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.
The analogy related to sheep, sheepdogs and wolves is incredibly instructive. The innocence of sheep is easily understood, even by those who have never experienced them firsthand. Sheep are typically unable to defend themselves from predators and are far more likely to run than address a threat head-on. Worse yet, sheep are annoyed by the presence of sheepdogs who are constantly circling them, nipping at their heels and trying to herd them in one direction or another. Sheep don’t even usually know they have a need for protection; they are largely unaware of danger until it is too late. For this reason, they are usually impatient with the sheepdogs in their midst. Does this sound familiar? The Church is often equally unprepared to face the challenges presented by the culture (and equally unaware of the dangers). They can also view sheepdogs with hesitation; Christian “apologists” are much less popular than other speakers addressing simpler issues in the Church.
True sheepdogs (the kind we find guarding sheep in pastures) are unpopular with sheep for another reason. Sheepdogs and wolves are similar. Both are canines. Both tend to work best when working together. Both have sharp teeth and comparable physical attributes. There’s a little bit of wolf in every sheepdog. Sheepdogs understand wolves because they are so genetically similar. As a result, they are both physically able and mentally capable of dealing with wolves effectively. In an analogous way, the best Christian case makers recognize their similarity to those who are not Christians. The more they understand these similarities and the nature of the culture around them, the better they’re able to defend the sheep in their care. I was an adamant, well-informed atheist for thirty-five years before I became a Christian. I still hold many of the same beliefs I held as a non-Christian and I do my best to remember the old Jim as much as possible. Today I am a Christian case maker, but I remember my connection to my old life and my old worldview. The better I recognize the similarities, the better I’ll be able to address the challenges presented by my old culture.
If every field was filled with sheepdogs, there would be little or no threat from wolves at all. The only reason sheepdogs are necessary is because there are still sheep, and sheep need protection. But if we could genetically alter every sheep and turn each one into a sheepdog, the threat from wolves would vanish. That’s why it’s so important for those of us who work as Christian case makers to help every Christian take up his or her calling as a sheepdog. Time is short, and while there are certainly many exceptionally valuable apologists in the Christian community, we don’t actually need another “million dollar” apologist. Instead, we need a million “one dollar” apologists. You may not feel like you’re the biggest sheepdog in the yard, but when everyone in your midst is a sheepdog of one kind or another, you’re in a good place. That’s why each of us needs to slowly transform ourselves from the prey to the prepared. It’s time for all of us to become sheepdogs.
~~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.
Now did you notice something here? In order for 'tolerance' to exist and to be demonstrated, several things are required. Let's take a look at the list of pre-requisites for 'tolerance':
1. Two or more people must exist
2. These folks must hold divergent views, beliefs or practices. In other words, they must DISAGREE.
3. These same folks must endure one another. In other words, they cannot eliminate each other even though they don't embrace each other's beliefs, but must instead find a way to peacefully co-exist.
You see, 'tolerance', under this classic view, requires a disagreement. Without the disagreement, 'tolerance' is not even possible. Now let's take a look at a new accepted view of tolerance that has emerged in our relativistic culture.
NEXT: Help People See How The Definition of Tolerance Has Been Corrupted
Websters-Online-Dictionary.com begins to hint at the subtle shift in definition when it describes 'tolerance' as "a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior." In its 'Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance', the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines 'tolerance' as "respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human."
Notice the shift? The concept (and the actual word) 'acceptance' has been added to the definition in a way that subtly transforms the classic definition. This view promotes not that we must 'endure' each other in the context of our disagreements, but that we must 'accept' and embrace each other's worldview as equally valuable and equally true. This current definition of 'tolerance' could be stated in the following way:
Tolerance: "The act of recognizing and accepting the equal validity and value of all views, beliefs and actions."
FINALLY: Help People See the Self-Defeating Nature of the New Definition
This new definition of 'tolerance' cannot live up to its own standard. What if I hold (and practice) the belief that 'all views, beliefs and actions are NOT equally valid and valuable'? Could the new, corrupted definition of 'tolerance' tolerate my position? No, clearly my position would be the one position that would have to be abolished in order for the new, corrupted definition of 'tolerance' to be true. But rejecting my view entirely would simultaneously reject the new definition itself. You see, this corrupted view of tolerance simply cannot stand up under the weight of its own standard. The world presently embraces a view of 'tolerance' that is illogical, unsustainable and self-refuting.
It's our job to help people think clearly about the issue of tolerance, even as we continue to love and tolerate their opposing views (I mean that in the 'classic' sense of tolerance!)
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity
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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.
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:
Category One: Direct Evidence
Category Two: Indirect (Circumstantial) Evidence
Judges help jurors understand the difference between these two forms of evidence. In California, judges provide the following instruction to jurors: “Facts may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence or by a combination of both. Direct evidence can prove a fact by itself. For example, if a witness testifies he saw it raining outside before he came into the courthouse, that testimony is direct evidence that it was raining. Circumstantial evidence also may be called indirect evidence. Circumstantial evidence does not directly prove the fact to be decided, but is evidence of another fact or group of facts from which you may logically and reasonably conclude the truth of the fact in question. For example, if a witness testifies that he saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat covered with drops of water, that testimony is circumstantial evidence because it may support a conclusion that it was raining outside” (CalCrim Section 223). Starting to understand the difference? The vast majority of cases tired in America are primarily circumstantial. In fact, none of my cold cases have ever benefitted from direct evidence. When you don’t have an eyewitness who can identify your suspect, you have to build the case cumulatively from all the indirect pieces of evidence you do have.
If you’re like other people in America, you probably think of circumstantial evidence in a disparaging way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Oh, that’s just a circumstantial case.” Indirect evidence gets a bad rap in the press these days. Maybe that’s why people are confused about its value in criminal trials. Judges instruct juries to be careful not to think of circumstantial evidence negatively. In fact, jurors are told to give circumstantial evidence the exact same weight in their considerations:
“Both direct and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence to prove or disprove the elements of a charge, including intent and mental state and acts necessary to a conviction, and neither is necessarily more reliable than the other. Neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other. You must decide whether a fact in issue has been proved based on all the evidence.” (CalCrim Section 223)
I personally like circumstantial cases better than direct cases. You know why? Because witnesses sometimes lie. There are times when a witness is improperly motivated. Maybe they want to lie so they can provide some important detail and be on Dateline, or maybe they want to lie to help out a friend who’s been accused. While I can misinterpret indirect evidence, it never intentionally lies to me. For that reason, I often prefer to assemble circumstantial cases than direct cases relying solely on eyewitnesses.
As it turns out, the case for Christianity is built on both direct and indirect evidence. The gospels are eyewitness accounts. They are direct evidence, although we would be wise to offer a caveat. Skeptics sometimes claim we shouldn’t think of the Gospel accounts as direct evidence since we can’t cross-examine the witnesses (writers) like we can witnesses in criminal trials. After all, hearsay rules prevent us from presenting eyewitness claims that can’t be tested through cross-examination. But I’ve already written about why this important rule simply cannot be applied to historical accounts like the Gospels (so I won’t belabor this point here). The more important issue is simply this: are the Gospel accounts reliable? We can actually address this more critical issue by applying the same critical template we apply to other eyewitness accounts. I’ve tried to demonstrate this process in Cold-Case Christianity.
Like all good evidential cases, the case for Christianity is a cumulative case built with both direct and indirect evidence. We can assess the claims of the Gospels indirectly by examining the internal evidence of language, pronoun use, and descriptions of geography, culture and politics. We can also assess the evidence of archaeology and the early reluctant parallel descriptions offered by non-Christians and Jewish believers. In addition, we can assess the early dating of the Gospels indirectly and trace their transmission with the evidence we find in the writings of the early Church Fathers. All of these pieces of indirect evidence are important to our case.
Once last important point needs to be made about the nature of the evidence we use to make criminal cases. Television shows like CSI have falsely given the general public the idea we must have scientific, forensic evidence (like DNA, serological, fingerprint or scientific, material evidence) in order to make a compelling case. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my cold-cases, I have seldom had this kind of evidence (remember there’s a reason why my cases originally went unsolved). More than anything else, my cases are made with the evidence of statements and behaviors. Sometimes the simplest statement or action can be the key to convicting a suspect. Scientific evidence is great when you have it, but I seldom do. I’ve learned to examine everything and overlook nothing.
When Dawkins and Harris say we, as Christians, believe in something for which there is no supporting evidence, they simply betray their ignorance about the nature of evidence and the way in which detectives and prosecutors build cases. Everything has the potential to be used as evidence. Indirect evidence is every bit as powerful as direct evidence, and scientific, forensic evidence is often an unnecessary luxury. There are only two categories of evidence, and Christian Case Makers use both types of evidence when making a case for Christianity.