J. Warner Wallace on the Limited Usefulness of Personal Testimonies

Experience and testimony can move people, but it doesn’t tell us whether something is true.

J. Warner Wallace, the “cold case detective”, has become a leading Christian apologist. He brings a unique perspective to the world of faith. Having grown up in an atheist family, he didn’t come to faith until well into adulthood.

He didn’t grow up in the church, obviously. The traditional focus on personal experience and testimonies in evangelicalism was not part of his background. He didn’t come to faith through experience or the influence of personal testimonies. For him, it was simply a matter of the facts.

Wallace observes that the most popular answer people give for being a Christian is that they were raised in a Christian family. The second most popular answer people give for being a Christian is some experience that demonstrates that Christianity is true.

Wallace criticizes these bases for Christian faith because because Mormons give similar answers to explain their belief in Mormonism. The number one answer people give for being a Mormon is that they were raised in a Mormon family, and the second most popular answer is some experience that demonstrated for them that Mormonism is true.

Christians don’t think Mormonism is true, but their stories are the same as ours. Thus, Wallace concludes, experience can be a powerful thing, but it doesn’t necessarily settle the truth of the matter. People who rely on experience are relying on weak anchor to faith.

More important than experience is whether something is true.

Wallace goes on to share his testimony in the short interchange linked at the end of this article with the caveat given above – don’t put too much faith in his (or anyone else’s) testimony.

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A Story Demonstrating How God Works to Reveal Himself to People

The evidence for God is more often a string of improbable circumstances happening in the context of a message that is delivered with intimate, personal meaning.

As I have been reading through the New Testament, on my way through the Bible chronologically from start to finish, I have come to the Book of Acts. I wrote most recently about the prominence and importance of testimonial evidence for Christ. I continue to be struck by the key importance of this eyewitness testimony and the highly relational way in which He reveals Himself to people, which is still true today .

Jesus, of course, attracted people who gathered, joined and followed him. Literally, they lived with him, ate with him, traveled with him, and followed him where he went. Thus, they became witnesses to everything he said and did.  

As I continue reading in Acts, I have come today to the story of Peter, the apostle, and Cornelius, the Roman Centurion who lived in Caesarea. I wrote about this story not long ago, in Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius, but today I see a different twist that runs with the theme of eyewitnesses and God revealing Himself to people.

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The Case for Jesus Christ Rests on the Evidence of Eyewitnesses

As a lawyer, I am keenly aware of the central importance of eyewitnesses to getting at the truth of any matter. There is no better proof in the law than eyewitness testimony. The rules of law allow hearsay testimony (the testimony of what someone else said) only in extreme and limited circumstances because eyewitness testimony is considered much more reliable inherently.

Eyewitness testimony is light years more reliable than secondhand testimony, but even eyewitness testimony can be unreliable at times. People aren’t always good at observing details accurately. People sometimes fill in the gaps in understanding of what happened with details that are assumed which aren’t accurate. People do this consciously and unconsciously. Eyewitnesses can be influenced by subconscious biases and influences. Sometimes eyewitnesses even lie about what they have seen.

Because eyewitness testimony isn’t foolproof, we look for other evidence that will either corroborate or contradict the eyewitness testimony, but cases are built on eyewitness testimony. A case can be built on the testimony of a single, good eyewitness, but multiple eyewitnesses is gold. The more eyewitnesses that agree with each other, and the more evidence that corroborates that testimony, the stronger a case is.

We see this principle at work in the documentation that presents the evidence for Jesus Christ – which is the Bible of course. The Bible reveals a primary emphasis on the testimony of eyewitnesses. Following is a summary of the ways in which the theme of eyewitness testimony runs throughout the New Testament.

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