For many years, J. Warner Wallace was an atheist and harsh critic of Christianity, but when he re-examined the facts surrounding the life and death of Jesus, he was struck with the truth, and his heart was changed forever. Wallace’s training as a homicide detective in the L.A. County Police Department gives him a unique perspective in looking at the life and claims of Jesus. In his new book Cold Case Christianity, he explores the case for Christianity as he would a crime investigation that had long been unsolved.
One of our web editors recently conducted a written interview with Wallace. The text of which follows:
1. Will you tell us a little about yourself? How did you become a police officer?
I was raised by a police officer but initially studied the arts, earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design and a Masters in Architecture (UCLA). The muti-generational attraction of Law Enforcement was too strong, however, and I eventually returned to the profession of my father.
2. How and when did you become a Christian?
I first became curious about Jesus as nothing more than an ancient sage. I bought my first Bible at the age of 35 to find out what Jesus had to say. I was not interested in becoming a Christian. In fact, I was the kind of guy who liked to argue with (and taunt) the Christians I knew. But as I read the gospel accounts, I observed several properties of reliable eyewitness statements based on my experience as a detective. I began to investigate the accounts from a detective’s perspective and eventually came to trust what they described.
3. What is the primary audience you are trying to reach with Cold-Case Christianity?
I really do think that Cold Case Christianity will be an asset for both Christians, skeptics and seekers who have questions or doubts about the claims of the gospels. I wrote the book from the perspective of a believer who came to faith (at the age of 35) through a process of skeptical examination. For this reason, I think it will resonate with believers and skeptics alike.
4. How can this book help people who already believe in Christ?
Cold Case Christianity will provide readers with the confidence necessary to trust the claims of the gospels, respond to critical objections, and offer the reasonable and gracious defense commanded by scripture (1 Peter 3:15).
5. How is Christianity similar to a “cold-case”?
Cold cases are events (murders) from the distant past for which there are often no living eyewitnesses and little, if any, direct or forensic evidence to make the case. Detectives learn how to evaluate and employ circumstantial evidence to demonstrate what happened at the scene of the crime. In a similar way, Christianity makes a claim about an event in the distant past for which there are no living eyewitnesses and little, if any, direct or forensic evidence. The skills I’ve learned as a cold-case detective can be used to examine the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
6. In the book you make a clear case that the skills you learned as a police officer actually made the gospels more intriguing to you. How did this take unfold and how did it affect your conclusions about the Gospels’ stories?
As I learned how to evaluate witnesses to determine if they were reliable, I came to understand the four areas that detectives (and eventually jurors) examine when establishing eyewitness reliability. I examined the gospel authors and asked: 1. Did they actually write their accounts early enough to have been present during the ministry of Jesus? 2. Could the claims of the authors be corroborated in any way? 3. Is the testimony of the authors consistent over time (has it been corrupted or changed)? 4. Did the authors have any bias that might cause them to lie about their testimony? As I examined these four important areas, I grew in my confidence that the gospel eyewitnesses were reliable. I share this examination in the second section of Cold Case Christianity.
7. In the book you give “ten principles” that are important to being a detective. How did these principles guide your search?
Detectives have to learn how to control their presuppositions, evaluate and assemble circumstantial evidence, use “abductive” reasoning, examine eyewitness testimony, investigate the power of words, separate artifacts from evidence, resist conspiracy theories, know when enough is enough and prepare for the objections of the defendant. These skill sets had broad application as I applied similar techniques to my search for truth in the gospels.
8. In “cold-cases” circumstantial evidence is extremely important. However, it is usually not highly regarded by the public. How does circumstantial evidence impact your study and why is it critical for evaluating Christianity as a “cold-case”?
I’ve investigated many cold cases, and I’ve yet to have one that was assisted by “direct” evidence; all my cases have been entirely circumstantial. The case for Christianity is in many ways a cumulative circumstantial case, and this should not alarm Christians or embolden skeptics. Judges remind jurors that “direct and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence”, “neither is necessarily more reliable than the other” and “neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other.”
9. “Cold cases” rest on facts, but some things Christians believe can’t be verified as facts in the same way; DNA evidence can establish a fact. How does this evidential reality impact your book?
None of my cold cases have been proven with DNA or other kind of forensic evidence. There are many ways to “make a case”, especially if eyewitnesses come forward and offer critical testimony. The question then becomes, are the witnesses trustworthy? This is the focus of Cold Case Christianity.
10. The Gospel witnesses are critical to Christianity’s message. You mention methods of discerning truth and falsehood in the testimony of eye-witnesses. Will you provide an example from the Gospels where your technique comes into play?
When a witness makes a claim, we often look for some way to corroborate his or her statement. Although the claims of the gospel authors are very ancient, we can look for corroboration by examining the relationship between gospel accounts (looking for unintentional eyewitness support), examining their use of regional proper names locations and local governments. We can also compare the descriptions offered by ancient non-Christian sources and we can examine the archaeology of the area. These tools provide us with a way to “fact check” the broad claims and minor details offered by the gospel eyewitnesses.
11. In conclusion, what do you hope readers take away from your book?
Most of us begin our spiritual journey with a decision; we decide to accept and trust Jesus for our salvation. But the Christian life is more than that. I want people to be equipped to make a second decision; a decision to engage their culture as good Christian case-makers. It’s my hope that Cold-Case Christianity will help believers become “two-decision” Christians, even as it helps true seekers to discover the truth.