J. Warner Wallace

Author, Cold-Case Christianity

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:

Unsurprising: Fewer People Claim to Be Christians
Most people in America still call themselves Christians. In fact, the Christian majority (70.6%) is very large when compared to other groups (Jewish believers account for 1.9%, Muslims .9%, Buddhists .7%, Hindus .7%, Atheists 3.1% and Agnostics 4%). But the percentage of people who describe themselves as Christians fell nearly 8 percentage points; from 78.4% to 70.6%. Some Christians have argued this only reflects a shift from denominationalism, but the Pew survey allowed participants to identify themselves as “Other Christians” if they wanted to recognize their non-denominational affiliation. Respondents didn’t identify themselves in this way. The unsurprising truth: fewer and fewer Americans identify themselves as Christians (denominational or otherwise). There’s no denying this reality.

Surprising: Atheism Isn’t Growing Dramatically
Some news accounts of the American shift in religious identity have reported that “atheists and agnostics have nearly doubled their share of the religious marketplace”. While this may be statistically true, it easy to site these impressive sounding numbers when your group is tiny to begin with. Remember, atheists still only account for 3.1% of the population. In the past seven years, when Christian identity fell by 8%, atheism only grew by 3%. It’s easy to assume all those who leave Christianity become atheists, but this isn’t the case. Much of the demographic data is simply the result of growing emigrational diversity. As non-Christian immigrants continue to grow in number, they import their own religious identity and the overarching national demographic statistics continue to shift. This may help explain why non-Christian religious groups have grown in numbers over the past seven years. But here is the most important statistic: The largest growing group are simply those who claim no religious affiliation (the “nones”). These folks don’t identify themselves as Christians, but they don’t identify themselves as atheists or agnostics either. According to the Pew Report, most “nones” don’t commit to any particular view about God and say instead that they believe “nothing in particular.” Not all “nones” deny the existence of God, however. In fact, 30% report that religion is still at least somewhat important to them. “Nones” aren’t necessarily convinced God doesn’t exist, they simply either resist the claims of Christianity or are completely disinterested. Many are theists of one kind or another, but most (39%) report they simply aren’t interested in religion.

Unsurprising: Young People Are Leaving At the Highest Rate
The Pew survey found young people are leaving Christianity at the fastest pace. Each successive generation is less connected to Christianity than their parents. Although nearly 86% of Americans say they grew up as Christians, about one in five (19%) say they no longer claim Christianity is true. If we combine this polling with the growing body of literature describing the exodus of young people, the picture becomes even starker. Young people are more likely to leave Christianity than any other group. Alan Cooperman, Pew's director of religion research said, “Overall, there are more than four former Christians for every convert to Christianity.”

Surprising: The Least Educated Are More Likely to Be Atheists
The media sometimes portrays atheists as the thoughtful, intelligent and informed people of America. Atheists groups try to reinforce this depiction. David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, responded to the Pew report by claiming, “More people (atheists) know the facts, and more people realize they are not alone.” But the statistics show that most atheists are not highly educated. According to the Pew survey, the largest group of atheists (57%) have less than a bachelor’s degree (26% have a high school diploma or less). Only 26% have completed a four year degree program and only 16% have a post-graduate degree. Make no mistake about it, Christian statistics are similarly poor, but here’s my point: many Christians tend to shrink from engaging their openly non-believing friends because they feel intellectually intimidated. But the largest group of atheists are just like the largest group of Christians - neither majority possesses a graduate degree. We are far more alike than we are different in this regard.

Unsurprising: Women Are More Likely to Identify As Christian Than Men
If you’ve taken a good look at your local congregation lately, you’ve probably already noticed there are more women in the pews than men. This is confirmed by the statistical data. Today, women comprise 55% of Christian congregations, while men only represent 45%. The numbers are about the same as they were seven years ago (when men represented 46 percent of congregations). Most Christians are women and most Christians are also married (52%).

Surprising: Nearly Every Other Group Is Dominated by Men
Men, however, dominate every other group of believers. 52% of Jewish believers, 65% of Muslims, 51% of Buddhists, and 62% of Hindus are men. Even more striking is the disparity among non-believers. 68% of atheists, 62% of agnostics and 57% of the “nones” are men. Christianity has simply not done a good job engaging the hearts and minds of men when every other group has.

Statistics are useless unless they call us to action. Given what the Pew Research Center’s report has revealed, what should we, as Christians concerned about the state of Christian belief, do in response? Here are my “take-aways”:

1. Don’t panic
It’s tempting to over-react and I’ll admit, my focus on case making and the exodus of young people here at Cold-Case Christianity can be misinterpreted with a false sense of hysteria. That’s not my purpose at all. Our country isn’t truly “post-Christian” yet. The vast majority of our fellow citizens still identify themselves as Christian, and even those in the “none” category aren’t necessarily closed to the case for Christianity.

2. Take it seriously
Even though our population isn’t yet “post-Christian”, the media and growing cultural worldview are. That’s why it’s important to take this data seriously. We’re still in the early stages of a tremendous cultural shift, but if we don’t get involved now and take the data seriously, it’ll be a lot harder to correct our course later.

3. Get involved
I sometimes hear Christian express reluctance to make a case for what they believe because they are intimidated by the learning curve and the fear they will encounter people who are more educated or savvy. The data reveals just the opposite. You may not be a scientist or a philosopher but you are fully capable of reaching those who are still outside the Church. You’re smart enough to get in the game.

4. Elevate young people
As I’ve said a million times here at ColdCaseChristianity.com, students are still the most likely to leave Christianity, even though most are raised in the Church. The Pew statistics reinforce this reality. For this reason, we need to be focused on young people, starting with those in our own home. Now is the time to answer your kid’s questions and prepare them to defend what they believe.

5. Engage men
Most of us, as fathers and husbands, admittedly relinquish our role as spiritual leaders to our clergy or spouses. It’s time for me to step up and for churches to focus on men to equip and encourage them for this role. In our growingly egalitarian culture, few of us are willing to recognize the unique and important role of men in leadership, but in every other growing group described in the Pew report, men are actively leading the way. If you’re a Christian man, get off the bench. Get in the game.

I hope this brief recap of the Pew Research Center’s report is both sobering and inspiring. As Christians, we have a challenge in front of us but it is still early and we have the ability to respond. Remember, Christianity is unique among worldviews. We believe something testable, and Christianity passes the test. Let’s respond in a way few other theistic believers can: let’s get out there and make the case for what we believe.

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

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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.

You can have a great case but lose miserably if you don’t have the right jury. 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. Humility is an incredibly characteristic for jurors, because humility helps us hear the gospel:

Humble Jurors
My cold-case criminal trials are difficult and complex. They are usually built cumulatively and circumstantially. I need smart, interested and fair jurors if I hope to succeed. When picking a jury, I look for people who enjoy a challenge and love puzzles. If you’re an engineer or programmer, you’re a good candidate for one of my cases. But while I respect intelligence and critical thinking, I’m cautious about impaneling someone who has expertise in an area critical to our case. If we’re going to call an electrical professional as an expert witness, for example, we probably won’t put an electrician on our jury. Why? Because time and time again we’ve seen jurors become prideful when they encounter testimony within their discipline. Jurors who think they are experts in a particular field sometimes have difficulty accepting the testimony of other experts. It’s often a matter of pride. Good decision making requires a degree of humility, and jurors who think they know better can make a mess of your case. I want jurors who are smart but teachable; jurors who won’t allow their pride to stand in the way of the truth. I’m looking for humble jurors.

As a Christian case maker, I’ve come to recognize the relationship between knowledge and pride. As one increases, so can the other, and no one is exempt (including me). The internet has only complicated the matter for those of us who want to share the truth about Christianity. There’s enough information available online to make just about anyone an “expert” on any number of theological, scientific or philosophical subjects, even though this information is often un-vetted and unreliable. It can be difficult to share truth with people who arrogantly think they’ve already mastered a topic by surfing the web. These people aren’t hard to spot; most of us recognize arrogance from a distance. When looking for opportunities to share, I try to identify people who are smart but teachable; folks who won’t allow their pride to stand in the way of the truth. I’m looking for humble jurors.

Jurors aren’t the only ones in jeopardy from arrogant over-confidence. Case makers also place themselves at risk when they allow excessive pride to characterize their efforts. As the Bible accurately describes, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18). When a detective takes the stand in a criminal case and comes off as arrogant or brash, his testimony is likely to be rejected by a jury. In a similar way, prosecutors and attorneys who appear haughty or self-important typically alienate the very jury they are trying to engage. If you’re trying to make the case for Christianity and encounter a prideful resister, take a minute to examine your own attitude. One sure way to amplify the pride of someone you’re trying to reach is to allow your own arrogance to overtake you. When pride meets pride, nothing good results. If you can be humble, self-effacing and gracious in your approach, you’re far more likely to draw those characteristics out of the person you are trying to reach. Peter understood this all too well when he called us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).”

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.

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

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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.

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

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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).

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

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About J. Warner Wallace

Jim was a conscientious and vocal atheist for 35 years. As a police detective, he spent over a decade working cold-case homicides. When J. Warner took time to be honest with himself, he had to admit that he’d never given the case for Christianity a fair shake. Using the tools he learned as a detective, he fairly examined the evidence for Christianity and realized that it was demonstrably true. He became a Christian in 1996 and eventually earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. After serving as a pastor and church planter, Jim now speaks at churches, retreats, and camps about the historicity of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible, and the truth of Christianity. His latest book, “Cold-Case Christianity” (David C. Cook), provides readers with the tools they need to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview. You can follow J. Warner Wallace on Twitter @PlsConvinceMe.

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