Apologetics isn’t saying, “I’m sorry”; it’s a defense that reveals the incoherence of the unbeliever’s worldview by pointing to the internal coherence and external evidence for the believer’s hope in the risen Christ and in his written Word.
1. Apologetics is not an apology; it’s a defense that includes evidence.
I was in my late teens the first time I read the words “apologetics” and “apologist.” At first, I thought these words had something to do with Christians apologizing for misdeeds undertaken in the name of Christ. It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that apologetics was precisely what I needed most at that moment in my life, when I was struggling with whether or not the claims in the Bible were believable.
A few years ago, I was reminded of my initial misunderstanding when I found this comment appended to an online review of one of my books: “It says he’s an ‘apologist’! If Christianity is worth believing, why would he need to write a book apologizing for it?” The band R.E.M. was apparently operating with a similar misunderstanding when they produced a song entitled “The Apologist”: “They call me the apologist…/but now I’m facing up/I wanted to apologize for/everything I was — so I’m sorry.”
As it turns out, even though “apology,” “apologetics,” and “apologist” can all be traced back to the same root words, being an apologist has little to do with saying we’re sorry and everything to do with whether the facts confessed in the Christian faith correspond with reality and are internally coherent.
2. Holiness provides the foundation for the proclamation of our hope.
The words of Simon Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 can become a bumper sticker for apologetics, but this text is far richer, deeper, and more beautiful than we sometimes recognize. This text seems to have been written to Christians who are beginning to experience social exclusion and perhaps even civic consequences for their faithfulness to Jesus. In this context, the first defense of the faith to which Peter calls them is holiness (1 Pet 1:15–17; 2:9–17; 3:13–17).
Our defense of the Christian faith doesn’t end with our holiness, but it must start with holiness. Holiness won’t ultimately protect the people from persecution, but it ensures that whatever they suffer will be for the sake of their Savior and not because of their sin.
3. A Christian’s hope is centered in the resurrection—and so is our defense.
Throughout 1 Peter, Simon Peter centers the Christian’s hope in the resurrection (1 Pet 1:3, 13, 21). Sometimes, his focus is on the resurrection of Jesus on the third day; other times, it’s centered on our future resurrection, which the resurrection of Jesus guaranteed. But, either way, resurrection is the foundation of our hope.
So what does this mean for apologetics?
If apologetics is giving a reason for our hope, and hope is centered in the resurrection, the resurrection should be central in Christian apologetics. When the resurrection is not central in apologetics, the practice of apologetics can turn into a bad game of theological trivia, with the unbeliever raising a random series of objections until he or she “wins” by coming up with a question that the Christian can’t answer. When the resurrection of Jesus is central, however, apologetics can never stray far from the gospel, and we respond to the unbeliever’s questions by turning the question toward the cross and the empty tomb.