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?