The Christian Apologetics Mandate

apologetics2The Greek word apologia (Greek: ἀπολογία) is the root for the English term “apologetics.” Apologia and its root forms are found in the New Testament (Acts 26:2Romans 1:20Philippians 1:7, 16), with 1 Peter 3:15 revealing the mandate imploring Christians to be ready to explain and defend their faith. Throughout Christian history, apologetics became known as the enterprise by which apologists sought to give a reasoned defense of the truth of Christianity. Today, Christian apologetics involves the use of various disciplines to defend the faith, including the biblical, doctrinal, philosophical, historical, literary, and scientific fields.

In more technical terms, apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that seeks to provide rational justification for the truth claims of Christianity.1 For 20 centuries, Christian scholars and leaders have engaged in a fourfold defense of the faith by (1) presenting and clarifying the central truth claims of Christianity, (2) offering clear and compelling positive evidence for accepting Christian truth, (3) answering people’s questions and objections concerning the faith, and (4) providing a penetrating critique and refutation of alternative non-Christian systems of thought.2

This type of apologetic endeavor remains as important today as at any time in Christian history. And it is imperative that believers look to Scripture and church history to instruct them in the performance of this critical task. Fortunately, the apostle Peter—the central preacher in the primitive Christian church—offers such guidance in his first epistle.

Since 1 Peter 3:15 contains the official New Testament order or commission to do apologetics, let’s cite the passage and explore its meaning in some detail.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

–1 Peter 3:15, NIV

Rules of Apologetic Engagement

In Peter’s words, we discover four points that provide a context for apologetic engagement and that honor God and instruct the apologist.

  1. Courage in Suffering

The backdrop of Peter’s admonition in verse 15 is the topic of suffering (see verses 13–14 and 16–17). In the apostolic age as well as for virtually three centuries following, a defense of the Christian faith would often occur under hostile interrogation (see, for example, Acts 25:16). Since Christianity was an illegal and politically controversial religion in the Roman Empire, the early Christians suffered through periods of great persecution and even martyrdom. Apologetic work in the early church (as today in totalitarian and Islamic-ruled countries) took great moral and physical courage.

  1. Christ’s Lordship

Peter instructs believers that at the core of their being (Greek: kardia, the “heart”), where people form their most essential beliefs, they should acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Calling Jesus “Lord” (Greek: Kyrios) in this context is equivalent to referring to him as Yahweh (ruler, king, and God).3 Christians can engage in the apologetic enterprise with the full assurance that Christ is the exclusive, sovereign ruler over all things (Matthew 28:18). Facing suffering, trial, and hostile interrogation with the conviction that Christ is in sovereign control serves to grant the believer peace and confidence.

  1. A Reasoned Defense

To provide the proper rational justification for the Christian faith and worldview today demands rigorous intellectual preparation. It presupposes an in-depth knowledge of the faith and the ability to answer questions and rebut objections. Peter sets forth the idea that the Christian faith has a rational foundation worth defending. Yet one does not need to be a professional to become an effective apologist.

  1. Gentleness and Respect

When it comes to rational persuasion, the advocate’s attitude and demeanor often carry as much weight as his or her arguments. People measure the credibility of one’s beliefs often by how they are communicated. Cogent arguments conveyed with an air of arrogance and disrespect will be drained of their apologetic potency. But apologetic responses that reflect a calm, measured approach and tone signify a quality consistent with the conviction that it is God (the Holy Spirit) alone who makes the human heart and mind receptive to the gospel (Acts 16:141 Corinthians 12:3).

The apostle goes on to speak of the importance of joining one’s rational defense with the virtue of moral transparency (“keeping a clear conscience,” verse 16). The effective apologist seeks to integrate the witness of one’s life with one’s words. A reasoned and winsome apologetic case possesses great force in conveying the message that historic Christianity is rational, viable, and true.

Reflections: Your Turn

Which aspect of Peter’s mandate concerning apologetics stands out to you?


  1. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), xi.
  2. See Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 255–59.
  3. F. Bruce, Jesus: Lord and Savior(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 203.

  One thought on “The Christian Apologetics Mandate

  1. xenova1
    October 2, 2018 at 10:00 am

    I watch videos on YouTube and what turns me away from some people is when they speak with condensation. A gentle and humble tone is more effective because they are talking to me and not at me.

    • October 2, 2018 at 11:37 am

      Thanks for your comment, Xenova1.

      Ken Samples

    • October 3, 2018 at 9:29 am

      Thanks for the link.

      Ken Samples

  2. October 16, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    Some combination of John Walton’s cultural knowledge and Hugh Ross’s scientific knowledge will be needed to revitalize evangelism. Such a base can then justify the moral and ethical teachings of Christianity to a materialistic culture. As it is, we are trying to sell the fruits of Christianity’s tree to adults, while our opponents are chopping at its roots in the schools..

    • October 16, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Billc.

      Ken Samples

  3. October 16, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    My effort at combining Walton and Ross is in the last two posts at

  4. Rita
    October 16, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    A reasoned defense seems most important to me (gentleness and respect a given) and probably most lacking among the majority of Christians. Maybe due to laziness or a sense of inadequacy to dig deep enough to give adequate reasons for our hope. Without them, how will we win the poor lost souls for eternity?

    • October 17, 2018 at 10:24 am

      Thanks, Rita.

      Ken Samples

    • December 4, 2018 at 8:48 pm

      Well Rita, I agree. On a practical, church-wide level I think that a reasoned defense is lacking, but with the Modern Age we do have access to so much content that I think for truth seekers the defense is out there. Ken does a good job of giving other sources to read through as well.

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