July 29, 2014

Cold Case Christianity: A Review

by Lyndon Unger

I tend to read a fair bit, though not as much as I used to (ever since I’ve been fighting Hepatitis, my low energy levels have made reading far more difficult), but I definitely don’t write many book reviews these days.  One of the last reviews I wrote was also the most positively received review I’ve ever written, and the original long review is here.  I’ve truncated the review for Cripplegate readers in order to pass along a solid apologetic resource that will likely be of tremendous help and blessing to everyone!  So without further ado, here’s my thoughts on Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace.

Cold Case

PROS:

1. The book is wonderfully written and organized. J. Warner Wallace has done an excellent job writing with both clarity and accessibility, presenting his points with little technical jargon and explaining what jargon he uses (more than once too!). The chapters logically flow and the entire book is written with a layman in mind.

2. The book is wonderfully engaging. Being a homicide detective, Wallace has a body of experience that is both foreign and intriguing to your average reader, and he utilizes parallels and descriptions from his police experience very effectively. Also, the book has pictures and a bit of variety in the page layout; these thoughtful insertions keep the chapters from becoming stale and visually repetitive.

3. The book has a very broad scope and serves as a great introduction to a wide variety of apologetic issues (i.e. the resurrection, the arguments for the existence of God, textual criticism, the problem of evil, etc.) without bogging the reader down in details and nuanced argument.

4. Wallace generally presents the counter-arguments to his points well. His responses are clear and concise, and one gets the feeling from reading Wallace that he has had a lot of practical conversations with people regarding the issues under discussion.

5. Wallace usually gives good explanations of the concepts he discusses, like philosophical naturalism (page 25), abductive reasoning (page 33), reasonable doubt (age 131), etc. He’s neither wordy nor vague, and he knows how to illustrate a concept effectively.

6. Pages 55-60 contain a great, helpful discussion on the validity and usefulness of circumstantial evidence and its value when compared with direct evidence. This is definitely a place where his experience in the courtroom comes forward and assists him greatly, and this is one subject that many a Christian needs to brush up on for practical purposes.

7. Pages 69-85 contain a very insightful and helpful treatment of eyewitness testimony, as well as excellent interaction with common accusations related to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.

8. Pages 109-117 contain a fantastic treatment of conspiracy theories, exploring and explaining the practical difficulties for concocting and upholding a lasting conspiracy involving multiple parties. Again, he draws examples from his police experience that prove to be excellent illustrations of his points.

9. Page 131 has a very insightful unpacking of the standard of proof and reasonable doubt vs. possible doubt. Again, Wallace’s legal understandings and courtroom experience provide helpful illustrations here.

10. Pages 135-136 give 2 good responses to the problem of evil: Wallace points to the presuppositional philosophical inconsistencies of the problem of evil (if objective evil exists for the problem to have substance in the first place, there must be a universal standard of “good” by which evil is judged), and also gives what I call the “Ten Trillion Year” response (God is eternal and judges good and evil from his eternal perspective; i.e. ten trillion years from now, the ten thousand years of evil that mankind endured will be considered inconsequential to the 9.9999999 trillion years of comprehensive and continuous good of paradise earth).

11. Wallace has incorporated a wide variety of information, including some relatively recent stuff from the academic world. One example of this was how on page 192 he included the recent work of Tal Ilan on the frequency and distribution of names in the New Testament world to show how the writers of the Bible were from the geographic location that they claimed. I was also really pleased to see Wallace reference Edwin Yamauchi (page 209) and give a brief discussion of the actual problematic nature of archeological evidence; how most items from history don’t actually survive as evidence and our picture of the past, as based on archeological artifacts, is actually amazingly incomplete and inaccurate.

12. On the whole, chapter 12 was excellent, exploring the internal and external corroboration of the Gospels. For the Christian who has recently discovered the popular (and mostly irresponsible) manifestations of doubt regarding the reliability of the New Testament (i.e. Richard Carrier, the movie “Zeitgeist”, the skeptics annotated Bible, etc.), this chapter would be a welcome encouragement.

13. I did appreciate his call for Christians to be case-makers, especially with his cooking analogy on page 260-261. I thought it was a great way of presenting the difference between the biblical office of Evangelist and the Christian who responds to the great commission.

14. His list of books for further reading was great; 2 or 3 books per topic and not too overwhelming, though I did think that some of his books might be significantly above the reading level of someone who might find “Cold Case Christianity” a bit challenging. Going from a 5 page discussion of textual criticism to reading Metzger, Wallace and Comfort is a leap that will likely leave a lot people on their faces. Then again, I’m not really aware of a layman’s introduction to textual criticism outside of James White’s “The King James Only Controversy”, so there possibly is a book that needs to be written there.

I’ll get right on that.

Crayon Writing

CONS:

Before I address the cons, I must say that most of the things I didn’t like about the book were admittedly minor in nature. Only the last con point (points 5) was one that I would consider relatively significant.

1. On page 41 Wallace presents the Habermas/Licona “minimal facts” argument for the resurrection. I understand that the “minimal facts” argument for the resurrection is convincing to Christians, but it’s actually a really weak argument for most people to use outside of a New Testament studies class in a seminary. Arguing that “a majority of scholars agree on these four facts” basically assumes that most people on the street care what a majority of “scholars” say. Let’s face it; your average atheist/skeptic electrician who’s spent a hundred hours on the internet reading about New Testament history (and watching YouTube) thinks he knows as much as most “scholars” and has absolutely no problem dismissing academic consensus in favor of an idiotic theory on some website (“Zeitgeist” anyone?). Beyond that, the first point (Jesus died on the cross and was buried) is actually denied by significant academic skeptics who hold that Jesus did die but was simply tossed in a mass grave (i.e. Marcus Borg and Bart Ehrman are vocal about this). Far more significant than this is the fact that the first point is denied as an unassailable tenet of faith by every Muslim on the planet. Living in a city where 1/3 of the population has immigrated from the Middle East or South Asia, I’ve long stopped using this argument.

2. I was sad that on page 66 Wallace includes the transcendental argument for the existence of God in his list of arguments, but doesn’t present it to his readers. Not a big deal, but as a presuppositionalist, I felt robbed. Boo hoo for me.

3. On page 136 he gives the “love” defense to the practical problem of evil: A world with love is better than a world without love, love requires freedom and in that freedom many choose not to love. I know that idea gets a fair amount of traction in various apologetics circles, but there are at least 2 fatal problems with the “love” defense:

3a. It’s simply contrary to the consistent and explicit teaching of the scriptures with regards to why evil exists (namely that God has decreed that evil occur for his own good purposes i.e. Genesis 50:1-21). I don’t find apologists offering an exegetical defense of this idea; it’s a rather shallow and sentimental response to a serious problem that portrays the God of the Universe like a teenage girl (poor little guy just wants to be loved).

3b. Why is a world with love better than a world without love? That whole idea is simply assumed, and I’ve found that many an atheist/skeptic sees the flaw in this argument instinctively: if a world with love has a world where a majority of people don’t experience that love but rather experience war, disease, abuse, suffering, etc., that doesn’t actually seem better for most people than alternatives (i.e. not existing at all, being a mentally deficient creature that experiences comfort but not love, etc.).

4. Wallace writes like many popular apologists and seems to think that the biggest threat to Christianity is aggressive atheism; he repeatedly interacts with both the popular skeptics (Dawkins, Harris, etc.) and the academic atheists (Bart Ehrman), and I think I know why. Everyone who is in apologetics circles for any amount of time hears the scary numbers: 80% (or more) of kids that grow up in church leave the church when they get to college and most apologists (including Wallace) think that the reason is related to a lack of apologetic instruction/inability to defend one’s beliefs. Those 80% of kids want to believe but their nasty philosophy or religious studies professors overwhelm them with arguments against Christianity and those kids, being unprepared, abandon the faith.

Palp_trustme

I would suggest that this whole paradigm is mistaken and this leads me to my serious point of disagreement with Wallace in the book:

5. Wallace seems to argue that the reason people disbelieve the scriptures is because of philosophical naturalism. He comments on this on pages 25-26, and he points to this idea throughout the book (like on page 208 where he suggests that skeptics disbelieve the Bible because of the presumption [without evidence] that the account is false unless corroborated, and this doubt stems from philosophical naturalism.) I would suggest that the Bible is clear that the philosophical naturalism (and every other articulate expression of doubt) is the fruit of unbelief, and unbelief is the natural state of a sinful heart.

One place where this is explicitly taught in the scriptures is in the story of John 9-10, where Jesus heals the man born blind and the Pharisees refuse to believe, though the man stands before them with his eyes being healed. The disbelief of the Pharisees is confusing to Jesus’ disciples (and the man born blind), and the whole scenario boils over in John 10:22-27, which reads:

“At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

The whole point there was that the unbelief had nothing to do with the presence of evidence, for the evidence was both public and irrefutable (the man born blind could see). Nowhere in John 9 or 10 does anyone challenge the obvious nature of the evidence; the problem was only with the interpretation of the evidence. The Jews did not interpret the evidence correctly (i.e. they manifested philosophical naturalism that refused the possibility of the miracle proving Christ’s claims) because they were not among Christ’s sheep (i.e. they still had sinful, unbelieving hearts).

Now this may seem like splitting hairs, but abandoning philosophical naturalism for supernaturalism is not synonymous with becoming a believer in the person and work of Christ. As a Christian apologist, I don’t want people to abandon philosophical naturalism; I want people to repent of their sin and believe the gospel.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

– I know that this review has a longer “con” than “pro” section, but I wanted to give a fair and critical review of a book that was deserving of a serious interaction (and I do so out of respect for Wallace as a co-laborer in the gospel and an effort to give helpful feedback, not out of some effort to belittle him). I honestly found “Cold Case Christianity” to be a fantastic general introduction to apologetics. Wallace and I have some theological differences, but those differences don’t really manifest with an overwhelming majority of the excellent material in the book. In the future, I’ll most likely use “Cold Case Christianity” as an textbook in my introductory apologetics courses for senior high and college-aged kids, and the theological differences we have will be easily addressed in a single lecture.

I give Cold Case Christianity 4.75 solid stars…but that ultimately means nothing.

Chuck Norris likes it too.

chuck-norris-thumbs-up

ADDENDUM:

I got the chance to hear J. Warner Wallace speak in my town and got the opportunity to talk with him directly. He basically gave a talk that was a 1.25 hour overview of this book, mostly focusing on the second half of the book (establishing the credibility of the Gospels). Wallace was a wonderful speaker who was thoroughly enjoyable to hear, and I appreciated his presentation immensely.

After the presentation, I got an opportunity to speak with him privately and he asked me if I had read his book. I admitted that I had read it and had already reviewed it, and we got into a quick discussion about some of my issues with the book (as well as discussed some of the harsh responses from certain Calvinists, a category in which Wallace apparently places himself). I mentioned several of my personal questions that I had when I read the book (i.e. whether he gave the book of Revelation a late date…and he admitted that he wasn’t informed enough on that issue to have an opinion) and I am delighted that Christian Apologetics has a new face who is both down to earth, more in theological agreement with me than I had previously suspected, and a gentleman to boot.

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
  • Slim

    I started to buy it and then saw Rick Warren’s endorsement on the back. I’m wondering if I have now been transported to a parallel upside-down universe? I can’t push the “buy” button yet. Help.

    • Lyndon Unger

      I’d suggest that Brian is right. An endorsement by Rick Warren is simply there to promote sales, and who knows if Warren actually read the book or really cares about it. Remember, Rick Warren is the guy who got together with Piper and claimed to have read and believed the collected works of Jonathan Edwards…and yet everything he does screams that he doesn’t believe anything at all close to Edwards’beliefs.

      Rick Warren is a Gordian knot of self contradictory assertions.

      I’d completely ignore the endorsement by Rick Warren.

      • Slim

        OK you have convinced me to 1. Buy the book , 2. Either spray-paint over the back cover or 3. Put a cool homemade dust jacket over it so I won’t be chastised or berated by spouse/friends (I try to avoid being “Rickrolled”). Thanks for putting Mr. Wallace on my radar scope!

        • Lyndon Unger

          Rickrolled?

          SLIM WINS THE INTERNETS!

          • Slim

            Thanks so much for the complement Lyndon. Would you please tell Al Gore? I think he is mad at me. While watching Weird Al videos last week, I got a message that I broke the internet. Perhaps my “works” here will negate damage I have caused elsewhere. Seriously: Keep up the good work. I thoroughly enjoy reading your here and on your site.

          • Lyndon Unger

            I can only imagine how badly Weird Al Gore videos would break the internet…

            I can only imagine…(breaks off into comic spoof of a MercyMy song…)

  • Brian

    Slim – Go ahead and buy it. Rick Warren is all over the map. Ignore him. This is a great book

    • Slim

      Thanks Brian. I assumed it was an anomaly but I figured it was best to coast over to the shoulder for a moment to sort through the revelation that Mr Unger and Mr Warren seem to be saying the same thing. Guess I’ll scratch my head, shrug it off and get back on the road.

  • How do you think this compares to Lee Strobel’s “Case for ….” series?

    • Lyndon Unger

      It’s far different in that Wallace is conversant with apologetics at a far deeper level; Wallace is a theologically far-deeper well than Strobel. The information in the book is much more solid, fairly accurate and up to date, and the angle of the “cold case police investigation” also makes for a really interesting read.

  • Reading this and scrolling through the article I laughed out loud at the Palpatine image. Great review. I don’t think it’s mentioned above, but Wallace does have an excellent podcast, the “Cold Case Christianity” podcast, and I benefit a great deal from listening to this. I really respect how friendly and engaging he is with skeptics that call and email into his program, and he addresses their objections very respectfully and knowledgably.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for the heads up on the podcast Johnny! I was aware of the existence of that podcast, but I haven’t listened to it. I’ll have to try to give it a listen sometime!

      I also simply couldn’t resist the Palpatine picture insertion. That’s how so many apologists tend to picture religious studies profs at community colleges/universities…and it’s basically accurate (though I don’t find them nearly as subtle or clever as Palpatine…)

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Thanks for this great review, Lyndon! Always a pleasure to read anything you write. Also, still praying for you daily as you get well.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks so much Jane! I’m glad to offer something enjoyable to read and I certainly covet your prayers!

  • tovlogos

    Tight review, Lyndon — lot’s of good stuff.

    “…and unbelief is the natural state of a sinful heart.
    One place where this is explicitly taught in the scriptures is in the story of John 9-10, where Jesus heals the man born blind and the Pharisees refuse to believe, though the man stands before them with his eyes being healed. The disbelief of the Pharisees is confusing…”

    I remember first reading the Scriptures as a youngster; and found the case, for example, in Matthew 12:22-32, perplexing. Even in the face of direct proof — no eyes to see, no ears to hear — which is beyond our limitations. Blessings, Thanks.

    Mark

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks GoodWord. It’s always amazing how the Bible portrays the pig-headed nature of the unbelieving heart that would rather ignore blatant facts than face them and the God they point to.

      • tovlogos

        Amen Lyndon.

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  • Fibber MaGee

    Lee Strobel’s name on the front was enough for me to not
    even consider it. Now you tell me that Warren’s name is on the back! I don’t care if it is a marketing ploy or not, get a real job if you need money that bad. No offense Lyndon (I’m a theological trickle compared to you), but from where I sit (and read), Strobel’s theological well is more like a puddle. For the small amount of time I do have to read, I think I’ll stick with the “Big Dogs”.

    P.S. With a review that good we don’t really need to read it anyway.

    • Lyndon Unger

      I’m thinking something about “judging a book by it’s cover”…or in this case, dust jacket. Who cares who endorses the book? I’ve read good books endorsed by nutbars and idiotic books endorsed by people I respect. Endorsements mean nothing and come for a dozen or more reasons, half of which are utterly silly.

      As for the big dogs, who are we talking about? J. Warner Wallace is gaining steam at quite a pace; he’s already put out a second book and he’s gaining followers by the thousands. He’s already a “big dog” like Greg Koukl or Paul Copan…unless the “big dogs” you’re thinking of are “William Lane Craig” and Ravi Zacharias? If that’s what you’re thinking, I’d guess Wallace will have to wait for someone to die…

      • Fibber MaGee

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that an analogy for
        judging a person before getting to know them? A person may be an open book but,
        a book is not a person… as far as I know. I am judging Lee Strobel based on the
        two books I have read by him and the fact that he is a Willow Creeker. Strobel
        may have a few good things to say, but for me the bad far outweighs the good.
        Let me ask you this; has MacArthur or Sproul or Ferguson
        or Lawson ever had Warren
        or Strobel or Hybels or Ortberg’s name on the cover of one of their books? They
        have not written the foreword on any of the books I have read. I admit I don’t
        know anything about the book business as I’m sure the vast majority of the
        people purchasing these books don’t either. So to you it may mean nothing and I
        don’t doubt what you say, but to me it does matter. I own and run a business
        and have a family, so I maybe get 14 or so free hours a week. Most of that time
        is spent studying my bible and reading the articles on Cripplegate and by
        MacArthur and a few others. All I’m saying is that with the limited time I have
        I would not choose a book with the foreword written by a man who supports
        spiritual formation, women elders, a watered down gospel, a book store that
        sells anti-Christian material, and puts pop-psychology ahead of theology.

      • Jeff Schlottmann

        You really make the rounds on the web don’t you? A google search of your screen name offers plenty results of you demanding website shut downs and belittling people. But never offering anything helpful. So just curious, where do you go for useful articles and information?

        • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

          I doubt the psych ward offers useful articles and information to Mr. Sarco, just a computer a few hours a day when his meds are waning.

        • Lyndon Unger

          Jim S. is the pseudonym of a guy who lives near me and has made it his mission to follow me around the web and wage war against his perceived enemies by saying things that don’t make any sense. Exhibit A of the noetic effects of sin.

          Do not feed the trolls, especially the unstable ones.

          • Fred Butler

            Can’t the Cripplegate people delete his comments (Or similar comments like this)? He attempts to leave the same comments at my blog all the time, but I never approve them. He’s a crazy person. We should not enable him further.

          • Lyndon Unger

            I don’t have admin privileges on Disqus.

          • I’ve deleted all but one of his comments. I left the one because there were replies, and because sometimes the best refutation is self-refutation.

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  • I would not have considered purchasing it apart from your thorough review. Thank you, Lyndon.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Glad to be of service Rowdie!

  • b

    “Wallace and I have some theological differences, but those differences
    don’t really manifest with an overwhelming majority of the excellent
    material in the book.”

    Would you expound a little more please?

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