The philosopher Aristotle used the words apologia and kategoria to describe the two types of speeches presented in a court of law. Kategoria was a speech of accusation related to events that had happened in the past; the apologia was a speech of defense in response to the kategoria. The Apostle Peter used this term for a defense when he wrote these words to Christians in Asia Minor: “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15, emphasis added).Here’s how I define “apologetics,” on the basis of this text and others scattered throughout the Scriptures: apologetics is the reverent, reasonable, and humble defense — through our words and through our lives — of the hope we have in the risen Christ, as this hope has been revealed in his Word and in his world. Apologetics isn’t saying, “I’m sorry”; it’s a defense that reveals the incoherence of the unbeliever’s worldview by pointing to the internal coherence and external evidence for the believer’s hope in the risen Christ and in his written Word.

2. Holiness provides the foundation for the proclamation of our hope.

The words of Simon Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 can become a bumper sticker for apologetics, but this text is far richer, deeper, and more beautiful than we sometimes recognize. This text seems to have been written to Christians who are beginning to experience social exclusion and perhaps even civic consequences for their faithfulness to Jesus. In this context, the first defense of the faith to which Peter calls them is holiness (1 Pet 1:15–17; 2:9–17; 3:13–17).

Our defense of the Christian faith doesn’t end with our holiness, but it must start with holiness. Holiness won’t ultimately protect the people from persecution, but it ensures that whatever they suffer will be for the sake of their Savior and not because of their sin.

3. A Christian’s hope is centered in the resurrection—and so is our defense.

Throughout 1 Peter, Simon Peter centers the Christian’s hope in the resurrection (1 Pet 1:3, 13, 21). Sometimes, his focus is on the resurrection of Jesus on the third day; other times, it’s centered on our future resurrection, which the resurrection of Jesus guaranteed. But, either way, resurrection is the foundation of our hope.

So what does this mean for apologetics?

If apologetics is giving a reason for our hope, and hope is centered in the resurrection, the resurrection should be central in Christian apologetics. When the resurrection is not central in apologetics, the practice of apologetics can turn into a bad game of theological trivia, with the unbeliever raising a random series of objections until he or she “wins” by coming up with a question that the Christian can’t answer. When the resurrection of Jesus is central, however, apologetics can never stray far from the gospel, and we respond to the unbeliever’s questions by turning the question toward the cross and the empty tomb.