People Need to Know: Christianity is Both True and Powerful

People Need to Know: Christianity is Both True and Powerful

For 35 years, I was a skeptical atheist in a family of non-Christians. 

I occasionally encountered believers who shared their personal testimony, but I seldom found their stories compelling. My father’s second wife, for example, became a Mormon and subsequently raised six children in that faith, despite the fact that my father remained a committed atheist. My half-siblings also shared personal testimonies based on their experiences. 

Since the claims of Christ and Mormonism are contradictory, I knew both worldviews couldn’t be true, and from my perspective, it was far more likely both were false. Yet the Mormons in my family offered their personal, transformational experiences as though they were sufficient evidence for the truth of Mormonism. My career as a Los Angeles County cold-case detective taught me, however, that personal experiences—as powerful as they may be—don’t always serve as good evidence for what’s true.

My wife, Susie, was aware of my skepticism as we started having kids. When our boys were young, she started looking for local preschools to prepare them for kindergarten. Most of these preschools were ministries of churches in our community. I wasn’t opposed to enrolling the boys because, like my atheist father, I considered religion a “useful delusion.” The Bible wasn’t true, I thought, but it might provide helpful values as we raised our kids. 

Susie was much more open-minded. She started asking if we should attend church services with the boys. Mind you, I had never attended a church service for anything other than a wedding or funeral. But I loved Susie, so I told her I would be willing to go, at least occasionally. She wasn’t a follower of Christ, but she believed in God and wanted to raise our kids with a similar belief. I didn’t like the idea, but I agreed to visit our friends’ church.

The assembly space resembled a large open warehouse. The music was loud, and the atmosphere was very informal. Susie, who attended Catholic masses as a child, leaned over and whispered, “It doesn’t seem very reverent, does it?” Eventually the pastor appeared on the stage and started preaching from a Bible. He was surprisingly normal. He talked with charm and confidence, referencing New Testament passages as though they were true.

None of this impressed me, however, until he said these words: “Jesus was the smartest Man who ever lived.” That was enough to provoke me to purchase an inexpensive pew Bible. I read through the Gospels to see what was so smart about Jesus. 

I eventually applied my detective skills to the Gospel accounts, examining the documents through the lens of forensic statement analysis—a standard technique used to detect deception—and testing them as eyewitness accounts. Were they written early enough to have been written by eyewitnesses? Was there any corroborative evidence to support their claims? Did they alter or change their story over time? Were the authors motivated to lie about Jesus? As I slowly sifted through the evidence of the Gospel accounts, I became more skeptical about my skepticism.

I was also impressed with the evidential approach of Jesus. 

When John the Baptist was arrested by Herod, for example, he sent two of his own disciples to ask Jesus a question: “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” (see Luke 7:18-23). When I first read this passage, I thought about all the things Jesus could have done or said in response to John’s expression of doubt. He could have condemned John, but He didn’t. He could have instructed John to trust what he had been taught as a child, or what he had “experienced” in the past. But that’s not how Jesus responded. 

Instead, Jesus provided John’s disciples with objective evidence, reminding them of the many miracles He had performed in their presence, and telling them to go and report to John what they had seen and heard: “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

That’s the response of an evidentialist; someone who understands the importance of objective evidence in addition to personal experience.

The first century disciples followed Jesus’ example, just as Luke recorded in his book The Acts of the Apostles. Time after time, the disciples testified as to how what they saw related to the Resurrection. Seldom did they communicate their personal, transformational experiences.

As I sifted through the historical evidence for the New Testament (something I’ve written about in Cold-Case Christianity), I arrived at what I call “belief that.” Based on my critical investigation of what the Bible said about Jesus, I came to believe “that” He was truly born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, worked miracles, died on a cross, was buried in a grave, and rose back to life three days later. But I wasn’t a follower of Christ yet. 

Once I trusted what the Bible said about Jesus, however, I started to read what it had to say about me. I recognized, for the first time, my fallen, sinful condition, and my need for a Savior. With that simple shift from trusting what the Bible said about Jesus to trusting what it said about me, the Holy Spirit led me from “belief that” to “belief in.” I accepted Jesus as my Savior.

Now that I have put my trust in Christ, I often ask other believers the reason for their faith. Some say they were “raised as Christians,” having attended church since they were children. Others say they had an experience that led them to believe the Gospel was true; perhaps an answered prayer or a transformational event. 

Their answers remind me of my Mormon family members. After all, they also have powerful personal testimonies. But while my half-siblings may be able to articulate how they have been changed by their Mormon beliefs, they cannot offer objective evidence to demonstrate Mormonism is historically true. 

As Christ-followers, we can do both. Don’t hesitate to share how God has transformed your life when talking to others about Jesus. But consider taking an additional, uniquely Christian, step: provide people with evidence for the existence of God, the reliability of our Holy Book, the Bible, and the truth of its central claim, the Resurrection. As Christians, we have two forms of evidence: our powerful personal testimonies and the objective case for Christ. 

The most skeptical people in our culture—our kids and younger colleagues—are looking for answers, and you are the best apologist they may ever come to know. We often dream about utilizing one of the many gifted “all-stars” of apologetics to start a revival at our church, community, or even within our family, but God wants to use you as part of His army of apologists. Yes, there are many “million-dollar” apologists who are well known and often requested. But the world needs a million “one-dollar” apologists.

The skeptics in our midst need to know the Gospel is both powerful and true. They need our stories of transformation and the evidence supporting the claims of Christ. And as responsible believers, we can’t simply refer them to a book or secondary resource. We need to master the evidence ourselves so we can make an evidential case to everyone who questions the reliability of the Bible or the truth of the Gospel. 

As Peter wrote, we must be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks (us) for a reason for the hope that is in (us); yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).  ©2024 J. Warner Wallace

Unless otherwise marked, Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible 1995. The verse marked ESV is taken from the English Standard Version.

J. Warner Wallace is a Christian apologist and former cold-case homicide detective who has been featured numerous times on NBC’s Dateline program for his crime scene expertise. He is a senior fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, an adjunct professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology and author of books such as Cold-Case Christianity and Forensic Faith.

Photo: Courtesy of J. Warner Wallace

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