Why Are You a Believer? A Review of J. Warner Wallace’s Forensic Faith

J. Warner Wallace is a  cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author.  Wallace has written two books defending the truth claims of Christianity: Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

Cold-Case Christianity provides readers with ten principles of cold case investigations and utilizes these principles to examine the reliability of the New Testament gospels. In God’s Crime Scene, Wallace investigates eight pieces of evidence in the universe to make the case for God’s existence.

But having written these two helpful books, Wallace came to realize, as he spoke in churches across America,  that many of the Christians attending his presentations doubted the need for Christian evidences in the first place.

When Wallace asks audiences why they are Christians, he typically gets these answers:

“I was raised in the church” / “My parents were Christians” / “I’ve been a Christian as long as I can remember”

“I’ve had an experience that convinced me” / “The Holy Spirit confirmed it for me” / “God demonstrated His existence to me”

“I was changed by Jesus” / “I used to be [fill in your choice of immoral lifestyle], and God changed my life”

“Because I just know the Bible is true” / “Because God called me to believe”

But why, he wondered, does nobody ever answer the question with “I am a Christian because it is true“? After all, isn’t that the primary reason we should believe anything?

But many of the Christians Wallace encountered seemed to set aside their Christian beliefs as somehow privileged, as exempt from evidential considerations. This approach to Christian belief, however, is just not acceptable.

Wallace writes:

Now, more than ever, Christians must shift from accidental belief to evidential trust. It’s time to know why you believe what you believe. Christians must embrace a forensic faith. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Christians living in America and Europe are facing a growingly skeptical culture. Polls and surveys continue to confirm the decline of Christianity.  When believers explain why they think Christianity is true, unbelievers are understandably wary of the reasons they’ve been given so far.

As Christians, we’d better embrace a more thoughtful version of Christianity, one that understands the value of evidence, the importance of philosophy, and the virtue of good reasoning.

The famed writer C. S. Lewis, all the way back in 1939, wrote the following words about Christianity:

If all the world were Christian it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against the cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether.

Is the church anti-intellectual today when it comes to defending her core truth claims? This has certainly been my experience while teaching Christian apologetics for the last 14 years. Wallace concurs:

I’m not the only one to notice how anti-intellectual the church is today. Atheist activist and philosophy professor Peter Boghossian wrote a book in 2013 entitled A Manual for Creating AtheistsIt was published around the same time my first book, Cold-Case Christianity, hit the bookshelves. Boghossian describes his book as “the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith—but for talking them out of it.” He hopes to teach atheists “to engage the faithful in conversations that will help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their religious beliefs, mistrust their faith, abandon superstition and irrationality, and ultimately embrace reason.” In a YouTube video promoting the approach, Boghossian made an interesting observation: Christians fail to process truth claims rationally; instead of assessing the evidence and drawing the most reasonable inference, they typically rely on personal experience, emotional response, and “blind faith.” For this reason, he encourages atheists to engage Christians not on the evidence but on the way Christians evaluate truth claims in the first place.

Is Boghossian wrong in his assessment of Christians? Wallace thinks not.

Sadly, my own experience in the church confirms what Boghossian has described. Boghossian, and others like him, believe they need only show Christians how to examine evidence and the rest will take care of itself. Confident of the evidence supporting their view, they can’t imagine Christianity will survive a forensic investigation in the “age of reason.” But as someone who has examined the evidence of God’s existence and the reliability of the New Testament documents as a detective, I hold a similar, although opposite, view. If Christians will simply learn how to approach their beliefs evidentially and take the same forensic approach detectives take when examining an event from the past, the rest will take care of itself. I’m confident the claims of Christianity are supported by the evidence, and I believe a forensic faith will comfortably survive in the age of reason. Boghossian and I are engaged in a race of sorts. Both of us understand the importance of the evidence, and we are trying to reach the same group of accidental Christians. The only question is who will reach them first.

Mature Christians who have walked with the Lord for many decades may dismiss all this talk of evidence and apologetics. They just don’t need it. Their experiences of Christianity are unshakable and no skeptic is going to change their mind. To that Christian, though, I ask: What about the young? What about the students? What about the teenagers and twenty-somethings? Do we just abandon them?

Wallace cites disturbing survey results about young people in our churches:

Most teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs and practices. They typically cannot defend what they believe. Young, uninformed believers also reject important Christian claims.

63 percent of teenage Christians don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God;

51 percent don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead;

68 percent don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a real Being.

Between 60 percent and 80 percent of people aged 15 to 30 will leave the church for at least a season, and most will never return.

Only 33 percent of young, churched Christians said the church will play a part in their lives when they leave home.

If current trends related to the belief systems and practices of young people continue, church attendance will decline by 50 percent in the next decade.

College professors are nearly five times more likely to be professing atheists or agnostics than people in the general population. The vast majority of university professors reject the Bible as “the actual word of God.”

When surveyed, the largest segment of young, ex-Christian respondents said they left Christianity because they had intellectual doubt, skepticism, and unanswered questions.

So what do we do about this? Wallace answers:

If properly equipped, [young people] could actually grow in their faith and confidence, even in the midst of strong opposition. You and I have the opportunity to reach the young people we love. . . if we are willing to embrace the mission. Our children, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, are in the right place; they believe something true. If they’ve come to understand their own need for a Savior and have repented and placed their trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, they are saved for eternity. But if they haven’t taken the time to study why Christianity is true, . . . they will be ill-equipped to answer objections and less than persuasive with a group that requires far more evidence than ever before. We have to change the course of the church in order to meet this challenge, and the church is much more like an ocean liner than a jet ski. We cannot turn it on a dime. Instead, we must make small course corrections—one degree here and one degree there. Forensic Faith is my effort to come alongside the church as a tugboat and shift the direction of our ocean liner one degree at a time.

Wallace is right and I hope you will read his book so that we can all get this ocean liner turned together.