I try to attend the annual Evangelical Theological Society’s (ETS) Meeting as it is held around the country. Each session features incredible thinkers presenting papers on a variety of theological and philosophical issues. I’ll be honest, I usually feel like an idiot in a room full of intellects. These theologians and philosophers are the best Christianity has to offer. They are intelligent, educated and articulate. They know their stuff and they are… how can I say this? Intimidating! There are times when I feel like I could spend the rest of my life studying, researching and preparing, yet never master the materials these professionals comprehend so exhaustively. Have you ever felt that way? If you’re a budding “one dollar apologist” you know what I’m talking about. You’re probably listening to podcasts, reading books and blogs, and doing your best to keep up with the latest research and critical thinking. You may feel like you’re not knowledgeable enough to contribute anything of value to the ongoing cultural conversation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years at ETS, however, it’s the importance of your voice in our world today, in spite of the fact you might not be the next William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland or Alvin Plantinga. As I sit in each ETS session and listened to these expert witnesses, I can’t help but think about our desperate need for Christian translators.
Expert witnesses have been critical to the cases I’ve worked as a cold-case detective. DNA experts, fingerprint experts, material evidence experts, behavioral science experts; these types of witnesses are often foundational to our criminal cases. But we’re always careful about how we use these kinds of witnesses in front of a jury. There are times when the expertise of these professionals has actually hindered their contribution. Sometimes experienced, highly educated forensic experts have difficulty communicating complex issues to laypeople. Don’t get me wrong, we make every effort to carefully vet our juries and we select the smartest people available, but in spite of this effort, there are still times when the science being described by the forensic expert is difficult to communicate. That’s when prosecutors have to help jurors understand what they’ve heard by translating the testimony of the expert.
It’s not unusual for prosecutors to ask a series of clarifying questions while experts are on the stand. We ask these questions to simplify the concepts for jurors who don’t have expertise in complicated forensic disciplines. During the closing arguments, prosecutors once again re-communicate the difficult, technical statements for the jury. Prosecutors translate challenging concepts, using common language, analogous illustrations and real life examples. While experts are critical to our investigations and criminal cases, they are no more important than the translators who make their testimony accessible the jury.
As a Christian Case Maker, you may not be an expert witness. You probably don’t have a doctorate in philosophy or theology, and you’re probably not teaching at a major university or presenting a paper at the annual meeting of ETS. But you may be even more important than you think. There are hundreds of men and women attending the meeting every year, but there are millions of Christians in churches across America who need these difficult concepts translated. You and I can be those translators. The Church can use a good dose of ETS thinking, but like a criminal jury, they’re going to need these concepts presented in a way that’s engaging and accessible. That’s where you and I come in. If we’re willing to engage the information seriously so we can re-communicate the concepts effectively, we’ll do a tremendous service for the Christian community. While experts (like the theologians and philosophers who attend ETS) are critical to Christianity, they are no more important than the translators who make their testimony accessible to the Christians, seekers and skeptics who make the final decision.
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, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.