Nine Steps to Presenting the Case for Christianity

Eight Steps to Presenting the Case for ChristianityAfter many years investigating and presenting criminal cases here in Southern California, I’ve learned a few important strategies. These simple principles are also valuable to those of us who want to defend what we believe as Christians. Last week I outlined eight steps to investigating the case for Christianity. I use these principles to reach the most reasonable conclusion about the involvement of a particular suspect, but once an investigation results in the arrest of this suspect, we’ve got to present our case in a court of law. The emphasis shifts from the work of the detective to the work of the attorneys who will represent the prosecution and defense. When the following steps are taken in a criminal trial, success is far more likely:

STEP #1 – Pick a Jury Insightfully
Perhaps the most important step in presenting a criminal case is the careful selection of the jury. Many cases are lost before they start because the prosecution simply failed to select a jury committed to a fair review of the evidence, or because the prosecution failed to properly prepare the jury prior to the trial. The prosecution and the defense have the chance to pick jurors who are actually interested in being jurors, so they can teach them something about the nature of evidence before they serve. This process of evaluating the ability and desire of each juror and instructing them on the nature of evidence is incredibly important (and often overlooked).

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. Before I present my case, it is critical I consider who will hear my case. Just as an attorney is careful about selecting the right jury, I have to be careful about selecting the right audience. Is the person I am sharing with capable of examining the evidence fairly? Is he or she even interested in hearing what I have to say? Am I offering an answer to someone who doesn’t even have a question? If I want to be an effective “Case Making” Christian, I need to carefully select and prepare those who I am about to address.

A “Case Making” Tip:
Be sensitive to locating those in your world who are beginning to ask questions. We often target friends and family members who we desperately want to reach for Christ, but who are not yet even curious about matters of faith. These kinds of folks are difficult to reach. What can you do about it? You can begin to live the kind of life that causes others to ask you about your faith. Are we reflecting the nature of Jesus to those around us? Are they even curious about what we believe? Start living in a way that provokes people to ask about your Christian Worldview. Never let an opportunity slip by without at least trying to provide an answer. There are a number of good books that can help you to understand how to best identify those you can reach with the truth.

STEP #2 – Make an Opening Statement Thoroughly
The attorneys in a jury trial begin by making opening statements. These statements must be thorough and preview everything they will later present to the jury during the presentation of evidence. In essence, opening statements are like promises; each attorney pledges to back up his or her claim with evidence over the course of the trial. The attorneys claim this evidence will either convincingly demonstrate the guilt of the defendant or be insufficient to establish the defendant’s guilt. They make “promises” to the jury and must then deliver on these promises over the course of the trial (by presenting the evidence they described in the opening statement). If they can deliver on their promises, they’ve got a very good chance of winning the case.

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. You only get one chance to make a first impression. When defending the Christian Worldview to my friends, I need to remember the power of the first statement. Is it pointed and powerful? Is it relevant and accurate? Is it based on evidence; am I offering something that can be supported by the evidence? Am I ready to provide this evidence at some point later in the conversation?

A “Case Making” Tip:
Begin with people right where they are. It’s one thing to have the knowledge necessary to engage someone in a conversation; it’s another thing to have the wisdom necessary to know how to best engage someone in a conversation. It takes wisdom to craft a powerful and relevant “first statement”. Some people are wired intellectually, others emotionally. It’s your job to understand the difference and begin a conversation tailored to the person you are addressing. I’ve posted a number of evangelism articles to help you understand the simple meaning of the Gospel, the importance of “translation” and the biggest obstacle we have when it comes to sharing what we believe.

STEP #3 – Call Witnesses Selectively
Once the Opening Statements have been made, it’s time to begin presenting the evidence to the jury. Much of this evidence will simply be the testimony of important expert witnesses. The attorneys must select these witnesses carefully and judiciously. Each case is different and will require specific types of experts. Some cases require DNA experts, others require experts in material evidence; some cases require coroners or doctors, others require weapons specialists. The attorneys have the burden of deciding which types of experts will be needed to best make the case.

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. While I may be very familiar with the scientific or philosophical work done on a particular topic, I have to be careful not to overload the conversation with the opinions of too many “expert witnesses”. I have to be specific and targeted in the way that I bring experts into the conversation. I also need to be well versed in the work that these experts have done so that I can accurately quote them.

A “Case Making” Tip:
Become a specialist. It’s important to have a broad understanding of a number of apologetic issues, but I know there are some places where I am weak and some places where I am stronger. I try to focus on those areas of special interest to me where I am most familiar with the experts in the field. See yourself as the foreman on a jury. You and I don’t have to be expert witnesses; we simply need to be able to reiterate what the expert witnesses have said once we get back in the jury room with the other jurors.

STEP #4 – Present Evidence Specifically
Each attorney has to decide which pieces of evidence will be ‘highlighted’ in their specific case. Not every piece of evidence will have the same priority or emphasis; some will be more important than others. The attorney must try to decide which evidence he or she will highlight and which evidence he or she will seek to minimize. The attorney has the burden of having to explain why some evidence should be given greater weight than other evidence.

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. Many Christians are careless in the way they use evidence to support their case. Many of us have not done the “heavy lifting” to examine the original sources for the evidence supporting the Christian Worldview. Instead we carelessly quote something we read once on a website or heard someone say. Careless presentation of evidence can be very dangerous. Each of us, as “Case Making” Christians, must familiarize ourselves with the evidence supporting our belief and be responsible and accurate in citing our sources. We’ve also got to be prepared to argue why some evidence should be given more weight than others.

A “Case Making” Tip:
A great deal of work has been done to help you cite and offer good evidence to support the Christian Worldview. We hope ColdCaseChristianity.com is a reliable source of information. But we aren’t the only place to begin an investigation. Many other reliable sources can provide you with important information: CrossExamined.org, Reasons to Believe, Stand to Reason, Reasonable Faith are but a few.

STEP #5 – Anticipate and Respond to the Opposite Side Preemptively
Each attorney has to consider not only their own case but the case of their opponent. Understanding the “other side” requires each attorney to think like his or her opponent, trying to anticipate the objections and evidence the other side may offer. The attorney then has to decide if he or she will address this opposing evidence during the course of their own case, or wait to see if a particular objection is offered by his or her opponent. The cardinal rule here is to avoid being surprised by what the opposing side may offer. Each attorney has to anticipate the opposing objections and be prepared to respond immediately and thoroughly.

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. It’s too easy to keep my head buried in the sand and refuse to read (or understand) what those who disagree with me believe. While it’s important to know what I believe and why I believe it, it’s equally important to understand the view from the other side. Many of us are unwilling to read the blogs, message boards and websites of those who attack our position, but this needs to be a part of our “faith experience”. If our beliefs are true, they will hold up to the scrutiny and challenges of those who oppose us. If our beliefs are true, every other view of the world will possess some logical fallacy we can find and expose, even as we make the case for our own position.

A “Case Making” Tip:
I was an atheist for so many years it’s not hard for me to recall all the doubts and challenges I used to offer my Christian friends. You may not have had the same experience, so you may want to spend some time on the atheist message boards or blogs to better understand where they are coming from. I’ve assembled some responses to the common challenges of atheists, and there are many good books that also address these objections.

STEP #6 – Proceed Through the Case Graciously
Each attorney also has to be careful about the manner in which they behave throughout the course of the trial. Like other aspects of life, character matters. Truthful messages can be negated by irritating messengers. The attorneys have to recognize the way they are perceived by the jury is just as important as the content of their case. Juries have been known to decide against an attorney rather than against the merits of a case. Attorneys have to remember to be gracious under fire, to be endearing and self-effacing at all times, and to be able to disarm their opponents without appearing to attack them.

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. When asked why non-believers object to Christianity, they repeatedly cite hypocritical or intolerant Christians as a primary obstacle to their accepting Christianity as true. Many are willing to consider the teaching of Jesus but unwilling to unite with those who call themselves Christians. I have to make sure my outward behavior is an accurate reflection of my inward beliefs. The bar is very high for me as a Christian; I must be gracious toward those with whom I want to share the truth, but accept the fact many of them may not offer me the same courtesy.

A “Case Making” Tip:
It’s important to understand how to effectively navigate a conversation with grace and ease. An excellent resource in this regard has been provided by my friend, Greg Koukl. He’s written about the tactics necessary to navigate conversations related to Christianity, and his approach is gracious and accessible.

STEP #7 – Make a Closing Argument Convincingly
Once all the evidence has been presented by both sides, each attorney has the chance to summarize his or her case before the jury. In this final stage of the presentation, the attorneys demonstrate how they made good on all the promises they made in their opening statements. The opposing attorney will also highlight those areas where his or her opponent failed to present something he or she promised. The prosecution presents first, then the defense and then the final rebuttal is offered again by the prosecution. The prosecution presents last because the burden of proof is in the hands of the prosecutor (who initially made the truth claim about the guilt of the defendant).

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. The last word is often the word most remembered. In every conversation, it is my goal to leave the person I am talking to with important questions still to be answered. I want to help my friends see the logical inconsistencies of their worldview and leave them with a few important last thoughts to challenge and provoke them to dig deeper into the claims we’ve been discussing.

A “Case Making” Tip:
Do your best to answer the questions offered by your friends and family, but remember to frame questions of your own for their consideration. What kinds of questions might your offer? I’ve written about what I think is the best question to ask when starting a conversation about God.

STEP #8 – Instruct the Jury Evidentially
After the closing arguments, it’s almost time for the jury to begin their hard work. But prior to sending the case to the jury, the judge in the case will give them a set of instructions to help them evaluate what they’ve heard. Every state has “Jury Instructions” as part of the criminal code. While there are many important instructions, three are critical:

“Possibilities” Are Irrelevant
Juries are instructed not to consider all “possibilities” in a given case. They are only allowed to consider “reasonable inferences” from the evidence presented. When a juror comes up with an alternative possible explanation for the crime not based on the evidence offered, it’s called “speculation”. This is strictly prohibited.

Witnesses Are to Be Trusted
Juries are also instructed to consider eyewitnesses to a crime to be reliable unless they can be demonstrated unreliable. Jurors are allowed to consider critical issues related to eyewitnesses (these are often raised by an opposing attorney). Jurors are instructed to ask themselves if a particular eyewitness was in a position to see the crime, if the eyewitness was under stress during the time of the observation, if the eyewitness was paying close attention, if there was some other physical aspect of the scene that might inhibit the eyewitness’ observation, if the eyewitness ever changed his or her mind, or if the eyewitness had some motive to lie. If these questions (and others like these) provide no reason to distrust the eyewitness, he or she is to be trusted.

Circumstantial Evidence is Valid Evidence
Some people think the only valid evidence is direct physical evidence such as DNA, fingerprints, etc., but jury are instructed circumstantial evidence has the same value in a court of law. If, for example, a suspect has a strong motive, is found to be lying about his alibi, behaves in a guilty manner following the murder and was seen in the neighborhood of the crime at the time of the event, these circumstantial pieces of evidence can be assembled along with other facts of the case to build a strong, cumulative, circumstantial case against the defendant. The greater the number of these circumstantial pieces of evidence, the greater the cumulative case and the more powerful the evidence against the defendant. Circumstantial evidence is valid and powerful, but many juries have to be instructed about the nature of this kind of evidence.

Jurors are not allowed to take the case into the jury room and do anything they may with it; specific rules of evidence must be considered by jurors in every case.

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. I need to help people see the importance of grounding what they believe about Jesus (or the existence of God) in something evidential, rather than on speculation unsupported by the evidence. Many who oppose Christianity believe it is non-evidential, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is a strong cumulative circumstantial case for the Christian worldview.

A “Case Making” Tip:
Recognize the Christian faith is an evidential faith. Become familiar with the types of evidence used to form a strong cumulative case for the Christian worldview and the existence of God.

STEP #9 – Place the Case in the Hands of the Jury Confidently
Once the presentations are complete, it’s time to send the jury into deliberation. There is nothing more the attorneys can do at this point. They’ve got to trust they’ve done all they could; now it’s up to the jurors. This is not the time for regret; the jury, if they have been selected conscientiously and instructed properly, has everything it needs.

As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. Once I’ve done my best to describe and articulate the case for a particular view, I’ve got to trust my job is done. As a Christian, I believe God is ultimately the author of our faith and it is God who must first remove the enmity fallen humans have toward Him. Once God has done this, our friends and family will be able to assess and appreciate the case we’ve made. As a Christian “Case Maker” I have to do what I am called to do and then confidently trust God will do what He does every day.

A “Case Making” Tip:
Understand the role you play in sharing the truth, and the role God plays in bringing people to faith. There is a difference between evidence and proof. We are called to provide the evidence for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible and the Deity of Jesus. But only God can prepare the human heart and turn that evidence into proof.

Becoming a “Case Making” Christian means applying the basic rules of investigation and presentation to every aspect of the Christian Life. Why do you believe a particular Christian Doctrine? Have you applied good investigative techniques to your view? Are you able to present your view to others? Why do you behave in a particular way? Have you investigated the foundational belief guiding your behavior? Are you able to defend this belief on the basis of Biblical evidence?

Christian “Case Making” is not simply an approach to Christian apologetics; it’s an approach to Christian living. Christian “Case Makers” refuse to live unexamined lives; they understand the value of rationality and good philosophy. As a result, Christian “Case Making” raises the bar on thoughtful living. God created us in His image and has given us the capacity to live beyond our natural impulses and desires. He’s given us the ability to dream and reason; the ability to exceed our own natural limits. Let’s use what God has given us to make the case for the Christian Worldview.

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

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