Thursday, June 06, 2013

Neglected Aspects of a Key Apologetic Text

Today I watched a video accompanying a new study material on multi-faith engagement which at one point included a quotation from the New Testament in the form of 1 Peter 3:15. The verse is included in the image accompanying this post. As I watched the video and read this passage once again, a few new observations came to me, included below with a few comments.

This passage is frequently cited by Evangelicals interested in apologetics, both in general contexts and in interreligious ones as well. This is because the Greek word translated "answer" in English is where the term apologetics in theology is frequently connected to, making this a primary "go to" passage on the topic. However, a few additional elements need to be considered.

It should be noted that this graphic, taken from a prominent Evangelical apologetics organization, is missing the remainder of the verse, which reads in the NIV translation: "But do this with gentleness and respect." Unfortunately, apologetics is often associated with an aggressive form of engagement that is missing, or at least perceived as missing, these two important elements. I find it interesting that the apologetics organization that produced this image omitted the latter part of the verse, for whatever reasons. Evangelicals shouldn't do the same in their practice of it. Our answer for our hope needs to incorporate gentleness and respect, even for those religious traditions that Evangelicals don't like. This is in keeping with Jesus' call to love our neighbors, as well as our enemies.

But today the element that stood out for me most in this passage was the part that says Christians are to give an answer for their hope "to everyone who asks you." Notice that Christians are to share in this capacity when asked, when the invitation is extended as to why we embrace the way of Jesus. The passage doesn't tell us to provide an answer for those who aren't asking, or for those who aren't interested.

Finally and related to this, in the context of the passage, the author is arguing that when one's Christian lifestyle in the way of Jesus leads to questions, then we should be prepared to given\ an answer. In other words, this apologetic involves a relational element and is not merely an evidential presentation void of this important context. This means we have to earn the right to be heard through a lifestyle that emulates Christ.

These thoughts aren't terribly new, as my colleagues have been discussing "dialogical apologetics," "relational apologetics," "humble apologetics," and "missional apologetics." But in my view the elements discussed above deserve greater reflection by a larger number of Evangelicals. 

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