It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Christian apologist and former homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace. I listen to his podcast weekly, I own all of his books, I took my kids through the Cold Case Christianity for Kids curriculum and I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the men’s study at my church a few years back. Needless to say, when I saw his latest book show up on Amazon, I was on that “preorder” button like a fat kid on cake. It would be some eight months before the book actually showed up at my door.
In Wallace’s first two books, Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene, he laid out the cumulative case for the reliability of the New Testament and the existence of God respectively, divulging the tools he uses as a criminal investigator and how they relate to historical inquiry. The reader gains new information on how to think critically, how to evaluate evidence, and why, after all is said and done, the most reasonable conclusion is that God exists and that he has revealed himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Forensic Faith is, at the same time, similar to but different from Wallace’s earlier works. In the style regular readers have come to know and expect, Wallace is adept at taking what is often complex information about esoteric subjects and boiling it down to something the uninitiated can easily understand, and this book is no different. Wallace’s style and presentation are accessible and familiar, showing the ease and comfort with the material we would expect from a highly-trained professional without the technical jargon and barrier to entry of graduate level courses. However, this book is not like his previous books. In the first two Wallace was making the case for the evidential support and reasonable conclusion that Christianity is true. In Forensic Faith, he is, as he puts it, “making a case for making the case.” In other words, Forensic Faith, is a call to action; a plea for the average Christian idling in intellectual neutral as the world crumbles around us and our youth are being led away from the faith in droves by college professors, secularism, the media and Hollywood to step up their game. For too long we as Christians have been relying on world-class apologists like William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias to do our thinking for us, for superstar evangelists like Billy Graham and Greg Laurie to do our preaching for us, and for megachurch pastors to do our bible study for us. That needs to stop.
The book opens with a bird's eye view of the cultural landscape around us. The world is not only growing increasingly secular, it is also growing increasingly hostile to the claims of Christianity. Anyone who has been watching the news for the last few years can tell you that the forces working to push Christianity out of the public square in Western Civilization are not content to isolate us into a corner where we can mind our own business and they can mind theirs, rather it is becoming clear that those same forces are unwilling to even tolerate our existence. So long as we are around and quietly committing thought crimes against the new orthodoxy, we are a thorn in their side. The cultural battle we are witnessing on college campuses and on capitol hill is in reality a symptom of a larger battle that has been going on since Genesis 3. That battle, the real battle against principalities and powers not of this world, is a zero-sum game. To paraphrase George R. R. Martin, in the game of faiths, you win or you die. This is evident on college campuses where statistics have shown that most freshmen entering the university will walk away from their faith during their first year and the majority will never return. The university campus has been described as a killing field for young Christians and the claims of evolutionary biologists, postmodernists, and social activists too often go unanswered. Studies have shown that the major contributing factor in this is that those students who were walking away couldn't find anyone to answer the objections and claims that their professors were making. For the sake of the future generations of the church, particularly here in the US where we still have a chance to turn things around, we need to take a more intelligent approach to our faith.
The book then surveys the rich intellectual history of Christianity. Starting with Jesus himself and then tracing the line through the Apostles, the church fathers, and down to today’s modern apologists and philosophers including people such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian, Wallace aims to show that maintaining an intelligent and evidentially informed faith is not only commanded in scripture (1 Peter 3:15, Matthew 22:37), but is also to take part in a rich and proud tradition that most Christians are completely unaware of. As my friend likes to point out, when you take a college level philosophy course, you’re going to study Plato and Aristotle, but you’re also going to deal with some of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. Men like Augustine, Anselm, and Leibnitz were not only devout believers who made rigorous defenses of the existence of God but also had a significant impact on the trajectory of Western thought. Even today Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, and Stephen C. Meyer are greatly impacting secular fields while defending the truth of the Christian worldview. While many of us will never publish a book or take part in a public debate, we still get to take part in this rich history. Having what Wallace calls a “forensic faith”, as opposed to a blind or unreasonable faith, is an opportunity unique to Christianity that most of us are not taking advantage of.
The second half of the book is dedicated to outlining the practical steps involved in going from a blind faith (in absence of evidence) or an unreasonable faith (in spite of the evidence) to a forensic faith (based on the evidence). This includes the starting points of figuring out where you or your students are and challenging yourself (or them) to step up, as well as the basic practices that a good investigator, historian, or bible student will need to love God with all their mind. These practices will not only protect us against unbelief and the godless living being forced on us every day, it will also protect us from the error and heresy that slips into our churches through the backdoor of supposedly Christian books by supposedly Christian authors.
David Wood of Acts 17 Apologetics recently said that the primary task of professional Christian apologists is not arguing for the truth of Christianity to non-believers as people commonly think. Instead they spend most of their time trying to encourage and motivate regular Christians to get involved. Wallace echoes this sentiment when he says that we don’t need another “million-dollar apologist”, but rather we need a million “one-dollar apologists”. In other words, the effectiveness of Christian apologetics is directly tied to getting the information into the hands of the average believer so those average believers can take it into their workplaces and families. It is for this reason that I suspect Forensic Faith may essentially be an example of preaching to the choir. The people most likely to pick up a copy of Wallace’s new book are precisely the same people, people like me, who are already familiar with the material and are already trying to do their part. I know this is not Wallace’s intent, nor is it the intent of any Christian apologist as David Wood has observed, but it is, I think, an unfortunate truth.
I do recommend this book, but more than that, I recommend that you don’t just buy one copy. Buy three. Buy one for yourself, one for your pastor, and one to give away to a friend or family member that owns shelves of Max Lucado but not a single commentary. The task of ensuring the intellectual vitality of the church cannot remain only on the heads of Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, or Mark Mittelberg. We need to get doctrine and apologetic training into the local church through small group curriculums and the local leaders who are willing to step up.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.