Always Be Prepared To Make Up An Answer

I remember from my younger days in a conservative Christian context the importance we placed on 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

We didn’t often continue into the sentence that follows, “But do this with gentleness and respect…” But that isn’t what I want to focus on here.

I know from my own experience that I did not in fact consistently understand that verse to be commanding that I “be prepared” in the more natural, Boy Scouts sense, i.e. of learning the things necessary so as to be able to give a genuinely relevant and meaningful answer. To the extent that I did “prepare,” it was largely answers taken over from apologists and young-earth creationists. That was learning rote “answers,” allegedly right answers, and thus not really “learning” at all.

To be prepared to give an answer ought to mean that you have investigated a matter and are now as a result prepared to give an answer and not merely a response.

More often than not, I understood this verse in terms of being ready to make up an answer on the spot, to try to avoid having an opponent of my faith get the last word, or seem to have won a debate.

With hindsight, it is easy to see that such an approach had nothing to do with either being prepared or giving an answer.

Of course, the saying in Matthew 10:19 = Luke 12:11 also influences such thinking among conservative Christians. Those verses emphasize not worrying about how to defend oneself when arrested, because the Spirit will take care of that when the time comes. But to extrapolate from a reassurance for those going through a crisis situation, and to turn it into a general principle letting you off the hook for not taking the time to learn about things you claim are important, seems not only unjustified, but deeply problematic and foolish.

Can you relate to this? If you have spent some time in a conservative Christian context, did you understand this verse to be about standing up for your faith in the moment it was challenged, rather than inviting you to actually prepare for such instances by becoming better informed through rigorous education? If this approach to the verse turns out to be widespread, why do you think that might be? Is it perhaps because being defensive in the moment is less challenging to one’s worldview than the experience of becoming genuinely familiar with important topics – and the views of others and the rationale and evidence for them – is likely to be?

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  • Sabio Lantz

    When I use to be a Christian, I tried to do exactly as you said.  Heck, even as an atheist I use to do it.  OK, I still do it.
    In medicine we do this all the time — you ask a practitioner a question and sure enough, they will generate an answer for you.  Patients and Congregants don’t want leaders who say, “I don’t know”.  But I think “I don’t know” is what could actually unite Christians and Atheists more than they imagine.  Us medical folks should learn to do it more often too!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, James, during my time as an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian, I interpreted this verse as telling me that I better have a quick answer to any objection to my precious faith, even if that answer was garbage.

    Of course, many evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who promote this verse for this purpose would claim that they are not against education.  They would claim they are for education, but in reality, they are only for education in the context of evangelical/fundamentalist Bible colleges and seminaries.  Education at secular public and private universities in classes taught by people such as yourself or Bart Ehrman would not be acceptable, at least according to these people.  These people are convinced that secular academia is on a mission to take down and destroy their faith.  I think it’s pretty paranoid and silly, but that’s just my opinion. 

  • jeffreyspm

    I read it as being prepared and ready to answer the question “Why are you a Christian?”

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    It’s funny you should bring this up. I use this blog as a means to prepare for defending my faith against historical criticism views. :)