Thursday, February 07, 2013

Book Review: Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace


I don't watch much television; however, for a brief time I attended a local gym and while running on the treadmill, I found myself fascinated with shows such as CSI and Law and Order.  I would sometimes run on the treadmill longer so that I could see how the case played out on the show!  I enjoyed the detectives collecting the evidence, considering all the possible explanations and suspects and then deciding who they thought the guilty party was.

While you may not get in better shape while reading J. Warner Walllace's Cold-Christianity: A Homocide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, you will be exercising your mind and you will learn how thinking like a detective can help you evaluate questions such as, "Does God Exist?," "Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?," and, "Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?  

You see, J. Warner Wallace is a former atheist and a cold-case homicide detective who became a Christian largely because of the abundance of evidence he encountered.  Furthermore, the manner in which the author examines the evidence is utterly unique because he does so through the eyes of a homicide detective.  The same objective, evidence-based approach Wallace uses in his cases, he employs in examining the case for Christianity.

The author explains:

"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." [p.18]

The book is broken down into 2 sections.  Section 1, "Learn to be a Detective," introduces the reader to ten important principles every aspiring detective needs to master.  Section 2, "Examining the Evidence," draws upon these principles of investigation to evaluate the claims of the New Testament (NT). 

Strengths of the Book

From the very beginning of the book and throughout, Wallace's mastery of illustrations is on display.  Using actual stories from cases he has worked [the names changed of course], he uses what he has learned in the field to demonstrate to the reader how to objectively and rationally examine the evidence for God and the NT.  The result is a book that many times reads more like a crime novel than an apologetics work.

This reviewer was also very impressed with Wallace's ability to explain what could be considered difficult topics to some in very plain language that virtually anyone can understand.  As someone who teaches apologetics, I know that many believers are sometimes intimated by the terms used in many of the typical arguments; however, not only does Wallace explain concepts such as abductive reasoning, circumstantial evidence and the nature of truth in easy-to-understand language, he further demonstrates to the reader that they already do this kind of thinking without even realizing it!  The brilliance of this is that the reader realizes that they don't have to learn a completely new way of thinking to evaluate the Christian worldview, but just apply what they already know to it's claims.

Also, the book features text boxes, pictures and diagrams throughout that only add weight to the author's sound points and illustrations.

Finally, the book is very applicable to one's personal witness.  As I worked my way through it, I found myself imagining how I could easily apply the concepts learned to sermons and conversation.  Also, when I mentioned to people that I was reading a book written by a cold-case homicide detective who was investigating Christianity, there was immediate interest.

Arguments Dealt with in the Book

As the subtitle suggests, the main portion of the book is geared toward defending the gospels and the NT; however, this reader was also pleased to encounter other arguments in the text presented in what Wallace calls "The Cosmic Circumstantial Case."  This case includes the following:

  • The Cosmological Argument
  • The Teleological Argument
  • Arguments from Specified Complexity
  • The Moral Argument
  • The Minimal Facts Argument for Jesus' Resurrection from the Dead 

Here, the author highlights the important role circumstantial evidence plays when defending one's Christian convictions:

"When defending our belief in the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, or the validity of the Christian worldview, we may need to take some time to explain the nature, role, and power of circumstantial evidence.  It's time well spent, because most of our friends, family members, and coworkers have not given this much thought." [p. 67]

Further, there were moments throughout the book when Wallace calls fellow Christians to action and his words need to be heeded and acted upon:

"While we are often willing to spend time reading the Bible, praying, or participating in church programs and services, few of us recognize the importance of becoming good Christian case makers...we need to master the facts and evidences that support the claims of Christianity and anticipate the tactics of those who oppose us.  This kind of preparation is a form of worship.  When we devote ourselves to this rational preparation and study, we are worshipping God with our mind, the very thing He has called us to do (Matt. 22:37)." [p. 154]

This reader could not agree more.

After learning the chief principles of investigation, Wallace turns the readers attention to the claims of the NT.  This reader was very impressed with the breadth and depth of difficult matters that the author was able to convincingly deal with.  Readers who master Wallace's work will be equipped to:
  • Defend the conviction that the gospels were written fairly early to the events they record
  • Deal with common objections to the gospel accounts
  • Learn how to deal with "late additions" to the NT text
  • Share Non-Christian sources for Jesus
  • Share examples of how archaeology continues to validate the claims of the NT
  • Demonstrate that there are good reasons to believe that the NT was handed down accurately and is trustworthy
  • Demonstrate that the NT Canon was established in the first-century
  • Deal with the objection of bias
Wallace ends the book with a chapter about becoming what he calls a "Two-Decision" Christian.  The author explains:

"When I decided to believe what the gospel writers were telling me, I also decided to become a Christian case maker.  The second decision was just as important as the first."

He continues:

"As it turns out, each of us is already an expert of one kind or another.  We've life experiences we can draw upon for the expertise we'll need to answer the challenges of skeptics, and we can make the conscious decision to become better Christian case makers.  It's time well spent and an important part of our identity as Christians." [p.257]

Who would Benefit from the Book?

It is this reviewer's conviction that both believer and non-believer will benefit from Wallace's work.  The believer will find in Wallace an outstanding teacher who is able to take complex concepts and make them exciting and engaging.  Further, they will be more equipped than ever before to defend the gospels, the New Testament, and the Christian worldview with sound thinking and a respectful approach.

The unbeliever could quite possibly find a like-minded individual in J. Warner Wallace, himself a former atheist and self-proclaimed, "outspoken skeptic."  The author fairly represents the opposition's views, respectfully offers counter arguments and gently challenges the skeptic to reconsider the pre-suppositions they may be hindering their investigation of Christianity.

This book would also be ideal for church small groups or Sunday School classes [I'm hoping Wallace does a DVD companion!].  Even for those who are not accustomed to consuming apologetic material, this book will  be a delight.


Due to it's unique approach, accessibility and depth, I believe Cold-Case Christianity is the best book I have read to date on the reliability of the gospels and the NT.  Wallace effortlessly weaves the evidence for Christianity into exciting narratives from his cold-case investigations and while working through it, the reader not only learns just how reliable the NT is, but they also learn to how to think.  Readers who work through this invaluable resource will look at the gospels and the NT through new eyes and have their confidence in the NT strengthened.

I highly recommend this book!

Courage and Godspeed,


The Other Chad said...

Thanks for the informative review. I definitely look forward to checking out this book in the future.

Eddie Eddings said...

I've had this book on my Kindle wish list for some time. Thanks to your review I'm ordering it today!