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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Is Christianity Intolerant?

The Easter season often ushers in a period of cultural skepticism and criticism of all things "Christian". At times like this, the issue of religious "tolerance" is sometimes raised and examined. Christians are often called intolerant, especially when examined under a new definition of tolerance that has emerged in our culture. How should we respond when people call us "intolerant" simply because we refuse to embrace a particular value or behavior?

FIRST: Help People Understand "Classic" Tolerance
YourDictionary.com says that tolerance is "a tolerating or being tolerant, esp. of views, beliefs, practices, etc. of others that differ from one's own". And when asked what it is to tolerate something, the same source says that we 'tolerate' someone when we "recognize and respect (others' beliefs, practices, etc.) without sharing them". TheFreeDictionary.com says that 'tolerating' is "to put up with" or "endure" something.

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Do I Need Scientific, Forensic Evidence to Prove Christianity Is True?

The relationship between science and faith continues to be hotly debated in our culture today. Eric Metaxas’ recent viral Wall Street Journal article, “Is Science Leading Us to God?” certainly reignited the discussion. His brief description of the teleological, fine-tuning parameters of the universe became the most-read online article the Journal has ever published. Even more recently, CNN has now begun a six-part series entitled, “Finding Jesus”. This mini-series seeks to discover “fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research”. The show examines six ancient relics of Christianity to see if “today’s technology can prove their authenticity.” In an empiricist culture deeply enthralled with scientific discovery and fascinated by shows like CSI, Cold-Case and Forensic Files, I’m not surprised by the demand for physical, scientific, forensic evidence. But as a cold-case detective with over twenty-five years of investigative experience, I’m here to tell you a simple truth: we don’t need any evidence of this nature to make a criminal case, and we don’t need scientific, forensic evidence to prove Christianity either.

Would it be nice to have scientific, physical evidence? Absolutely. When we first formed our cold-case unit, I retrieved over thirty unsolved cases from our homicide vault and sifted through each file, hoping to find one or two we could solve quickly with some piece of DNA or other form of scientific evidence. After all, our forensic technology has improved dramatically over the years, and I hoped to capitalize on this advancement to solve one or two of these cases quickly (to demonstrate the value of our new investigative team). Alas, I couldn’t find a single case of this nature. My partner and I were initially disappointed. But over the next fifteen years, we became the most active and successful cold-case team in Los Angeles County, solving more consecutive cases and appearing more times on Dateline than any other investigative team. And none of our cases benefited significantly from scientific evidence.

Most people don’t understand the broad categories of evidence used in criminal trials. As it turns out, evidence falls into one of two categories: direct and indirect. Direct evidence is simply eyewitness testimony. Indirect evidence (also known as circumstantial evidence) is everything else. Scientific evidence is an important form of circumstantial evidence, and I would certainly have welcomed evidence of this nature over the years (it sure would have made my job easier). But I’ve never been this lucky. In fact, I’ve investigated cases lacking any physical evidence at all. In one case, the murderer killed his wife and claimed she abandoned her family. He filed a bogus missing persons report and our agency initially believed him. Sadly, no one worked the case as a homicide for the first six years. By the time we re-opened it as a homicide case, the murderer had remarried and moved from the house where he killed our victim. We had no crime scene to investigate and not a single piece of scientific evidence.

When the case went to trial, the jury faced a number of unanswered questions: When precisely did he kill her? How did he kill her? What did he do with her body? How did he move her car so it would look like she abandoned her family? We couldn’t answer any of these questions and we didn’t have a single piece of physical evidence (let alone scientific evidence). But the jury only took four hours to find our defendant guilty (he later confessed to the murder at his sentencing hearing). That case strengthened my understanding of the nature and role of evidence and the luxury of scientific corroboration. It’s nice when you have it, but you don’t really need it. And when it comes to cold-cases you don’t often have this evidential luxury (there’s a reason these cases are cold, after all). The vast majority of my cases are constructed from a collection of seemingly meaningless statements and behaviors; stuff you might not even think was important at the time of the crime. But when these small indicators are assembled cumulatively and examined against the backdrop of the crime, little things become big evidence.

This is by far a more difficult way to build a case. Sometimes a single piece of scientific, forensic evidence can be very compelling, and in an impatient culture conditioned for brevity and 140 character communication, it’s not surprising jurors might prefer the shortest possible trial. Cases made by dramatic scientific evidence are definitely appealing. But real life is different than what you’ve been watching on television and at the movies. Making a case for anything in the past (whether it’s a murder or some other historical event) is often messy and complicated. It takes time. I’ve had cases that took over five years to put together and another five to bring to trial (luckily we’re able to work more than one case at a time). Scientific cases may be compelling, but in my experience, they are incredibly rare.

So I’m not surprised (given the antiquity of the Biblical events) we can’t make a case from scientific, forensic evidence. In fact, I wouldn’t expect us to be able to do this, any more than I expect to make a scientific case as a cold-case detective. That’s alright with me; I’ve seen many juries arrive confidently at the correct decision with no scientific evidence at all. We don’t need evidence of this nature to make a criminal case, and we don’t need scientific, forensic evidence to prove Christianity either.

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Yes, the Christian Worldview Is Supported by the Evidence

Richard Dawkins once famously said, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” He’s also quoted saying, “Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that.” Dawkins isn’t the only atheist who believes Christianity can’t be supported by evidence. Sam Harris said, “When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn't. Religion is one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.” Statements such as these, while they are rhetorically powerful, expose a lack of understanding about the nature of evidence. Dawkins and Harris aren’t professional case makers, and they aren’t familiar with the broad categories of evidence we use in criminal and civil trials every day. Detectives and prosecutors understand anything can be assessed evidentially. There are only two categories of evidence, and Christian Case Makers use both types of evidence when making a case for Christianity:

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How (and Where) Did Judas Really Die?

I’ve been writing intermittently about some of the alleged Gospel contradictions skeptics cite when arguing against the reliability of the New Testament. When two or more eyewitness accounts appear to disagree, we’ve either encountered an error on the part of one of the witnesses, are somehow misreading (or misinterpreting) the accounts, or have insufficient information to reconcile the descriptions. The death of Judas, as recorded in two places in the New Testament, appears to present us with a contradiction:

Matthew 27:3-10
Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me.”

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Rules to Evaluate Alleged Bible Contradictions and Difficulties (Free Bible Insert)

I’ve been slowly working through a number of alleged Bible “contradictions” and “difficulties” here at ColdCaseChristianity.com, using simple investigative principles I’ve adapted from my casework as a cold-case homicide detective. Here is short list of the rules I typically use when evaluating eyewitness statements. The first ten principles are derived directly from my casework related to homicide investigations (modified to address the Biblical narratives), and I’ve added three rules specifically applicable to the study of the New and Old Testament:

Rule #1: Maintain A Fair Attitude
When you begin to read the Bible and examine what it says, it’s important to start off with a fair attitude. Before you jump up and call it a liar, take a second to examine what it says fairly.

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Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them here at ColdCaseChristianity.com. One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

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Resources to Help You Defend the Virgin Conception (Free Bible Insert)

During the busy Christmas season, it’s easy to get caught up in the cultural trappings of the holiday and forget the real reasons for the season. While most of us, as Christians, take the nativity narrative for granted, many of our unbelieving and skeptical friends reject the miraculous, virgin conception of Jesus altogether. The following articles will help you understand why the virgin conception is so important to Christianity and help you defend the virgin conception against those who argue against this miracle of God:

The Essential Nature of the Virgin Conception
The Virgin Conception is an important piece of evidence, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy initially given by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14). It also explains an essential aspect of Jesus’s nature, retaining Jesus’ sinlessness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

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The Incarnation: Amazing Grace

For all the amazing aspects of God’s being, character, and personality—His infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, love, grace, and mercy—the most amazing of all just might be the Incarnation. It is staggering to think about a perfect God taking on imperfect human form, the infinite becoming finite, the immortal taking on mortality, the invisible God becoming visible through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God coming to earth in the form of a lowly human being is such a profound mystery, and so unexpected, that even today, two thousand years after it happened, people still struggle to understand how it was possible. Even followers of Christ often fail to grasp the significance of the Incarnation. Once a year they, along with the rest of the world, are reminded of this event when they celebrate Christmas, but the true implications of what the birth of Jesus means are generally lost amidst the pageantry, decorations, and gift giving.

John Newton a former slave trader, understood what it all meant when he composed the world’s most popular hymn:
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The Fact the Other Side Can Make a Case Doesn’t Mean It’s True

I’m sometimes surprised to see how quickly young Christians are shaken when they first encounter a well-articulated objection (or opposing claim) from someone denying the truth of the Christian worldview. When we first started taking missions trips to the University of California at Berkeley, I watched my Christian students to see how they would react when confronted by impassioned atheists. Some were genuinely disturbed by what they heard. Protected by their parents for most of their young Christian lives, it was as if they weren’t even aware of alternative explanations. Now, as juniors and seniors in high school, they were hearing the “other side” for the first time, and the atheist ambassadors we placed before them were eloquent, passionate and thorough. Many of these students wondered how these atheists could be wrong, given the length and earnest (even zealous) nature of their presentations. But after sitting in hundreds of criminal trials of one nature or another, I’ve learned something important: The fact the opposition can make a case (even an articulate, robust and earnest case), doesn’t mean it’s true.

Last Friday, I attended the sentencing hearing for my latest cold-case murder investigation. Douglas Bradford killed Lynne Knight in 1979 and we convicted him of this murder in August of 2014, nearly 35 years (to the day) after the murder. The investigation and trial appeared on Dateline (in an episode entitled, “The Wire”). I arrested Bradford in 2009 and he retained Robert Shapiro (famed attorney from the O.J. Simpson case). Shapiro and his co-counsel, Sara Caplan, presented a robust defense of Bradford, and he thanked both of them during the sentencing hearing.  Along the way, Shapiro and Caplan articulated the opposing case thoroughly and with conviction. In addition, Bradford made a short, emphatic statement of his own at his sentencing, saying: ““The murder of Lynne Knight is a terrible tragedy. I want you to hear me very clearly now. I did not murder Lynn Knight. I am an innocent man, wrongly convicted. I’m mad as hell. I’m paying for somebody else’s crime. This is a horrendous, horrendous miscarriage of justice.” That’s a pretty direct (and perhaps convincing) denial, and these were the first words any of us heard from Bradford during the entire investigation, arrest, and trial (Bradford refused to talk to us and did not take the stand in his own defense). His attorneys were even more passionate and direct in their statements to the jury during the criminal trial and the sentencing hearing. They spent hours articulating the many reasons why the case against Bradford was deficient and inadequate as they continued to proclaim his innocence.

My cold-cases are incredibly difficult to investigate and communicate to a jury. Remember, these cases were originally unsolved, and for good reason. There were no eyewitnesses to any of my murders and none of my cases benefit from definitive forensic evidence like DNA (or even fingerprints). My cases are entirely circumstantial. Defense attorneys love to argue against these kinds of cases, and I have seen many attorneys present compelling alternative explanations over the years. Jurors have sometimes been moved by these defense presentations. But none of them have been fooled. I never lost a single case in my career as a cold-case detective, in spite of the robust arguments of the defense attorneys involved.

A few years ago I investigated another cold-case (this time from the early 1980’s). Michael Lubahn killed his wife, Carol, and disposed of her body, telling her family she left him. This case also went unsolved for over 30 years. Lubahn’s attorney whole-heartedly believed Lubahn was innocent and passionately defended him in front of the jury. Unlike Bradford, Lubahn actually took the stand during his defense and repeatedly denied he was involved in any way. Lubahn and his attorney articulated their case ardently and earnestly, and Lubahn’s attorney presented a lengthy closing argument in support of his position. But, like Bradford, none of it was true. At his sentencing hearing, Lubahn eventually confessed to killing Carol. His attorney was dumbfounded. He truly believed Lubahn was innocent and had crafted a through defense. But Michael Lubahn was a killer all along (this case was also covered by Dateline in an episode entitled “Secrets in the Mist”).

I’ve come to expect the opposing defense team will present a well-crafted, earnest, engaging, and seemingly true argument. But an argument isn’t evidence. Since that first trip to Berkeley, I’ve been teaching this to my students. Don’t be shaken just because the other side can articulate a defense. This happens all the time in criminal trials, even when our defendants are obviously (and even admittedly) guilty. Be ready in advance for passionate, robust, articulate, alternative explanations. But remember, the fact the other side can make a case doesn’t mean it’s true.

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