Monday, December 26, 2011

Peter's Apologetic Imperative

The challenge of Christian apologetics is to present the Christ of Scripture without compromise as it engages in the effort to provide a reasonable answer for the hope that gives rise to the Christian worldview to all who ask, with reverence and gentleness. Peter’s audience was under attack. Actually, the Christian worldview is what was under attack. Peter’s audience just happened to be the indirect object of the assault. Peter issues a word of encouragement and a command for the believers to hold the Christian line: no retreat, no surrender. What is the aim or goal of Christian apologetics? Is it to persuade, convince, and influence? Is this what Peter had in mind? Probably the greatest apologetic example we see in Scripture is Moses. Moses believed that Yahweh was God and that Israel was God’s covenant people and that Pharaoh should believe this and let God’s people go. I wonder how Moses must have felt when confronted with the notion that he would engage Pharaoh in one exchange after another, all the while knowing that Pharaoh was not going to listen. Is apologetics for the unbeliever, to convince them of the truth of God’s existence in the system of Christian theism? Is it possible that when Peter issued his word of encouragement and command, that he was not actually thinking so much about persuading others as he was about reinforcing the faith of the believer? After all, when one reads Paul in I Cor. 1 & 2, one wonders how we can persuade men to exchange their entire worldview for a system they conclude to be radically irrational.

The Lordship of Christ

Peter begins by encouraging the believer to sanctify Christ as Lord in their hearts. The believers are under serious and sobering pressure to return to their unbelieving communities or groups. One gets the sense that imminent persecution is in view. Hence, Peter issues the encouragement to reinforce the sanctity and significance of Christ as Lord in their hearts. Now is not the time to shrink back. Just as important as any argument they may provide in answer to their inquisitors is their resilience of faith and determination of conviction.

Prepared Answer

Peter instructs his recipients to always be ready. The phrase is hetoimoi aei. The condition speaks to a state of readiness. There is nothing left to prepare. This is the state of the attorney the night before the trial is set to begin. She is finished with her preparation. She is ready to argue her case. It is the state of a football team on game day. Practice and preparation are in the books. The game plan is finished, the men know what it is, how to execute it and are ready to engage. Jesus used this word when He spoke of the large upper room where the last supper would take place. He described the room as “ready.” (Mk. 14:14) Paul used this word in II Cor. 12:14 when he said he was ready to come to the Corinthians. Preparations had already been made and he was not ready to come to them. It takes energy and effort to move to a place of preparedness. A boxer trains for hundreds of hours for a fight that lasts 36 minutes at most. Unfortunately, American Christians are not unlike other Americans. They are, in general, lazy. They focus on the easy things in life. Moreover, since doctrine doesn’t really matter and truth-claims are reserved for the mean-spirited and critical, there is little to no motivation for American/Western Christians to prepare a Christian apologetic. It comes down to Peter’s previous encouragement to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. How important is it to us that we obey our Lord?

Giving an Account

After firming up their loyalty to Christ as Lord, which is actually not entirely a separate act from being continually prepared to provide an answer, Peter instructs the believer to give an answer, or provide a defense. What is this defense? The believer is commanded not to betray the righteous cause. The word is apologia, and it is the act of making a defense. Paul used the word in Acts 22:1 where he made his defense before the Jews. He also uses it in I Cor. 9:3 concerning his defense of those who examine him. Hence, the idea is that we are to be continually ready to give a defense of the Christian worldview. Mouton & Milligan say the ordinary meaning of this word is “to make a request.” Of the 70 occurrences in the NT, it is translated “ask” 66 times in the NAS. BDAG and Louw-Nida both point out that this word is closer to demand or to ask with urgency. The idea is that the “asking” comes with an almost entitlement to the answer. The mode of this defense is speech.

For those who give no attention or thought to this command, I have no words to offer other than, shame. What shall we say? That Christianity is worth believing, it is worth living, it is worth sharing, but it is not worth knowing well enough to defend? We want the easy way out, and for Christians, there is no easy way. Christianity involves discipline and focus top to bottom. There is no such thing as serving Jesus from the lounge chair! Laziness is a sin.

Putting Slanderers to Shame

The question about Peter’s command and the idea of putting your opponents to shame now comes into view. What makes for a good or sound apologetic? Does apologetics aim at being persuasive or is a biblical apologetic ipso facto persuasive? I tend to think that a biblically sound apologetic is both persuasive and offensive. I look at apologetics like I do preaching and teaching. I am interesting in change the minds and lives of the audience, but more than that, I am interested in proclaiming God’s word, God’s way. We have wrongfully separated apologetics from proclaiming and teaching the word. They are the same thing with a slightly different emphasis. Preaching and teaching is typically viewed as taking the initiative in speech while apologetics is usually a response. However, both must include the same content and presuppositions to be biblical. They both presuppose the existence of God, the truthfulness of the Christian worldview, and the authority of Scripture. They both assume a Christian metaphysic, revelational epistemology, and a biblical ethic. They proclaim and defend the Christian worldview as a whole rather than trying to piecemeal it together. Christian apologetics argues within the worldview that it seeks to defend.

What, then is Peter saying? Is he saying that we are to put together a philosophically complex system designed to actually persuade men of the truth of God and the legitimacy of Christian claims? While many, many apologists would answer in the affirmative, I have my doubts. By nature of the audience Peter is addressing, such a postulation would seem far-fetched. He is not giving believers a pass to be lazy, nor is he requiring a Harvard education in philosophy in order to be a good apologist. I should mention that, while every believer is not called to be a pastor, evangelist, teacher, etc., every believer is commanded to be an apologist. If you listen to some apologists, you are left wondering how an ordinary believer with a job and family could ever hope to obey Peter’s simple imperative. The prevailing idea is that a successful apologetic means persuasion. In other words, the measure of your success in apologetics is located in the power of your argument to convince others. Nowhere is this concept every presented in Scripture. In fact, since unbelievers are depraved, and reason entirely differently than Christians, such a postulation is utterly incongruent with Scripture. What then is Peter’s apologetic imperative? What, by God’s standards, is a sound Christian apologetic?

First, it involves a fearless defense of the truth claims of the Christian worldview. Peter says “do not be afraid of their intimidation!” It is likely that threat of physical harm was in view. Peter does not excuse the believer, even in the case of potential physical harm. If that is true, how can American/Western Christians excuse themselves under the guise of possibly offending others? How can we excuse ourselves over threat of loss of employment? Peter implies that loss of life is no reason for believers to excuse themselves from their apologetic duty. Therefore, loss of friends, loss of employment, loss of luxury, and loss of any comfort or convenience cannot serve as a legitimate reason for Christians not to fiercely engage in the Christian duty of defending the faith with all those who make such a demand. Pastors who neglect to equip their communities accordingly fail on a very fundamental level. Apologetics should be as much a pastoral concern as sanctification.

Second, Peter’s imperative has everything to do with reaffirming the Lordship of Christ in the life of the believer. Only if the believer acknowledges the lordship of Christ will they be able to make the sacrifices that Christian apologetics may demand of them. After all, if Christ is not Lord, why should I lose anything for Him, especially my health or even perhaps my life?

Believers are to provide a reasoned or reasonable account of why they have placed such confidence in the Christian worldview. Many apologists mistakenly think that Peter is saying that this “answer” must satisfy the reasoning of the unbeliever. In other words, many apologists assume that the reason (logos) Peter references is that which is employed by the world. If they do not make that mistake, they make the mistake of failing to distinguish between reformed or regenerate reason and unreformed reason. This raises the centuries old question of the relationship between faith and reason. As Augustine and Anselm said in their own way, I believe so that I may understand. Believers and unbelievers do not reason in the same way. How a Christian reasons must necessarily differ from how an unbeliever reasons due to the born again nature of the Christian. If this is true, then we have to ask by what standard of reason then should the Christian provide an answer for the hope that is in them? The answer is quite simple: it is God’s standard of reasoning. To assume that the world reasons in accord with God’s standard for reasoning is naïve and foolish. The unbeliever begins his reasoning on entirely different and even hostile ground than the believer. What makes us think they would permit godly reasoning in the course of this answer? Yet this is precisely what God demands.

How do we put the unbeliever to shame with our answer? First, it should be noted that to shame a Greco-Roman person was far more serious than it is for modern, Western or American persons. While it is far more stinging, the shame is not altogether so foreign that we are unable to attain a sense of it. We know very well what shame feels like. We can imagine what it feels like to be shamed by our group. The difference is the importance placed on honor and acceptance by the group. The manner in which we put the antagonist to shame is located in the mode of our answer, not the content or structure of the answer. In other words, we do not shame our opponents because they find the force of our reasoning irresistible. The only time that happens is when God regenerates the heart of the sinner. Otherwise, they are bound to find our reasoning empty and foolish. See Paul’s argument in I Cor. 1 & 2. The light has shined into the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it because men loved darkness rather than light, because men’s deeds are evil. The courtesy and respect displayed in our answer serves to separate the believer from others.

It is one thing to understand how the reasoning of the unbeliever operates and where and how it departs from Christian theism. It is quite another to adopt that style of reasoning in an attempt to demonstrate the truthfulness of a worldview that such reasoning begins by dismissing at the outset. Unregenerate reasoning is hostile toward God. It is a sworn enemy of Christian theism. Worldly wisdom is antithetical to Christian wisdom. The world never comes to know God through its own wisdom. Their minds are darkened and without understanding. (II Cor. 4:4, Rom. 3:10-18)

A sound Christian apologetic begins with the truth of God’s existence, the validity of the Christian worldview, and the authority of Scripture as self-attesting. It does not begin with unreformed reasoning and move to that conclusion. It begins with God’s truth and proceeds along these lines, refusing to bow to the ungodly idol of autonomous human reason. A sound Christian apologetic does not, for the sake of argument, pretend that God might not exist, that Christian theism may not be true, or that Scripture is not necessarily the word of God, and then employ unreformed “type” reasoning in order to establish the likelihood of the truthfulness of these claims. Such an approach seems to me to be inconsistent with Peter’s apologetic imperative.


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