What about Apatheism?

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline-featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker, and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an adjunct professorof apologetics at Biola University and a faculty member at Summit Ministries.

Before he became a popular apologist, Jim would listen to the Bible Answer Man broadcast in the car while working stakeouts as an undercover investigator. He has since masterfully melded his unique capabilities as a cold-case detective with his passion for Christian apologetics to provide believers and skeptics alike the tools and evidence to make the case for the Christian faith.

The following is a snapshot from a recent episode of Hank Unplugged, where Hank and Jim discussed apatheism.

Hank Hanegraaff: There is a new play on the word “atheism” called “apatheism”— the new apathy about God — which says God’s existence is not considered a relevant question. Seems that this is maybe as dangerous as atheism with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some people call it the power of meh. But this apatheism, this apathy, how do you shake people out of their lethargy?

J. Warner Wallace: I will tell you this: I am writing a book right now with Sean McDowell on how to teach Christian apologetics to Gen Z [Generation Z] because we do a lot of this either in a worldview conference or in a classroom setting. About 70 percent of our audiences are young people. I think that apathy is a far greater danger. It’s a far bigger hazard.

I remember I had a prosecutor whom I did most of my cold cases with whose name was John. He had a co-prosecutor named Ethan on several of our cases. They would come over to my house to prep a case, and I would be sitting for weeks with these two. Ethan and I would argue passionately. Ethan is a very adamant atheist, and we would get involved in an hour conversation at a time talking about theism — God’s existence. Meanwhile, John would get so upset that he would finally scream at Ethan and say, “Ethan, stop taking to Jim. He loves the fact that you’re interested. You need to be more like me. Jim knows I couldn’t care less about any of this stuff. So, he doesn’t talk to me about it. If you continue to show this kind of passion, he’s going to be talking to you about this all day, and we’re not going to get any work done.” So, he’d say, “You need to be more like me.” He is absolutely right. It was difficult to talk to John about these issues primarily because his apathy was paralyzing. He loves sports; but if I were going to talk to him about some small Division 5 team in some rural part of Wisconsin, he does not care. “Why should I care about that?” This is the way he saw the search for meaning and God. Why should I care about it?

I think apathy, and overcoming apathy, is a key to what we are going to have to face in the next generation with Gen Z. I think there are some strategies for this.

Look, no one is apathetic at a point of crisis. I do not have to worry about apathy in my victim families, for example. They are all passionately engaged in the process. They want to see justice. It turns out that apathy is that kind of thing milling around until the rubber meets the road. What we have to do is show our young people where and how the rubber meets the road. Where, how, and why this is so critical. A lot of this is going to come to them through narrative, by way of storytelling, by way of examples. They love examples. They love storytelling. We are going to have to tell the stories that amplify for them why they should care. They are probably going to be stories of tragedies, stories of crisis of meaning, or crisis of purpose. I think when we do that, it is not trying to falsely ignite a passion. This is where all apathy vanishes. It vanishes when somebody finally steals your car. It vanishes when someone finally, on the basis of a worldview you do not agree with, does something to harm you. This is where apathy vanishes.

I think in the end, we have to help ourselves. Let’s face it, if we are not modeling energy, passion, and interest, if we are not clearly passionate about what we believe, then good luck trying to transfer that to the people you’re working with, the young people you are leading. It is one thing to say, “I do not understand why anyone does not come to youth group.” Well, I am going to be honest. I am going to look and say first, “What does the leader look like? Is the leader passionate?” Passion is contagious. It is one of those things that is caught rather than taught. I think that is part of it, too.

There are several things we can do. For example, I noticed when I would start with young people, and I would say, “Hey, in eight weeks, we are going to the campus of UC Berkeley, because I want you to see what that campus is like, and I am going to put you on the campus at Berkeley, so you are going to have to witness and talk to students, most of whom are not going to be Christians or religious. I am going to give you some strategies. We are going to train you for eight weeks. We are also going to put you on stage where you are going to have a chance to debate with atheist speakers and atheist thinkers.” Suddenly, apathy is lifted. They want to go on the trip to Berkeley because it sounds exciting. So, they will go, but I have never returned with an apathetic student. Putting them in that hot seat is what ignited their passion to do it again. I also have never done a trip like that where it did not grow every year. If you went the first year, you wanted to go every year. So, I would have more and more students that I would be taking over the course of four or five years. Those kinds of trips put the rubber to the road, and that is where we see apathy go away.

Listen to full conversation here.

Books by J. Warner Wallace:

God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe

Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith

Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels


Looking for a Million $1 Apologists

Hank Hanegraaff: The author of Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith joins me now on the broadcast. Welcome, Jim.

J. Warner Wallace: Thank you so much for having me, Hank. You know what a big fan I am I am; proud to be a part of your show.

Hank: It’s great to have you on the show. Look, a couple of things. First of all, you are a homicide detective.

Jim: That’s right. That’s how I really started out examining the claims of Christianity. I wasn’t a Christian until I was about thirty-five, and back in those days, I didn’t even know there was a field of study called apologetics. I was just presented with the person of Jesus, and I thought, well, I need to know, Do the gospels tell me something I can trust? And I just applied the skillset that I had for testing eyewitnesses. I’m usually working in cases that are old, which haven’t been solved. I worked cold cases, so that skillset actually came in handy. That’s the only technique I had available to me, that’s the only thing I knew in my professional work. So that’s the approach I took. It was very much an investigative approach from the top down.

Hank: Again, you are a homicide detective, making the case for a more reasonable, evidential Christian faith. Now, this is the third in a trilogy of books, and I think it is reasonable to explain to our listening audience why this trilogy (what each one of the books) really teaches us in sort of a sequential fashion in which we build precept upon precept.

Jim: That’s a great point. For me, I started off backwards. I was interested in Jesus because I came to the church. I had never sat in a church before, and I attended this evangelical church. I sit in this church and the pastor pitches Jesus as a smart ancient sage. Off I go now; I bought a Bible. I’m studying the gospels to see if I can trust anything they had to say about Jesus. As I’m studying through those, I got to a point where I felt like they are passing the test in any number of ways that I would typically examine and test any eyewitness account. But they contained these supernatural miraculous events, and that was, for me, a deal killer because I was a very committed philosophical naturalist. As an atheist, I had no Christians or believers in my family. Some might have believed in God, but they certainly weren’t Christians. I needed to know was the existence of God even reasonable. So, I have two books. Cold Case Christianity is about my investigation into the gospels, and God’s Crime Scene is about my investigation into the existence of God in general.

But, I’ve noticed, Hank (you might notice, too; you speak around the country as much as anybody), I find myself at locations where people have asked me to come in and make the case either for Christianity, for the reliability of the Bible, for the existence of God, any number of things, and I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. Typically, I’m just going to be honest with you, I get asked in sometimes by a member of the church who has some say with the pastor, has some influence (the pastor sometimes isn’t even sure he wants me there, to be honest). The idea of coming in and making a case evidentially for some of these things seems foreign in many places. For me, I found myself having to take a first step to be able to make the case for why we should be making the case before I can ever make the case for Christianity or for God’s existence. This third book does just that. This is a case for why all of us have this duty to be able to make a case for what we believe the reason for the hope we have in Jesus. That’s what this book Forensic Faith is about. It is about rethinking the way you may have been thinking about faith, and in a way that I think is much more biblically consistent. By nature of its evidential approach, I start to call it forensic, and that’s why we call this Forensic Faith.

Hank: The case for making the case. Maybe I’m getting ahead of our schedule here, but I like the fact that you want all of us to be sheepdogs. Somewhere in your book, I read that you’re not looking for the next million-dollar apologist; you’re looking for a million one-dollar apologists. Explain all that.

Jim: When I first started talking about it years ago, when I wrote my first book, my publishing agent said, “You know what, Jim, you can’t say that, because if you say that, you’re going to be offending people who we might consider to be million dollar apologists.” I said, OK, I get it. So, I never wrote about it until this third book.

What I’m trying to say here is not that — no one doing apologetics is making a million dollars — but the idea here is that at church, we have a sense of value for the people we trust, we go to. Hank, you were that guy for me when I was becoming a Christian, and I needed some reasonable evidential approach to what Christianity taught — the claims of Christianity. I would listen to the radio every day in Los Angeles at 3:00 pm. I can tell you that I would consider you at the time a million-dollar apologist because the value you had in my life was huge, and there is probably for everyone listening here a similar story.

What I’m trying to say is this: if the goal is that we are going to become case makers and defend Christianity and someday have a radio show, well then no one is going to start. What we need instead are people who see their everyday walk as Christians as an exercise in making the case for what they believe. Instead of one million-dollar apologist, we need a million one-dollar apologists. We all have to take on this responsibility. Young people, for example, are far more likely to want to hear the case for Christianity from their parents, especially in their younger years, junior high and high school. We, as parents, have to be the best apologists that our kids know. That is going to require us to know just enough, doesn’t mean everything, but know enough to get started when people ask tough questions.

Hank: Back to the idea of sheepdogs. What do you got in mind there?

Jim: In every sheep yard, you’ve got sheep and you’ve got wolves. I think cops, me especially, I know most of us who work this job in law enforcement, we kind of see the world as divided between sheep and wolves. Our job is to protect the sheep from the wolves. In Christianity, you know I didn’t realize this until I became a Christian, but Jesus referred to believers as sheep. We are like sheep. To me, as a cop, that was never a compliment; that was a pejorative. The sheep don’t even know they’re often under attack. But, there’s a third animal in the yard. Those were sheepdogs. Sheepdogs are there to protect the sheep from the wolves. So, every sheepdog ministry across America today is either a military ministry or a first responder law-enforcement ministry, those folks who see themselves as the guardians — the sheepdogs. What I always say is if the yard was full of sheepdogs, we wouldn’t have a wolf problem. We have a wolf problem because we don’t have enough sheepdogs doing the sheepdog job. Of course, all of us who are sheep have that option of studying and become a sheepdog. It’s up to us, and if we did that, we wouldn’t have the wolf problem I think we’re seeing in the culture right now.

This blog adapted from the May 10, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.