I’m going to admit my bias at the onset on this review. I heard Jim Warner Wallace of Please Convince Me speak on this material at the Apologetics Canada Conference in 2012, almost a year before his book released. I was ready to dig into anything he put into print because I so enjoyed his crime scene investigator-type presentation. So, when I had the opportunity to review his book, I was excited to do so! And Wallace’s book did not disappoint.
I have the privilege of speaking at conferences on similar topics as Wallace. One of the main questions I field after giving a presentation on the reliability of the transmission of the New Testament is, “But why should I trust the authors who wrote these letters?” More specifically, the question usually refers to “how can I know these authors were telling the truth?” Jim Warner Wallace’s book, Cold-Case Christianity sets out to answer this question, as well as make a cumulative case for the Christian faith.
Wallace approaches the New Testament as a cold-case homicide detective looking at the circumstantial evidence for the veracity of the Gospel stories. Part of that endeavor includes establishing the trustworthiness of the eyewitness testimony. Wallace utilizes the same standards he would apply in establishing eyewitness testimony in court with the authors of the Gospels to discern whether or not there was a conspiracy afoot.
He states four reasons why it is unreasonable to assume the disciples of Jesus (and the authors of the Gospels) were involved in a conspiracy—directly combatting the popular-level claims of internet movies, “The God Who Wasn’t There,” and “Zeitgeist: The Movie.”
#1. The apostles had little or no effective way to communicate with one another in a quick or thorough manner. They were dispersed far from one another across the Roman Empire, and interrogated and martyred far away from one another.
#2. The apostles would have been required to protect their conspiratorial lies for an incredibly long time.
#3. Many of them [the apostles] were complete strangers to one another prior to their time together as disciples of Jesus. This reason stems from Wallace’s professional crime investigation observation of why conspirators stick to or give up on their stories. One of the sticking points is how close they are relationally with the co-conspirators. The closer the relationship, the more likely the conspirators are to stick to the conspiracy story.
#4. Successful conspiracies are unpressured conspiracies. The apostles, however were aggressively persecuted as they were scattered from Italy to India.
Wallace states, “I can’t imagine a less favorable set of circumstances for a successful conspiracy than those that the twelve apostles faced.” Granted, one could conceivably imagine a less favorable set of circumstances or one could still conceivably imagine the possibility that the authors were co-conspirators. However, Wallace is after reasonable evidence, not possibilities. It’s the actual evidence he can use in a cold-case trial; he cannot use the possible scenarios for which he lacks evidence.
Establishing an understanding of what constitutes enough evidence, and what is admissible as evidence, is what makes up the first half of the book. This is what gives his work weightiness and offers a unique and fresh perspective. He doesn’t just make a cumulative case argument for belief in God, he spends much time in establishing how a cumulative case works to provide reasonable evidence for a verdict. The first half of his work stands in defiance to hyper-skepticism. It helps the reader to see problems with their way of thinking about the evidence available. Dallas Willard once said (paraphrased), “Not only should you doubt your beliefs and believe your doubts, but you also have to be willing to doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.” Jim Warner Wallace provides a stepping-off point to help people understand the trustworthiness of the Gospel authors so they can move towards “doubting their doubts” and “believing their beliefs.”
The second half of the book moves into establishing the trustworthiness of the Gospel authors using the criteria laid out in the first half. This is the evidential section in which the details are given and the sources are brought to light. I would have liked more in this section, but I understand why there is not more: as a writer, you have to stop somewhere. This second half could potentially involve volumes and volumes of works. Wallace does provide, however, a “chain of custody” of the writings of the New Testament authors as passed down from the
original writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—to their disciples, and their disciples’ disciples, and so forth, all the way up to the Council of Laodicea in the fourth century. Here, Wallace refutes the argument that we cannot really know the story of Jesus, because all we have today are copies of copies of copies that have been drastically altered over the years; such as argued by New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman.
The cold-case theme of this book, its crime-scene investigation tactics, the focus on establishing a case from circumstantial evidence, and the stories used to relay each concept all come together to make this an effective and powerful resource. I highly recommend this book. It would be good to read with fellow believers, seekers, skeptics, or anyone who has questions about the trustworthiness of the Gospel authors.
Plus, it has great cultural appeal in that it conveys its message in a language that matches the current fascination with criminal investigation television shows. Consider using it for homeschooling associations, church discipleship classes, small group study, book clubs, and seminary/university courses.
I hope you will pick up a copy of this book for yourself and one to share with someone else!
– Jim is the newest member of Stand to Reason Ministries! Congrats, Jim!