Fear in Apologetics
Almost exactly two years ago I wrote about my understanding of apologetics from 1 Peter. To summarize, I believe Peter emphatically teaches "apologetic by lifestyle" in his epistle. This is especially true in the presence of Christian suffering — something some Christians believe is at our doorstep.
Quite apart from God's plans for Christians in the United States of America, I have recently been returning to 1 Peter for personal encouragement. And I was struck by a tiny piece of a common verse,
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; - 1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV)
Now, it is entirely possible that I am a horrible listener. But I cannot actively recall individuals camping out on the "meekness and fear" portion of these verses with application to apologetics. Most of the time, apologetics is studied to bolster the faith of a believer and lead to more productive engagement with non-believers.
But I'm not always confident that we use biblical standards for those engagements. Wrapped around "give a defense" are two important phrases. The HCSB reads a little more clearly in this regard,
But honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear - 1 Peter 3:15-16 (HCSB)
We "honor the Messiah" by "keeping [our] conscience clear" only when we perform our defense with "gentleness and respect." The goal of Christian apologetics is to honor God. This honor is not derived through intellectual success but the producing of a clear conscience. Many of us struggle with this because our intellectual engagements become heated.
To the end of defending our faith with gentleness, I recommend adopting the perspective of John Calvin,
"We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them." - Institutes III.VII.VI
Calvin concludes this section of Christian living with his humanistic tendencies showing. Calvin suggests "covering and obliterating" the faults of individuals who have harmed and wronged us. Calvin would have us not put aside the rampant wickedness of men to treat them with gentleness. This, of course, is not to ignore the truth of the gospel, the reality of sin, or the necessity of repentance. However, it will help us to honor God by honoring His image in all men.