I was humbled to have the opportunity to teach my first class at Biola last week. Seventy-four graduate students and seminar attendees were present for seventeen hours of instruction over two days. They were attentive, eager and accepting. I am definitely not your typical university professor (although I have two graduate degrees), but I hoped to provide these students with valuable new skills. I am the author of a popular level book aimed at laypeople. As a result, many serious students of apologetics were hesitant to read Cold-Case Christianity because they suspected it was little more than a gimmick; an effort to spin the same old material from yet another superficial angle.
I really hadn’t anticipated this reaction prior to the publication of the book. Many people I respect had already endorsed the work (and even had a hand in its editing). People like Craig Hazen, J.P. Moreland and Paul Copan were incredibly helpful and instructive. I hoped the book would offer several new skills, and I wanted to show how these sills could be applied to the case for Christianity. Once people actually read the book and started to examine the approach I offered, some of their initial skepticism subsided.
After teaching the Biola course this weekend, I received an email from one of the students. He told me he was nearly finished with his Master of Arts in Science and Religion. He took the class as one of his electives and expressed the same initial hesitancy I’ve described related to Cold-Case Christianity. But after taking the class, he offered the following perspective:
“…after hearing you speak and seeing how you interacted with my numerous questions and objections, I have a much better appreciation for what you’re saying. It now occurs to me the CCC approach is not a gimmick to recycle apologetics and spin it in a new way (which is kind of what I thought, initially). Instead, you really do filter life through a ‘cold case grid’ that allows you to arrive at conclusions that are well supported by the data; you are not saying that a CC approach ‘proves’ things in some previously unknown way, but that such an approach is a fruitful lens through which we can ’test the spirits’ that we encounter in pretty much every aspect of our lives.”
It’s gratifying to see people embrace an evidential filter through which they can begin to rethink their approach to Christian Case Making. That’s why I wrote the book in the first place. I don’t think it was an accident I first became interested in thoroughly investigating the reliability of the New Testament Gospels after I had been working homicides and criminal investigations for many years. By the time I began to pencil out the facts related to the claims of the Gospel eyewitnesses I was already familiar with the principles I described in Cold-Case Christianity. I believe these simple strategies provide a number of benefits:
A Cold-Case Approach Provides the Appropriate Tool Set
My cold-case investigations have involved events in the distant past (murders) for which we no living eyewitnesses nor good forensic evidence. We solve cases such as these by assembling cumulative, circumstantial evidences. The claims of Christianity involve events in the distant past (surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) for which we no living eyewitnesses nor good forensic evidence. We can determine the truth of the Christian claims by assembling cumulative, circumstantial evidences. The skill set possessed by cold-case detectives is valuable and transferable.
A Cold-Case Approach Develops A Biblical View of “Faith”
An evidential approach to events from the past provides us with reasonable trust, even though we no longer have access to the eyewitnesses. As we test these eyewitnesses (using the template I described in the book) we begin to have a reasonable confidence (faith) in what they claimed. This notion of “reasonable trust in light of the evidence” is consistent with the Biblical view of “faith”. As Christians, we don’t possess a blind faith in spite of the evidence; we have a reasonable faith because of the evidence. A cold-case approach to the claims of Christianity can provide us with such reasonable confidence.
A Cold-Case Approach Allows Us to Distinguish Between Claims
The principles of investigation I described in Cold-Case Christianity have helped me distinguish between suspects and competing explanations of criminal events. In a similar way, my investigative approach to the New Testament Gospels helped me to determine which version of Jesus (and which competing claim about history) was true. My family is divided between atheists and Mormons. When I first became interested in these matters, my Mormon family encouraged me to investigate Mormonism. My investigative skills were incredibly helpful. I became a Christian at the same time I became a “Not Mormon”. The principles I used provided me with confidence in the claims of Christianity even as they falsified the claims of Mormonism. A cold-case approach to the claims of theism can help us distinguish which are true and which are false.
The more I travel around the country, the more I realize most of us, as believers, are unprepared to offer an adequate response when someone asks, “Why are you a Christian?” That’s why I hope to contribute in some limited way to the development of a reasonable Christian worldview. I hope the cold-case principles I’ve described in the book (and here on the website) will help you filter your beliefs through a reasonable investigative template. I never intended Cold-Case Christianity to be a clever gimmick; it simply describes the way I became a Christian, and I hope it can help you become an even better Christian Case Maker.
For more information about the nature of Biblical faith and a strategy for communicating the truth of Christianity, please read Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith. This book teaches readers four reasonable, evidential characteristics of Christianity and provides a strategy for sharing Christianity with others. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Forensic Faith DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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