What follows is a timed, 10-minute sermon I shared in my last seminary Homiletics (i.e., preaching) class this past Spring. Visit the following link for the bibliography.
But in your hearts revere Christ the Lord, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you, but do this with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:15. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock, and my Redeemer. [Ps 19:14, NASB]
Why Am I A Christian? Should I Be A Christian? Should Anyone Be A Christian?
J. Warner Wallace was a former cold-case homicide detective in California. While on the force, he would often ridicule his fellow officers who were Christian. Why? Because they often could not articulate, explain, or defend even the most basic Christian beliefs.
He was an atheist for 35 years. But one day, he set out to examine the eyewitness accounts of Jesus presented in the Gospels – essentially using the same criteria he would use when investigating any other cold case. After examining the evidence, he became convinced of the truth of the Gospel. And, he is not the first.
J. Warner Wallace is now an adjunct professor at Biola University – a nationally-ranked Christian institution – and he is one of the most well-known Christian apologists in the country.
He travels around the United States, giving talks and presentations. During these presentations, he often starts with a simple question: Why are you a Christian?
He reports that he typically gets the same few answers:
- Firstly: I was raised a Christian.
- Secondly: I believe that what the Holy Bible says is true.
- Thirdly: Jesus changed my life. I used to do a, b, and c, but now I do x, y, and z.
- Fourthly: I had a personal experience that convicted me.
Similar Answers to the Same Question
Now some of these reasons are better than others. But the issue he points out is that, basically anyone from almost any religious worldview could give the same kinds answers.
I was raised a Buddhist. I believe that what the Book of Mormon says is true. Allah changed my life. I had a personal experience that convicted me.
Can one not empathize with someone who has questions in their earnest search for God, but is hearing virtually the same kinds of answers from everyone?
Not to mention, a full-blown skeptic would question all of these subjective reasons.
OK, you believe the Bible is true. Good for you. Why should I? Don’t lots of people change their lives without God? How can I be sure that it was Jesus who changed your life? How can I be sure that your personal experience wasn’t just caused by some bad sushi the night before?
Don’t Fear People, Revere Christ
When people start questioning some of our core beliefs, sometimes we react by becoming argumentative and defensive. Sometimes we avoid all conversations about our faith with unbelievers altogether – because, at some level, we may fear the outcome. As [one of the brothers in the class] said, perhaps we fear being taken out of our comfort zone.
In 1 Peter 3:15, to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, Peter writes, but in your hearts revere Christ the Lord.
Peter is exhorting his brothers and sisters not to fear people, but to revere Christ. Don’t fear people, revere Christ.
Last time, we talked about how the heart is a metaphor for the totality of one’s inner self – thoughts, emotions, and desires. In our hearts, Peter says we are to put Christ above all else. So our fear of having our beliefs challenged or our fear of ruffling feathers should be secondary to our reverence for Christ.
With this reverence in mind, Peter says we are to always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that is in us. The noun translated “make a defense” is apologia [ἀπολογία]. It refers to a speech of defense, often against false accusations.
In the New Testament, apologia is usually used in legal contexts. In Acts, for example, Paul makes his defense (apologia) before the governor, Felix, the governor, Festus, and the King, Agrippa. In these instances Paul is striving to prove the “legitimacy of the Christian faith.” And he uses evidence that is not only personally subjective, but evidentially objective.
Objective vs. Subjective
If one was being falsely accused of a robbing a convenience store one night, would one rely on evidence that is purely subjective?
Your Honor, robbing a store is not something I think I would do. I don’t think robbery is right. And I don’t recall being there last night.
I think it would be a little more convincing if one used evidence that was more objective – external to oneself.
Your Honor, the man on the videotape is about 6 feet, and I’m only like 5’5” on a good day, (depending on what shoes I’m wearing). Plus, I was watching the new Avengers movie at the time of the robbery. The employees at the theater can vouch for me. Oh, and here’s my receipt.
The latter seems more persuasive because it is more evidentially objective.
Always Be Ready To Make A Defense
According to scholars, an apologia is a defense in which one attempts to evidentially “prove some act or belief to be reasonable, necessary, or right.” And this is what I believe Peter is exhorting Christians to do. And not only in legal contexts, but to everyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you.
Now “ask” may be too weak of a translation, because the Greek word really means “ask with expectation of an answer” —to demand. And, “the hope that is in you” refers to “a reasonable and confident” faith in Christ and our final, eschatological salvation.
The general point is this: Christians ought to be ready to give reasonable responses to questions about the Christian faith – even when such questions are hostile.
But we are not to respond with hostility. We are to respond with gentleness and reverence.
Apologetics – which comes from the term apologia – is the art and science of making a reasonable defense for the Christian faith. It is not the art and science of apologizing – saying sorry for our faith – nor is it making others sorry for our faith.
Imagine that you have a final exam coming up. Now if you were to somehow get a copy of the test, wouldn’t that make things little easier? You could research and prepare your answers to the questions beforehand. And, on the day of the exam, instead of being nervous and anxious, one could be cool, calm and collected.
Part of apologetics is responding to common questions of the faith. Generally, one will hear the same major objections over and over again. If one researches and prepares answers for these questions, on the day of the exam – when someone asks or demands a reason for the hope that is in you – you can be cool, calm and collected.
As one scholar would say, you can make an argument without being argumentative; you can make a defense without being defensive.
When Am I Ever Going to Need Apologetics?
But someone might say, “people rarely ask me questions about my faith. I never find myself in these kinds of situations. When am I ever going to need apologetics?” To this, though I am not a parent, may I humbly suggest that we consider the fate of our children.
For it seems that much (if not most) of the youth in American churches do not even believe basic Christian beliefs.
A 2006 survey suggests that 68% of teenage Christians do not believe the Holy Spirit is a real Being. 51% do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And 63% do not believe that Jesus is the Son of the one true God.
Several surveys find that the large majority of young people who are raised in the church (up to 70%!) leave the church by their sophomore year in college – where professors, when compared to average Americans, are five more times likely to be professing atheists or agnostics.
Another 2006 survey asked an open-ended question about why young ex-Christians left the faith. There were no multiple-choice options. The most popular responses were “intellectual skepticism”, “doubt,” and too many unanswered questions.
My brothers and sisters, if not out of reverence for God, if not out of desire to reason with unbelievers, let us at least engage in apologetics for the sake of the children. The most opportune time for apologetics may not be in a public debate, but in the privacy of our own homes, and the youth ministries of our home churches.
Peter tells us not to fear people, but to revere Christ. We are to always be ready to make a reasonable defense for our faith – a defense I believe is more convincing when supported not only with personally subjective reasons, but objectively evidential reasons. And we are to do this gently, out of reverence to God.
If you want to know more about the evidential reasons (the arguments for the existence of God from science and philosophy, the historical evidence for the Resurrection that I presented in an earlier class, the reasons for the reliability of the New Testament) if you would like some resources, or if you have questions, please, please let me know. I am far from perfect, and I don’t have all the answers, but I can try to point others in the right direction.
Why am I a Christian? Should I be a Christian? Should anyone be a Christian? In my view, considering the evidence, I find it most reasonable to believe that Christianity is true. And it is a truth I believe is worth defending.
Let us always be ready.
Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Balz, Horst Robert, and Gerhard Schneider. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–.
Clowney, Edmund P. The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Davids, Peter H. The First Epistle of Peter. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.
Grudem, Wayne A. 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 17. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.
Motyer, Stephen. “1 Peter.” In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, 3:1163–70. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995.
Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Vol. 37. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.
Silva, Moisés, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.
Wheaton, David H. “1 Peter.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 1369–85. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
 Author’s translation
 we sometimes get what has been called the “Big Chill” – a “cold shiver that runs up your spine when you’re confronted with what seems at first glance to be a persuasive challenge to your Christian convictions.”Greg Koukl, Email “3 Things to do when Faced with a Challenge” 2.21.17
 Alluding to Isaiah 8:13. “Instead of fearing people, Christians are to reverence Christ.” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 131.
 Ibid. The Greek word is the same one at the beginning of the LORD’s prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
 33.435 ἀπολογέομαιc; ἀπολογίαa, ας f: to speak on behalf of oneself or of others against accusations presumed to be false—‘to defend oneself.’ Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 437.
 “In Acts 22:1; 24:10; 25:8, 16; 26:1, 2, 24 the words appear in a type of apology (chs. 22–26) which makes clear to the Christians Paul’s fearlessness in confessing his faith and aims at persuading the Roman officials to tolerance by proving the legitimacy of the Christian faith as a Jewish movement and its political goodwill.” Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 137.
 Logos, Bible Sense Lexicon
 Davids, NICOT
 Davids, NICOT
 J. Warner Wallace, Forensic Faith
 “We have seen throughout the commentary, however, that “fear” in 1 Peter is always directed toward God (see the commentary on 2:18). Furthermore, “gentleness” or “humility” also becomes a reality when creatures consider themselves in relation to God. Still, Peter probably had in view gentleness toward other people and reverence before God.” Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 176.
 The Last Christian Generation, Josh McDowell, David H. Bellis, Green Key Books (2006) from http://coldcasechristianity.com/2018/are-young-people-really-leaving-christianity/
 How Religious are America’s College and University Professors? Neil Gross, Solon Simmons (2006),
“Study Findings: About 25% of college professors are professing atheists or agnostics (5-7% of the general population is atheistic or agnostic). Only 6% of college professors said the Bible is “the actual word of God”. 51% described it as “an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts.” 75% believe religion does not belong in public schools.” http://coldcasechristianity.com/2018/are-young-people-really-leaving-christianity/
 comprising 32%,
 Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Oxford University Press (2005). Book Findings: Students leave faith behind primarily because of intellectual doubt and skepticism (page 89). “Why did they fall away from the faith in which they were raised?” This was an open-ended question there were no multiple-choice answers. 32% said they left faith behind because of intellectual skepticism or doubt. (“It didn’t make any sense anymore.” “Some stuff is too far-fetched for me to believe.” “I think scientifically and there is no real proof.” “Too many questions that can’t be answered.”)
 The children in American churches need answers, they need reasons, they need to learn how to make a defense. Also, I realize that many of these surveys were taken years ago, but I doubt statistics are more encouraging now than they were then.