Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Biblical Apologetics: a defense of the gospel and the reason for the hope that is within you

"but in your hearts regard 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,
having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered,
those who revile your good behavior in Christ
may be put to shame"
-1 Peter 3:15-16


"There’s a story in the biography of George Whitefield about a man named Thorpe, who was a bitter opponent of everything that is holy. He and a group of his friends—all of them young, rebellious thugs—conspired together to mock and oppose George Whitefield’s evangelistic ministry while Whitefield was preaching in Bristol, England.

George Whitefield had severely crossed eyes, if you have ever seen a realistic likeness of him. And these guys used to refer to him as “Dr. Squintum.” They called their little gang “The Hell-Fire Club,” and they disrupted meetings, mocked Whitefield on the streets and in public places, and generally tried to make his ministry a reproach in their community. Whitefield’s preaching had already made a deep and lasting impact in Bristol, and these young ruffians hated him for it. So this guy Thorpe got one of Whitefield’s published sermons and took it to the local pub, where the “Hell-Fire Club” was gathered to drink together while they make a burlesque of Whitefield.

Thorpe was apparently pretty good at doing impressions, and he had all Whitefield’s mannerisms and gestures down pat. So he stood in the center of this pub and crossed his eyes and began to deliver a derisive rendition of Whitefield’s sermon. But in the middle of the sermon, the Word of God pierced his heart, and he suddenly stopped and sat down, trembling and broken-hearted. Right then and there, he confessed the truth of the gospel and gave his heart to Christ. His aim was to taunt and ridicule, but he accidentally converted himself! Or rather, the power of the Word of God penetrated his soul and cut him to the heart. He became a preacher himself and quite an effective evangelist, because he knew so well the power of the Word of God to penetrate hardened hearts.

Notice that the Word of God pierces to the very depths, “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It probes to the deepest recesses of the heart, no matter how hardened or how closed the heart might be. In fact, only Scripture can do that." Source

Coming to Terms
The term apologetics comes from a Greek word, apologia, found in several places in the N.T. It means "to make a defense of." In Athens, every citizen was expected to be able to join in the discussion of state affairs. Peter's expectation to us is similar: every Christian ought to be able to join in the discussion about the faith - ready to give "a reason" (a defense) for the hope that is within them.

The Bible does not present "apologetics" as simply an academic discipline or exercise - far from it; but it does speak clearly about defending the faith by having an intelligent grasp of the hope we posssess as revealed in God's Word and the skill in presenting its claims. That is the heart and soul of apologetics: a defense of the Christian faith, the gospel, and the hope we have in Christ.

Dr. John Frame gives us helpful and meaningful insight on this issue when saying,
"The term apologetics comes from the Greek apologia, apologeisthai, which in the NT usually refers to an individual’s defense of his conduct, as 1 Cor. 9:3, sometimes against legal charges, as in Acts 19:33, 22:1, 24:10. In the Acts passages, however, Paul defends himself by defending his message. So in Phil. 1:7, 16 apologia refers explicitly to a defense of the Gospel, in 1 Pet. 3:15 to a defense of the Christian hope.

Moving beyond the apologia-vocabulary, we can see that defense of the gospel appears frequently in the Bible. There is a strong apologetic element in the “signs” of the fourth gospel (John 20:30-31), and in Luke’s attempt to impart “certainty” to Theophilus (Luke 1:4; compare the reference to “proofs” in Acts 1:3). Paul’s epistles contain much defense of his Gospel against objectors. This emphasis on defense goes back to Jesus’ own confrontations with opponents and, still earlier, to God’s prophetic indictments of unfaithful Israel. (In these cases especially, we should bear in mind the maxim that often the best defense is a good offense.)

All of this suggests the broader thesis of Ezra Hyun Kim, that from one perspective the whole Bible is apologia. For in the Bible God presents His truth over against error, speaking it into a sinful world, always having in view the objections of His opponents. The authors of the Bible, divine and human, seek to present their message cogently, rationally, persuasively. This is not to say that the Bible is a collection of rational syllogisms, but that in all its genres, even in its poetic, narrative, and wisdom teaching, it seeks to present God’s message as right, true, and persuasive.

Defending the faith, therefore, is a biblical practice. The discipline of apologetics seeks to instruct Christians in such defense. As analysis of a biblical practice, apologetics is a properly theological discipline. If theology is “the application of Scripture to all areas of life,” then apologetics is “the application of Scripture to unbelief” (Frame, Knowledge of God, 81, 87), including the unbelief that remains in Christian hearts."
I appreciate his words greatly.

A Loving Exhortation For Us All
Here is a burden that I share with my own ministry board and other pastors around the country when it comes to discussions about apologetics. When this issue is reduced to nothing more than an intellectual bantering about of its various forms (i.e. evidential, presuppositional, classical, reformed epistemological, cumulative case, etc.) rather than used to equip other believers to explain and proclaim the gospel, then what usually results is an unnecessary fostering of acerbic attitudes, a prideful demeanor (one that puffs up), and in the end is unfortunate wasted energy. Discussions like this can quickly degenerate into just a fruitless regurgitating of philosophical terms that one once learned in university, possibly seminary, a theology class, or in private study.

If we are honest with ourselves, that kind of thing can be interpreted as arrogance to simply throw out in casual ways unexplained and really unnecessary terms like "Weltanschauung" (a common German word meaning: "world-view") before the hoi palloi, that unwittingly can assert a less than humble attitude of "superior knowledge" that in the end doesn't communicate truth for someone else's good; nor does it ultimately promote Christlikeness, further the gospel, cause one to probe more deeply the Scriptures, be better equipped to defend the faith, and give reason for the hope within us. (I am just as guilty on certain issues that I need to bring before the Lord in my own sanctification as well).

It can also make the average person trying to learn about apologetics who is unfamiliar with such terms, feel embarrassed enough to not engage in the "conversation" and cause them to retreat from what could have been profitable, helpful discussion with other believers in truly understanding what it means to "give a reason for the hope..." We all need to be careful of this sort of thing... I would appeal to 2 Timothy 2:23-25, "But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth."

So if someone in the meta, asks again and again about an aspect surrounding apologetics we need to exercise patience and longsuffering in doing our best to carefully answer those questions from God's Word so that they can be better equipped to defend the hope, the faith, and the gospel. This is the importance of local church accountability and involvement on addressing issues like this. But to amputate or dismiss those who are inquiring on this subject, even if they have done so in a harsh, combative attitude sometimes, reveals an unloving heart toward them and one that is not demonstrating the demeanor of a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In a very real way, regardless of which view of apologetics you employ, when all is said and done, it is still the Spirit of God who regenerates and convicts; it is still "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ"; it is still the Father who elects and draws; it is still the Son who redeems; and it is still the gospel that must be preached for it alone "is the power of God unto salvation." And isn't that the point of genuine, biblical apologetics... proclaiming and defending the gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth of God's Word, the essentials of the Christian faith, and the hope that lies within us?

The Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, never resorted to mere intellectual spawning about the gospel in His ministry... He spoke with power and authority that the elitists of His day were void of. But He also spoke in a way that could be understood, comprehended and grasped by even the most common of folk. He spoke with uncompromising truth and boldness, but yet with love, patience and grace. And we (I) need to learn to do the same.

A Most Effective Apologetic
Here we have the concise encouragement from the pen of the Apostle Peter to every believer's duty to "give a reason for the hope that is in you." When Christ is honored as holy (1 Peter 1:13-19) in speech, deed and life, then testimony follows the truth: "make a defense to anyone who asks..." Whether we are on Larry King Live or with our friends, family, neighbors or co-workers, we should always be ready with the Lord's Word and by His grace to give reason for our eternal hope. Amen?

To sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts means to: hallow; honor as holy, to enshrine Him in your hearts. As one writer says,
“In your hearts, or in the affections of the soul, regard the Lord God as holy, and act towards him with that confidence which a proper respect for one so great and so holy demands. In the midst of dangers, be not intimidated; dread not what man can do, but evince proper reliance on a holy God, and flee to him with the confidence which is due to One so glorious.”
What flows out of such high regard for the holiness of Christ are the two Christ-like-attitudes of effective apologetics: gentleness and reverence. Gentleness - for our fellow man; reverence: for our holy God.

Gentleness is:
An obedient submissiveness to God and His will; unwavering faith displayed in a gentle attitude in kind acts towards others who are hurting you. A humble steadfastness - able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment free from hatred, malice and revenge. trusting in God's sovereignty in spite of whatever injustice is being committed against us. This is all of the attributes of personality brought into utter submission to Christ and for His glory.
This can be most readily displayed when others have hurt you and by God's grace you respond not in repaying evil for evil, but in humble forgiveness to others (cp, Eph. 4:31-32; Matt. 5:40-44).

Whatever another believer may do against us, no matter how terrible or destructive or unjustified, Christ has paid the penalty for that sin. No matter how others may hurt, slander, persecute, or in any way harm us, Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to pay their penalty. When a Christian expresses, or even harbors, vengeance toward a brother, he not only sins by allowing selfish hatred to control him but he sins by profaning Christ's sacrifice-by seeking to mete out punishment for a sin whose penalty has already been paid by his Lord.

Because Christ has paid the penalty for every sin, we have no right to hold any sin against any person, even a nonbeliever. Peter thought that forgiving someone "up to seven times" was generous. But Jesus said, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:22). In Christ all our "sins are forgiven for His name's sake" (1 John 2:12); He has "forgiven us all our transgressions" (Col. 2:13).

There is no place for selfish pride or an attitude of arrogance when defending the faith and giving a reason for the hope in us.

We need a bold orthodoxy,
proclaimed by humble servants of Christ.

Gentleness is the needed ingredient in responding to others when they inquire of the hope within us. This is the penetrating attitude that should accompany all our apologetics in making a defense for the once for all delivered to the saints faith (Jude 3). Vance Havner used to say, "we should never speak of the gospel of grace and the reality of eternal perdition to those without Christ with dry eyes." I agree. This is why I so appreciate the ministries of men like Dr. John Piper and C.J. Mahaney. They are bold, passionate, and uncompromising on the gospel and the truth of God's Word; yet they are also marked by brokenness, humility, and love for their listeners. I pray daily that the Lord would continue to build those qualities in my own life and ministry as well.

Therefore, contending for the faith isn't just about proclaiming the great themes of sound doctrine and theology (though it is part of it); it is also about truth being lived and communicated from a heart that has experienced deeply God's saving and sanctifying grace and then expressing that same attitude towards those who disagree or may be blind to those truths. Like Martin Luther once said, "we are simply beggars telling other beggars where they can find food."

Giving an Account in the Midst of Suffering
It is helpful for us to remember that Peter's words in 1 Peter 3 are said in the midst of tremendous persecution and suffering that scattered the believers throughout all of Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1). 1 Peter is a book about submissiveness; and the apologia (defense) found in 1 Peter 3:15 is bookend by suffering for righteousness sake.

Consider Peter's words:
1Pet 3:13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 1Pet. 3:14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED,
1Pet. 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 1Pet. 3:16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 1Pet. 3:17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 1Pet. 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
Could it be any more clear beloved? The command to "give a reason for the hope in you" was in the context of persecution and suffering for that very gospel.

Peter's apologetic was not born in a classroom to be another academic sparing between two opposing views. It was conceived in the crucible of suffering for that very gospel. His word of exhortation was not for the body of Christ to engage unbelievers in religious rhetoric, but to make a defense of the hope we have in Jesus Christ whenever they inquire.

When was the last time we wept for our friends, neighbors, or family members that don't know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? When were we so burdened for them that we agonized in prayer for the salvation of their souls? When did we last seek the Lord for more opportunity to proclaim the gospel to them and to put us in circumstances where they can see the evidence of the transformed life? Again, apologetics is not about winning a debate; it is about proclaiming the hope in us, His truth and His gospel. Resurrection Weekend gives us all ample opportunity to do so with anyone in our neighborhood. The question is do we redeem the time and make the most of those occasions; or were we content to just have another heated intramural debate and exchange in the combox about this important issue?

A Fitting Praise Report
Nine months ago I was ministering in Michigan. The pastor of the host church told me that a lesbian woman had walked into the church (just a few days prior to the Sunday i was ministering there) and wanted to ask questions about her life as a lesbian. The pastor took that opportunity to present to her the gospel of Jesus Christ from creation, the Fall, the doctrine of sin, Romans 1, the Law, the gospel of grace and the call to repentance. As that pastor gave her "a reason for the hope that was in him," that very hour he was a spectator of God's saving grace, and she received Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior! Soli Deo Gloria!

Now that is biblical apologetics in action beloved. Again, it's not about winning a debate; it is about His gospel going forth. (My friend James White continually exemplifies biblical apologetics by keeping the gospel preeminent. I am so very thankful for Jim and his ministry.)

It's Not About Us; It's All About Him
But we are also to give the reason for the hope within us with reverence. This is as an act of worship to God, the proclamation of His gospel. "By the fear [or terror] of the Lord I persuade men..." (cp, 2 Cor. 5:9-15). It is in light of appearing before the judgment seat of Christ--having to give an account before Him for all that we have done in the flesh, supplies the motivation to herald His gospel to the lost. Do we think of being an ambassador of Christ and proclaiming His good news as an act of worship? Well it is (read 2 Timothy chapter one). Calling men to repentance and to salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone is the evangelistic ministry we are all commanded to do and delight in (Luke 24:44-49). The result of which are those who “see our good behavior” may be put to shame--brought low in humility--under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to respond by His gift of regeneration causing faith to be granted to the sinner to confess Christ as Lord for salvation (Romans 10:9-10).

Oh what joy to proclaim Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2); but oh what sorrow, when our tongues for self-preservation hold back from sharing the word of truth (Gal. 2:14). "For God has not given us a spirit of fear..." (2 Tim. 1:6-7). So let us go as Whitefield went, taking no thought of convenience, name, reputation, or station in life to the marketplace of this world where God has sovereignly placed us as His witnesses and share unashamedly our Lord and His gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). The fields are white with harvest, but the workers are few (Luke 10:2). Will we answer the call to speak for our Lord Jesus Christ this week--or will we remain silent, comfortable, timid and blind to the peril that awaits those without Christ? In the powerful words of my dear late friend, “How can we be so numb not to care if they come; don't close your eyes and pretend the job is done” (Keith Green, from the song, 'Asleep in the Light' - on the CD, "No Compromise").

As the Day draws near,
Steve Camp
-Romans 15:20

updated and reposted from April 2006


donsands said...

Thanks for the words of edification. I shall trust the Sovereign Spirit of Christ to continue to apply these truths to my heart and mind, so that I shall be able to speak the truth in love.

ChrisJ said...

I find myself holding back the truth because of fear but i pray daily for God's boldness. I absolutely love the song "asleep in the light" by keith Green. I play it over and over again to keep myself knowing that our job is to proclaim the Word of God to those who don't know, even in shame and redicule. Thank you for the uplifting from the Word Steve! Have a blessed day!

Grosey's Messages said...

Always good stuff.. Thanks Steve for the encouragements to stay straight theologically.

4given said...

I LOVE SHARING THE HOPE THAT IS WITHIN ME!!!! LOVE IT!!!! LOVE IT!!!! LOVE IT!!! But I so don't do it perfectly. Watch out Wal-Mart check-out lady that's grumpy (perfect opportunity to share Christ)... Opportunites at every turn. And there are days I shut my eyes thinking, "Well, I just do not have time to share Christ today..."

You know what's fun... praying with my children before we walk out the door to run errands... praying that the Lord will send an opportunity to share Christ, invite someone to our church, to genuinely encourage a stranger with a smile, scripture, etc. and then of course the Lord answering usually right away and more than once and my children getting to see what a joy it is to do this.

If you knew what my life was like, so empty, pre-Christ, you would know why I practically BURST at the opportunity to share this precious hope... this ONLY hope!!! (And I am not a "new" believer... just in love with my Lord and Saviour)

littlegal_66 said...

Thank you-very inspiring.

(And you even quoted part of the very Keith Green song that's dearest to my own heart).

My favorite lines from "Asleep in the Light":
"Bless me, Lord, bless me, Lord--you know, it's all I ever hear..."
(how prescient of Keith)

"Jesus rose from the grave, and you, you can't even get out of bed."
(And I also love your Campi-ized version, in which you changed the "you" to "we.")

Mike Ratliff said...

The secular folks in our lives may be sarcastic with us at times as they attempt to belittle our faith, however, when we respond we cannot do so in kind. That is where I struggle. My natural inclination is to be 'self-protective.' Jesus told us that suffering for His names sake is something we should rejoice in. Only God can give us the ability to do that.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

Home Church said...

I love Keith Green!
KG's music has influenced me more than anything else on the planet almost. I have listened to him for so long. He has also influenced me as a musician, to be very honest and real in my lyrics. Actually, I'd be honored if you'd check out my music on my site. Its very, "Keithish."
Thanks for posting,
"All of my music is free for download."

Marcia said...

Awesome post.

ann_in_grace said...

In my present struggle with my attitudes this post comes precisely when I need it most.

Thank you!

candyinsierras said...

Great post!

Joel said...

When this issue is reduced to nothing more than an intellectual bantering about of its various forms (i.e. evidential, presuppositional, classical, reformed epistemological, cumulative case, etc.) rather than used to equip other believers to explain and proclaim the gospel, then what usually results is an unnecessary fostering of acerbic attitudes, a prideful demeanor (one that puffs up), and in the end is unfortunate wasted energy.

Amen! I fall into that trap a lot. I get caught up in it and forget that I can give answers to questions, but answers don't ultimately save; grace does.

Which doesn't mean that we have to give up apologetics; it just means that we mustn't mistake it for evangelization.

The Confessor said...

I don't know. Why should I have to defend the Good News?

this might be splitting hairs...Isn't the Good News the proclamation of God's Victory over sin and death? The battle is won in the work of Christ. IMO, there is no need to defend it. Only the privilege of proclaiming it in word AND action.

bamazav said...

It has been a long time since I last posted. All I can say is Amen and Amen! I studied Apologetics under Ligon Duncan, years ago. He was wise enough to present multiple approaches to giving reason for the hope, always couched with the truth of the gospel at the center. I learned that how we present the hope we have will often differ with the person we are sharing it to. It is not the approach that is important it is the message, Jesus Christ is "the way the truth and the life" and no one can come to the Father but through Him!

Keep up the good work.

Debbie said...


I shared the story of Whitefield and Thorpe with my girls (ages 11 and 13) while we were baking cookies yesterday. Our conversation took some turns but it led Emma to wonder "if the old man who sits around by himself all the time near the grocery store will have anyone to spend Christmas with and whether or not he is a Christian ..." -- eyes and hearts wide open.


Michele Rayburn said...

Regarding this beautiful story about Whitefield and Thorpe, I remember as a new Christian going home to visit my family and witnessing to my mother and sister.

I remember them talking behind my back in the kitchen and hearing my sister say about me, "Who does she think she is?"

I later had a talk with my sister about the Lord. At one point I told her that the Bible says "...the carnal mind is enmity [hostile] against God..." (Romans 8:7 NKJV). I mentioned this verse because that was exactly her attitude toward the things of God.

But when she heard this particular verse, it actually made her feel bad, and she became a bit defensive, saying something like "I'm not angry at God!".

And I explained to her some examples of her actions toward me whenever I would try to talk to her about the Lord. She lowered her head and cowered a bit.

I think it was at this point that my sister's eyes were being opened for the very first time. She was humbled to hear the truth about her attitude toward God and her true feelings about Him.

After that time, she would call me on the phone and we would talk more about the Lord, and at some point she came to trust in Him.

That was many years ago. She is now married to a wonderful Christian man and has two children who love the Lord.

My Mom professes to trust in the Lord today also.

As Italian New Yorkers, my family and I had some amazing arguments over my witness to them about the Lord. It should have alienated them!

I didn't know how to speak with grace to them as a new believer, and the screaming matches we had were sometimes unbelievable.

But as the years went by, and they were able to forget my past mistakes, I have lived to see some of them come to the Lord.

It certainly wasn't because of my gracious demeanor! It had to be the grace of God!!

S.J. Walker said...


I would not say your are wrong. But you, I would venture, may not be completely correct.

Read Phil. 1. Especially, verse 7.
Also, I would read through Galatians chapter one. Paul vigoruosly defends the gospel there.

No, the Gospel itself needs no defense man can offer, you are right. It will stand or fall upon the character of the One who wrote it of course. But, man needs to proclaim AND defend it at all costs. Proclaiming and defending should be almost synonymous.

It's kind of like this:

A fortress(our God in His Word) may be impregnable from any foe(satan and so on). It will stand or fall upon the skill of the One(God) Who built(wrote) it. But the fate of the those who claim to be inside it(professing Christians) will be evident in the manner of their defense. The fortress will stand(the Word will not desolve). It is not enough for us to tell everybody there is safety and peace in the Gospel(Good News)if we do not bar the gate from attack(hold fast the truths given to us)

Now, there is whole lot more to it than this very primal example, but do you see what I am speaking in reference to?

Go ahead and read those passages. Those should get you started.

In Christ,

S.J. Walker said...


Wow. That is all I can say. "How great the father's love for us!"

Michele Rayburn said...

Dear s.j.,

Thank you for your heartwarming words. It means a lot.

Coming to know the Lord has meant being alienated from my family for many, many years. But in recent days it seems that maybe we are coming together as a family again.

Hopefully it will also mean that more of them will come to believe on the Lord. I would really appreciate your prayers about that.

In His Love,