Book Review - “Cold Case Christianity”
My parishioners are responding to (and hungry for) good apologetics. Some of them are searching for good resources to share. One couple gave me a copy of J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity, and I highly recommend it to you, oh worthy Stand Firm reader.
Wallace is a retired dectective turned pastor and apologist, a former atheist who came to faith in Christ. He describes the method that led him to believe in the the Good News of the Bible and become a witness to it,
There are many similarities between investigating cold cases and investigating the claims of Christianity. Cold-case homicides are events from the distant past for which there is often little or no forensic evidence. These kinds of cases are sometimes solved on the basis of eyewitness testimony, even though many years have passed between the point of the crime and the point of the investigation. While there may not be any surviving eyewitnesses to the actual murder, there are often witnesses available who can help puzzle together the events leading up to the crime or the behavior of a suspect following the crime. These witnesses can be evaluated in a number of ways to confirm their reliability. In the end, a strong “circumstantial” case can usually be made by collecting witness statements and verifying these observations with what little forensic evidence is available. By taking this approach, I have arrested and successfully prosecuted a number of cold-case suspects who thought they had gotten away with murder.
Christianity makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which there is little or no forensic evidence. Like cold cases, the truth about what happened can be discovered by examining the statements of eyewitnesses and comparing them with what little additional evidence is accessible to us. If the eyewitnesses can be evaluated (and their statements can be verified by what we have available), an equally strong circumstantial case can be made for the claims of the New Testament. But are there any reliable eyewitness statements in existence to corroborate in the first place? This became the most important question I had to answer in my personal investigation of Christianity. Were the gospel narratives eyewitness accounts, or were they only moralistic mythologies? Were the Gospels reliable, or were they filled with untrustworthy, supernatural absurdities? The most important questions I could ask about Christianity just so happened to fall within my area of expertise. (pp. 17-18)
The book proceeds in two parts. The first lays out ten principles for thinking like a detective, the second applies them to the New Testament. Section One establishes Wallace’s hermeneutics, and Section Two applies them to the Christian Scriptures, in particular the Gospels.
I found Section One quite interesting, both for the cop case stories and for the thinking process that develops. Chapter 7, Resist Conspiracy Theories, made me grit my teeth about so much of the Biblical “teaching” I’d received in seminary;
Maybe it was just my skeptical nature or my prior experience with people on the job. I understand the capacity people have to lie when it serves their purpose. In my view, the apostles were no different. In an effort to promote their cause and strengthen their own position within their religious community, I believed these twelve men concocted, executed and maintained the most elaborate and influential conspiracy of all time. But as I learned more about the nature of conspiracies and had the opportunity to investigate and break several conspiracy cases, I started to doubt the reasonable nature of the alleged “Christian conspiracy.” (pp. 112-113)
How many New Testament passages do we effectively impeach as mere “conspiracy”? After all, the seminaries teach, this verse was added by the early church to make Jews look bad; this one was added to hide the role of women as church leaders; this one to make Jesus more like the existing pagan myths, etc. etc. Wallace doesn’t say this (he’s actually quite sober and even handed in exploring Biblical scholarship claims) but I will: much of what passes for Bible scholarship in the mainline seminaries is no better than groups who claim that the U.S. government blew up the World Trade Center towers, or that George Bush purposely flooded the 9th Ward in New Orleans, or that the 1969 moon landing was all faked in a movie studio.
One of my parishioners found Section One slow going, as he was anxious to dig into the New Testament exploration. So it’s a bit of a coin flip - those who want to get deep into Bible study might find Section One a bit long; those who like hermeneutics or who are fans of CSI/Law & Order/name-your-cop-show will probably like it.
Section Two applies the investigative concepts to the New Testament, and it is quite good. Wallace takes atheists and liberal scholars seriously, and without polemic shows that arguments for the reliability of the New Testament witness are more reasonable than the arguments used to discredit the Scriptures. He’s something of a Thomist, accurately quoting and giving evidence for the skeptics’ positions, then showing the better evidence for Christian truth claims.
Chapter 10 gets into the tactics that defense attorneys use to invalidate a case, and shows how these are similar to what “new atheists” and others (he even quotes Bill Maher) do to shut down discussion of the Bible as a reliable witness to the truth. It gave me several “Well, duh!” moments as Wallace put into words stuff that I’d been intuiting,
DEFENSE ATTORNEYS WANT PERFECTION…
...While expectations of perfection may assist defense attorneys as they attack the prosecution’s case and skeptics as they attack the claims of Christianity, these kinds of expectations are unreasonable. I’ve never seen a “perfect” investigation, and I’ve certainly never conducted one. All inquiries and examinations of the truth (including historical investigations) have their unique deficiencies… Juries cannot assume there is a better explanation (other than the one offered by the prosecution) simply because there were imperfections in the case; reasonable doubts must be established with evidence… skeptics also need to defend their doubt evidentially. (p. 148)
The book is a clearly written and remarkably jargon free, given some of the weighty Biblical discussions it takes on. I would have no hesitation about handing it to a lay person.
Another plus is that Wallace never gives away what branch or form of Christianity he calls home. Some of his vocabulary indicates Protestantism, but he sticks to his case for the reliability of the Bible rather than branching into any one tradition’s interpretation and practice. His content conclusions tend to be Creedal or confessional truths in which the vast majority of Christians share.
Cold Case Christianity would be a good resource for group study or a parish series. It gives reasoned and reasonable arguments to trust our Scriptures, and in particular to believe in Jesus who they reveal. The book can fortify the faithful with good responses to the flippant assertions of skeptics they’ll be hearing. And it can be a great encouragement and comfort to disciples enduring denominations, clergy and other “church” voices that have essentially surrendered to skepticism.
Wallace also blogs on apologetics at PleaseConvinceMe.com.
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