Cold-Case Christianity

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Cold-Case ChristianityBook Review

Is it too late for Christmas book shopping? I can’t link to it now as I write this—our Internet is down due to nasty Ohio weather—but I’m sure you don’t need my guidance to find J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (Link updated in a later post revision.)

The book is one of the most readable arguments for the faith I have ever encountered. Part of its intrigue is in the way Wallace lets us in on a life most of us have watched eagerly on TV, but which he has lived; for he is indeed a veteran cold-case detective with the Los Angeles Police Department (though I’ve heard rumors of a career move coming soon).

Wallace’s credentials for this book are impeccable in at least one sense, for as far as evidence goes, the case for Christianity is distinctly cold. The thing is, old, cold cases get solved. It happened with the murder of my cousin, fifteen years after the event, and as Warner relates, he has seen it happen multiple times as well. It’s not all about scientific evidence. In fact, Warner’s own track record with DNA evidence is almost nil. He’s seen it being useful as evidence in other detectives’ cases, but (as I recall) it only figured in one of his convictions.

Evidence did not begin with crime labs, in other words. There is testimony, for instance. We’ve had debates in the past here on this blog over the value of eyewitnesses, with one skeptic claiming their testimony is never really reliable. Wallace goes into that question at length, explaining how and in what circumstances eyewitnesses can be of great value to an investigator. His discussion of interlocking testimony alone is worth the price of the book, where he shares the value of witnesses not saying the same thing about a crime. The implications for the Gospels are obvious.

He even provides real-life perspective on the Fourth Gospel, the one that is so different from the first three, the one that was written last. In his experience, if a certain witness has heard others give their reports, that witness is unlikely to say what they said. He or she will fill in with additional, new information instead.

And then there’s his very relevant, informative discussion on circumstantial evidence, which I was surprised to learn has much more value than I had thought, not only for police work but even in the courts.

Wallace says he kept a leather bag by his bed to take to crime scenes, and he offers a metaphorical investigational tool kit for readers. His book would be a great first item to include in yours.

(This review should post automatically when our Internet service returns. I might find time to add my usual links and book cover photo tomorrow.)

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10 Responses to “ Cold-Case Christianity ”

  1. So, how does all this talk about eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence apply to Joseph Smith or Muhammad? As far as I can tell, there are religions with a much better (but still pretty bad) case than Christianity.

  2. Note to other commenters: What Phil has just done here has been classic baiting behavior. I’m confident he’d like to see us jump all over ourselves showing how the case for Christianity is better than the case for Islam or Mormonism. I suggest you not play his game.

    Phil, if you have a point to make feel free to make it by telling us what you find to be evidentially superior about Islam or Mormonism. Otherwise I’m going to regard this as nothing more than an annoying smoke bomb thrown in to obscure genuine discussion; because so far what you’ve said is almost precisely zero.

  3. By the way, what’s the problem with showing Christianity has a better case than these other religions? Nothing, on one level. In fact it’s almost trivially easy to answer Phil’s question. If I thought he had a real intellectual interest in these comparisons, I’d spend all day on them.

    I just don’t think that’s Phil’s real interest, that’s all.

  4. Well stated, Tom. Too often those who object to Christianity won’t honestly examine the evidence but throw out disingenuous comments that are never meant to be discussed honestly and intellectually. Your review of Jim’s book was well written and your reply to those who disagree (and who have that right) was also nicely stated.

  5. Skeptics who are…uh…skeptical about the rationality of Christianity and the power of circumstantial evidence may be interested in this lecture by the author himself. I really enjoyed it. Put yourself in the shoes of cold-case detective.

    And here is a link to several blog posts by the author on subjects such as:

    – Why We Should Expect Witnesses to Disagree

    – If “Faith” Involves Making An Inference From Evidence, Why Do We Call It “Faith”?

  6. I bought the Kindle edition and just finished reading it. I must say that the author did his research very thoroughly. A must-read for all Christians who are interested in how Christian Theism is the inference to the best explanation, that is, our faith is based on very reasonable evidentiary grounds

  7. One chapter I found to be particularly fascinating was Chapter 13, where Wallace describes the chain of custody of the written gospels and letters (copies, of course) from the latter decades of the 1st century up until c350AD (Codex Sinaiticus- one of the oldest complete NT collections), following the threads (from the writings of the Church Fathers) from apostles to their students, to the next generation, etc. Historians have the writings of these subsequent generations, which quote or alluded to substantially all of the text of what we call the New Testament, with little variation.
    Skeptics and negative critics would have us believe that between the close of the Apostolic period and the earliest complete manuscripts some 300 years later that we don’t know what happened to the transmission of the documents; but Wallace ties together the threads of evidence to show that this is most certainly not the case. I’m reading another book called “Living Threads – the unbroken connections of God’s people throughout the ages”, by Rod Thomson, which follows the same threads.