In This Day and Age, Evangelism Is Spelled: A-P-O-L-O-G-E-T-I-C-S

On Saturday morning I woke up to find God’s Crime Scene ranked as the #1 Best Seller on Amazon’s list of “Evangelism” books. I will admit I was excited and humbled, but truly surprised. Saturday was the first day the book was available to the public, and prior to this publishing date I saw it was doing well in pre-sales in a variety of Amazon classes. God’s Crime Scene had been listed in the #1 “Hot New Release” spot in the Apologetics, Physics, Metaphysics and Philosophy categories at one time or another in the weeks prior to its release. It is, after all, an apologetics book that utilizes scientific and philosophical evidence to make the case for God's existence (from the perspective of a homicide detective), and I was delighted to see it was doing well in those expected categories. But evangelism? I really didn’t anticipate people would see it as an attractive alternative to the many other titles more traditionally written as evangelism books. But the early success of God’s Crime Scene may simply be a reflection of a new and important reality: In this day and age, evangelism is spelled A-P-O-L-O-G-E-T-I-C-S.
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If Religious Freedom Is So Important, Why Do So Few of Us Exercise it?

Religious freedom has certainly been in the news over the past few years, given the controversy over many elements of President Obama’s healthcare program and the recent religious freedom bills in Indiana and Arkansas. But if I am honest, I sometimes wonder why we, as Christians, are so concerned about religious freedom. Especially when don’t seem to exercise our freedom very often.

As I travel around the country making the case for the Christian worldview, I sometimes ask my audiences about their own efforts to share the gospel or defend the faith. In most settings (at churches, Christian conferences and schools), there are only one or two attendees who say they regularly share their Christian beliefs in any setting. Think about that for a minute. When was the last time you shared the truth about Jesus with someone at work, at school, at family gatherings or (dare I say) in public? I bet if you are honest, it’s been a while. For the majority of us (yes, the majority) it’s probably never happened.

I’ve written about evangelism quite a bit at ColdCaseChristianity.com, and I think there are several obstacles (either real or imagined) that keep us from sharing what we know to be true. Here is my list, hyperlinked to articles I’ve written to help you overcome whatever fears may have:

1.    We mistakenly think our beliefs about Christianity are entirely subjective

2.    We think we have to be a theologian or apologist to share effectively

3.    We aren’t sure who we should share with

4.    We are simply afraid to take the first step

5.    We think we have to know someone well before we can share the truth

6.    We’re not sure how to engage people (especially people we don’t know well)

7.    We’re afraid of feeling uncomfortable at any point in the process

8.    We hold pessimistically low expectations of being successful

9.    We have been conditioned to speak a Christian language foreign to the secular culture

10. We think our success as evangelists is entirely dependent on our individual effort

Take a look at that list; I bet your hesitancy is represented somewhere. It’s time to get busy, folks. Don’t let your excuses become obstacles. If we want to be consistent in our concerns and objections related to the shrinking religious freedoms we are about to experience, we need to be a people who actively exercise our religious freedom on a daily basis. We can’t simply complain about losing something we never used in the first place. Exercise your freedom. Speak up. Share the truth.

I’ll post these ten evangelism obstacles later this week in the form of a free Bible insert.

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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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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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How Open-Mindedness Opens the Door to the Gospel

In my last blog post, I talked about the importance of jury selection in any criminal trial. The secret of our success in cold case investigations and prosecutions has been simple: 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. As the case agent and investigating detective in many high profile criminal trials, I’ve learned to look for three things in every juror, and these are the same attributes I seek in those with whom I share the case for Christianity: I’m looking for people who are passionate about the issues, open to hearing the case and humble enough not to let their ego get in the way. Today I want to talk about the importance of open-mindedness in criminal trials and in making the case for what you believe as a Christian.

Open-Minded Jurors
We ask jurors if they can be fair when making a decision, even though we know they have opinions and potentially dangerous biases. As humans, all of us are profoundly affected by our experiences and personal histories. Some jurors, for example, have law enforcement members or prosecutors in their family; some have family members who have been arrested. When these relationships come to light during the jury selection process, we ask jurors if they will be able to make a fair decision based purely on the evidence presented, in spite of the fact they may have had some past experience with law enforcement (either positive or negative). My son, for example, became a juror (and even served as the foreman) in spite of the fact his father and grandfather were detectives and his best family friend was a criminal prosecutor. Some people are able to put their feelings aside and some are not. If you can’t remain open-minded, you won’t be able to serve on a jury. Everyone has an opinion and a set of experiences. I want jurors who are capable of examining the evidence fairly, regardless of their relationships and past histories. I’m looking for open-minded jurors.

As a Christian case maker, I want to be as effective as possible but I know there are people who have deeply entrenched biases they are unwilling (or presently unable) to resist. They simply cannot be fair. It would be unwise to place someone like this on a criminal jury, and it may be equally unwise to set your sights on someone like this as the focus of your Christian case making. Don’t get me wrong, I still find myself sharing the truth with loved ones who are hostile toward Christianity. After all, when you care for someone it’s hard to resist the temptation to do whatever you can to reach them with the truth. But given my experience with jurors, I am far more realistic now in my expectations. I still look for opportunities, but I know when enough is enough. As Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 7, verse 6), “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” I try to identify people who are capable of examining the evidence fairly, regardless of their relationships and past histories. I’m looking for open-minded jurors.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably encountered your fair share of people who are hostile toward Christianity. Unlike apathetic jurors, people who are unwilling to evaluate our claims fairly have often had a bad experience with Christianity (or, more likely, with Christians). When I encounter people like this, I recognize my responsibility as yet another Christian in their midst. Am I contributing to a negative perception? I don’t want to be yet another reason they dislike Christians. But more importantly, I’ve come to understand the power of prayer in situations like this. Only after God removed my enmity was I ready to hear what anyone had to say about Him. Once I became a Christian, several of my Christian friends and co-workers told me they had been praying for me for years. Whenever I become frustrated with people who are unreceptive to Christianity, I ask myself, “When was the last time I prayed for this person and asked God to remove this hostility?” I’ve learned to pray, watch for God’s activity, and play my role as a good case maker.

The best jurors are passionate, open-minded, and humble, and it’s important to understand these characteristics if we hope to have an impact as Christian Case Makers. If you’ve spent time thinking through the evidence and you think you are prepared to make a case for what you believe as a Christian, take an equally conscientious approach to the selection of your potential jury. Remember, most cases are decided at jury selection. If you spend a little more time choosing your audience, you’ll be far more likely to reach your audience.

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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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How Christian Case Making Impacts the Convinced, the Opposed, and the Undecided

I spoke to a group of students at The Ohio State University on Monday evening at the request of their Ratio Christi chapter director, Eric Chabot. If you aren’t familiar with Eric’s work, you probably aren’t following my Twitter feed, where I feature Eric’s blog often. Prior to the event, I had dinner with Eric, Pastor Matt Rawlings (another Case Making warrior you need to follow) and the infamous Wintery Knight (a giant among Christian Case Making bloggers). We talked about the importance of Case Making and shared stories of our experiences online.

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How Christian Case Making Turns “Free Riders” Into “First Responders”

I’ve been part of a first responder family my entire life. I was born while my father was in the police academy and grew up during his law enforcement career. Prior to his retirement, I entered the academy and my son was born. He watched me serve as a first responder as he grew up and then entered the academy as well; he’s been serving as an officer for several years now. I’ve listened to the stories of first responders (or told my own) for the past fifty-three years. I’ve learned an important truth about law enforcement first responders. There are no “free riders” in a police patrol car. When two officers are working together in a unit, there are no passengers. Each has a job to do. The driver obviously guides the unit, decides where the tandem will patrol, and is responsible for safely navigating the car, even during incredibly tense and difficult situations. But the officer sitting in the passenger seat is just as active and engaged as the driver; he’s not just along for the ride. He’s responsible for all radio communications with the station, is primarily responsible for the reports written during the shift, and is often the best set of eyes in the unit. First responder “passengers” can teach us something about our lives as Christians.

If you’ve been a member of a local church for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed twenty percent of the members serve actively while eighty percent usually enjoy the benefits of this service (the old 20/80 principle). There are many “free riders” in the church who are willing to attend but don’t seem to be engaged in much more than this. Well, I want to confess something to you: I am now part of that eighty percent. With my speaking and writing schedule, I am seldom at home on Sundays and when I am, I am usually unable to help out at church. I often feel lucky to be there at all. And there’s something else you probably already know: the twenty percent who are working hard to help out with the weekly service may still be unengaged in what they believe as Christians. Even though they are working hard, they still may not know much about Christianity. You can be a “free rider” even though you appear to be working hard.

So, what makes the difference between those who are coasting and those who are engaged? How can “free riders” become “first responders”? It all comes down to case making. Let me return to the analogy of first responder “passengers” to make the point. These officers may look like they are along for the ride, but they have an important role to play, just like those of us who may appear to be sitting in church pews:

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Is the Church A Cruise Ship Or A Rescue Boat?

When describing the difficulty in creating a more thoughtful version of Christianity in America, I sometimes describe the Church as a large ocean liner. If we, as Christian Case Makers, hope to have a significant impact on what appears to be a sometimes uninformed (or apathetic) Christian culture, we must turn this large ship one degree at a time. The Church is not a jet ski we can turn on a dime; it is a large, established institution requiring gentle nudging from the tugboats amongst us who want to change its direction. I love the Church. I’ve been a pastor and church leader myself, and I’ve come to respect the role of pastors and shepherds. It’s an incredibly difficult job, requiring special gifts. As Paul says in Ephesians Chapter 4 (verse 11), only some of us have been given by God to be pastors. Most of us are not gifted in this way, and the more I work with local churches, the more I respect those who are in a position of leadership, especially those pastors who recognize the importance of Christian Case Making. As I visit with these pastors around the country, I’ve heard them describe how difficult it is to raise up congregations who are capable and ready to defend what they believe, especially in a hedonistic culture such as ours. When they describe the Church at large, it sounds a lot more like a cruise ship than a rescue boat.

I’m using this analogy to help us think about the nature of the Church in America so we can be more focused in our efforts to make it better. I believe the Church is our best and last hope. It has been the often unrecognized foundation of our culture, the unsung (and maligned) hero responsible for much of what we take for granted as a nation and a people. As skepticism, hedonism and nihilism grow in our country, Christianity has the opportunity to meet the challenge or shrink from the fight. I believe we must renew the life and role of the mind in Christendom if we expect to have a continuing impact on our culture. And that’s where I think my analogy may illustrate the nature of the challenge we face. Let me describe two kinds of ocean vessels and you tell me which one sounds more like the Church today:

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