In an earlier post, I shared my experience as a Freshman at Stanford University coming into contact with a world of questions and, consequently, seeking to find and give a reason for the hope that I had in Christ. In future posts, I’ll engage with some of those questions and unpack how I discovered that Adventism speaks to them, but first, a confession…
That Freshman year, as I dug into the Biblical worldview and sought to understand how it addressed the many questions I came across, I started to acquire quite a bit of information. Resources from the Biblical Research Institute and the Adventist Theological Society were especially helpful. The more I learned, the more confident I became that I could win most arguments—so much so that I started to seek them out. Recall, I was a Freshman.
I enjoyed being right. I enjoyed winning—it was like a game. Who doesn’t? And although I suspected that I was, at times, annoying friends with the approach, I figured that I was simply following the command of Scripture to “always be ready to give a defense” (1 Peter 3:15).
But as I was faced with the reality of visiting friends in the hospital after suicide attempts, walking drunk friends back to the dormitory, and listening as people shared their overwhelming sense of “lostness” and brokenness, I slowly learned that this wasn’t simply a game to win. One evening as I walked down the hall to my dorm room, I vividly remember stopping to reflect on the longing for hope I’d seen expressed by so many friends scattered throughout the dormitory. In that moment, I realized I was there, not to convince others to agree with me, but to share hope.
Indeed, a closer look at Peter’s command to “give a defense” reveals that it is sandwiched between a number of principles that have since helped guide me in learning how to effectively and humbly share hope. I trust you’ll find them valuable, too.
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; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are silenced, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14b-16, ESV, emphasis added)
- No Fear
Apologetics—arguments for the Christian worldview—often proceed from a place of concern:
“Atheism is catching on.”
“Our young adults are being led astray.”
“The Church is losing her direction.”
“There may not be a Church a generation from now.”
Undoubtedly, though, the challenges Christianity faces now are far less than what Peter experienced in the first century. At that time, the culture was at complete philosophical odds with the Christian message, and the Roman Empire was actively persecuting the Church. Despite this, Peter wrote for believers to “have no fear.” How could he say such a thing? Peter remembered the promises Jesus had made to him:
On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
These twin promises remain for the Church today, freeing us from ever making fear the incentive for us to share the Christian message. Rather, we may speak from a place of great joy and confident assurance in Christ.
This is Peter’s second call for gentleness in this chapter (see also 1 Peter 3:4), alternatively translated as meekness or mildness. He repeats the theme because it is contrary to how we often think the cause of truth is advanced. There are two fallacies we are tempted to embrace. The first is to think that the greater the volume or intensity with which we present a case, the more persuasive it becomes. The second is to think that the responsibility to persuade others falls solely on us.
Neither is accurate, at least when it comes to spreading the gospel. God has given His ever-present Spirit. Before we ever speak a word, and long after we leave, the Spirit is actively working on the hearts and minds of people. We are simply to come alongside Him as gentle witnesses (John 15:26-27).
Respect means more than listening until you get the chance to say what you want to say! The New Testament teaches us to follow the example of Christ in esteeming others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). If we truly embrace this, we must accept that the ideas and experiences of others are worth listening to. Our first instinct should be to believe that others have well-thought-out reasons for the positions they hold—especially the positions that we disagree with. In doing so, we will seek to understand the beliefs of others before we seek to respond to them.
- Good Conscious
I distinctly remember a time when I was reading through the book of Hebrews, and came up against a challenging passage. It appeared as if the text was teaching something contrary to my understanding. My first response was to begin building up an intellectual wall and to look for ways to dismiss it, but in midst of doing this, I caught myself.
I realized that if I truly wanted to pursue Truth, I’d have to let it guide me, even if it was into unfamiliar territory. After all, how could I expect to arouse a spirit of investigation in others if I refused to entertain such a spirit myself? I said a simple prayer, asking God to guide me as I honestly and patiently sought to understand what the text was saying (rather than what I wanted it to say). The Spirit of truth was faithful, and I came to a more beautiful and complete understanding of God’s love.
The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation. (Review and Herald, December 20, 1892)
- Good Behavior
A few years ago, I befriended a young man who was raised in a Hindu family, but with a largely secular upbringing. Like me, he was trying to make sense of his faith. In one conversation where we were discussing the importance of intentionally listening to people who hold diverse world-views, a comment of his struck me: “Many times I’ve understood personal philosophies far better through people’s actions than vocalizations.”
I thought back to the night we had been walking back to campus together when we met a homeless woman in need. I suggested we take her to a cafe to get some food, and we stayed with her until we were able to connect her with some help. He mentioned that evening more than once.
In hindsight, I suspect all the conversations we had about the gospel would have meant much less if it weren’t for experiences such as these where my friend could see Christian love in action. But lest I feel proud, I also remember the numerous times when my actions were inconsistent with the hope I confessed. I concluded that all the knowledge I might acquire is worthless if I’m not actively dwelling in and letting the Spirit fill me with the love of God.
No other influence that can surround the human soul has such power as the influence of an unselfish life. The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian. (Ministry of Healing, pg. 470)