A Different Application of 1 Peter 3:1511:27 AM
Growing up homeschooled and evangelical, I learned worldview apologetics pretty early on. 1 Peter 3:15 is one of those verses I memorized as a kid and still haven't forgotten (though, confession: I had to look up the reference -- I've failed you, AWANA!). Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within you.
Give an answer.
It's like perfectionism meets the Boy Scout motto. Being both a perfectionist and a planner, I latched onto this idea that if I studied hard enough, I could give enough of the answers to ward off atheists and agnostics from sullying Christianity's intellectual stability. It encouraged me that even my obscure obsession in eschatology sometimes proved relevant in discussing things with nonbelievers.
This 1 Peter apologetics also led me to believe that anyone can be reasoned into Christianity. If I only reasoned long enough, exegeted smart enough, pushed hard enough, the barriers against Christ would crumble and my intellectual opponent would fall to the ground worshiping God. I can't even begin to count on two hands how many times that happened...because it never happened.
Oddly enough, what first tipped me off that I'd misapplied this verse was not that I couldn't come up with answers fast enough. I was a word gymnast. If I couldn't find something absolutely compelling to say every time, I could at least say something. If wordiness failed me, I'd disappear into the internet and study for several days until I made my defense. I wrote some pretty massive theological emails as a teenager.
I realized my misapplication of 1 Peter 3:15 when my rational opponents quit playing by rational rules: "Wait, what are you doing? I clearly just answered that counterattack. This verse clearly does not say that. Whoa, that's not even logical." My rational defenses, my elongated answers, meant nothing to someone playing by faith unevaluated by reason or to someone who never learned to reason or to someone who for whatever personal reasons did not want to hear and accept the truth.
When arguing with people, I'm not arguing with a mathematical calculation or a reason machine. I'm talking with a person, with chains of untruth and bondage of sin wrapped around their soul. I too have psychological bonds to certain people or ideas and a myriad of pet sins that make it hard to accept truth when I see it. Accepting truth is messy. It's not only a matter of logic; it's primarily a matter of breaking down those psychological and sinful barriers that keep us from embracing God fully.
It takes more than reason to give a good answer. It takes wisdom.
When Peter commanded us to give an answer for the hope within us, his context is not a debate forum. It's persecution. Christians were being physically persecuted for their righteousness. They seem worn out and confused, afraid and ready to just give up their beliefs for peace. Peter's full command is don't be afraid and troubled by those who don't understand your hope. Don't give up on Christ -- keep clinging to Him, and if people question you, tell them gently and respectfully about the hope of Christ that compels you to believe and continue to believe.
He never mentions reasoning the persecutors to Christ. In fact, I think Peter's trying to encourage his flock to keep believing in the face of intense persecution and mocking questions. It's we Christians who must have and believe our answers.
My most successful conversations of any kind are when I had no objective but to share why I love Christ. Christ is my answer. I wasn't trying to win people over. I gave that up long ago and learned to pray that Christ would use me in spite of my many answers.