Last weekend as I taught the first Cold-Case Christianity class at Biola University as part of their Master’s Degree program in Christian Apologetics, the issue of evidentialism was raised by one of the students. Christian apologists are sometimes divided between presuppositionalists (who presuppose the Bible is Divine revelation) and evidentialists (who seek to establish the authority and reliability from internal and external evidences). I am an evidentialist. Most people I meet assume I take this approach because of my background as a detective, but while my investigative experience definitely plays a role in my perspective as a Christian, my family structure is the real reason I’m a committed evidentialist. I was raised in a family dominated by atheists and Mormons. My chief role model, my father, has always been a non-believer; his wife of the past forty-five years has been a committed Mormon. My six half-brothers and half-sisters were all raised as Mormons, and when one of them saw my growing interest in studying the Bible critically, she encouraged me to take a similar look at the Book of Mormon. Not knowing one from the other, I was willing to investigate both simultaneously. I used the same four part investigative template to test the New Testament Gospel authors and the author of the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith). This analytical template provided me with confidence in the Gospels even as it destroyed my confidence in the Book of Mormon. As a result, I became a Christian at the same time I became a Not-Mormon. This dual experience of becoming and not-becoming had a powerful impact on the way I’ve looked at Christianity and the claims of competing theological systems in the years since my conversion. It is the reason why I’m an evidentialist.
In the early months of my life as a Christian, I found myself continually comparing Christianity with Mormonism. When Christians offered a religious experience as confirmation of the truth of Christianity, for example, I quickly compared this to the claims of my Mormon family. The experiences of my family clearly did not lead them to the truth. When Christians told me I needed to presuppose the authority of the Bible before I could assess the truth of the Bible, I quickly compared this approach to my Mormon brothers and sisters. The efforts of my family to presuppose the authority of the Book of Mormon clearly did not lead them to the truth. When Christians defended what they believed with an approach lacking evidential strength, I quickly compared this with the defenses offered by my Mormon family. The non-evidentialism of my family clearly failed to lead them to the truth. At every turn, I recognized the important role of evidence in distinguishing truth from fiction. Evidentialism not only lead me to Christianity, it protected me from Mormonism.
Of course it didn’t hurt that I had been a detective for many years when I first became interested in the claims of Christianity, but I really don’t think my journey (or my current approach to Christianity) would look all that different had I been employed as an architect at the time. Most of the Mormons I know who have come out of the LDS Church (and are now Christians) are similarly committed to an evidential view of their Christian faith. In fact, many of these people, like me, rejected Mormonism once they discovered the evidence for themselves. As Mormons, they had been embracing a view of faith independent of any evidence (aside from their personal experience). They avoided “anti-Mormon” literature describing the evidential case against Mormonism and embraced the claims of the LDS Church in spite of the evidence. As Christians, they now understand the power of evidence and its role in determining truth. Like me, they are now unafraid of literature opposing Christianity. They’ve moved from belief in spite of the evidence to belief because of the evidence.
I’m an evidentialist because the evidence protected me from error and guided me to the truth simultaneously. In the years since becoming a Christian, I often compare the two religious systems as I assess the ongoing role of evidence in my daily Christian walk. My investigative, evidential approach to Christianity provided me with an appropriate tool set for investigating the claims of Christianity, helped me develop a Biblical definition of “faith” and allowed me to distinguish truth from error. That’s why I’m a Christian evidentialist today, and that’s why I’m so committed to sharing this approach with others.