Today, for my evangelism focus post, I'd like to share with you an excerpt I transcribed from a recent radio show guest hosted by Jim Wallace of the Please Convince Me ministry. Jim Wallace is a cold case homicide detective and a former atheist. He is also an apologist for the Christian faith. I think he brings a unique perspective to apologetics. He took some time on this recent radio show to explain the steps he uses when he examines a case as a detective and the steps he uses when he examines the Bible and the Christian faith. I think it is valuable information that could also help us in defending the Christian faith, studying the Bible, and sharing the gospel. I hope you find this information as interesting and as useful as I have found it to be.
Jim Wallace said.........
We all are called to be apologists. I took some of the skills that I learned as a detective and I started to apply them to my life as a Christian, and I wanted to share with you just a few steps that I take to become what I hope to be a Christian case maker, and maybe it will help you as well. Now, I work cold cases, so I basically am examining an event in the distant past for which for some reason there was not enough evidence to go forward in the case; that is why it is cold. Now I have to assemble a case, sometimes it’s largely circumstantial, in order to demonstrate that this event happened a certain way in the past. And that is kind of what we do when we look at the Christian worldview. There is an event in the distant past for which we are assembling a circumstantial case which seems to be to be very compelling.
As a cold case homicide detective: Now, the first thing I do when I open a case is that I take the time to read through the original case book. In our agency, the cold cases (the unsolved homicides) are all kept in one place. These books are on a separate shelf, and they are a separate color. I pull one of the books off the shelf, and the first thing I do is to read that book cover to cover. I do it several times. When I am reading that book, I try not to take anything on its face value. I read it and I think to myself, “I need to go back and reinvestigate a lot of the things that are claimed in this book.” I have to re-read it and examine it carefully and assume that I have to do all of the work from the ground up, so I can actually understand the case the way the first investigator understood the case.
As a Christian: I do something very similar if I want to be a Christian case make. I have to actually open up the book, the Bible, and read it thoroughly several times. As a detective, when I read the Bible for the first time, I assumed that none of it was true. I was simply interested in hearing what Jesus had to say. That’s how I first started reading the Bible. I was interested enough to examine Jesus’ words, but the idea that this was true, especially the supernatural elements of the Scriptures, was something that I did not accept on its face, I needed to own the document the way I would own a casebook from 35 years ago. I needed to read it thoroughly and actually invest myself in the case as though I was the first investigator. And that is the view I have as I open up the Scriptures, even today.
As a cold case homicide detective: In my own mind, I take mental notes that will become the summary of my case.
As a Christian: I went out and bought the most expensive pew Bible I could find with the largest possible margins. I didn’t want any commentary in the Bible, just the simple text with the largest possible margins. Because I had a background in forensic statement analysis in which we use different colors to look at different issues in the initial statement, I began to use several colors in the pew Bible I had in front of me. I took copious notes so I could understand the case and understand what issues in the case I needed to look at more thoroughly or that stand out to me as hard pieces of evidence that are worthy of notice.
As a cold case homicide detective: I try to gather this evidence as neutrally as possible. As I am reading through the original casebook in a cold case homicide, I start to organize, list, and summarize the evidence.
As a Christian: As I am reading through the gospels, there are several key pieces of evidence that might either validate a certain position or a truth (like the resurrection) and I make lists in the margins or in my own notes of those things that stand out powerfully to me. I try to gather these things neutrally. For example, when I first read through the gospel and saw the sign that is posted over Jesus at the crucifixion, and I noticed that it seems to be a little different in each gospel account. I needed to know if the difference is something that I could attribute to the perspective of eye witnesses or is there something about the differences that to me is a stumbling block that would prevent me from considering the case altogether. I gather the evidence and make lists of things that either speak in one direction or the other.
As a cold case homicide detective: I try to do examine the eyewitnesses in the case very critically. Casebooks are typically filled with transcripts of old interviews that are done of eyewitnesses. I try to look between the lines and make and assessment of whether or not this witness is reliable or not.
As a Christian: I find myself doing something very similar with the gospel accounts. I look through the gospels critically and examine them as eyewitness accounts.
As a cold case homicide detective: The other thing I do as a cold case investigator is spend some time reconstructing the crime scene. You have crime scene drawings typically. There are photographs typically involved in the first book. You take those elements out and examine them and try to put yourself in the crime scene and in the context of the year in which the crime occurred. Sometimes these crimes happened 15, 20, 25 years ago, and there might be something about the generation in which it occurred that has important explanatory power over why something happened the way it did.
As a Christian: I do the same thing with the Scripture as well. I know that these things are locked in true geographic locations that we can actually examine. They existed in a culture (the first century) that we can actually examine as well. Those things are going to be important to us as we try to reconstruct the crime scene, in essence.
As a cold case homicide detective: The next thing I do is to look for new pieces of evidence. I know that the book I am holding is 30 years old and lots of detectives have looked over it, but there may just be something that nobody else has seen that I can find that will help make the case stronger or will help explain exactly what happened.
As a Christian: I can’t help but find myself doing that as well as a Christian case maker. I try to be very careful though. I am respectful of the fact that if you are seeing something new after 2,000 years of careful examination, you are either amazingly brilliant or just flat wrong, because somebody probably should have seen it before you. But there are some disciplines that we can each bring to the Scripture that might help to examine it. Looking at it forensically helps me to see things more clearly.
As a cold case homicide detective and as a Christian: I start to reason toward an answer as rationally as possible. There are certain explanatory tools that I have to use. I know that in the end the truth about what happened has to be feasible. It has to have explanatory viability.
As a cold case homicide detective: Then I write the case up to communicate the view to make the case.
As a Christian: As Christians, I think this is an important process for us. This is why I am such a fan of personal blogs and websites. Take the time to write up what you have learned. Expose the world to the reasons why you believe this to be true.