I’ve often heard people say the reason they find it difficult to share their faith is because they don’t have all the right answers. “What if someone suggests all paths lead to the same God, making Jesus irrelevant?” they say. Or “What if a co-worker claims she could never be a Christian because the Bible has too many errors?” These are serious questions that deserve thoughtful responses. As Christians, we should have reasons for our hope. However, I wonder if we often put our hope in having right answers instead of hoping in the reason for our faith? Let’s consider the role of “right answers” in the difficulty of sharing our faith.
Reasons for Hope
While some consider Christianity to be an unthinking faith, the Bible underscores the importance of reason. Peter, a disciple not known for being good with words, wrote this: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet 3:14-15).
We are to offer “reasons” for our hope, to always be prepared. Prepared to do what? “Make a defense” is a translation of the word from which we getapologetic. An apologetic isn’t an “I’m sorry” attitude. Nor is it a defensive, antagonistic stance against culture. It is a reasoned statement of belief. To make an apologetic, then, is not to argue out of defensive insecurity, but to offer a reasonable explanation from our security. What kind of security frees us to offer reasonable explanations for our faith?
Two kinds of security free us to engage in apologetics. The first is intellectual security. The Christian faith has a long tradition of apologists who have faithfully defended the faith century after century, answering some of the most difficult questions. The earliest apologists include: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Tatian, and Clement of Alexandria (view their texts here). Their apologetic answers have been handed down from generation to generation. New apologists, such as Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, John Frame, and Alvin Plantinga, also address new questions. We do well to read them.
It is important to note that the gospel alone acts as a grand apologetic, addressing the deepest of life’s questions including: the problem of evil and suffering, the existence of God, the hope of salvation, the nature of God and man, and the role of faith. Through apologetics the gospel has proven intellectually credible and existentially satisfying for many people across many cultures. The gospel provides a coherent, rational view on the world that is intellectually secure. It makes sense of a world where things are not as they are supposed to be. But there is another security that frees us to offer reasonable explanations for Christian faith.
Many of us won’t make time to read the old and new apologists. And perhaps we don’t have to. Is it possible that Peter had in mind an apologetic that included, not just reasons, but faith? Peter was writing to people who feared persecution for their faith. When we struggle to share our faith, do we not face persecution? We are attacked by thoughts that undermine our confidence, diminish our trust in Christ, and redirect us away from speaking about Jesus. Surely, this is a spiritual persecution. Cultural apologist Ken Myers has said:
“the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for the saints of earlier centuries.”
While we may not face the gallows or plagues, we do face something more subtle–the invisible power of pop culture that undermines truth, dismisses character, and radically orients us toward comfort. The good news is that we have the same ability as those early saints to be secure and strong in our faith. When doubts surface and silent accusations fly on the cusp of mentioning the gospel, we need a security stronger than our persecution.
Before instructing the early Christians to always have an apologetic, Peter prefaces his statement with this: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Pet. 3:14). He reassures them, in the face of mockery, to sink their security deep into their hearts not heads. He reminds them that they have nothing to fear because they have Christ who offers perfect peace. He makes apologetics about Christ not right answers, a matter of both the head and the heart.
So, when we face that moment of temptation to shy away from identifying with Jesus, it is our identity in Jesus that we need most. We need not fear men because we can rest in Christ. People may reject us, but our forever acceptance in Christ gives us every reason to speak of Him, of His grace, mercy, kindness, love, and triumph over sin, death, and evil. O for stronger men and women who sink their identity deeply into what Jesus says about us more than what peers and co-workers (might) say about us! Our silence will convince no one of our rich, rewarding faith in Jesus. Fear over co-worker frowns will not inspire a smiling faith.
Our moment of opportunity is less about converting others and more about staying true to ourselves. Will we speak of our unique community in the church, the God-intoxicating gathering on Sunday, the stirring time of meditation on Wednesday morning, and the quiet, soul stirrings of communion with God? Will we speak authentically about what matters most to us and of the meaningful events in our lives or will we prove inauthentic, dismissing these things from conversation, and along with them, dismissing our true selves? Will we refrain from honoring the Lord Christ as holy in our hearts because we hold in honor the passing frowns of men in our heads? Surely the gospel offers a deeper security than the approval of passing men and women? Does not Christ’s love run deeper, His acceptance purer, and His approval longer than the love, acceptance, and approval that any person could ever give? If so, apologetics is meant to spring from a deep security in the heart, our unshakable union with Christ—fully loved, fully accepted. Apologetics is a matter of the heart as well as the head.
Defending the faith, then, is as much about defending Christ as our Lord in our hearts as it is explaining the reasonableness of our faith. The goal of apologetics should never be to convert others (that is the Spirit’s job), but it is to honor Christ as Lord in our hearts. This happens, very often, with our mouths. And in the end, for everyone the bottom-line issue isn’t an intellectual objection but hope objection. We refuse to remove our hope from one thing and transfer it to the ultimate thing, the person of Jesus. A witness of our authentic hope in Christ will be more compelling than any intellectual argument we could ever articulate. People need to see our hope burn in our bones. They need to sense the Lord Christ set apart in our hearts. They need to see that the gospel not only makes sense but that it also works. Christian faith is intellectually satisfying and existentially rich. So let’s not put our hope in having right answers but have answers that reflect our hope.
 Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989), v.
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter:@Jonathan_Dodson