Why I’m A Christian Evidentialist
by J Warner Wallace
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.