When the police are unable to solve a murder, they’ll put it in their cold-case files, hoping a specially trained investigator will put all the pieces of evidence together—some of it old and moldy—and still get a conviction.
This kind of meticulous, ingenious sleuthing can make for great television, and great Christian apologetics. That’s why I want to tell you about the new book “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels.” It’s written by my friend J. Warner Wallace, an L.A. homicide detective of more than 25 years. Jim, a former atheist, takes ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies them to examine the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus.
“Wait a minute!” you might say, “Do we really need yet another book attempting to show the reliability of the Gospels or the plausibility of the Christian faith?” Well, I was skeptical too, and I thought it might be too gimmicky. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The clarity and intellectual integrity J. Warner Wallace brings to this book is matched by its creativity and winsomeness. If you don’t believe me, Jim joined me this week on BreakPoint this Week to talk about his story and the book. I hope you’ll listen on radio, or come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary. And we’ll link to it there.
In the book, Jim tells the story of a man named Ron who was suspected of murdering a woman with a baseball bat. The police have a cumulative mountain of circumstantial, indirect evidence: a dented baseball bat cleaned with bleach that Ron had in his apartment, a 1972 Karmann Ghia automobile that was similar to one reported near the crime scene, Ron’s access by key to the victim’s home, and many other data points. Was it possible that these things were all coincidence and Ron had nothing to do with the crime? Yes, anything is possible. But is it reasonable? No, a jury didn’t think so, and Ron was convicted.
In the same way, Wallace shows the following circumstantial evidence points to the existence of God: (1) the universe had a beginning; (2) the apparent design of the universe; (3) a universe with advanced life forms; and (4) a moral universe. All these pieces of circumstantial evidence, especially when put all together point to a Creator. As Wallace notes, “the evidence . . . is compelling enough to reasonably conclude that God exists.”
Here are some fascinating principles from Wallace’s work as a homicide detective: One: “Don’t be a know-it-all.” In other words, every investigation requires an open mind, willing to go where evidence leads. Two: “Learn how to infer,” or reach conclusions based on the evidence. Three: “Test your witnesses.” Wallace shows us, for example, how he evaluates seemingly conflicting eyewitness testimony to get at the truth and how the New Testament eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection stack up under similar scrutiny.
But here’s where worldview becomes critical to your investigation of Christ’s life. As Wallace notes, you can’t find out who Jesus is if you a priori discard his claim to be the Son of God. “I was thirty-five,” Wallace says, “before I recognized how unreasonable it was for me to reject the possibility of anything supernatural before I even began to investigate the supernatural claims of Christianity.”
And as he says in our interview, piecing together the evidence isn’t enough. Intellectual assent needs to be followed by willful submission to Jesus Christ, and arguments alone don’t do that. God’s grace does.
“Cold-Case Christianity” is a great book to help people—especially teenagers—examine the evidence for Christianity. Come to BreakPoint.org to get a copy, and to find the link for my BreakPoint this Week interview with J. Warner Wallace.
Further Reading and Information
Cold-Case Christianity: Why Evidence Matters but is Not Enough - Next Steps
As John mentions, Wallace's book "Cold-Case Christianity" approaches the faith from a different perspective. It would make a great gift, especially for those who are seriously examining Christianity, teenagers included. We've got it for you at our online bookstore.
And listen to John's BreakPoint This Week interview with Warner Wallace. It's a stimulating discussion of how a homicide detective investigates the claims of the Gospels.