in opposition to the political powers of the day. Regardless of what men may declare concerning their own power, only Jesus is the true Lord.

This personal declaration of the truth of Jesus must be something settled in the believer’s heart. In other words, when the Word of God is fully accepted as the authoritative revelation given from God, Jesus will be held as the one and only Lord.

  1. Prepare yourself to make a defense of the faith (v. 15b)

After settling Christ’s Lordship in their hearts, Christians are to prepare themselves for challenges to their faith leveled by unbelievers. The word translated “prepared” is used in the context of outfitting a ship for a voyage. Just as a ship’s captain would carefully load a ship with food, water, sails, medicine, and other supplies before a long voyage, so a Christian ought to prepare himself for any number of challenges raised against the faith.

How does a Christian prepare? As mentioned above, the first thing a Christian must do is to learn the Christian faith thoroughly. This means knowing the Scriptures thoroughly and having a firm grasp of Christian theology. Many believers try to defend the faith without knowing what they believe. This results in an ineffective apologetic, which has to continually concede ground to unbelief. Those who are well-schooled in theology, however, find many more resources at their disposal in the apologetic task.

Believers should also know as much as they reasonably can about their conversation partner’s beliefs. This isn’t always possible, but if you are having a second or third discussion about the Christian faith with someone, it is helpful to know at least a little about what that person believes.

Preparation requires an investment of time, effort, and sometimes money. It takes careful thought, reading, studying, and conversations to become an experienced apologist. There are many good books that contribute to the Christian’s preparation, and investing money in them is an important element of being ready when the time comes.

  1. Defend the faith in a way that encourages conversation (v. 15c)

Peter calls us to prepare so we can “give an answer” or “make a defense.” The Greek word is apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics.” This is a legal term that means to defend a position in a court of law against charges. Many of the objections raised against Christianity are accusations that call for an answer. All Christians should be able to defend the faith against these accusations.

An important truth should be emphasized here: The Christian faith can stand up to any legitimate challenge raised against it. In other words, believers do not need to fear that objections exist for which there is no answer. They do not need to worry that someone may someday discover an objection that Christianity cannot answer. Since the days of the apostles Christians have been faced with challenges and have been developing answers.

While the challenges we encounter may at times be hostile or antagonistic, we should never respond in kind. Peter describes the proper demeanor of the apologist—gentleness and respect. First, when engaged in conversation with an unbeliever, the Christian should speak and act in a way that is humble, approachable, and winsome. The goal is not to argue with or shame the non-Christian, but rather to help him see the light of truth. Gentleness speaks to our tone of voice, our understanding of God’s love for the person, and our refusal to be aggressive or antagonistic.

Second, Peter describes our demeanor with the Greek word phobos, from which we get “phobia,” or fear. This word is also translated “respect.” He never explains this concept further, so it can have one of three possible meanings:

1) Peter could be encouraging believers to fear God when engaging unbelievers. In other words, rather than be overcome by the fear of man, which paralyzes and silences the apologist, we should fear God, which brings boldness.

2) The word could be referring to the fact that apologetic encounters always involve fear. This choice means that when we feel fear we should remind ourselves that this is normal. Fear should be expected, and therefore, should not deter us from continuing the conversation. Rather than running away from the situation, which we naturally do when afraid, Peter could be encouraging us to continue the conversation with the unbeliever, even in the presence of fear.

3) Peter could be using this word in its other sense, to be “respectful.” In a number of passages phobos has the sense of treating someone with dignity or respect (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:16, 3:2). It means to remember that the unbeliever is made in the image of God and is loved by God, even while they are estranged from him. Jesus never demeaned anyone in his conversations with them, but rather treated them with kindness and dignity, even while he confronted their unbelief. In John 4, Jesus rejected every reason culture afforded him to treat the woman at the well with disdain. Instead he spoke to her with kindness, offering hope and redemption.

In the same way we must treat even the most antagonistic person with kindness, knowing that they are ultimately opposing God, not us. We do so to break down the barriers of hostility that have been built up against the gospel. Even when we have to engage in firm confrontation of falsehood in a person’s worldview, we do so seeking to draw that person to the beauty and glory of Christ. As the old saying goes, “You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar!”

  1. Practice regular repentance (v. 16)

The final point Peter makes deals with the Christian’s heart condition and lifestyle. Too many Christians today are trying to defend the Christian faith when their own lives do not in any way demonstrate an attitude of humble repentance concerning their own sin. They are quick to point out the sin of others, but their consciences are guilty with hidden sin, arrogant and self-righteous behavior, and other unconfessed sins.

Peter emphasizes that a Christian with a clear conscience is a powerful apologetic, because his life cannot be impeached by accusations of hypocrisy. Instead, when he is indicted for violating the very life-transforming gospel that he proclaims, and the charges are investigated, he is found innocent. The enemies of the gospel find they have nothing bad to say about the lives of Christians, whom they oppose. So even a believer’s life is a legal defense against objections to the gospel. This is important because many people reject the Christian faith for the very reason that they know professing Christians who are immoral, dishonest, or cruel and judgmental.

By living a humble and repentant life the Christian puts to silence the foolish charges of ignorant people who oppose Christianity for no good reason (1 Pet. 2:15). The believer can share his faith confidently because he has nothing to hide and can invite the unbeliever to examine his life to see that there is no hypocrisy.

Conclusion

It should be clear by now that apologetics has a solid biblical basis. It is rooted in God’s consistent confrontation of man’s sin and unbelief, and his jealous defense of his glory in the face of false belief and idolatry. We defend the Christian faith because the glory of God is at stake. We do so as God’s emissaries, shining the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ into a world blinded by sin and darkness (2 Cor. 4:3-6)

In addition we ought to settle the matter of Christ’s lordship in our own hearts by having a thorough knowledge of Scripture and sound doctrine. This preparation will enable us to defend the truth and glory of the gospel in the face of challenges raised against it. We do so with a Christ-like demeanor, combined with a life of integrity. This biblical description of apologetics will result in a powerful impact on the world. We will see a renaissance of churches full of evangelists and apologists. The church will once again stand as a shining light piercing the darkness with the good news of the risen Christ (Luke 11:33).