3 Reasons Why Christians Should Be Evidential Investigators Instead of Experience Junkies
Both grew up in Christian homes in suburban America. Both have famous Evangelical fathers. Both made personal decisions for Christ and became actively involved and well-known in ministry. One walked away from his faith and became a secular humanist. The other has become one of the top apologists and defenders of the Christian faith.
Who are these two men? The first is Bart Campolo, son of evangelist and author Tony Campolo, and the other is Sean McDowell, son of evangelist and author Josh McDowell. Why did their fairly similar paths lead them to such radically different destinations?
Recently, the two came together to have a discussion on Premier Christian Radio entitled, "Why Bart Lost His Faith, Why Sean Kept His." It was a fascinating discussion, and the thing that most struck me was the reason they each gave for having become a Christian in the first place. Campolo described how he converted to Christianity after finding a youth group he connected with and attending one of their retreats:
In Campolo's own words, he became a Christian because of a transcendent experience....a feeling that resonated deeply in his heart.
Later in the conversation, McDowell gave his reason for becoming a Christian. Having believed in Christianity as far back as he can remember, he experienced some serious doubts about his faith when he was a college student. When he shared his doubts with his father, his dad encouraged him to not believe something simply because it's what he was told. He urged him to investigate the evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity for himself, and to reject anything that was untrue.
After doing some significant evidence investigation, McDowell arrived at the conclusion that Christianity is true....and this is the reason he is a Christian. His faith was not built upon a “transcendent moment,” but on a painful search for objective reality.
Campolo's Christianity was confirmed by experience, while McDowell's was confirmed by evidence. Here are 3 reasons why Christians should be evidential investigators, instead of experience junkies:
1. You can be talked out of an experience.
Like Campolo, actor Brad Pitt was raised in a Christian home by Evangelical Christian ministers. In an interview with GQ magazine, he remembered experiencing some of the same feelings at rock concerts that he felt in Christian worship services:
Pitt wondered if the whole thing was a manipulative sham, which led him to ask some serious questions at a very young age.
If a feeling or experience is what a person's faith is built upon, it can be easy to re-interpret that experience or explain it away—especially when confronted with the arguments of a smart skeptic, or the crushing reality of suffering and evil.
2. Your heart and feelings lie.
The prophet Jeremiah described the human heart as "deceitful above all things and desperately sick." Proverbs 3:5-7 tells us not to "lean on our own understanding." Jesus described the human heart as being filled with thoughts like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. Proverbs 28:26 tells us that whoever trusts his own mind is a fool.
In other words, do not, under any circumstances, follow your heart.
This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the themes we are constantly encountering in entertainment and on social media. However, when it comes to spiritual beliefs, trusting our hearts and following our feelings can lead to all sorts of aberrant theology, sinful choices, and a distortion of true Christian faith.
3. You can fall back on evidence in times of doubt or suffering.
One of the greatest apologists and evangelists in recent times is a man named Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi grew up in a Muslim home, and after years of testing the claims of Christianity and the claims of Islam, he left Islam and became a Christian. He paid a dear price for his obedience to Christ, leaving his devout Muslim family heartbroken and relationships strained.
At the peak of a respected, growing, and fruitful ministry, Qureshi received news that he had stage 4 stomach cancer....at the age of 33, and with a new baby in tow. He believed God was going to heal him—that there would be miraculous intervention and an amazing testimony to tell about the healing power of God. A little over a year after receiving his diagnosis......he died.
Qureshi documented his cancer journey on youtube, and in one of the early videos, he expressed being a bit rattled by this grim news. However, he went back through his theology and the evidence for his belief in Christ. On his deathbed, looking worn and like a shadow of his former self, he glorified God by doing the exact same thing. He expressed his wonder and disappointment that he hadn't been healed, but he testified to the existence of God and the truthfulness of Christianity based on what he knew was true.
Qureshi was faithful to the end—despite his suffering and despite any doubts that crept into his mind in his last days. This was because he had a firm understanding of truth to which he submitted his feelings. His faith was not dismantled by doubt, suffering, or even excruciating pain.
At the end of the day, Christianity isn't always going to feel good. Just ask the apostle Paul who was kidnapped, beaten, whipped, imprisoned, ridiculed, shipwrecked, and stoned—all before he was finally beheaded. Christianity isn't always going to feel like it's "working."
Becoming an evidential investigator rather than an experience junkie led former atheist J. Warner Wallace to an unshakeable conclusion:
In times of deep doubt or great suffering, it's wonderful to know that Christianity is true— whether we feel it or not!
4/10/2018 01:24:52 pm
I believe this is the best thing you have published. Thank you!
4/10/2018 03:53:25 pm
Thanks so much, Darryl.
4/10/2018 03:46:02 pm
Beautiful Alisa! Indeed the only thing that can withstand the earthquakes of life is a strong foundation, and feelings cannot provide that!
4/10/2018 05:47:01 pm
Thank you so much for this article, it was a good perspective to read and I appreciate your angle on evidence vs. feelings. One question that comes to mind is in regard to the fact that our heart and reasoning is wicked. Do you think that because of those biblical statements that they undermine our justification for believing in Christ via evidence because our reasoning is broken?
4/10/2018 07:38:43 pm
Hi Brett, thanks for your comment and question. The question you are asking would be answered differently depending on which philosophical system one uses to approach apologetics.
4/10/2018 07:43:17 pm
I should also add that it's difficult to fit everything I'd like to say into a blog post which is, typically, under 1500 words. I don't want to discount experience altogether—I'm can get quite emotional when I sing, and have wonderful experiences with God in prayer, worship, and study. However, subjective experience, in my opinion, should enhance our faith, not ground it.
4/10/2018 08:33:12 pm
Ah I gotcha, I’m definitely in the same camp. Thanks for clarifying! Yeah, you make a good point. What are your thoughts on coming to belief in Christ via an experience but then strengthening our faith via evidence? WOuld you put that in a separate category?
4/11/2018 08:56:30 am
Well I guess it would depend on what one means by the word "experience." Hearing and responding to the gospel is an "experience." (Even investigating evidence is technically an "experience.") But what I mean by the word in this post is in reference some kind of warm feeling or euphoric emotion.
4/10/2018 10:17:56 pm
Great article, as always! I really enjoy your writing style and find it so easy to follow.
4/11/2018 05:52:13 am
Thankyou Alisa! Great blog, and a timely word.
4/11/2018 10:45:51 am
Brilliant as usual, Alisa. Love the wrap-up about Christianity not always feeling like it’s “working” - excellent.
4/11/2018 11:24:55 am
two people, grew up in a perfect garden, with the perfect father, perfect circumstances, felt the presence, and majesty of the King of Kings himself ,but thru( free will )chose to do what ( they) wanted to do, with the help and nudging of the tempter !!!! they knew God existed, knew of His power and might and love ,etc.,but God would not ( because of free will ) make them obey!!!!! This article reminds me of madeliine murray O'Hare , (famous atheist )whose son became a preacher of the gospel !!!! It also reminds me of Ray Boltz ( well known Christian singer) had a wife and children, and comes out as homosexual and leaves them !!!!! again ( free will) we can keep resisting temptations or just give up the (good fight) it's our choice !!!! I was truly bothered by Ray Boltz decision and could not figure it out until I asked a mature Christian brother about this , and he simply said 2 degrees, and I said ( whats 2 degrees?) he replied if you set sail for your destination and you are 2 degrees off course, you wind up somewhere you don"t want to be (like Bart Campolo) if heaven is where we want to be , we have to stay on course !!!! Let us remember, God ( the perfect Father ) had trouble with HIS children too !!!! but He kept on loving them, reaching out to them, caring about them !!! I am so glad He used people to reach out to me, I was way off course!!! Let's pray for the prodigal's ( like Bart Campolo,and others)to get back on track !!! Oh , Alisa , I totally agree with you on balancing experiences with evidences and truth !!!!! May God richly bless you sister, I look forward to hearing you sing, at church !!!!
5/3/2018 08:26:18 am
Very well said. Thank you.
5/3/2018 08:23:44 am
12/3/2018 11:49:12 pm
Very interesting, thought-provoking post.
1/14/2019 03:30:42 pm
In reply to Gary asking if Jesus ever said to believe in Him based on a study of the evidence, I would suggest John 10:37-38. I think the evidence during Jesus' time would have been the testifying signs and wonders (miracles/works). We are fortunate to be able to avail ourselves in this day and age of the work provided by great scholars before us and even today, people like Alissa. I don't believe they had that so much in Jesus day. I think that is why Jesus said if you don't believe me, then believe the works that I do. I do believe later on the apostles and writers of the New Testament, starting with Pentecost, then provided the evidence, much of the same evidence we look at today. I am certainly no apologist, but I don't really recall anywhere in the New Testament, or even the Old, where we are asked to believe God based on a "feeling", maybe an experience where He chose to reveal Himself so that one might believe. I think there are plenty of those. God proved Himself to be who He said He was by things He performed to reveal Himself to His people. Just my thoughts from an uneducated Jesus follower who has the desire to be able to defend the faith with gentleness and respect. (I was blessed to attend the Women In Apologetics Conference this past weekend at which Alissa lead worship and spoke.)
6/26/2019 10:33:32 am
I´m intrigued to discover your approach in general. Alisa, much like I was happy to discover Ravi Z some time ago on videos. In terms of your post specifically, experience versus evidential investigation, it makes absolute sense to me. I suppose it´s not actually a mutually exclusive pair of dynamics, and is in fact something of a false dichotomy. Rather, it is a continuum of attitudinal issues in question.
6/29/2019 01:43:31 pm
Well done! Reminds me of this quote: “A faith that fizzles before the finish was flawed from the start.”
2/9/2020 04:34:52 pm
9/4/2020 12:46:02 pm
I ran across this on your website and it answers a question I didn’t know I was looking for. I have been drawn to people like you, Frank Turek, J Warner Wallace and other apologists because of the very thing that you bring out here and I suspect that has so informed your ministry. To me it is the harmony between the experiential and intellectual that is difficult to explain to someone who lacks one or the other or both. Bu themselves, one is tenuous, the other is lifeless. Together they are literally out of this world. There is a certain beauty to that.
10/25/2020 03:11:57 pm
As a believer in Christ since a child, I am slowly beginning to resonate more and more with Sean. Recently the last couple of years I have began to wonder and continue to ask myself, “why do I continue to believe what I believe? I cant believe it just because my parent and grandparents did? There has to be another reason why I do.” I’m really bad at research and have no idea where to start, what questions to ask and where to find those answers. Not to just confirm my bias of proving Christianity to be true. Where do I start? How do I progress forward?
1/8/2022 08:11:07 pm
This is in response to Robert who is looking for deeper answers than “because my parents believed.” One good resource for you might be Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - another person who beautifully combined experiential and intellectual approaches to God. Loved this column!!
1/7/2022 07:11:26 pm
Where does the conviction of the Holy Spirit fall into this? I never seen anyone really mention this. It seems like things get lumped in an either or category - either emotional experience or evidence. My conversion, when I was 29, never being raised in a Christian home, lived a bisexual drunken lifestyle, didn't know anything about the Bible (someone had to explain to me what "Matthew 13:12" meant because I had no clue about book, chapters and verses), was based of off the pastor preaching about sin and hell and then explained why Jesus died. Then a light bulb went off and I undersood the Cross and that moment and believed.
My name is Mondo, years ago you and I knew each other while serving at the Dream Center with Pastor Matthew. I lived in Casa Grande with Vladimir and Aaron and others. I think you worked with Dave Hanley and the music studio they had there. Thank you for this article, in the beginning of my journey it was base on the experience I had but after the honey moon was over I began to study and realized why I believe the word of God to be the truth. Being 26 years in full time ministry, I have experienced some very tough moments but the years of studying the word and the research on Christianity is what has kept me serving faithfully. Thank you for your dedication and faithfulness to not compromising the word of God. I would like to have you in my show sometime to talk about your book and articles like this. Blessings.
7/16/2022 04:05:00 pm
I’m trying to listen to the podcast from unbelievable that has the audio interview with Bart and Sean. Every time I find one, it starts out normal but then sounds like “Charlie Brown’s teacher”…..any help on finding an audio that works? Thanks!
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.