Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace – A Brief Review

Cold Case ChristianityI knew about the book, but to be honest, I bought the book because I saw it cheap as a Kindle book for just £1.49.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but when I started reading it Wallace hooked me right in. It reads very well and his experience as a ‘cold-case’ detective works brilliantly. The stories (cases) are brief but are written in such a way to make them really interesting; and the way he relates them to his apologetic is excellent.

The top points of the book are the way it relates to the real world. We hear some rubbish about ‘the real world’ and the like but here Wallace draws from hard experience that has probably seen the awful things this wicked world has to offer and what people can do to one another. As a detective there’s not much he hasn’t seen. And in the world of detective work ‘abductive reasoning’ has to work. You can see examples of it on a program like CSI. All his examples and the way he deals with objections, especially to the resurrection work well. We can all use the answers when speaking to unbelievers. And he’s right, he does show that these answers to sceptics is entirely reasonable. It is a reasonable faith.

I particularly like his first point from the ‘tool-kit. Ch 1. Don’t be a “Know-it All”. No-one likes a know it all so best not to be one. As with all the chapters it comes with a real life illustration. In this case of how an experienced detective got it spectacularly wrong by thinking he knew it all. We should take it to heart.

It’s a fascinating book written by someone who knows what he’s talking about. The chapter on Circumstantial Evidence is very interesting and with all the other chapters does make an extremely powerful case. I have no doubt this book will have been used and will continue to be used to demonstrate the case for the Christian faith. I pray it will be so.

The chapter on Forensic Statement Analysis shows how a close reading of any text is critical. It also shows how as Christians we have nothing to fear from anyone wanting to take a close look at the Scriptures. The biggest problem is most people don’t tend to read it closely – including Christians. It challenges me. I need to pay close attention to the text. God has chosen to communicate through words and we should take notice of them.

There’s a But coming….

However, for all its good points, and there are many, it falls short. There are a few things it fails to address, there are a few things that are plain wrong and it shows why the ‘Evidentialist’ apologetic can’t quite get the boulder up the hill. I’d like to think what follows could be added to or supplement his method, but that would undermine his whole apologetic. Maybe the book needs an extra chapter ‘How to use Evidence with the Presupposisional Apologetic Method’. Actually there is such a book (Van Til & The Use of Evidence by Thom Notaro).

1. Where it fails to address.

There’s a lot of appeal to Evidence – the nature of the Book – but little appeal to Scripture or to the authority of Christ. This is where his criticism of ‘Circular reasoning’ or sometimes called ‘begging the question’ is wrong. It’s actually impossible to avoid. As Wallace points out everyone is Biased. It’s actually impossible to avoid because everyone reasons in a circle. Nowhere does Wallace appeal to Christ or the Scriptures as the final authority, and that’s a problem. Putting it bluntly, with this methodology Evidence trumps Revelation.

2. Where it’s plain wrong.

i) On this point I was actually quite surprised. Maybe it’s a mistake and I’m more than prepared to cut him some slack. I’m sure he is a good guy. But Wallace gives a definition of ‘faith’ that is at odds with how the Bible defines it. The Bible doesn’t use faith in the way he defines it. He says at the end of Chapter 2, p52. ‘… the biblical definition of faith is a well-placed and reasonable inference based on evidence’. No it isn’t. One of my favourite hymns puts it like this:

Faith, see the place, and see the tree
Where heaven’s Prince, instead of me,
Was nailed to bear my shame.

That is much more than an inference! But we don’t get our theology from Hymns. What he has done is interpret Hebrews 11:1 to fit with his Evidential Apologetic. Yes, it uses the Word ‘evidence’ but it doesn’t mean what Wallace is making it say. Faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8) and saving faith is from the Holy Spirit alone (John 3:). We exercise a God-given faith in response to the preached (Heralded) Word of God, The Gospel. Our minds are presented with the claims (not inferences) of the Gospel and we are commanded to repent & believe (Mark 1:15; Acts 17:30 ). There’s an excellent Chapter on Faith in God’s Words by J. I. Packer p. 128, IVP, 1981.

ii) There’s quite a serious error on page 122 of 290 (Kindle edition) where he says the Bible Gospels ‘were established as Scripture at the Council of Laodicea in AD 363’. This would put the council over the Self Authenticating authority of the Bible. Words are important and maybe it’s just a typo but it’s quite a serious one. The Historic Church Councils didn’t establish the Gospels as Scripture but recognised them as Scripture. You might think this is nit-picking but the difference is quite profound. The 1689 Baptist Confession and The Westminster Confession are in agreement on this. The Holy Scriptures 1:4 (1689) ‘The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God its Author (Who is Truth itself). Therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.’ Not received because it has been established through the evidence or the ‘chain of custody’. Evidence is a good thing but we do not place it over Scripture, and that’s the difference between ‘establishing’ and ‘recognising’. There isn’t space here but the Council (Synod) of Laodicea 363 AD isn’t one of the 7 Ecumenical Councils but was a local council comprising some 30 leaders, and I would fault him for using it here as evidence. [BTW: If anyone has more information on this particular Council I’d be interested.]

3. Why it doesn’t go far enough.

Unfortunately, it falls short of certainty. It can only ever be a possible explanation, an ‘inference to the best explanation’ or abductive reasoning. Dealing with the grimy world of homicide and dealing with the Scripture is a whole other ball game. The Bible is in a completely different category – a category on its own and must be treated in that way. [That doesn’t mean we do not address difficulties, we do. Van Til said we must. Presuppositional scholars engage in Textual Criticism at an academic level] The Scripture is the Only Explanation. God is the Only True God. I’m sure Wallace believes this to be so, but his apologetic won’t allow certainty. The most it can give is to be ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. [Otherwise there would be no mistaken convictions – but there are. Juries can get it wrong.] Using ‘evidence’ in this way it can only ever be a possibility. Can Christ only be a possible Saviour, a possible explanation? Or even to be a Saviour ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Surely not! The Bible speaks of certainty.

The problem is, it will not matter how much evidence you gather, nor how reasonable a case, rebellious men and women would rather believe the lie (Rom 1:25; 2 Thes 2:11-12) than believe in the word of God. There will always be another piece of vital evidence produced – the killer evidence that will prove the Bible to be a fiction. The problem is not an evidential or intellectual one, it’s a spiritual one. We must start with the Word of God as the Word of God. The unbeliever will grasp hold of any contrary evidence no matter how fantastic. And even if the evidence is accepted it’s on the basis that the reason of man has been elevated to the position of Judge. In this book, we are the Judges, we are the Jury and the Word of God and the very existence of God Himself is in the Dock. The reality is very different. We are in the Dock, we are being judged, and a verdict has already been passed – Guilty! Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God is He’.

Cutting to the chase

Would I recommend the book? I think it would be helpful for Christians. There’s a lot of good and useful information. My view is that it needs an explanation as to WHY the evidences are there. Wallace doesn’t, and his methodology will not allow him to explain evidence this way. The very fact that any investigation can take place ALREADY proves there is a God and the reliability of the Scriptures. Building a case by finding evidence presupposes order and rationality before finding one shred of evidence. If there was an introduction to the book that laid out these assumptions that are already there, then the book would carry much more weight. Every page that is turned and the fact of language and communication already proves the truth of the Bible. In fact just picking up the book, without even opening it proves what Wallace spends the whole book trying to prove. The evidence is already there.

A final word.

We are called to the work. But no matter what your apologetic, no matter how good, or even how bad your arguments are, there’s only one way an individual will become a Christian – that’s through the operation of The Holy Spirit on the sinner. We dare not think that if we can muster our best arguments and make the case in as loving and earnest manner as is humanly possible it will – voilà, make the person become a believer, a Christian. It is not so. We do not help the sinner by making them put their faith in a methodology or in evidence. Our faith must be in Christ. That is the Christ of Scripture, of history, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Evidence and even presuppositional apologetics is good but it doesn’t save. Only God can do that. Thankfully He uses our efforts – including this book – for His Glory. But His Glory He will not share with another. Christ Alone is our watchword.

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