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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Barcelona, Spain

When I arrived at my hotel in Spain a few weeks back, I immediately was blasted with a wall of cigarette smell. So, I looked at my paperwork to find the phrase 'non-smoking' room (which I did) and then I paused and wondered whether or not I would switch rooms. 

I asked the nice lady at the desk if there's anything that could be done about the giant ashtray I was assigned to sleep in and she said that they'd work on it. I thanked her and then went to my scheduled business meetings. When I returned, my room smelled like a perfume bottle exploded and the windows were all open. I had to smile.

And then I promptly went downstairs to the desk to thank the nice lady and her staff. And therein lies the cultural moment that if you're someone who travels, feel free to take note. Saying 'thanks' in a sincere way truly does translate in to other cultures and languages.

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Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

Pope Francis has on various occasions reached out to those who feel alienated in one way or another from mainstream culture while not necessarily fully endorsing their lifestyle or personal choices. Now his eminence has built a bridge to an entirely new class of sentient creatures, namely our canine friends. This isn’t an insignificant group. Globally there may be upwards of a half billion dogs on the planet.

Trying to console a distraught little boy whose dog had died, Francis told him in a recent public appearance on St. Peter’s Square, “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

And there you have it. It may not be official Catholic doctrine, but such a statement has to be enormously comforting to hundreds of millions of dog owners and dog lovers: All dogs do go to heaven.

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Exodus: God's and Kings

The following review by Brett McCracken originally appeared in Christianity Today online.

Ridley Scott’s version of the Exodus story focuses on the tenuous relationship/rivalry between Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Raised as brothers and princes of Egypt in the palace of Pharaoh senior (John Turturro), the two spend most of the movie opposing each other in a (quite literally) cutthroat manner.

The relationship reminded me a bit of the dynamic between Christian filmgoers and “secular” Hollywood films, like Exodus, which attempt to adapt the Bible. The Christian filmgoers are a bit like Ramses: hardhearted, skeptical and maybe a bit jealous, looking for every reason to punish the secular outsider who has the nerve to tell a story that isn’t theirs. I’m not saying Ridley Scott is Moses, mind you; just that Christian audiences can sometimes act like Ramses: stubborn, grumpy, vengeful, close-minded and unwilling to listen to someone they’ve already decided is an enemy.

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Preston Yancey Q and A (Part 2)

In Part 1 of his interview with Michael Summers, Preston Yancey talked about prayer, the intimacy of God, the importance of exploring your faith, and what it means to be a generous evangelical. In Part 2, Michael asks Preston four more questions that spark Preston to offer insights concerning the silence of God, the twin gifts of faith and doubt, God's patience, and the importance of reading widely. These themes and more are found in Yancey's exceptional new book, Tables in the Wilderness.

A major theme in your book is the motif of the silence of God. What has the silence of God taught you, and how do we continue to follow God in light of such silence?

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Why Christian Discipleship Is Critical to Christian Survival

Just before leaving the disciples, Jesus gathered them together and commissioned them with an important task. He told them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus understood the importance of discipleship (the process of making disciples). In fact, it was so important, He made sure it was His last directive to those who followed Him. What precisely is discipleship and why is it so important? Is it simply a matter of making converts? No, it’s much more. The process of making disciples is often misunderstood and neglected in the Church today, and as a result, we are in danger of losing our identity as Christians. Christian discipleship is critical to Christian survival.

Even secular dictionaries recognize discipleship as something more than simply creating “members” or “converts”. Dictionary.com describes a disciple as “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another.” Webster’s online dictionary defines a disciple as “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.” At least one aspect of discipleship involves learning the doctrines of a particular system or teacher. This intellectual aspect of being a disciple is affirmed in the Bible. The Greek word used for “disciple” in the New Testament is “mathētḗs” and its root, “math-“, means the "mental effort needed to think something through". Disciples are “learners”, “scholars” and followers of Christ who “learn the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle they require”. There is an important connection between doctrine and behavior. It’s not enough to simply follow Jesus’ moral teaching related to behavior, true disciples must understand the doctrines of Christianity. What does our worldview teach, theologically or philosophically? How are we to make a defense (1 Peter 3:15), hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with this teaching (Titus 1:9), recognize a heresy when we see one (Titus 3:10), and guard the treasure which has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14)? Becoming a disciple means becoming a learner.

Sadly, many in the Church have neglected this important aspect of discipleship, and their hesitancy to celebrate the life of the mind continues to put the Church in great peril. History demonstrates the importance of discipleship and the life of the mind. In the early 19th Century, the lack of discipleship resulted in the rise of several heretical religious worldviews. From the 1790’s to the 1840’s the movement known as the “Second Great Awakening” spread through the young American nation. This Protestant movement was wildly successful in gaining converts, but not nearly as successful in discipling new believers. The Second Great Awakening was facilitated by a number of charismatic preachers (Charles Finney was perhaps the most famous). These preachers were excellent communicators and their camp-style revivals were designed to solicit responses from the people who heard them. These same preachers, however, were less than effective in establishing a discipleship process for the new Christian converts. In the wake of the revival meetings, new converts were left largely on their own; local churches were not ready to teach and mentor those who were now interested in learning the truth about Jesus. As a result, a number of groups emerged simultaneously: The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), The Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Seventh-day Adventist Church (from which Jehovah’s Witnesses eventually appeared), and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were all the result of rapid growth followed by inadequate discipleship.

It’s not enough to embrace the name of Jesus. There are lots of groups (including Muslims) who include Jesus’ name in their scripture. We must understand, acknowledge and embrace the true Jesus. It’s not enough to live morally as Jesus might have lived. There are lots of well-behaved people in every religious (and non-religious) worldview. If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we must learn the true doctrines of Christianity, be ready to make a defense, hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with this true Christian teaching, recognize a heresy when we see one, and guard the treasure which has been entrusted to us. Becoming a disciple requires each of us to become a learner.

The intellectual aspect of Christian discipleship is just as important today as it has ever been. Mormons, for example continue to convert people to their worldview, distorting the nature of Jesus, God the Father, salvation, scripture and heaven as they present a clear heresy to those they convert. Who, statistically, are converted to Mormonism at the greatest rate? Undiscipled Christians. Many young Christians walk away from the Church in their college years after sitting in University classes taught by outspoken atheists. Who, once again, leaves the Church at the highest rate? Undiscipled young Christians. Discipleship produces Christ-followers who look more and more like Jesus. That’s a good, important goal. But beyond this, discipleship, protects believers from error and heresy. When we know the truth well enough to defend it in our own mind, we’ll actually defend it in our own mind when presented with a lie. True discipleship celebrates the role of the mind in the Christian life and prepares Christian disciples to live the Christian life, even as they are defending the Christian truth. That’s why Christian discipleship is critical to Christian survival.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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Eric Garner and the Call for Justice

The following transcript is from a conversation with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. You can also listen to the audio interview conducted by Phillip Bethancourt. The issue at hand is how to help churches navigate the types of controversy that’s going on in the wake of the decision of the Grand Jury in New York City to not indict an officer in the choking death of Eric Garner. Dr. Moore was asked  and what it means for racial reconciliation in our culture and in particular, the church. 

Russell Moore: Well, I've said quite a few times that when it comes to the Ferguson decision you have a lot of white people, particularly, who look at it only in terms of Ferguson itself. And they're saying, and they're right, that we don't know exactly what happened between Michael Brown and this police officer. We don't know exactly what happened between Michael Brown and this police officer. We don't know exactly what this altercation was about. 

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Rantoul, Illinois

Ok, it's been a while and you can track my progress at www.bomwhite.com

With that said, here's the new focus on this site and let's call it 'Stories can Walk'....I am asking you to journey with me to simply pay attention and find one thing in each of your own travels to hang on to. One thing. Don't try to remember everything, recount every detail of your travels, but just one thing to remember each new city, each new neighborhood. So, here goes:

Rantoul, Illinois, is less than an hour from where I live. It's a declining city in some respects, a victim of higher than normal unemployment and the closing of some factories. It's also home to the Chanute Air Force Base or the Chanute Air Museum, which is on the campus that was formerly an active air force base. Having helped with my daughter's recent field trip there my goal was to pay attention. I have recently been to Spain, Wales, England, and Ireland on work related trips and also returned from Chicago and Boston within the last few weeks, but none of the aforementioned sites moved me to tears. But, something at Chanute did.

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Preston Yancey Q&A (Part 1)

Preston Yancey is a lifelong Texan raised Southern Baptist who fell in love with reading saints, crossing himself, and high church spirituality. He now makes his home within the Anglican tradition. He is a writer, painter, baker, and speaker. His debut book, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again (Zondervan), chronicles his faith journey while in college—from the one he was raised to believe, to a faith he could call his own.

Michael Summers, a senior business major at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, interviewed Preston in a café near Baylor, Preston’s alma mater. Michael asked some great questions, which encouraged Preston to offer some thoughtful answers that are longer than the usual “sound bites” you normally encounter in Q&As. Your commitment to read the entire unedited interview will be well rewarded.

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Prepare Him Room

One of the great joys of the Christmas season is the arrival of special guests. It may be a son or daughter who has been away at college or in the military. It could be a favorite aunt or uncle who has flown in for the holidays. Friends might be coming to share a holiday dinner. Whoever it is, you anticipate the arrival of your guests and prepare yourself and your home for their coming. And finally, when you hear the knock or the doorbell, you jump up, eager to welcome your loved ones into your heart and home.

That spirit and emotion are at the heart of Advent, a way of celebrating Christmas that may be new to you. Perhaps you’re aware of Advent but don’t know a lot about what it means or what you’re supposed to do about it. When you hear the word, you probably think of candles and calendars. While those are often involved in the celebration, they are merely symbols of what Advent is all about

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