What does it really mean to be a Defender of the Faith?

The Christian Faith is under all kinds of attack in the world today.  In many countries it is simply illegal to be a Christian.  Christians are routinely persecuted and subject to harsh fines, imprisonment, torture and execution.  In other countries the overwhelming tide of secular culture threatens to sweep Christians out into a sea of unbelief.

In the midst of this assault on the Christian faith there are a few Christians who stand as Defenders of the Faith.  These people, men and women, engage regularly in apologetics.  What is this?

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

These words from 1 Peter 3:15-16 supply us all with a distinct challenge to be defenders of the Christian Faith.  The word apologetics comes from this verse.  The verse reads “…  Always be prepared to give an answer (pros apologia) to everyone…”  Apologetics is the task of providing answers to people when they have questions about Christianity.

St. Anselm, former Archbishop of Canterbury, used this motto: “Fides Quarens Intellectum.”  This is Latin and means “Faith Seeking Understanding.”  For him, and this is a good thing for Christians to explore today, apologetics is the outworking of “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God (quote from Thomas Williams).”  Defending our faith is not a purely intellectual struggle over bastions of information against a mental enemy.  Rather, we love God and so we try to persuade other people of God’s love for them.

In the verses in 1 Peter 3, there are five words that outline a little picture of what apologetics is all about.  Here they are:

  • Prepared – We can do the work of preparing answers to questions before people even ask them.  Many people ask the same questions as other people.  A few answers learned carefully could answer a whole multitude of questions.  For example, a common question people ask is “Why Does God Allow Evil And Suffering?”  This question can be answered.  However, one answer could also be adapted slightly to answer a bunch of related questions like “Why did Granny die so young?” or “Why did the latest natural disaster happen?”  A little preparation can go a long way when it is time to answer questions.
  • Answer  For Christians, silence is not an option.  There is no excuse for simply not replying to the questions people have.  Christians must identify publicly with Christ and as soon as this identification happens then questions are likely to follow.  The Bible commands us to be prepared to answer these questions.
  • Everyone – Faith is available and accessible to everyone and so we should treat everyone’s questions as if each one is important.  One of the great joys of ministry for me is being able to answer people’s questions.  I love to witness the way a good answer provides openings for seeds of truth to be planted in people’s hearts.  Many people would love for someone to give them a good answer to their questions about the ultimate realities of life.  Will you be the one to help them?
  • Reason – Christianity is not blind trust in some dream which will never materialise but is instead a reasonable, rational belief.  The role of apologists and defenders of the faith is to consistently point out the reasons for their hope in Christ.  There are reasons!  There are reasons why a belief in the Resurrection of Christ is logical.  There are reasons why a belief in Adam and Eve makes perfect sense.  Do you know them?  Could you explain them to someone else?
  • Hope – Apologetics is the defence of hope.  Of all the things I have written in this post, I like this sentence the most.  Apologetics is the defence of hope.  The alternative to faith in Christ is either a false Gospel taught by a false teacher or a rejection of all forms of spirituality.  Both of these alternatives place people on paths that lead away from genuine hope.

Defending the faith can be thought about with these five words.  Preparation.  Answers.  Everyone.  Reasons.  Hope.

Finally, the method of our defence must match our Master.  Christ was the best man who ever lived.  So our honesty must be matched with respect and our aggressive focus must be paired with gentleness.  The goal of apologetics is to win the person and not just the argument.  If we lose the person then it does not matter if we win the argument.  The goal of apologetics is to generate hope, faith and salvation in the people we speak with.

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