Friday, January 11, 2013

Amazon Review

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Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
Price: $9.34

5.0 out of 5 stars A Practical Guide to Christian Apologetics, January 11, 2013
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J. Warner Wallace - the author of Cold Case Christianity - structures his book around the basic conceit of adopting the role of a detective in order to play the same critical and logical tools to the claims of Christianity as a detective might investigate a "cold case" file. Since Wallace actually is a cold case detective, and since he reasons and communicates very clearly, this device works incredibly well. He begins every chapter by analogizing the subject of the chapter - whether it is deciding whether to trust circumstantial evidence or examining a chain of custody - to some story from his detective career and then extending the principles his learned from pragmatic experience to the more rarified air of history.

Warner's approach in this book suggests that his greatest gift is the practice of "common sense." "Common sense" not meaning "someone who agrees with the popular prejudices and attitudes of his culture," but "common sense" meaning "practical reasoning," namely approaching a practical, intellectual problem in a pragmatic, non-biased, logical way grounded in lived experience. This may not be a particularly flashy style, but it worked for Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, and Warner suggests that it can work for the rest of us.

As a trial attorney, I found Wallace's reflections on the ins and outs of evidence and defense lawyer arguments to be as engaging and informative as his theological/historical discussion. Lay people who have extensive experience as witnesses - whether they be expert witnesses in civil practice or police officers in criminal cases - often come up with some fairly "off the wall" explanations of why lawyers do the things they do. Wallace, on the other hand, pays attention to the law as it is and seems to have a nice insight into how the legal environment shapes the arguments (as well as the behavior of defense attorneys, who are typically handed the losing hand at the outset and have to perfect the tactics of declare, destroy or distract.) At times, I found myself saying to myself: "that makes sense. I guess that's why I do that."

Wallace's analytical style is equally effective when applied to the evidential apologetics that he champions. By using the "cold case detective" format, Wallace systematically organizes his material to take the reader from novice to journeyman, both as an analytical thinker and as a journeyman. From there, of course, it is a matter of application and practice. Thus, for example, Wallace's first chapter covers the critical point of "don't be a know it all," by which he means don't assume you know more than you actually do, which in the apologetics realm relates to assuming a materialist presupposition that everything is matter and nature and nothing is spiritual and supernature. This is easily said - in my practice it amounts to the maxim, "always challenge the obvious," but in practice it's never that easy, and in every case I have found myself surprised at the obvious things I have allowed to go unchallenged, until I did, and was surprised by what I learned. Again, Warner's common sense approach is worth the price of the book as both a matter of Christian apologetics and practical reasoning.

Part of a "common sense" or pragmatic approach to reasoning involves doing the hard work of actually knowing the subject. No one can make bricks without straw, and for anyone who is making the bricks of an intellectual life, the "straw" involves the test of patience which is reading the sources and thinking about them until the facts become your facts. For an expert witness or police officer, this certainly involves the unglamorous work of reading the file, organizing the data and becoming sufficiently proficient with the facts, and where the facts can be found, so that there are no meltdowns on the stand. If anyone is interested in reading my prior reviews on matters historical, they will find that I do pick nits over what may seem to be minor factual errors (See my review of Hitlers Cross and God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World(the latter of which is still the third highest rated review despite my one star trashing of that annoying polemic.)) My sense is that finding "small" errors in basic facts is a good indication that the author can't be trusted when the issues are "big." I was pleased to find that Wallace's facts were extremely well gournded. I did not find any errors of fact that might make me question his credibility. To the contrary, I found his discussion of apostolic succession and the extra-biblical support to be solid, succinct and scholarly. I also suspect that his discussion of "undersigned coincidences - where a question raised by one biblical source is answered unexpectedly by another biblical source - will be an argument I will use in the future. Likewise, Wallace's distinction between "artifacts" and "evidence" will be another thing I will use in the future; that distinction was something I was aware of, but I didn't have the vocabulary and, correspondingly, a sharp distinction between the two concepts. Finally, Warner's conclusion that Mark's gospel reads like a "crime broadcasts" and the "discrepancies" between the gospels are consistent with the discrepancies we expect to find in witness statements is consistent with my own pragmatic, "life as it is actually lived and then patiently reconstructed from the imperfect sources you have" experience of practicing law.

For a reader looking to find a basic structure for thinking about Christian apologetics and the basic tools of rational discussion of the issues, this is the book to get.

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