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Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels Paperback – January 1, 2013
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"Cold-Case Christianity is a fantastic book. I wish I had this resource when I first examined the Christian faith. It would have answered many of my questions and helped set me on the track to truth." (Josh McDowell, Speaker and author of Evidence that Demands A Verdict)
"Cold Case Christianity is simply the most clever and compelling defense I've ever read for the reliability of the New Testament record. Case closed." (Gregory Koukl, President Stand to Reason, Speaker and author of Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions)
"It's a fascinating process, with Jim drawing on his quarter century of police experience to explain how and why the evidence of history decisively tips the scales in favor of Christianity." (Lee Strobel, Author of The Case for Christ and The Case For Faith)
"The moment I heard of J. Warner Wallace's idea for a book, I thought it was one of the freshest ideas I'd heard in a long time. And now seeing the book in hand, he totally delivers." (Craig J. Hazen, Founder and Director of the Christian Apologetics Program, Biola University, author of the novel Five Sacred Crossings)
From the Author
I wrote Cold-Case Christianity because the historic truth claims of Christianity are under attack from every direction. If ever there was a time to study the case for the eyewitness reliability of the gospels, the time is now:
- Anti-Christian Books Are Increasingly Influential: Books like Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Sam Harris' Letter To A Christian Nation, and Bart Ehrman's Forged: Writing in the Name of God - Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are have influenced millions of readers and challenged the essential truth claims of the gospel accounts.
- Fewer People Identify Themselves As Christians: The number of people who identify themselves as Christians in America, for example, has decreased by over 10% in the past 20 years (American Religious Identification Survey 1990-2008)
- Young People Are Leaving the Church in Record Numbers: As many as 70% of those who identify themselves as Christians entering college will walk away from their faith by the time they are seniors and only about a third of these young people will ever return to the Church (LifeWay Research Study 2007)
- Intellectual Skepticism Is a Growing Problem: When young ex-Christians are asked about their reasons for leaving, the largest percentage identify intellectual skepticism or doubt as the culprit (Smith and Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, 2005)
- The Claims of the Gospels Are Under Attack: When surveyed, young members of the church are less and less convinced that the gospel accounts are reliable. 63% don't believe that Jesus is the Son of the one true God. 51% don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead (Josh McDowell, The Last Christian Generation, 2006)
- Events that occurred in the distant past
- For which there are typically no living eyewitnesses
- And little or no direct physical evidence
- The gospels record events that occurred in the distant past
- For which there are no living eyewitnesses
- And no direct physical evidence
I want to teach you how to be a good detective. Cold-Case Christianity will:
- Provide you with ten principles of cold-case investigations and equip you to use these concepts as you consider the claims of the New Testament gospel authors. These simple principles will give you new insight into the historic evidence for Christianity.
- Provide you with a four step template to evaluate the claims of the gospel writers. Cold-Case Christianity will teach you how to evaluate eyewitnesses to determine if they are reliable. You'll then be able to employ this template as you examine the claims of the gospel eyewitnesses.
- Provide you with the confidence and encouragement necessary to make an impact on your world. As your evidential certainty grows, so too will your desire to share the truth with others. Cold-Case Christianity will equip you to reach others with the truth.
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I also read many of the negative reviews of this book to see what questions remained unanswered out there and other proofs to the contrary. I can't compete with the academic scholars who have spent years studying and researching ancient writings and histories so I can't refute the facts and arguments they bring up, but I did notice a recurrent theme. Many of the people who dispute the authenticity of the gospels are essentially putting them under a microscope and picking out flaws to support their theories. Mr. Wallace, on the other hand, has taken a step back and looked at all the evidence as a body and drawn his conclusion from that. When considered individually, the gospels may have holes, irregularities and unanswered questions, but when taken as a whole with support from the rest of the letters in the New Testament and other historic factors, they form a convincing proof of authenticity.
Any facts can be disputed. There are people that are convinced the Apollo landings were faked, the holocaust never occurred, and the earth is flat. I'm sure people will discount the bible forever. This book took evidence available to us and arranged it in a way that an average person could understand and come to a logical conclusion. Thank you, Mr. Wallace for helping me see the big picture.
All that being said, when I started reading "Cold Case Christianity" by J. Warner Wallace, I already had an idea what to expect: Card-carrying evidentialist apologetics, mainly philosophical defense of Christianity, plenty of party-line towing with regards to the evidentialist apologists (i.e. Craig, Licona, Geisler, Habermas, Strobel, McDowell, Koukl, etc.), and a bit of theological inconsistency. I was not disappointed on that front; the book was what I expected.
There was also a lot that I didn't expect, and that is why this book has climbed high on my ladder of apologetics texts. I'll throw down the Pros and Cons of the book:
1. The book is wonderfully written and organized. J. Warner Wallace has done an excellent job writing with both clarity and accessibility, presenting his points with little technical jargon and explaining what jargon he uses (more than once too!). The chapters logically flow and the entire book is written with a layman in mind.
2. The book is wonderfully engaging. Being a homicide detective, Wallace has a body of experience that is both foreign and intriguing to your average reader, and he utilizes parallels and descriptions from his police experience very effectively. Also, the book has pictures and a bit of variety in the page layout; these thoughtful insertions keep the chapters from becoming stale and visually repetitive.
3. The book has a very broad scope and serves as a great introduction to a wide variety of apologetic issues (i.e. the resurrection, the arguments for the existence of God, textual criticism, the problem of evil, etc.) without bogging the reader down in details and nuanced argument.
4. Wallace generally presents the counter-arguments to his points well. His responses are clear and concise, and one gets the feeling from reading Wallace that he has had a lot of practical conversations with people regarding the issues under discussion.
5. Wallace usually gives good explanations of the concepts he discusses, like philosophical naturalism (page 25), abductive reasoning (page 33), reasonable doubt (age 131), etc. He's neither wordy nor vague, and he knows how to illustrate a concept effectively.
6. Pages 55-60 contain a great, helpful discussion on the validity and usefulness of circumstantial evidence and its value when compared with direct evidence. This is definitely a place where his experience in the courtroom comes forward and assists him greatly, and this is one subject that many a Christian needs to brush up on for practical purposes.
7. Pages 69-85 contain a very insightful and helpful treatment of eyewitness testimony, as well as excellent interaction with common accusations related to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.
8. Pages 109-117 contain a fantastic treatment of conspiracy theories, exploring and explaining the practical difficulties for concocting and upholding a lasting conspiracy involving multiple parties. Again, he draws examples from his police experience that prove to be excellent illustrations of his points.
9. Page 131 has a very insightful unpacking of the standard of proof and reasonable doubt vs. possible doubt. Again, Wallace's legal understandings and courtroom experience provide helpful illustrations here.
10. Pages 135-136 give 2 good responses to the problem of evil: Wallace points to the presuppositional philosophical inconsistencies of the problem of evil (if objective evil exists for the problem to have substance in the first place, there must be a universal standard of "good" by which evil is judged), and also gives what I call the "Ten Trillion Year" response (God is eternal and judges good and evil from his eternal perspective; i.e. ten trillion years from now, the ten thousand years of evil that mankind endured will be considered inconsequential to the 9.9999999 trillion years of comprehensive and continuous good of paradise earth).
11. Wallace has incorporated a wide variety of information, including some rather recent stuff from the academic world. One example of this was how on page 192 he included the recent work of Tal Ilan on the frequency and distribution of names in the New Testament world to show how the writers of the Bible were from the geographic location that they claimed. I was also really pleased to see Wallace reference Edwin Yamauchi (page 209) and give a brief discussion of the actual problematic nature of archeological evidence; how most items from history don't actually survive as evidence and our picture of the past, as based on archeological artifacts, is actually amazingly incomplete and inaccurate.
12. On the whole, chapter 12 was excellent, exploring the internal and external corroboration of the Gospels. For the Christian who has recently discovered the popular (and mostly irresponsible) manifestations of doubt regarding the reliability of the New Testament (i.e. Richard Carrier, the movie "Zeitgeist", the skeptics annotated Bible, etc.), this chapter would be a welcome encouragement.
13. I did appreciate his call for Christians to be case-makers, especially with his cooking analogy on page 260-261. I thought it was a great way of presenting the difference between the biblical office of Evangelist and the Christian who responds to the great commission.
14. His list of books for further reading was great; 2 or 3 books per topic and not too overwhelming, though I did think that some of his books might be significantly above the reading level of someone who might find "Cold Case Christianity" a bit challenging. Going from a 5 page discussion of textual criticism to reading Metzger, Wallace and Comfort is a leap that will likely leave a lot people on their faces. Then again, I'm not really aware of a layman's introduction to textual criticism outside of James White's "The King James Only Controversy", so there possibly is a book that needs to be written there. I'll get right on that.
Before I address the cons, I must say that most of the things I didn't like about the book were admittedly minor in nature. Only the last 2 con points (points 5 & 6) were ones that I would consider relatively significant.
1. On page 41 Wallace presents the Habermas/Licona "minimal facts" argument for the resurrection. I understand that the "minimal facts" argument for the resurrection is convincing to Christians, but it's actually a really weak argument for most people to use outside of a New Testament studies class in a seminary. Arguing that "a majority of scholars agree on these four facts" basically assumes that most people on the street care what a majority of "scholars" say. Let's face it; your average atheist/skeptic electrician who's spent a hundred hours on the internet reading about New Testament history (and watching YouTube) thinks he knows as much as most "scholars" and has absolutely no problem dismissing academic consensus in favor of an idiotic theory on some website ("Zeitgeist" anyone?). Beyond that, the first point (Jesus died on the cross and was buried) is actually denied by significant academic skeptics who hold that Jesus did die but was simply tossed in a mass grave (i.e. Marcus Borg and Bart Ehrman are vocal about this). Far more significant than this is the fact that the first point is denied as an unassailable tenet of faith by every Muslim on the planet. Living in a city where 1/3 of the population has immigrated from the Middle East or South Asia, I've long stopped using this argument.
2. I was sad that on page 66 Wallace includes the transcendental argument for the existence of God in his list of arguments, but doesn't present it to his readers. Not a big deal, but as a presuppositionalist, I felt robbed. Boo hoo for me.
3. On page 136 he gives the "love" defense to the practical problem of evil: A world with love is better than a world without love, love requires freedom and in that freedom many choose not to love. I know that idea gets a fair amount of traction in various apologetics circles, but there are at least 2 fatal problems with the "love" defense:
3a. It's simply contrary to the consistent and explicit teaching of the scriptures with regards to why evil exists (namely that God has decreed that evil occur for his own good purposes i.e. Genesis 50:1-21). I don't find apologists offering an exegetical defense of this idea; it's a rather shallow and sentimental response to a serious problem that portrays the God of the Universe like a teenage girl (poor little guy just wants to be loved).
3b. Why is a world with love better than a world without love? That whole idea is simply assumed, and I've found that many an atheist/skeptic sees the flaw in this argument instinctively: if a world with love has a world where a majority of people don't experience that love but rather experience war, disease, abuse, suffering, etc., that doesn't actually seem better for most people than alternatives (i.e. not existing at all, being a mentally deficient creature that experiences comfort but not love, etc.).
4. Wallace writes like many popular apologists and seems to think that the biggest threat to Christianity is aggressive atheism; he repeatedly interacts with both the popular skeptics (Dawkins, Harris, etc.) and the academic atheists (Bart Ehrman), and I think I know why. Everyone who is in apologetics circles for any amount of time hears the scary numbers: 80% (or more) of kids that grow up in church leave the church when they get to college and most apologists (including Wallace) think that the reason is a lack of apologetic instruction. Those 80% of kids want to believe but their nasty philosophy or religious studies professors overwhelm them with arguments against Christianity and those kids, being unprepared, abandon the faith.
I would suggest that this whole paradigm is mistaken and this leads me to my 2 serious points of disagreement with Wallace in the book:
5. Wallace seems to argue that the reason people disbelieve the scriptures is because of philosophical naturalism. He comments on this on pages 25-26, and he points to this idea throughout the book (like on page 208 where he suggests that skeptics disbelieve the Bible because of the presumption [without evidence] that the account is false unless corroborated, and this doubt stems from philosophical naturalism.) I would suggest that the Bible is clear that the philosophical naturalism (and every other articulate expression of doubt) is the fruit of unbelief, and unbelief is the natural state of a sinful heart.
One place where this is explicitly taught in the scriptures is in the story of John 9-10, where Jesus heals the man born blind and the Pharisees refuse to believe, though the man stands before them with his eyes being healed. The disbelief of the Pharisees is confusing to Jesus' disciples (and the man born blind), and the whole scenario boils over in John 10:22-27, which reads:
"At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."
The whole point there was that the unbelief had nothing to do with the presence of evidence, for the evidence was both public and irrefutable (the man born blind could see). Nowhere in John 9 or 10 does anyone challenge the obvious nature of the evidence; the problem was only with the interpretation of the evidence. The Jews did not interpret the evidence correctly (i.e. they manifested philosophical naturalism that refused the possibility of the miracle proving Christ's claims) because they were not among Christ's sheep (i.e. they still had sinful, unbelieving hearts).
Now this may seem like splitting hairs, but abandoning philosophical naturalism for supernaturalism is not synonymous with becoming a believer in the person and work of Christ. As a Christian apologist, I don't want people to abandon philosophical naturalism; I want people to repent of their sin and believe the gospel. This then leads to my final point of disagreement.
6. This also manifests in Wallace's one strange idea; the "2 decision Christian" idea. On pages 253-255, Wallace talks about a criminal named Santiago who got saved at a crusade and then became a bank robber for several years but finally got caught by Wallace. What is shocking is Wallace's interpretation of the events:
" Santiago made a decision to trust Jesus for his salvation, but he never made a decision to examine the life and teaching of Jesus evidentially. Santiago failed to make a second decision to examine what he believed. He was unable to see his faith as anything more than subjective opinion as he struggled to live in a world of objective facts. As a result, his beliefs eventually surrendered to the facts of his situation and the pressures of his addiction. He allowed his friends and family situation to influence him, rather than becoming a source of inspiration and truth for his friends and neighborhood. Santiago was a one-decision Christian, and that decision was unsupported by a reasonable examination of the evidence." (page 255)
Now this is the description of a guy who was a career criminal: "he made a decision to trust Jesus for his salvation" and Wallace says the problem was that " Santiago was a one-decision Christian". I would dare suggest that Wallace disagrees with the apostle John:
" Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." - 1 John 3:4-6
Santiago didn't need to make a second decision to examine what he believed; he wasn't a tier 1 Christian who needed to get to tier 2. It seems fairly clear that Santiago was a guy who, at some time in the past, was made to feel guilty for his sin and was, for whatever reason, lead to believe that if he walked to the front of a building, his life would somehow change and he'd get what he wanted (good marriage, no more addictions, etc.).
Santiago had been deceived and now was living a life that proved it.
Santiago needed to believe the gospel and repent of his sin (for the first time), and I praise the Lord that during his time in prison, it sounds like he did.
- I know that this review has a longer "con" than "pro" section, but I wanted to give a fair and critical review of a book that was deserving of a serious interaction (and I do so out of respect for Wallace as a co-laborer in the gospel and an effort to give helpful feedback, not out of some effort to belittle him). I honestly found "Cold Case Christianity" to be a fantastic general introduction to apologetics. Wallace and I have some serious theological differences, but those differences don't really manifest with an overwhelming majority of the material in the book. In the future, I'll most likely use "Cold Case Christianity" as an textbook in my introductory apologetics courses for senior high and college-aged kids, and the theological differences we have will be easily addressed in a single lecture.
I give Cold Case Christianity 4 solid stars (I'd give it 4.5 if Amazon would allow) and a high recommend.
***Update - Jan 25th***
I recently got the chance to hear J. Warner Wallace speak in my town and got the opportunity to talk with him directly. He basically gave a talk that was a 1.25 hour overview of this book, mostly focusing on the second half of the book (establishing the credibility of the Gospels). Wallace was a wonderful speaker who was thoroughly enjoyable to hear, and I appreciated his presentation immensely.
After the presentation, I got an opportunity to speak with him privately and he asked me if I had read his book. I admitted that I had read it and had already reviewed it, and we got into a quick discussion about some of my issues with the book (as well as discussed some of the harsh responses from certain Calvinists, a category in which Wallace apparently places himself). I mentioned several of my personal questions that I had when I read the book (i.e. whether he gave the book of Revelation a late date...and he admitted that he wasn't informed enough on that issue to have an opinion) and then I basically focused on my serious question; the "two decision Christian" issue.
Much to my delight, Wallace admitted that he needed to rework that portion of the book and acknowledged that it wasn't near as clear as he wished it was. What he apparently meant with the story of Santiago was that:
a. Santiago had made a profession of faith at some time in the past (but was living as if he had not).
b. If Santiago had made a decision to study the life and teaching of Jesus, he would have discovered that he was NOT living in proper correspondence to his profession.
Wallace wasn't talking about some sort of "second blessing" theology at all, and he wasn't suggesting some sort of wild "no Lordship" position on salvation/sanctification. I definitely look forward to and next revision of the book, and I'd now up my review score from 4.5 to 4.75.
I was definitely blessed to be able to get clarification from the horse's mouth (so to speak), and am delighted that Christian Apologetics has a new addition who is both down to earth, more in theological agreement with me than I had previously suspected, and a gentleman to boot.
This class presents practical common-sense approaches used by forensic investigators and attorneys to persuade juries. Anglo-American judicial truth-seeking methods developed over the last thousand years apply perfectly to Biblical events. Presenting these methods with analogies to homicide investigations provides vivid, dramatic, easy-to-remember, examples. Role play to learn how to approach an anguished atheist, a blissful Buddhist, a carping Christian, a dogmatic deist, an undecided unbeliever and more.
We're involved in spiritual warfare. With tactics from J. Warner Wallace and power from the Holy Spirit, we can win battles. Come to Cold-Case Christianity and let's talk about it. Preparing to persuasively explain Christian truth-claims to a hypothetical jury of twelve ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds can be interesting and fun. It is certainly important!
Curious about the claims of Christ. Buy this book!
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