Why the New Pew Report Ought to Energize Us As Christian Case Makers

Yesterday’s release of the Pew Research Center’s report, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” affirms what most of us already know: Fewer and fewer people in America identify themselves as “Christian”. I’ve been reading the reaction to the poll with great interest. Many of us seem to still be in denial about this continuing trend away from the Church; some interpret the statistics as little more than movement away from traditional denominations (and not necessarily a departure from Christianity). The interactive data doesn’t support this optimistic view, however. Fewer people appear to believe Christianity is true today than seven years ago, and this should energize all of us to become better Christian Case Makers. Here is what I see in the 2014 Pew Research Center Report:
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Transcending Mysteries: The Interview with Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens

Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens are long-time recording artists who tour the country using their gift of song to point people to the Transcendent. As songwriters, they are well versed in crafting melodies that help us connect to a powerful, loving, and all-too mysterious God. Their work with words has led them to write a book together: Transcending Mysteries: Who is God and What Does He Want From Us?   

The book, published by Thomas Nelson, is a deeply personal discovery of God through the pages of the Old Testament. Many of us – Greer and Owens included – struggle with the Old Testament text and the God we find (or think we find) in it. In the earliest pages they confess, “We fell in love with Jesus then had to figure out what to do with God.” And as you will see in the interview below, the authors discovered that when we embrace the struggle and venture into the unknown we will discover beautiful things about God and ourselves.  

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How Humility Helps Us Hear the Gospel

I’ve been writing recently about jury selection. If you are interested in making a case for what you believe as a Christian, you probably already recognize the importance of preparation. You know how important it is to investigate the issues and evidences diligently and to train yourself to articulate the arguments and philosophical premises. You may even envision yourself as a character in a courtroom setting: a detective or prosecutor who cleverly and powerfully makes the case for Christ. To further this vision, you may try to sharpen your investigative skills or your ability as a presenter, hoping your excellence in these areas will make you a better case maker. But as a cold-case detective and part of a three generation law enforcement family, I’ve got a secret I’d like to share with you: the majority of criminal (and civil) cases are won or lost well before the opening statements or closing arguments. Most cases are decided at jury selection.
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In the Footsteps of Jesus

There are few places in the Holy Land where you can actually say, “I’m walking on the very stones where Jesus put his feet.” Most places the Bible talks about as familiar stomping grounds for Jesus—Bethlehem, Nazareth, the hillsides around the Sea of Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the tomb—are marked in modern-day Israel, but they are approximations, not the actual locations.

There’s no way to know if Jesus was actually at these particular places as they exist today, not with 2,000 years of dust and debris covering them, not to mention the many churches, chapels, shrines and souvenir shops that dot the landscape.

However, there is at least one spot where it’s pretty safe to say, “I’m walking where Jesus walked,” and that’s the Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Suffering,” which courses through the old city of Jerusalem. Our guide assured us that these stones deep beneath the current city streets are in fact the stones Jesus touched as he made his way to the cross.

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Seven Tips for Good Christian Case Making Conversations

As an investigator, I made a living conducting interviews. In fact, my agency repeatedly utilized me when they needed someone to confess to a crime. I love talking to people, particularly when the conversation is difficult to navigate. Spiritual conversations can also be difficult on occasion, and if you’ve ever tried to talk to your unbelieving friends or family, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Let me share seven things I’ve learned in over twenty-five years of interviewing. These tips were field tested in suspect interviews and jury presentations. They have direct application if you are trying to determine what people believe so you can share the truth of your Christian beliefs:

1. Know Your Case
I often say my success in criminal investigations has been based more in hard work than special gifting. My goal is to know the truth of the case better than the person I am investigating (or the defense team I am facing). Success doesn’t come cheaply. You’ve got to work for it. I typically spend several years working a case before it ever results in an arrest. By the time I get to the trial, no one knows the case better than I do. I you want success in spiritual conversations, you need to know why your beliefs are true and understand your case better than anyone you might engage. Don’t be lazy. Take the time to know what you believe and why you believe it.

2. Pick Your Jury
You can have a great case yet still fail to persuade anyone it’s true. Cases aren’t won at opening statement, evidence presentation or closing argument; they’re won at jury selection. Good jurors are interested, open-minded and humble. If you want to have success at trial, you’ll need to fill you jury box with these kinds of people. In a similar way, your Christian case making is dependent on good jury selection. We’ll need to be sensitive to our environment and pick the right people if we want to have success. Take the time to evaluate your jury. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your case with people even if they fail to possess these characteristics, but it may help you to have reasonable expectations should you decide to do so. The better the juror, the more likely you are to succeed.

3. Love Your Jurors
If a jury doesn’t like you as a detective, prosecutor or defense attorney, it’s a lot harder to persuade them. It’s hard to be convincing if your audience thinks you’re a jerk. It’s equally difficult to persuade your non-believing friends and family if they don’t like you (at least a little bit). As Christians, our love for others ought to be rooted in our transformed nature, not simply in a shrewd effort to persuade. I can honestly say my interview skills improved dramatically after becoming a Christian. Why? I learned to love the people I had to take to jail. I think they could see it in my behavior and attitude, and it certainly helped me gain their trust. If you want to effectively reach people, start by loving them.

4. Ask Before Declaring
When I first heard Greg Koukl talk about his book, Tactics, it resonated with my experience as an interviewer. Greg correctly identified the value of good questions. Before I declare what I know to a suspect, I take the time to mine out what he or she wants me to believe. I don’t typically reveal my hand until my suspect has revealed his (or hers). When someone makes a claim, there are two important questions I need to ask: (1) What do you mean by that? and (2) Why do you think that’s true? By asking these two simple questions, I can learn what people believe and why they believe it. These questions are equally valuable when talking to people about spiritual matters. Before I take a stand for what I know to be true, I want to know exactly what others believe. Take the time to ask good questions before you launch into the case for Christianity.

5. Look for Inconsistencies
My professional interviews and interrogations are an exercise in good listening. Every word matters to a detective. I learned not to talk over my interviewees so I could better identify discrepancies in their statements. When people are lying, they invariably make inconsistent statements. It’s my job to identify these statements so I can get to the truth. In a similar way, when people hold false ideas, they invariably make comparably inconsistent statements. It’s our job to identify these statements so we can help them find the truth. Listen carefully for self-refuting ideas, logical contradictions and factual errors.

6. Use Questions to Point Out Discrepancies
Once I’ve identified a false statement or factual inconsistency, I’m sometimes tempted to jump on the error to make my case. I’ve learned to resist the temptation, however. My goal in these situations is to reveal the discrepancy to my interviewee so I can get to the truth, but it’s far more effective to highlight the error with a question rather than a statement. In a recent conversation with a pro-choice friend, I used disarming questions to identify the error of her thinking. My friend claimed the unborn were not yet human because they were still dependent upon their mothers for survival. Rather than stating why this was errant thinking, I simply asked her a question: “It sounds like you’re saying physical independence and autonomy are the basis for human identity, am I hearing you correctly? But if that is true, does that mean aging or injured adults who are dependent upon pace makers or dialysis machines are less human than others?” My goal was to help her see the error in her thinking in the least threatening way possible. Good questions can help you accomplish this goal.

7. Clearly Articulate the Case
At some point in a conversation, you’ll hopefully earn the right to declare the truth. Start by mastering the topic, then pick your jury carefully and demonstrate your love for them. Ask good questions and be a careful listener. Help them see their errors in an unthreatening way. Then state the truth in love. This is not your “gotcha” moment; it’s not your opportunity to beat them with a “truth stick”. But in every conversation, I try to leave people with something to think about. If I’m engaging a suspect, there will come a time when I tell him or her that I believe they are guilty of the crime, even if they haven’t confessed to it yet. In my spiritual conversations, there will eventually come a time when I share what Christianity teaches about the topic under discussion. I cannot shrink from the truth, even when it may be uncomfortable. But if I’ve chosen my jury carefully, demonstrated my love for them, asked disarming questions and listened carefully for inconsistencies, I bet I can find the right words to share the truth of the Christian worldview.

Every suspect interview is an opportunity to uncover the truth, and every spiritual conversation is an opportunity to share the truth. There are similarities between these two forms of interaction. If these seven tips help you rethink your conversations, you can print them as a Bible Insert by visit the homepage at ColdCaseChristianity.com and clicking the link in the right toolbar (be sure to download all the other free inserts as well).

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The Limits of Accidental Christianity

I spent last weekend in Wisconsin with pastor (and Packer's Chaplain) Troy Murphy and his family of believers at Green Bay Community Church. They hosted an "Accidental Faith" Seminar on Saturday and we talked about the case for truth, the case for God's existence and the case for the Resurrection. I was very impressed with the number of people who came out on a beautiful, warm, pre-Spring day in Wisconsin. Troy has done an amazing job raising up a group of disciples who want to be intentional. They get it. They want to be more than accidental Christians. I often use that expression to describe what I see around the country. Here's what I mean:
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Verifiability Is A Christian Distinctive

Christianity is unique among theistic worldviews. 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. In a similar way, the statements of L. Ron Hubbard form the basis of Scientology. But in both these examples, the statements of these worldview 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. While Christianity makes its own ideological and conceptual claims, these proposals are intimately connected to a singular validating event:

The Brief Case for Peter’s Influence on Mark’s Gospel (Bible Insert)

When I first examined the New Testament Gospel accounts, I was intensely interested in their authorship. I found it interesting that two of the accounts were not written by (nor even attributed to) eyewitnesses. Luke wrote his account based on the testimony of “eyewitnesses and servants of the word,” but Mark’s Gospel is a bit more mysterious. Was Mark a previously un-named witness? Form whom did he get his information? I’ve written about the case for Mark’s source both at ColdCaseChristianity.com and in my book, Cold-Case Christianity. I believe the evidence points to the Apostle Peter as the authority for the material in Mark’s Gospel. In this post, I’d like to offer a Bible Insert summarizing briefly the case for Peter’s involvement (along with a graphic illustration of the cumulative case):

Peter is Described with Familiarity
More importantly, Mark is the only writer who refuses to use the term “Simon Peter” when describing Peter (he uses either “Simon” or “Peter”). This may seem trivial, but it is important. Simon was the most popular male name in Palestine at the time of Mark’s writing,  yet Mark makes no attempt to distinguish the Apostle Simon from the hundreds of other Simons known to his readers (John, by comparison, refers to Peter more formally as “Simon Peter” seventeen times). Mark consistently uses the briefest, most familiar versions of Peter’s name.

Peter Is “Bookended”
Unlike other Gospel accounts, Peter is the first disciple identified in the text (Mark 1:16) and the last disciple mentioned in the text (Mark 16:7). Scholars describe this type of “bookending” as “inclusio” and have noticed it in other ancient texts where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness. In any case, Peter is prominent in Mark’s Gospel as the first and last named disciple.

Peter Is Mentioned Frequently
Peter is featured frequently in Mark’s Gospel. As an example, Mark refers to Peter twenty six times in his short account, compared to Matthew who mentions Peter only three additional times in his much longer Gospel. 

Peter Is Named By the Church Fathers
A number of early Church witnesses and authorities confirm Peter as the source for Mark’s Gospel. Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD) repeated the testimony of the old presbyters (disciples of the Apostles) who claimed Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome as he scribed the preaching of Peter (Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15, Book 3 Chapter 30 and Book 6 Chapter 14). In his book, “Against Heresies” (Book 3 Chapter 1), Irenaeus (130-200AD) also reported Mark penned his Gospel as a scribe for Peter. Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) wrote a book entitled “Hypotyposeis” (Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15). In this ancient book, Clement confirmed Mark was the scribe of Peter in Rome. Early Christian theologian and apologist, Tertullian (160-225AD), also affirmed Peter’s contribution to Mark’s Gospel in “Against Marcion” (Book 4 Chapter 5). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History Book 6 Chapter 25) also quoted a Gospel Commentary written by Origen (an early church father and theologian who lived 185-254AD) attributing the Gospel of Mark to Peter.

Peter’s Embarrassments Have Been Omitted
There are many details in the Gospel of Mark consistent with Peter’s special input and influence, including omissions related to events involving Peter. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events involving Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions pertaining to Peter to understand the answer here. The vast majority of these omissions involve incidents in which Peter did or said something rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts. See Cold-Case Christianity for a more detailed explanation).

Peter’s Knowledge Has Been Included
In addition to the omissions we have cited, there are a number of details included in Mark’s Gospel demonstrating Peter’s involvement and connection to Mark. As we describe a few of them, notice these inclusions are relatively minor and don’t seem to add much to the narrative. Their incidental nature is an indicator the author lacked a motive other than to simply include Peter’s perspective in the account. Peter’s involvement appears to have been faithfully recorded by his scribe and assistant, Mark.

Peter’s Outline Has Been Followed
Papias maintained the Gospel of Mark was simply a collection of Peter’s discourses (or his preaching) as this information was received and recalled by Mark. If we examine the typical preaching style of Peter in the Book of Acts (1:21-22 and Acts 10:37-41 for example) we see Peter always limited his preaching to the public life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel omits the private birth narrative and other details of Jesus’ life described in the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew. Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and ends with the resurrection and ascension, paralleling the public preaching of Peter as we see it summarized in the Book of Acts.

There is sufficient cumulative, circumstantial evidence to conclude Mark did, in fact, form his Gospel from the teaching and preaching of the Apostle Peter. I’ve illustrated the cumulative case for Peter’s involvement in the following way (excerpted from Cold-Case Christianity):

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The Resurrection Matters

The resurrection of Jesus is not just the reason for Easter. It is the most important event in the history of the world. Not only does Christianity rise and fall on the reality and the power of the resurrection, but the very fate of the human race also depends on it.

The apostle Paul said as much in his first letter to the Corinthian church: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (I Cor. 15:17).

What does that have to do with the human race? Well, if there’s no resurrection, there’s no Jesus, at least not the Jesus portrayed in the Bible. The biblical Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). In his death Jesus took on the sins of the world. In his resurrection he conquered death and those who believe in him to experience God’s forgiveness and be forever reconciled to God.
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Why Every Christian Needs to Be A Sheepdog

Jesus often referred to His followers as “sheep”. When he was saddened to see His people disheartened, the Gospels tell us “He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Those who hadn’t yet trusted Jesus were also described as sheep: Jesus said he “was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). When I first read the many “sheep” passages related to the teaching of Jesus, I was encouraged and inspired. In many ways, Jesus seemed to be talking like a police officer. Law Enforcement officials (like military officials) tend to divide the world into two distinct categories: “sheep” and “wolves”. Jesus also recognized this distinction. When commissioning His disciples to preach in neighboring communities, he told them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus understood the distinctions and the dangers. In a similar way, police officers know there are those who prey and those who are preyed upon. As law enforcement personnel, we are charged to protect one from the other. In this pasture filled with sheep and wolves, we are sheepdogs. Now, as a Christian case maker, I’ve come to see the role Christian apologists make in the Church. We are also sheepdogs, commissioned to help protect the sheep from those who seek to draw them away from the Shepherd. While I accept this responsibility happily, I’ve discovered an even greater opportunity. As a sheepdog (both from a law enforcement and Christian case making perspective), it’s my duty to create more sheepdogs.
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