Humility and the Apologist

15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 1 Peter 3:15

1 Peter 3:15 is one of the most often quoted Bible verses by Christian Apologists. It is commonly used to demonstrate that the practice of apologetics is scripturally based. We write it, recite it and sometimes use it to defend the practice of defending. Unfortunately, while we, as apologists, zealously emphasize the first portion of the verse, which directs Christians to always be prepared to defend the faith, we sometimes gloss over the admonition to do so with gentleness and reverence.

It is exceedingly important that the apologist always be mindful of this second part as humility is foundational to the Christian faith. There are two specific reasons that immediately come to mind for why gentleness and respect are emphasized here.

The first is so that the one who is being ministered to is not alienated by an apologist who approaches him in a condescending or contemptuous manner. As Christian Apologists we should look to the example set by our Lord who was born in a lowly manger, lived a life devoid of material resources, and always put others first, even to the point of submitting to death on a cross.  While Jesus offered words of life to the multitudes he also expressed deep love for them as individuals. To approach others respectfully and with humility offers non-believers a glimpse of the loving character of Jesus which stands in stark contrast to the world. It should come as no surprise that the opposite approach yields the opposite results. In short, no one is attracted to arrogance. Chapter 15 of the Book of Proverbs provides counsel related to this: A soft answer turneth away wrath but grievous words stir up anger. For a single lost person to reject the gospel message due to the pride of the messenger is a tragedy of eternal proportions.

The second reason to always be gentle and respectful is the danger that pride presents to the spiritual life of the apologist. Scripture is filled with admonitions against pride. Numerous times in the Book of Proverbs the reader is warned about its destructive power while such New Testament books as 1 John and Romans counsel against the dangers of self-importance. The fruit of the Spirit is described in Galatians 5:22-23 as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These attributes should characterize the life of every believer. Pride is the perfect antithesis of these spiritually healthy virtues. This should not come as a surprise to the believer, as it was pride that caused Satan to be expelled from Heaven.

The Christian Apologist must be especially vigilant where pride is concerned because the knowledge gained through rigorous study of apologetics is very specialized and at times complex. As very few people, even Christians, are well versed in such subjects as Intelligent design and Anselm’s Ontological argument for the existence of God, a well-trained apologist must constantly guard against becoming “puffed up”. One who holds himself in high esteem may come to look down upon his fellow church members and possibly even his pastor. It is truly saddening when one sets out in good faith to learn as much as possible about the God he loves and ends up in love with himself. Philosopher and Apologist J.P. Moreland openly discusses the fact that he has been attending Christian counseling sessions for years and strongly advocates that all apologists do likewise. Perhaps holding prideful impulses in check is one of the benefits he sees in this. Humility should be present in the life and dealings of all Christians and to speak the truth in love is the particular challenge of the Christian Apologist.

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