The Christian Difference Is the Foundation of Our Christian Duty

Christianity is distinct in the nature of its claims and the value it places on reason, intelligence, and evidence. Some religious systems are based purely on the doctrinal, proverbial statements of their founders. The wisdom statements of Buddha, for example, lay the foundation for Buddhism. Hinduism is based on the revelations of the ancient sages as revealed in the Vedas and the Upanishads. Confucianism is established from the wisdom statements of Confucius. In all these examples, the statements of these religious leaders exist independently of any event in history. In other words, these systems rise or fall on the basis of ideas and concepts rather than on claims about a particular historical event.

Although Christianity makes its own ideological and philosophical claims, these proposals are intrinsically connected to a singular validating event: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why should anyone believe what Jesus said rather than what Buddha, the Hindu sages, or Confucius said? The authority of Jesus is grounded in more than the strength of an idea; it’s established by the verifiability of an event. When Jesus rose from the dead, He established His authority as God, and His Resurrection provides us with an important Christian distinctive. The Resurrection can be examined for its reliability, and the evidential verifiability of Christianity separates it from every other religious system.

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Unbelievable? Does Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist Invalidate the Gospels?

In an interview on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, I spoke with two skeptics and discussed apparent contradictions in the history offered by the Gospel authors when compared to non-Christian historians. One skeptic offered an objection related to the account of the beheading of John the Baptist. Although I had difficulty hearing and understanding his words through the telephone connection and his accent, his argument can be summed up succinctly: Josephus records the death of John the Baptist at a time in history that appears to be around 36AD, six years after the date commonly accepted for the crucifixion of Jesus. If Josephus’ record is accurate, John was executed after the Resurrection of Jesus, and the gospel accounts are wrong. This objection, along with an objection about the role and dating of Quirinius in the Gospel of Luke, formed the basis for his skepticism toward the Gospel accounts.

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Jesus Was A Case Maker

The Jesus I encounter on the pages of the New Testament is a committed case maker. He didn’t expect His followers to believe what He said (direct evidence) without good reason (the support of indirect evidence). Jesus continually supported His testimony with the indirect evidence of the miracles He performed. He then made the case for the authority of His testimony from the corroborative evidence of these miracles:

John 5:36
But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I dotestify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.

John 10:25
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.”

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Unbelievable? Is There Enough Evidence Beyond the Gospels to Make Their Testimony Reliable?

During an interview on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, a caller asked about corroboration and wanted to know if there was enough evidence beyond the Gospels to verify the reliability of their testimony. I began by helping him understand the nature of evidential corroboration and the limited information typically offered by such evidence. Every piece of corroborative evidence typically addresses (and verifies) only a “touchpoint”, a small aspect of the testimony from which we infer the “reasonability” of the larger account. Corroborative evidence is always limited; it only addresses a small aspect of the event under consideration. Even with these limits, however, the Gospels are still well corroborated. I’ve written a chapter about this in my book, Cold-Case Christianity, but here is a brief summary of the evidence “beyond the Gospels”:

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Unbelievable? Two Reasons Why Some People Reject the Reliability of the Gospels

During an interview on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, I responded to the objections of two atheists who rejected the reliability of the Gospel accounts on the basis of apparent contradictions with Josephus’ record and a concern about-corroborative evidence. I’ve learned to employ a four-pronged template when assessing the reliability of a witness, and I took this approach when I first examined the Gospels as a skeptic (I was 35 years old before I became interested in the Gospel accounts). As I evaluated the Biblical text with these principles in mind, I became convinced they were a reliable record of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. I understand, however, when others come to a different conclusion, and I think there are two reasons why someone might disagree about the most reasonable inference from the evidence. Before I address these two reasons, however, I want to ask you to imagine the existence of a historical account related to an ancient teacher. Imagine investigating this ancient record and discovering the following:

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If Christians Are Supposed to Rely on Evidence, Why Call It Faith?

I’ve written a Christian apologetics book that makes the case for making the case. I argue that Christians ought to embrace a more evidential, thoughtful faith that can be described as the most reasonable inference from evidence. Many people, after reading the book and thinking about this definition of “faith,” have asked, “If you believe something because of the evidence, why use the word faith at all?” Juries render verdicts on the basis of the evidence and we don’t call their decisions an act of “faith,” do we? If evidence is an integral part of “faith decisions,” what is left for there to have “faith” about?

In all the years I’ve spent in criminal trials, I’ve yet to investigate or present a case in which there wasn’t a number of questions the jury simply could not answer. Although my cases are typically robust, cumulative, and compelling, they always have some informational limit. A recent case was an excellent example; jurors convicted the defendant even though they couldn’t answer the following questions: How precisely did the defendant dispose of the victim’s body? How did he find time to clean up the crime scene? What did he do with the murder weapon? How did he move the victim’s car without being seen?

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Why Would A Loving God Create A Place Like Hell?

When Rob Bell released his book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, he capitalized on the historic controversy surrounding the existence and nature of hell. Critics of Christianity have cited the hell’s existence as evidence against the loving nature of God, and Christians have sometimes struggled to respond to the objection. Why would a loving God create a place like Hell? Wouldn’t a God who would send people to a place of eternal punishment and torment be considered unloving by definition?

The God of the Bible is described as loving, gracious and merciful (this can be seen in many places, including 1 John 4:8-9, Exodus 33:19, 1 Peter 2:1-3, Exodus 34:6 and James 5:11). The Bible also describes God as holy and just, hating sin and punishing sinners (as seen in Psalm 77:13, Nehemiah 9:33, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7, Psalms 5:5-6, and Matthew 25:45-46). It’s this apparent paradox reveals something about the nature of love and the necessity of Hell:

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Were the Early Christians Really Persecuted?

In Cold Case Christianity, I discuss the evidential value of the martyrdoms of the original eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus. When evaluating the reliability of these witnesses, their potential bias can be assessed on the basis of their willingness to die rather than recant their testimony. Many skeptics, however, doubt these martyrdoms occurred in the first place. The deaths of the Apostles are recorded by a variety of ancient authors; some of these accounts are, admittedly, more thorough and reliable than others. Critics of Christianity have accused early Christians of inventing these apostolic martyrdom stories. In fact, some skeptics have denied the systemic persecution of early Christians altogether in the first two centuries. Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, has written a book, (The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom) challenging the early persecution of Christians (including the Apostles) prior to the 3rd Century. I think her task is daunting, however, given the impressive cumulative case demonstrating the dramatic mistreatment of the earliest Christians:

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Why Make the Case for Christianity, If God Is in Control?

I’ve written a Christian apologetics book that makes the case for making the case. I argue that Christians ought to embrace a more evidential, thoughtful faith and accept their duty to become Christian case-makers. Many people, after reading the book and thinking about this call to become better case makers, have asked, “If God calls His chosen, can’t He achieve this without any case-making effort on our part?” I also pondered this question as a new Christian, and I think the following analogy is helpful, although certainly imperfect.

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Did the Apostles Lie So They Could Die as Martyrs?

129A few years back I spoke with Bobby Conway (the One Minute Apologist) and answered the question, "Did the disciples lie about the resurrection of Jesus?"As a skeptic, I believed that the story of the Resurrection was either a late distortion (a legend) created by Christians well after the fact, or a conspiratorial lie on the part of the original Apostles. It wasn’t until I started working homicides (and homicidal conspiracies in particular) that I decided an Apostolic conspiracy was unreasonable. I’ve written a chapter in Cold Case Christianity describing the five necessary elements of successful conspiracies, and none of these elements were present for the Apostles. But even more importantly, the Apostles lacked the proper motivation to lie about the Resurrection. My case work as a homicide detective taught me something important: there are only three motives behind any murder (or any crime, or sin, for that matter). All crimes are motivated by financial greed, sexual lust (relational desire) or the pursuit of power. If the Apostles committed the crime of fraud on an unsuspecting world, they were motivated by one of these three intentions. Most people will agree that none of the Apostles gained anything financially or sexually from their testimony, but some skeptics have argued the Apostles may have been motivated by the pursuit of power. Didn’t these men become leaders in the Church on the basis of their claims? Couldn’t this pursuit of leadership status have motivated them to lie? Wasn’t it a goal of early martyrs to die for their faith anyway?

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About
J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, Christian case maker and author of Cold-Case Christianity and God's Crime Scene


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