A Gracious Defense: How Do You Do It?
by Sarah Flashing
Campus debates, academic conferences, scholarly journals—these are some of the places where apologetics is engaged by the Church’s well-equipped defenders. These contexts lend to the structured, sophisticated arguments that have the power to persuade the most determined atheist and unsure agnostic, but are also useful in local coffee shops, family dinner tables and local school board meetings. We are called to give an answer for the hope within wherever we find the truth of God’s word being challenged, wherever Christianity is under assault, whenever Christians are persecuted for their allegiance to Jesus.
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 ESV)
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It’s easy to forget the second half of the charter verse for apologetics ministry. Our defense of the faith is to not only be true and reasonable, but gracious and kind.
How we give an answer isn’t ancillary to the nature of our defense, though sometimes it seems that aspect of Peter’s charge is missed or ignored. The nature of our interaction is as important as the meat of the answer because it is difficult for those on the receiving end to separate the message from the messenger. I believe this is what motivates Peter to write that we take on the moral aspects of the gospel in giving an answer. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to give expression to the “hope within” if it manifests in the form of aggression or hostility. This establishes a contradiction between God’s love and the requirement of his followers to love others which, ultimately, undermines any otherwise reasonable defense of the faith. If not motivated by a love for God and for others, it will be quickly known…
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