What Does It Mean to Possess A Forensic Faith?
by J Warner Wallace
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…
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