but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect
1 Pet 3:15 ESV
The text is clear that believers are to be ready with a “defence” (apologia) for the hope that is within them.
They are called to be “apologists”, that is, one who can provide the rational basis of the faith. This is more than sharing your testimony, as important as that is. Every believer shares the apologetic task and cannot abdicate it to the pastor or to the professional Christian apologist, that is, to the academy. The good news is that you do not need to be an expert, otherwise the apostle would not have exhorted us to the task.
It may come as a shock to some that biblically orthodox Christianity is preeminently rational.
While it does not promote rationalism – the absolutizing of the human mind – it does promote rationality—that is, the God-given capacity to think rationally and logically.
The text exhorts us to be ready with a “reason” for our hope; the Greek word for “reason” being logos, means word and thought. Christ, as the incarnate Word (logos) of the Father, created and sustains all that is (Jn 1:1-3, 14; Heb 1:1-3). This provides the basis of reality and for all human predication—that is, thought and logical assertion. All that exists has it genesis in the mind and counsels of the eternal God.
Consequently, all human thought – whether regenerate or unregenerate – is derivative, not original. Because humankind is made in the image of God he is a rational being with the capacity to think and to reason. This capacity is clearly reflected in Adam’s creation task of naming the animals (Gen 2:19-20). The work of taxonomy – of classification and systems – is integral to the nature of things as created by God; and thus, to all rational thought and especially the scientific enterprise. Science and reason can only work because of God—whether its done by a Christian or non-Christian.
So, how can I provide a reasonable defence of Christianity?
First, by showing that anti-theism, in contrast to Christian-theism, is irrational—that it is grounded on an assumption and thus cannot provide a basis for human predication (logical thinking and assertions); and second, by showing that Christianity is evidence based—that is, it is grounded upon verifiable facts.
To our first defence—all anti-theistic and humanistic thought is based on an assumption: the ultimacy of the human mind—that is, man as his own ultimate reference point. This is the non-provable presupposition behind every humanistic belief and philosophy. It is the primeval seduction to become as gods (Gen 3); to reject divine revelation and choose for one’s self that which is true or false. We thus determine our own reality.
Once this is fully grasped it is not necessary – although helpful – to be familiar with the intricacies of the major humanistic philosophies.
Suppressing the clear knowledge of God, the unbeliever appeals to his or her own proud reasoning as the final arbiter of reality. This works to justify their moral enmity against God (Rom 1:18-32; 8:7; 2 Cor 10:5; Jas 4:4).
Humanistic worldviews (anti-theism and scientism) are thus left without a rational explanation for the phenomenon of human thought, nor factuality. As explained already, all thought and rationality is predicated in the existence of the creator-God. Unbelief is thus irrational; it is built on a non-provable assumption: the ultimacy of the human mind. It presupposes a naturalistic closed-system of cause and effect; that is, Christian supernaturalism is preemptively declared out of court.
The Christian worldview, consequently, provides the only intellectually coherent interpretation of reality.
And to our second defense—Christianity is evidenced based:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:30–31 ESV
Christianity is based on verifiable fact. The NT documents are the most reliable of antiquity. While there is no question that Alexander the Great existed, the documents that record his life come centuries after the event. By contrast, the NT documents come approximately 30 years after the event and Paul’s writings, in particualar 1 Corinthians 15, were based on a received tradition approximately 1-3 years after the resurrection. This is unprecedented in ancient historiography.
It is now a consensus among specialist scholars in the relevant discipline – including both believing and unbelieving scholars – that the bodily resurrection of Christ actually occurred, or at least that “something” inexplicable occurred. Forty years ago only a minority held this view in the academy. The shift has occurred through the universal recognition in the academy that Romans and Corinthians, in particular, are historically reliable. This is not say that, in their view, other books are not.
Therefore, the linchpin of Christianity – the resurrection – is beyond dispute (1 Cor 15). Thus, miracles, as an injection of God’s creative power into space-time, are an evidence of Christianity’s truthfulness and reasonableness.
Added to this is the universally clear revelation of God to all humankind through creation and conscience (Rom 1:18-32; 2:15).
In their dialogue with unbelievers the Christian can presuppose this knowledge of God, even though it may not be acknowledged. In their heart of hearts the unbeliever does know God. This can be appealed to when sharing the reality of God with them.
Lastly, the fulfillment of OT prophecy and the self-authenticating power of the Scriptures is further evidence. Those who have trusted in them have demonstrated the truthfulness and reliability of the Scriptures over millennia. They work when acted upon in obedience and faith.
Therefore, in conclusion, every believer – in addition to personal testimony – is able to provide a rational defence for their hope in Christ.
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