The Modern age has been good to Christians.
Modernity has, for the most part, been very hospitable to Christianity. It emphasized things like the scientific method, objectivity, logic, and absolute truth. Christianity has a lot to offer a world that thinks this way. Apologists from C.S. Lewis to Josh McDowell have used these concepts to argue for the existence of God, the validity of the Bible, and the uniqueness of Christianity. Many Christians have been equipped through the works of these and others to be able to defend their faith if they should ever be called on to do so.
My generation was born and raised as society was going through a shift from modernism to postmodernism. Our teachers and parents, concerned about the rejection of absolute truth, taught us apologetics from an early age. We know how to respond to the toughest of questions, what the weaknesses are in postmodern thinking, and why atheism takes more faith than Christianity.
In many ways, this is good. I’m certainly not speaking against studying, against logic, or against using our brain. But it has now caused a different problem in the church: We’ve become a church full of defensive people.
1 Peter 3:15 is often cited to prove why it is “necessary” for every Christian to know what, and why, they believe and be ready to give “a defense” for their faith. While it was never said explicitly (at least not to me as I grew up), it was implied that those who didn’t study and prepare to defend their faith were disobeying God.
We have acted as if our faith is on trial in a courtroom, and we are all defense lawyers.
Here’s the main problem: 1 Peter 3:15 is not talking about giving intellectual or legal arguments for Christian beliefs. 1 Peter was written to a group of Christians that was going through intense persecution by Nero. By saying “Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you,” Peter wasn’t saying “Be ready to give evidence for why Christianity is true.” He was saying, “Be ready to let people know why you still have hope and joy in the midst of persecution!”
By focusing on on defending propositions about faith instead of sharing why our faith gives us hope, we have created a culture of Christians who are always on guard and easily offended by what they perceive to be attacks on truth. Perhaps I see this more as a blogger (certainly, the internet seems to magnify what are sometimes smaller flaws in culture), but I think that it’s something we all need to be careful of.
God does not need us to be His defense lawyers.
And when we act like He does, we inadvertently cause pain and harm to the Body of Christ. We try to explain away the concerns of those who are asking genuine questions without being willing to sit with them in the tension.
Sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer.
We hurt Christian unity when we automatically assume that anyone who has a different perspective from us is promoting dangerous ideas, without first being willing to ask questions and have a conversation.
Jesus said we would be known by our love.
We do the world a great disservice when we act like Christianity has nothing to offer a postmodern generation. Sometimes winning a person over to Christ is not done by explaining the truth (or defending the concept of truth), but showing the truth through our works of faith.
Defensiveness is not a virtue.
I speak to myself as much as you. As a former competitive debater, I know how to use logic to rip others’ arguments to shreds. But the Jesus I find in the Bible didn’t do that. Jesus was humble, not defensive. And according to 1 Peter 3:15, that’s the attitude we need to have when we share the reason for our hope–with gentleness and respect.