We have a duty to know what we believe and why we believe it so we can give an answer, contend for the faith, and model Christian case making for the next generation of believers. Are you ready? If someone challenged you with a few simple objections, could you make a case for what you believe?
The adjective forensic comes from the Latin word forensis, which means “in open court” or “public.” The term usually refers to the process detectives and prosecutors use to investigate and establish evidence in a public trial or debate. You seldom hear the word attached to our traditional notions of “faith,” but given what I’ve already described in this chapter, it seems particularly appropriate when describing the kind of faith Jesus expected from His followers. Jesus did not affirm the notion of “blind faith,” and He didn’t ask us to believe something unsupported by the evidence. Consider the following definitions of “faith”:
Believing in something in spite of the evidence.
We hold an unreasonable belief when we refuse to accept or acknowledge evidence that clearly refutes what we think is true. The claim “touching a toad will cause warts” is an excellent example. We now have evidence that viruses cause warts rather than toads or frogs, so people who still believe you can contract warts from toads hold an unreasonable belief. In a similar way, unreasonable faith results in believing in something false (because it can be disproved by the evidence). Jesus did not ask His followers to ignore the world around them or to ignore evidence that might refute His claims. In fact, to this day, there isn’t any evidence disproving the eyewitness accounts recorded in the Gospels.
Believing in something without any evidence.
We hold a blind belief when we accept a claim even though we are completely unaware of any evidence supporting the claim. I believe, for example, that James David Wallace Sr. is my biological father, even though I am unaware of any DNA test results that would prove this definitively. I may be right about our biological relationship, or I may be wrong; I would only know for sure if I were to perform a paternity test. In a similar way, blind faith can sometimes result in believing something that’s true, but it can also result in believing something that’s false if there is actual evidence proving the claim untrue. Jesus did not ask His followers to believe without evidence. In fact, He repeatedly provided evidence to support His claims.
Believing in something because of the evidence.
We hold a forensic belief when we believe something because it is the most reasonable inference from evidence, even though we may still have some unanswered questions. I believe, for example, that amoxicillin can help fight bacterial infections. There is laboratory evidence to support this claim, and I’ve personally used it to fight infections. I still don’t know how (or why) this drug works, but I have faith in amoxicillin, even though I have many unanswered questions. In a similar way, Jesus encouraged us to have a forensic faith based on the evidence He provided. He knew we would still have unanswered questions, but He wanted us to be able to defend what we believe (and guard the truth) in a hostile public setting.
If you’re like me, you have friends who embrace one of these three categories of faith. In fact, you may even recognize yourself somewhere in this list. I’ve certainly been in a couple of these categories over the course of my life. When I was an atheist, I believed the universe and everything in it could be explained by (and with) nothing more than space, time, matter, and the laws that govern such things. But I had to ignore the evidence and accept insufficient atheistic explanations for the complex information in the genetic code, the fine-tuning in the universe, the appearance of design in biology, and the existence of nonmaterial minds and mental free agency (more on this in God’s Crime Scene). Despite evidence to the contrary, I continued to trust my naturalistic view of the world was actually true. I believed this in spite of the evidence; I held an unreasonable faith.
I was hesitant to consider Christianity, however, because the few Christians I knew seemed to hold a completely unexamined faith; they hadn’t investigated the evidence at all. They simply trusted Christianity was true on the basis of their upbringing or their own interpretation of personal, private experiences. Now before I go any further, let me make something very clear: I do believe in what some Christians call the “inner witness of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, I believe the experiences Christians have when convicted by the Holy Spirit are, in fact, important pieces of evidence. But given that my Mormon family also cited spiritual confirmation of this sort, I was hesitant to accept these experiences as conclusive proof. After all, everyone can cite some sort of religious experience. As a detective, I needed something to differentiate between the competing claims of the believers I knew. From my perspective, both my Christian friends and my Mormon family members believed something without corroborative evidence; they had blind faith in their own personal experiences.
As I began to read the New Testament for myself, I realized there was a distinctly Christian faith alternative. Based on my limited experience with Christians, I assumed blind faith was a Christian requirement. The New Testament proved me wrong. I was repeatedly encouraged and surprised by the evidential approach taken by Jesus, the apostles, and the writers of the New Testament. Although some Christians may believe Christianity is true without any evidence, Jesus never required this. Instead, Jesus asked His followers to believe because of the evidence; as Christians, we ought to have a forensic faith.
This article was excerpted from Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith. For more information about this third book in my Christian Case Making trilogy, please visit www.ForensicFaithBook.com.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith.