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How a cold-case detective found evidence for Christ

Q&A

J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold-Case Christianity and founder of the site pleaseconvinceme.com, was a police detective and an atheist until he was 35. Then he started examining the claims of Christ and the scriptures with the hard-nosed skepticism of his police training. As a result, he became a Christian. Now in retirement, his recent book has taken the apologetics world by storm. It begins not with evidence for Christianity, but with a discussion of how we, as humans, evaluate any kind of evidence. I spoke with Wallace, who shared with me how he gradually came to believe the gospels were true.

You were well into adulthood before you became a Christian and accepted the claims of Christ. Can you say a little bit more about your own journey from atheism, skepticism, ultimately to faith? I was older and really had no interest. I wasn’t somebody who came to this because I had a need I was trying to fill. I wasn’t interested in heaven. I wasn’t somebody who had a train wreck of a life I was trying to fix. I was really somebody who had a great life. … I’d been with my wife, at that time, for about 18 years. She … was raised kind of as a cultural Catholic. [She] really had no idea what the Bible taught, had no idea what the principles or the doctrines of Christianity are at all. But I think she would have said, “Hey, I was raised in the church. I would like to have raised my kids in it.” I would go every couple of years. I’d be happy to go as an atheist and sit with her.

When did that change? This particular year, … I don’t know if it was taking her on a holiday or any real reason, but she wanted to go. I said, “I’m willing to go with you.” Sure, I was always willing to go, not as a believer. I was patient and I would sit through. What's an hour and a half? No big deal.

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It was … my first time sitting in an Evangelical Church of this nature for any reason other than somebody died or somebody got married. I went and listened to the pastor preach. … On this particular day, he pitched Jesus as a smart guy: Hey, if you’re in this room and you’re not convinced he’s God, you can still learn a lot from Jesus. You might want to think about just examining what it is Jesus had to say about life, about marriage, about kids, about everything.”

Of course, that was interesting to me. I was somebody, as a kid, who studied the writings of Baha’u’llah, Buddha, or other ancient sages that I thought you could steal some wisdom from. I had no other interest in Jesus than that. I wasn’t out to prove Jesus wrong. I wasn't out to prove Christianity. I didn't care. To me, it was so silly. It wasn’t worth my effort. The idea of an ancient sage who probably did live, who has something smart to say, if he’s in those categories, I'm in for that.

So you approached Jesus from an intellectual point-of-view. I bought a Bible. I sat down with it and read through the red letters. It’s different though. It’s not like Valhalla’s proverbial statements. These are embedded in a historical narrative. The historical narrative in which they were embedded, it started to pique my interest because, as a detective by this time, I was familiar with relationships I would see between eyewitness accounts.

I call this kind of the unintended, unintentional eyewitness support. It’s when a witness tells you something about an event, and you’re kind of scratching your head afterwards. You’re going, “Something’s not right about this. It couldn’t have happened quite like that.” Then the next witness, you discover, a year later tells you something else about the event that makes sense of what the first witness said. Then maybe they even raised their own questions in this particular piece of testimony that maybe you’ll only get answered until the third person comes, or the first person says something that now what they’re saying does make sense on the basis of the first.

I was seeing that in the Gospels in several locations. I thought, “Huh, nothing really definitive.” This kind of piqued my interest.

I decided to push the Gospels through the same kind of scrutiny I would push other eyewitnesses through. … That’s what the book does in the second section.

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