In the words of 1 Peter 3:15, the personal prerequisite for offering a reasoned defense of the Christian faith is to have “set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Christ must be the ultimate authority over our philosophy, our reasoning, and our argumentation–not just at the end, but at the beginning, of the apologetical endeavor. If we are to “cast down reasonings and every high thing exalted against the knowledge of God,” said Paul, then we must “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). An ultimate commitment to Christ covers the entire range of human activity, including every aspect of intellectual endeavor. To reason in a way that does not recognize this is to transgress the first and great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with … all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). In light of this, our apologetical method, not merely our apologetical conclusions, should be controlled by the word of God.”
Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (P&R, 1998), p2.
This verse contains the the biblical justification for Christian apologetics and is embraced by all apologists regardless of their chosen apologetic method. The apostle Peter describes believers as:
“always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (ESV)
As Calvin reminds us in his commentary, this instruction depends upon the words immediately preceding it. We cannot provide a defence of the faith unless we are honouring the object of that faith. We cannot defend a hope that we do not possess. Also, the converse is also true: we will not be honouring Christ unless we give a defence of the hope that we have in Christ. The defence of our hope is undertaken within the context of a spiritual union with Jesus Christ and, consequently, within the worldview that Christ revealed by his life and teaching.
We honour Christ in our apologetics firstly by the manner in which we give a defence: with gentleness and respect. Gentleness, to avoid the “profane audacity” (Calvin) of contention and ostentation. And respect, since we deal with God’s creatures, made in his image. We respond to foolishness and ignorant questions with gentle and respectful answers, despite the temptation to inflict easy intellectual or moral defeats.
Secondly, we also honour Christ by ensuring he is the subject of our defence. This must be central in all apologetic endeavours and follows naturally from this verse. Calvin speaks about those believers who “think less honourably than they ought of the greatness of divine wisdom, and are carried away by profane audacity”. While Calvin was primarily referring to those who defend the faith in a contentious manner, Bahnsen takes Calvin to be referring to those who lay aside God’s revelation of divine wisdom in Scripture by seeking neutral ground with the unbeliever and adopting the stance of human autonomy. But, since our hope is in Christ, and since we can only know of Christ through Scriptural revelation, we must defend Scriptural revelation.
We should also remember that biblical hope is certain (Heb. 11.1). Worldly hope is uncertain. It is no more than a desire, since there is nothing that provides any assurance for such a hope. The hope that the believer defends is a certainty, not a probability, since it is underpinned by divine revelation and appropriated through God’s gift of faith. Jesus Christ is God’s only Son and is our Lord. He was crucified. He did die to redeem us from sin. He was buried. He did rise again, declaring victory over sin and death. He has ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Not probably, but certainly (Acts 2:36).