About the Guest
Why believe in Christ? Cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace, along with his wife, Susie, explain that unreasonable faith believes something that's not true. Blind faith knows something is true, but can't prove it. Forensic faith, however, is having good evidence that something is true and believing it. That's where we want our kids to be as they understand the Scriptures.
Why believe in Christ? J. Warner Wallace, along with his wife, Susie, explain that forensic faith is having good evidence that something is true and believing it.
Bob: Do your children have a rock-solid confidence that what the Bible teaches is really true? Can they support that? Do they have the evidence to back up that belief? Here’s Detective J. Warner Wallace.
J. Warner: Ask somebody who is a freshman in college, “Why you walked away from the church?” They will almost always point to about 12-13 years of age as that point in which they first started to have unanswered questions. If most of your students are telling you the reason why they’re no longer in is because they’ve got skepticism which is grounded in intellectual questions, well then maybe it is time for us to start answering their questions.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What can we do as parents to help our children have a confidence that what the Bible says is really true? How can we cultivate that same confidence in our own heart? Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. It occurs to me that what we’ve been doing this week as we’ve been talking about the evidence to support our faith—in the last decade or so, that’s kind of fallen out of favor. I’m aware of the fact that people said, “You know you never talk anybody into Christianity.” You don’t just present the facts and then they go, “Okay I’m now convinced.” There’s been kind of a movement away from defending the reality of the faith to the point where I’m wondering if people actually have a basis for what they believe anymore—or if they’re just accepting it because they’ve heard it repeated over and over again.
Dennis: Bob, I think one of the reasons why we’re watching a generation of young people leave the church on graduation from high school or from college—and leaving not coming back to their faith is this very reason. I don’t think they are grounded. They don’t have the evidence, as Josh McDowell said, that demanded a verdict.
—Or as our guest puts it. He’s written a book called Cold-Case Christianity and it’s subtitle—I haven’t used this subtitle here this week as I’ve talked about it—A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. J. Warner Wallace and his wife, Susie, join us on FamilyLife Today. Susie, Jim welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Susie: Thank you so much for having us.
Jim: We are honored.
Dennis: I want you to comment on what Bob mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast here—about the lack of interest in apologetics. Do you see a return to that with the writing of your book and some others that are out there?
J. Warner: Oh, I think that there’s been a renaissance in Christian apologetics that I can’t claim any brilliant contribution to me. You see people like William Lane Craig, Josh McDowell—Evidence Demands a Verdict. It’s old, right? He’s releasing a new one this year as a matter of fact because there is basically a renewal of interest—and why so you think that’s happening?
Why would you think now—that we’re seeing movies like God’s Not Dead—the first movie—which really surpassed what the expectations were of the movie producers there. They think they’ve touched a nerve—that a lot of us in the church feel—which is that we see an exodus from the church of young people that’s occurring usually in those years between 17—and say 25—in university—but to be honest everyone is polled and I collect these polls. I’ve been collecting them for years as a youth pastor and also as a writer.
You’ll see that when they’ve asked somebody who is a freshman in college “Why you walked away from the church?” They will almost always point to about 12-13 years of age as that point in which they first started to have unanswered questions that they felt really were not satisfactorily answered. The culture around them has got answers—they’re not the Christian answer—but they seem to be better supported at times and certainly are more influential from a cultural perspective. That’s why I think we see this problem.
And the way to respond? If most of your students are telling you the reason why they’re no longer in is because they’ve got skepticism—which is grounded in intellectual questions—well then—maybe it’s time for us to start answering their questions.
Dennis: Susie, you and Jim had four children. You came to faith after you’d had and started your family. Do you remember when you started teaching your kids that their faith had a basis and that your new-found commitment to Jesus Christ had an application to their lives?
Susie: Yes—well actually I think I was learning right along with them. Our oldest was probably around first to third grade—was when we really started reading the Bible—investigating and learning right along with him. We started teaching Sunday school—volunteering at church—we just jumped in with both feet. So we were just learning with them.
Dennis: I want to say there is nothing wrong with that.
Bob: That’s right.
J. Warner: Oh, absolutely.
Susie: No—and I would encourage all parents. I think I had a lot of questions as a child. There really wasn’t anybody to answer those questions—you just start to accept whatever you’re learning—usually at a secular school.
But even in Christian schools sometimes there isn’t a strong enough evidence and basis that this is true—and it’s okay to ask questions. Jesus liked people to ask questions. He didn’t belittle them or make them feel like they were silly to ask questions—He gave them evidence—He was very kind and compassionate about that. That was okay—that’s how we’re made—we are questioning—we’re curious—we don’t have all the answers. He does have them for us. We just need to go to Him—go to the Scripture—investigate it and find it out for ourselves.
Dennis: It’s okay to have a doubt.
Dennis: It’s okay for your kids to express those doubts to you. As a parent—it’s okay for you to have some of those doubts as well.
J. Warner: I think that part of the problem here is this, “Why would I want to trust that the answers could be found in Scripture.” I was such a doubter to begin with; right? I still carry that. I recognize that most of the students I’m working with today—I have to do more than say, “Well the answer is in Scripture.” I need to offer why that answer in Scripture is authoritative.
Why do I think that really is the Word of God? On the basis of what do I trust the Scripture to begin with? That’s where their real doubts are. The real doubts are going to come out of issues about why we can trust that the Bible is true—why we can trust that it’s been handed down to us accurately over time. We don’t even have manuscripts that agree with one another. Yet you think you know what the original contained. This is an argument that has been leveled against Christianity for years now—made popular by Bart Ehrman—that I think is very powerful in the culture and very powerful with the young people. We have to be able to answer that kind of objection.
I remember leading a group to the University of California at Berkeley with Susie. We had probably about 30 high schoolers in that particular group. The first day we sat down we invited atheists to come in to talk to our kids to tell us why they believed atheism was true. Now we had trained for eight weeks before we went so our kids were well prepared to ask good questions and they were grounded in what they believed as Christians. But the first guy got up and he said this—
He said, “Students, let me run this deity by you—you tell me who you think it is. Born of a virgin, in a manger—attended by angels—announced by a star—visited by a wise man—had 12 disciples—called the way the truth the life—died to save the world—rose again in three days. His followers for years afterwards celebrated a Lord’s supper every Sunday in which they drank his blood and ate his body—they called it the Lord’s Supper. Who am I describing here?”
Now most of our kids stayed silent but one—who was not as well prepared as the others, unfortunately, raised her hand and said it was Jesus. Doesn’t that sound like Jesus? He said, “No; no. That’s not Jesus, that’s Mithras.” That’s a Persian deity about 400 years prior to Jesus. In fact, it’s that deity that the Jesus story was borrowed from. And for that girl who had never heard that objection before—she was shaken that night. We’re on a four or five-day trip to Berkley. She came to us that night, “I’m not even sure I can pray tonight. I’m not even sure there is a god to pray to.”
We had to kind of help walk through that objection. I’ll just tell you up front that those claims I just offered are not actually even true about Mithras—the Persian deity of Mithras that occurred 400 years before Jesus—but unless you had done your homework, you wouldn’t know that. And trust me—what has happened with Gen Z—this young generation of kids that now about the oldest is about 18 or 19 years old—they have accepted what they find on the internet without much distinction about authority.
For example—if someone’s got a nice-looking website that seems authoritative—that is given as much weight in the mind of some of these kids who read it as the sight that actually has an authoritative background—that actually has footnotes—that’s actually grounded in something evidential. In other words—they’ve got access to all kinds of information—and that claim about Mithras is all over the internet. The question is, “Are you discerning enough to know if that is actually true?” A generation has been raised with the internet. They’ve got access to all of it—but they’ve got no way to discern which sites are accurately telling them the truth.
Look, I don’t know if you guys have noticed this—I’m sure you have. We are in a collision right now between two values: religious liberty—on the one hand—but the rights of individuals to be allegedly treated fairly—on the other.
They made a case on the other side that these rights are established in a way we can demonstrate evidentially—your faith is just a matter of opinion. So, when every time a matter of opinion collides with something we can demonstrate evidentially—your opinions are usually going to fold. If Christianity is simply an opinion and it cannot be demonstrated evidentially, be prepared to surrender to it—to surrender to Christianity rather—at every turn when it comes head to head with something the culture says can be demonstrated evidentially.
Bob: I want to ask you about that whole area because one of the things that has become almost second nature to us in this culture is that you have the church—and you have the school. The school is where you get facts and evidence and truth. Church is where you get religion and faith and belief.
Those two should kind of be separated. If you want to believe what you want to believe over here on the church side, that’s all fine. But the stuff that we really know is true is what we learn in the school side. Don’t we need to understand that there are levels of faith involved in all kinds of thinking—even secular thinking?
J. Warner: Yes. I think you cut it down to what we’ve accepted as a church for a definition for faith. I kind of pitch it this way:
The first step is what I would call an unreasonable faith. An unreasonable belief—for example—is some belief that you hold even though there’s evidence to the contrary. You might think you get warts from frogs. We have good evidence that suggests—that tells us—you don’t get warts from frogs. We know where warts come from—but you might still hold onto that belief—but if you did it’s an unreasonable belief. That is not the Christian view of faith.
Now the second step is blind faith. A faith that you hold which might be true—but you cannot demonstrate why it’s true evidentially—you aren’t even aware of the evidence.
I—for example—believe my dad, James Wallace, is my father but I’ve never had a paternity test to prove he’s my father. I could be right. I could be wrong. But if I hold to a truth it’s—I’m holding it really blindly—I don’t have any evidence to demonstrate that it is true—that he’s my biological father. I would call that a blind faith. It might be a fact that Christianity is true, but if I don’t understand what the evidence is that points to it,I’m holding that belief without evidence. I might be in the right place—I might be in the wrong place.
The third kind is what I call a forensic faith. It’s that you hold to a truth claim for which there is good evidence although—like every case—there isn’t all the evidence you might hope for. In every murder I’ve ever worked, we’ve had a good case but I can’t answer every question for the juror. As a matter of fact, I ask the juror up front before we impanel them, “Do you have to have every question answered?” “Yes, I think so.” “Well then you’re excused” because there is no way you’re going to get every question answered in a jury trial—we can’t.
No worldview can answer every single question definitively—
—but we have good evidence that suggests that this is the most reasonable inference about reality, period. We hold our faith even though we can’t answer these questions forensically on the basis of evidence.
If you think about the Christian worldview—that’s exactly how Jesus positions it; right? He says in John, “If you don’t believe the words I’m telling you at least believe in the evidence of these miracles I’ve worked in front of you.” When John the Baptist has doubts, he sends his believers—his disciples rather—to Jesus. John’s in prison. He wants to know, “Are you the one?”
Jesus could have said a lot of things. He could have said, “Well wait a minute—you should just have faith. You used to trust.” He says, “Hang on a second.” He works three miracles in front of John’s disciples. He says, “Go back and tell John what you just saw.” That’s a very evidential approach to faith. He’s not saying, “Believe this blindly.” He’s not saying, “Believe this with—although there is evidence to the contrary.” He’s saying, “Believe this because I’ve already demonstrated to you that it’s true.”
He spends 40 days in Acts 1 with the disciples after the resurrection. Really? The resurrection’s not enough? Apparently! He needs to spend 40 more days showing many convincing proofs—it says in the text. That’s a commitment to evidence. So, our faith is not grounded blindly—or grounded unreasonably—it’s grounded in evidence. Now if we all had that approach, we would have to know what the evidence is; wouldn’t we?—before we could ever even say we have faith—because we know from a Christian perspective faith is tied to the evidence.
That’s where I think we drop the ball with our kids—they do see this dichotomy you are mentioning, Bob. This idea that there’s facts at school and there are hopes in church. If that’s the case, then you’re going to see—we’re going to surrender to what’s being taught in school.
Dennis: What was the first major area of your life that changed when you went all in after your—well I guess weighing the evidence in your life, being a skeptic of sorts—being a detective—looking for forensic evidence.
What was the biggest change in your life? And Susie I want you to answer that too.
J. Warner: I think, for me a lot of it was just certain personal behaviors—that my skepticism as a police officer had given me warrant to exercise. You know what I mean? I had seen certain things and I had adopted certain language. It wasn’t like I had to work that hard at it—I just caught myself, “Ooh, ooh, ooh. That doesn’t seem to be consistent anymore with my identity in Christ.” So it just kind of—it started to strip away.
I remember my partners—who I had been a pagan in front of for years, and we had made fun of Christians for years—one of them said, “I know you Jim. You’ve been an excellent extreme atheist. Now I bet you’ll end up as a pastor someday.” I had to laugh because that’s exactly what happened! That extreme nature in me is going to swing one direction or the other—and once I discovered what’s true it’s going to swing in that direction. So, for me, the biggest change—I think—was just in character issues that were not consistent with being a Christ follower.
Dennis: Susie, what about you?
Susie: I think, for me was kind of more of a personal awareness about everything. You’re just rethinking everything you’re doing. What are your real life goals—being a mom? How am I teaching and where am I leading my children? For me I think it was more of inside—noticing I want to be more this way. I wanted to be a sponge and read everything I could—get involved in Bible studies—teaching Sunday school. Just the doing and the learning was just trying to refine who I was and who God made me to be.
Of course, I was never quite matching up.
I think it can be a burden for a lot of moms. You want to be this perfect mom. You want to have the eloquent words each time there is a situation. You want to sound like the people on the radio who are telling you how—
Bob: To sound like Dennis Rainey, right? That’s what you’re thinking. [Laughter]
Dennis: Barbara Rainey; yes.
Susie: But that’s just all such a good thing because that’s what we’re trying to do with Christ—we’re trying to follow and emulate Him.
Bob: Well and then you’ve heard about grace.
Bob: And when you learn about grace you go, “Ah.”
Susie: Yes. You’re very thankful for that.
J. Warner: That is one thing I think I overlooked when I talked to you about this—I hadn’t thought about in advance—that’s one thing that struck me right away—I think I became much more gracious. I was struck by that passage where Jesus is visiting Simon; right? The woman comes to his feet—and is adoring Jesus. Simon’s kind of looking, “If He knew who that woman was, He wouldn’t even let her touch Him.” Jesus says, “Simon, when I came here you didn’t even take off My sandals. This woman understands how much she’s been forgiven for.” It dawned on me that your ability to forgive others is proportionate to your sense of having been forgiven for something.
The people who are the least forgiving are people who don’t think they have anything for which they need to be forgiven. Once I became a Christian, I realized who I really was—and I think I was more forgiving as a result. Much more patient with suspects—much more patient with—just people I had met in custody because I knew—but for the grace of God—that could have been me! That I was that guy. The guy who has just done this horrific thing—that was me too. That’s all of us.
Remember, when you’re working cold cases, you aren’t working serial killers—serial killers are different. When you work a serial killer, you take him to jail, knock on a neighbor’s door, say “I’m taking your neighbor to jail. He killed 15 people last five years.” That neighbor’s probably going to say, “I’m so glad you got here. That guy’s freakish. He’s got all kind of noise in the middle of the night—bad smells coming out of his house—and all kinds of things. I’m glad he’s going to jail.”
When you arrest a cold case killer, you say “I’m taking this guy to jail—your neighbor—for a murder he did 35 years ago.” The neighbor typically says something like “No way. That guy’s been my neighbor for 35 years.”
“He’s a deacon at our church. There’s no way. I know that guy. He’s not capable of that.” What’s the difference is that they don’t recognize this Christian anthropology; right—this idea that we are deeply fallen. That all of us are capable—
J. Warner: —of doing something like that. I think when I became a Christian, I realized that—I sensed my own fallenness and how gracious God had been with me. It caused me to say, “You can’t extend that to somebody else? Really?” And it helped me to be—I think—a more forgiving person—even in our conversations. I think our interactions as a couple—would you agree—are different?
Susie: I would definitely agree. I think before I became a Christian, I thought, “Well I’m right about this and I’m going to stand my ground.”
Dennis: You’re telling a detective that? [Laughter]
Susie: Well I knew him before he was a detective, so— [Laughter] —that doesn’t work in his favor.
J. Warner: Yes. That doesn’t work in my favor. [Laughter] I get no credit for that.
Bob: This is the Bible verse that keeps coming to mind as we’ve had this conversation this week, it’s 1 Peter 3:15. I think to myself, “This describes this couple.” “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” That’s really defining what God’s called you to at this chapter of your life; isn’t it?
J. Warner: Yes. We see this in kids; right? I remember as a youth pastor working, and a pastor who was our lead pastor at the time said, “You know Jim if you—people can’t help but love the people who love their kids.” It’s so true; right? If you love someone’s kids, you not only gain the child, but you also gain the parents of the child. I think what we’ve seen now, in this stage of life as we’re writing books for kids, because we love kids—and that’s really what’s at risk. By the time you’re my age you’re either in—or out.
I think it’s different approaches. If I’m a Christian at 55, I’ll probably be a Christian till I die. But if you’re a Christian at five—you may not be a Christian at 25. It’s in those years between five and 25 that a lot of action occurs. We want to be able to help that age group—just know that it’s true. I always say it this way: If you know it’s true, but you want to go off in your college years and do stupid—I get that. I was not a Christian till I was 35. I did stupid in college—I get that. That’s on you, if you want to chase your passions.
But if you’re doing that in college because you don’t believe it’s true anymore—that’s on me as your youth pastor—as your parent. So, if you want to deny the truth to explore a season—I would not suggest you do that—but that’s going to be on you. If you don’t think it’s true anymore that’s because I didn’t prepare you well enough to know that it’s true.
Dennis: I think there’s a lot of parents listening right now who could benefit from not only getting a copy of Cold Case Christianity but also Cold Case Christianity for Kids. That’s for eight to 12-year-olds?
J. Warner: Yes. I think that’s probably the best range.
Dennis: Yes; written so that a child can digest that—and I think some moms and dads who go through it with them will also find it interesting. I just want to say thanks to both of you for being here on the broadcast and for the work that you’re doing—not only for this generation but for future generations as well.
J. Warner: Well thanks for making this show so easy to do—wouldn’t you say Susie?
Susie: It’s been a real pleasure to meet both of you.
J. Warner: Yes.
Bob: It’s been great to have you guys here. I have shared with a lot of people about your book because I’m excited about it. I hope a lot of people will get a copy of Cold Case Christianity and go through it for themselves, with their high school age kids. If you’ve got younger kids get a copy of the book that’s written for them. We’ve got both books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order online if you’d like at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order.
Again the website, FamilyLifeToday.com. The number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
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We hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk to a couple we’ve talked to before, Chris and Cindy Beall.
Their marriage was characterized by betrayal—by lies—adultery—was a child born out of wedlock. It’s one of those marriages where you’d look at what happened and you’d go, “I don’t know if this marriage can survive—in fact—I don’t know if it’s healthy for this couple to stay together.”
Well, it’s been more than 10 years and Chris and Cindy Beall will be back with us on Monday to talk about how their marriage has survived and what God’s been doing in their lives. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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