For those familiar with apologetics, 1 Peter 3:15 is a common verse supporting the practice of it:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
I would enthusiastically affirm that apologetics is a great way to apply this verse, and I have written elsewhere about how many Western Christians have largely ignored their intellectual responsibilities in engaging the culture. Still, while the word apologia does appear in this text, I do not think the verse is primarily about studying so that we can answer every question or objection. The context of the verse is about how Christians should live righteously despite persecution so that naysayers will be ashamed, and the verse itself is about giving the positive reason why Christians believe, not so much negating every critique. In other words, I think testimony is at the heart of this verse: Why do you believe? Sure, Christians can bring up a host of arguments regarding the historical reliability of the New Testament and the existence of God, and such arguments are important. However, ultimately what Christians should share is their relationship and experience with the Risen Savior and the Living God.
Think of it this way: Let’s say someone asks you about your knowledge of your mother (assuming that you have a good relationship with your mom). You could, theoretically, mention basic facts about her: How old she is, where she’s from, what school she went to, etc. To show you know her more, you could talk about her character traits: That she is kind, that she is supportive, that she is loyal. However, such general descriptions, while they may be true and important, do not constitute the whole of your relationship with her: To really show that you know her, you would talk about your experience with her and what she has done for you.
When we share the Gospel, we talk about general truths about God: That he so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that Jesus died on the cross for sin, that he resurrected, etc. And all of those are extraordinarily important truths that we should share. However, what often drives it home for people is to hear the testimony of Christians who have experienced the salvation that God offers through Christ. It’s the difference between knowing that Jesus raised from the dead and knowing who that Jesus is via walking with him. You can’t have the latter without the former, obviously, but to paraphrase James, even the demons know the former.
Not all of us have those gripping testimonies of being a former drug dealer who went to jail, found Jesus, and then became a missionary. Those stories should be celebrated, but sometimes we celebrate them to the point where we ignore others. Everyone who has been saved by Christ has a testimony. Some may seem “mundane,” but even in the simple things, we can share how God has worked in our lives and how he continues to work.
This past week, we took a team of our college students to a nearby church in order to put on both a VBS and youth camp for them. At the youth camp, we knew of two unbelievers who were siblings and who relatively recently moved to the area. They heard a lot of important teachings from both the messages and workshops, teachings that centered around the Gospel and how to implement the Christian life. Of course, we also prayed for them to be touched by the Gospel and to surrender their lives. However, it wasn’t until they heard the testimonies of some of our college students in small groups that it became “real” for them. First, the girl gave her life to Jesus after hearing the testimonies of two girl leaders (while the other girl leaders were in a room praying for her). Later, her brother accepted Christ a few days after hearing the testimonies of the college guys. In fact, one of the college guys shared with me that he felt inadequate trying to answer all the questions this youth guy brought up, but at the end of the day, his testimony resonated with this guy the most.
Sharing our testimonies does not replace biblical teaching, lest we elevate our experience over the Word. Nonetheless, while we should faithfully share the Gospel, teach from the Bible, and do our best to answer intellectual questions people have, our testimonies can help many people see that it isn’t just abstract truth we’re sharing: It’s concrete and real, and it is the power of God. That is how the apostles shared as eyewitnesses, and though we are not eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, we are still witnesses to the love and grace that Christ brings.