A Review of Cold-Case Christianity
I first became aware of J. Warner Wallace via his guest hosting the Stand To Reason radio show. I welcomed the opportunity to review his new book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, for the simple reason that I have not read many introductory apologetic books. For someone studying apologetics and involved in an apologetics ministry, that is a strange admission. Having dipped my toes into the world of college ministry in the past few months, I have been scrambling to develop a list of books I can recommend that introduce apologetics. While I would recommend Cold-Case Christianity to the apologetics neophyte, it also offers insights and suggests books every seasoned apologist should know about. I could recommend it to skeptics, but its audience should include Christians as well.
The book focuses on the Gospels and their claims about the life and work of Jesus. It is divided into two sections. In the first section, over the course of ten chapters, Wallace offers ten principles that “every aspiring detective should master.” With 25 years experience in law enforcement and 15 years working cold-case homicides, he has lived and learned these principles in his professional life. What is surprising at the outset and so obvious after reading the book is how applicable the process of investigation is to testing Christian truth claims. Each chapter demonstrates these principles via an anecdote from a past case. After each principle is clearly explained from the perspective of a criminal investigation, they are applied to an apologetic topic found in the Gospels.
Here are some examples of the ten principles. Not allowing our presuppositions to become “mental roadblocks” to seeing the evidence clearly (chapter 1). Applying the abductive reasoning to crime investigation and the resurrection accounts in the Gospels (chapter 2). Learning how to evaluate the testimony of eyewitnesses (chapter 4). The content of chapter 4 is significant as it foreshadows the second section of the book where the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament (the Gospels) are evaluated.
In the second section, there are four chapters devoted to the following questions about the Gospel authors. Were they present? Do we have reason to believe actual eyewitnesses of Jesus life, death and resurrection wrote the Gospels. This question is answered by evidence for dating when the New Testament was written. Were they corroborated? This chapter looks at internal and external evidence that indicates the Gospels are accurate. Were they accurate? This chapter focuses on demonstrating a “chain of evidence” regarding the teachings of the New Testament from the time of the apostles up to the middle of the 4th century (when the Codex Sinaiticus is dated). Were they biased? This chapter looks at the motives of the apostles. Did they have ulterior motives to lie about the Jesus? As with the other three questions, the evidence clearly supports the reliability of the New Testament.
Part of the book’s teaching style is the extensive use of hand drawn illustrations that reinforce the material and strengthen the comparisons between forensic police work and apologetics. There are, I believe 36 illustrations that were drawn by the author. Whether presenting a sanitized version of a crime scene or demonstrating the “chain of custody” for evidence, I found the illustrations very helpful.
J. Warner Wallace is to be commended on many levels. This book is an accessible and powerful presentation of Christianity. There are many important and sometimes even technical apologetic topics discussed in this book, yet you will be hard pressed to find technical jargon, or complicated arguments. Wallace has created a compelling and informative presentation of the evidence for Christianity and why it should be taken seriously.
The book ends with a postscript. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. I believe it could stand alone as a call for Christians to think and act differently about their faith. Being at the end of such an effective presentation of so much evidence for our faith makes the admonitions all the more powerful. Becoming a Christian entails transitioning from “belief that” Christianity is true to “belief in” Jesus as your savior. Wallace contends that is not enough, everyone needs to make a second decision to become a “case maker” for the Christian faith, to become an apologist. The role of being an apologist is not optional for the Christian. While not everyone is gifted to be an evangelist, pastor or teacher (Ephesians 4:11-13), everyone is commended to become an apologist for their faith (1 Peter 3:8-16). Everyone can and should get involved. It will transform your faith and it will transform the lives of everyone you know.
Ken Mann is a graduate student in Biola’s Science and Religion program. A software engineer by way of vocation, a physicist by way of education, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ, in his words, by necessity, Ken sees the most powerful argument for Christianity as its relevance to every facet of human existence.