About This Blog

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Cold-Case Christianity" (J. Warner Wallace)

TITLE: Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
AUTHOR: J. Warner Wallace
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013, (288 pages).

How do we relate cold hard evidence to the claims of the gospel? Simply put, one learns to be like a detective, to examine the evidence before us, and to make an intelligent and reasoned case for faith.

Reading like a detective novel, Wallace begins with the basic quest to avoid assuming anything. Instead, wear the seeking disposition to move from "belief that" to "believe in." Section 1 the investigation stage, is where Wallace shares his methodology of how to be a good detective. Ten principles are listed and explained, why it is important for every "aspiring detective" (or disciple) to master.

  1. "Don't be a Know-It-All": Beware of presuppositions, and behaving as if one knows it all. There are skeptics who view Christianity with the lens of naturalistic philosophy, interpreting the non-scientific matters with scientific methods. This not only does injustice to the evidence at hand, but leads one along the wrong track to truth. The big challenge is not about us having our own opinions or perspectives. The big challenge is whether we are allowing our own presuppositions to colour our interpretations unfairly.
  2. "Learn how to 'Infer'": Sometimes, we inferred incorrectly especially when we fail to ask the right questions or to distinguish core evidence from the peripheral. In detective work, one makes a distinction between the 'possible' and the 'reasonable.' The former is more speculative while the latter is a critical part of 'abductive reasoning.' Wallace points out that for abductive reasoning, one needs to see truth as feasible, straightforward, exhaustive, logical, and superior. He then applies this to the Resurrection claims of Jesus, analyzing some of the possibilities and then making reasonable conclusions about the reasonableness of these with the evidence at hand. 
  3. "Think 'Circumstantially'": Is a piece of evidence leading us somewhere or nowhere? This is what detectives call 'circumstantial evidence,' where decisions can be derived from. Wallace applies this to test the case of creation vs evolution. Looking at the five cosmological arguments, the teleological, and the moral evidence, he makes the case that Christians do not need to be sidetracked by any statement that says 'only direct evidence needs to be considered.' Evidence is evidence, whether direct or indirect. 
  4. "Test Your Witnesses": The credibility of eye-witnesses is extremely critical. They can make or break the case. That is why grounds must be established to find out where the witnesses were at that time, their honesty and accuracy, their motives, and their circumstances. He applies these to the gospel writers and the Bible.
  5. "Hang on to Every Word": Sometimes the words of certain 'innocent' people can give them away. This calls for the art of forensic investigation, something we often see on TV CSI. He applies these to how Mark points to the character of Peter, and their evidence matches each other's personality and trait. 
  6. "Separate Artifacts from Evidence": What happens when there is too much data? It causes indigestion and inability to focus on the critical pieces. Wallace pits the evidence that seems to cast doubts on the credibility of parts of the gospel story, like that of the adulterous woman, or certain textual inconsistencies in the Bible. While it is true that there are some late additions to the textual evidence, the fact is that every crime scene has their share of 'artifacts' that lends nothing to change the original story. It could have been a late discovery of something that is totally unrelated to the story. When there is a contradiction, does it absolutely deny the truth or is it simply a passing piece of unrelated matter? Just like a murder scene on the road that happened a few hours ago, and a picture was snapped hours later of a pedestrian totally oblivious to the crime. Two cases of totally unrelated matters. There are reasons why certain texts are of later edition. 
  7. "Resist Conspiracy Theories": There are many popular conspiracy theories out there. The trouble is, many of them are pure speculation. In fact, many of them are difficult to pull off. Wallace provides five 'rules' on how to determine the truth behind such theories. He makes a case to dispel conspiracy theories that claim that the first Apostles fabricated the gospel story. 
  8. "Respect the 'Chain of Custody'": Just evidence alone is not enough. One needs to establish the 'chain of custody' in which the evidence has been placed. From first-hand retrieval to eventual submission to the court-room, care must be taken to ensure that the evidence is not tampered with, especially in a way that will hide the truth from being revealed. Wallace then connects this concept with how the evidence surrounding the life of Jesus is relayed through history.
  9. "Know when 'Enough is Enough'": In our world of excessive information, sometimes we do not know how much is enough. Where's the tipping point? In the light of overwhelming evidence, it is tempting to say 'we need more proof.' The truth is that while we can never get 100% of every single piece of information, that does not mean we can never determine the truth without all of them. It is not possible for anyone to get all the perfect information at one go. This also means that certain puzzles like the problem of evil can never be fully understood before one can believe in God. 
  10. "Prepare for an Attack": Even in the presence of 'overwhelming evidence,' there is always a chance for a counter-argument or an attack by the opposite party. As a prosecuting officer, the author has acknowledged that much can be learned from defense attourneys, in the sense that they make us sit up and do our homework to make sure our case is as watertight as possible. In other words, they push us to excellence. Yet, it is important to note the way they work, especially when they target the micro instead of the macro picture, how they attack the messenger, and how they can use idea of possibilities to discredit our case. Most dangerously, they often connect with the modern culture to justify their case. This is what skeptics and secularists have adopted to overturn the evidence for theism.

Though Part One has tackled a number of critical issues for defending the Christian faith, Part Two goes deeper to examine the evidence for faith. Wallace applies the evidence to five categories when he contends for the truth of the New Testament. Firstly, the gospel writers are credible eye-witnesses. Using the tests earlier, he debunks some of the common attacks by liberal scholars that the gospels being written late, that they are non reliable, or the anonymity of the gospel writers, or the plausibility of the miracles in the Bible.  Secondly, what the Bible says about itself is corroborated by external and internal evidence. Language, location, names of people used, as well as nonbiblical eyewitnesses authenticate the evidence set forth. He goes on to address some of the popular misconceptions that have dissuaded people from accepting the truth of the gospel. Thirdly, Wallace applies the test of accuracy, to the timing and reliability of the biblical texts.  With overwhelming evidence of how the traditions and the teachings are passed down from important and influential people through the centuries, coupled with the meticulous preservation by scribes, the texts are preserved in the best traditions of consistency and accuracy. The thousands of copies of the ancient documents actually help scholars to sieve through the material with greater conviction that the truth is clear. For example, any deviation from the original becomes very 'obvious' after one cross-references the available evidence based on where the evidence is obtained. With abductive reasoning, one is able to distinguish circumstantial evidence from mere facts. Fourthly, there is the question of motive. In a world where many are driven by greed, fame, power, and fortune, the Apostles and early Church have everything to lose in promoting the cause of Christ. Finally, when we view the evidence before us with reasonable doubt, we are persuaded that they are in fact reasonable faith. This calls for a dual decision. A believe that the evidence is truthful leads one to the next step: to believe in the gospel. With the reliability of the gospel witnesses, the verified evidence, accuracy of the texts, timeliness, and the attestation of the witnesses, one makes a case for faith.

My Thoughts

This is another contribution to the growing resource of Christian apologetics. What makes this interesting is the author's background as a homicide detective. While Josh McDowell is well known for his debates with the Muslim cleric, Ahmad Dedat, and Lee Strobel's legal strengths used in his investigation of the Christ's claims and the case for faith, this book weighs heavily on the meticulous process employed to seek out truth. With skill and practical steps on how to crack a case, Wallace integrates his detective learning with apologetics. He seeks out the truth and lets the truth guide his thinking and his convictions. Accompanying his analyses, he invites some well known experts and scholars and interacts with them to present to readers a case for which readers can make their own judgments and conclusions. This approach is fresh and very practical. The systematic way in which Wallace has analyzed and probed is something readers can benefit from when addressing some common objections to Christianity.

If there is one critique, I will ask about how readers are to know the limits of investigation, or the scientific mentality applied to the evidence per se. Are we allowing too much science to manipulate the understanding of the evidence? Where is the part where facts lead to faith, or where facts and faith inform each other? Is Wallace guilty of applying science on some non-scientific matters, the same argument he used earlier in the book?  Maybe. That again is a reminder that we cannot know all truth. There is no way any imperfect person can appreciate or compile all truth perfectly. We can only work with what we have and what we know. The rest is basically a journey of faith. All of us needs that. Just like any living person. How do we explain the existence of anyone? Sometimes, all we need to do is to believe, and when we believe, the truth reveals itself even more perfectly. For those of us interested in Apologetics, this is a book for your shelves.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment