Cold Case Christianity (Review)

In my college years, learning arguments in favor of Christianity was a huge help to my faith.  Christian apologetics provided answers to many questions I had and gave me a love of learning and reading.  Over the years I have become somewhat skeptical of the utility of Christian apologetics, at least in terms of a method for sharing the gospel.  That said, I still think apologetics has value and that good answers are out there.

J Werner Wallace’s book Cold Case Christianity has been on my kindle for months, I finally read it.  There are a lot of Christian apologetics books out there, what sets this one apart is Wallace’s experience as a detective.  The insights he offers from his career and the stories of cases are the best part of the book by far.  I think such things make this a book, perhaps the book, college students ought to go to if they want to begin reading apologetics.

Honestly, I have to say I skimmed much of his actual argument for Christianity as it consisted of mostly standard arguments I have read before.  While I find the answers of people like Wallace compelling, I even give such answers myself when asked, his book also reminded me of some problems I have with apologetics.  Apologists tend to create too tight a case, too quickly ironing over issues that are much more complex if looked at fully.  For example, he argues that Paul quoted Luke’s gospel in his letter to Timothy.  Perhaps, though it seems just as likely that Paul and Luke heard the same quote in an oral tradition floating around.  Or, since Paul and Luke knew each other, maybe Luke shared it with Paul verbally.  It seems a stretch to say Paul quoted Luke’s writing.  In another case he speaks of Mark, the author of the gospel, as appointing teachers in the school in Alexandria.  His footnote here is only to a secondary source.

I am not saying he is wrong in either of these.  My point is that I suspect New Testament and early church scholars would have a lot more to say on this and that Wallace may be over-simplifying the scholarship to make a case.  Which is fine, he is writing to make a case.  But from that,  I think he could have done better when discussing bias.  Early on he shares how his partner once allowed his bias to lead him down the wrong path in solving a crime.  The error, Wallace says, is that his partner started with the premise – in this case the premise was, when finding a dead woman, that it is usually the husband who did it.  But is Wallace saying we ought to treat every suspect, every idea, equally and never have any biases?  Sure his partner’s bias was wrong in this case, but it is a bias because in most cases it is right.  Such a bias probably helped his partner solve many cases (forget probably, Wallace says his partner was usually right!).  Rather than warning against biases, as Wallace seemed to do, the better thing is to remind us that biases are not 100% correct.  This is what the illustration seems to point to anyway, though it does not seem to be the way Wallace used it.

At the end he discusses the gospels and argues that the early Christians were not biased prior to writing, which is true.  But the gospels, as texts, are not objective documents.  They are written by people who want their readers to believe.  They are biased…and it is okay!  Everyone is biased.  This does not mean we cannot change our opinions or evaluate our biases, but it does mean we ought not act as if they are not there.

So I am sure 23 year old Dave would have devoured and loved Wallace’s book.  If students ask, I will recommend this book to them.  35 year old Dave is a bit more skeptical at points, but still sees value in books such as this one.  Though some difficulties are ironed over to make a better case, it is still a good book.


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