Who Do They Think You Are?
J. Warner and Susie Wallace, authors of Cold-Case Christianity and Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, recall how they investigated the Gospels and eventually believed that what the Scriptures said about God and their own condition and needs was true.
About the Guest
J. Warner and Susie Wallace recall how they investigated the Gospels and eventually believed that what the Scriptures said about God and their own condition and needs was true.
Who Do They Think You Are?
Bob: J. Warner Wallace was a police detective in southern California, a homicide detective working cold cases. When he was confronted with the claims of Christianity, he decided to put those claims to the test, and he found that the evidence supported what he read.
J. Warner: Here’s where I ended up: with “belief that.” Belief that everything in the gospels that was recorded actually occurred the way it was recorded. That doesn’t give you “belief in.” That gives you “belief that,” that what it’s saying about Jesus is true. So what are you going to do with it? What do the gospels and the letters of Paul, the entire New Testament and all of Scripture, Old and New Testament, say about me?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
We’ll hear today from police detective J. Warner Wallace about the investigation he undertook that led him not only to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, but also to believe in Him. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
I feel kind of like old-time radio. I feel like we should be saying, “When we last left, our detective was hard at work deciphering the evidence to determine what really happened back at the scene of the crime.”
Dennis: And did you have your fingerprints taken before you came into the studio, Bob?
Bob: I didn’t, no.
Dennis: This is the first guest that has ever demanded both Bob and I be fingerprinted before the interview starts. This is a bad sign.
Bob: Scary stuff right here.
Dennis: Well, J. Warner and Susie Wallace join us on FamilyLife Today. Susie, Jim, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
J. Warner: Thanks so much for having us.
Susie: Thank you for having us.
Dennis: Jim and Susie have been married since 1988. They have four children. And what we were referring to a little earlier was Jim was a detective and in law enforcement for more than two decades, and so he’s taken a different look at Christianity and at the person of Jesus Christ, really unlike probably any guest we’ve ever had on FamilyLife Today in 25 years.
Bob: Well, and our listeners who have been with us know that you were an atheist, a police detective, really didn’t have a whole lot of interest in God. You worked cold cases for the Torrance Police Department in California, right?
J. Warner: That’s right.
Bob: And when you got taken to church back after your kids had been born, and Susie, you were the one that said, “Maybe we ought to have our kids in church and Jim said, ‘That’s fine, no objection.’” He thought it was a culturally good thing, he just didn’t believe there was a God or any of that stuff. Until you started to examine the evidence, and that’s what led you first to faith and then to writing the book Cold Case Christianity.
I’m just curious; there was a point in your investigation where the evidence was starting to lean in a particular direction, but there had to be a point beyond that where you said, “I’m convinced this really happened.”
J. Warner: Yes. The steps of this may seem a bit esoteric, but let me just tell you how I processed it. I got to a place where I felt like the gospels were telling me something I could trust. But, I was a very committed philosophical naturalist, so I would have said, at least initially, I can trust the stuff that’s not miraculous. Now all the miraculous stuff can’t be true, because miracles don’t happen.”
So the next thing I had to ask myself was why am I so committed to my philosophical naturalism? Why do I think no miracles could ever happen? Well, do I have good reason to believe that everything in the universe that I see could just come into existence given what’s available to us in the universe?
All we have is space, time, and matter, the laws of physics and chemistry that govern space, time, and matter. Is that sufficient—causal agent, in this case a cause—that could create everything we see in the universe from the universe itself, to the fine tuning we see in the universe to the origin of life in the universe? That’s really where I found myself. So now, for me, I had to just take a little bit of a shift in my investigation, and I started to look at whether or not my naturalism was a sufficient explanation.
Dennis: I just have to stop you there. You’re looking at the design of the universe, the design of creation, all the way from the grandeur of the galaxies down to molecules?
J. Warner: Yes.
Dennis: And you’re going, “How can that be explained?”
J. Warner: Yes, let me give it to you in a paradigm. If you walk into a death scene, there are four ways to die only one of them is criminal. You can die one of the other three ways and no homicide investigator’s ever going to be interested. We’re looking out for homicides. But there’s a suicide, there are natural deaths, and there are accidental deaths. Those other three kinds of deaths don’t interest us, sadly, because we’re hired to catch bad guys.
So in the end we have to ask that question first, “Is this death scene a crime scene?” The way you ask that question is kind of a trick I call a game called “inside or outside the room.” Can you explain everything you find in the room by staying in the room? If you can, it’s probably not a murder.
So for example, if I have a dead person and a handgun, but that handgun belongs to the dead person, I even find a suicide note in which they are talking about committing suicide—well, I can explain now everything in the room by what’s in the room. No one outside the room has to be involved at all.
On the other hand, if that gun doesn’t belong to him, it’s registered to somebody else, an unknown, there are no fingerprints on the gun, and there’s no note, I even have bloody footprints leading out of the room, well now the best explanation for the stuff in the room is a cause that’s outside the room. Now everything shifts to a murder investigation.
So it’s really about intruder investigations, right? Do we have an intruder?
So I thought to myself, because you apply this same thing to the universe, could you ask yourself the question, “Can I explain everything in the room of the universe by staying in the room?” If I can, great, then some form of evolutionary process is working on space, time, and matter; given the laws of physics and chemistry will explain everything, all the way to our consciousness, to our free agency, to moral truths, to the problem of evil. Everything ought to be able to be explained given what’s in the room.
Now if you have to go out of the room of naturalism to explain the stuff that’s in the room, we have an intruder. So this is a good way of, I think, assessing evidence in the room. And that’s what I did next.
Bob: And I’ve—many times, my kids would tell you (they’ve heard this over and over again) I’ve said, “If we were to go now to the Lexus dealer and I were to take you into the showroom and say, ‘This car, isn’t it magnificent? I mean, it’s a beautiful vehicle; you can’t believe the engineering here. Guess what? There was nothing here centuries ago, and now all of a sudden the car is here.”
Well, you’d take me to the loony bin for making a statement like that!
That’s what we’re saying about the place we live! The earth, the universe; that there was nothing here a long time ago, and now it’s here, and not just here, but complex and organized. You’d have to be deliberately trying to suppress the truth to come up with that conclusion.
J. Warner: Well, let’s put it this way: the experts we’re talking about, who want to offer an explanation from inside the room of the universe, have a presuppositional bias. So when I work in investigation I ask all the traditional questions that you might ask when you’re writing a science paper or you’re writing an essay in English. It’s the what, how, when, where? I ask those kinds of questions. But I also ask a question that if I don’t ask nobody is ever going to go to jail, and that’s the who question? I can figure out how it happened and what happened and when it happened, but until I ask, “Who did it?” no one goes to jail.
So I wrote a book after Cold Case Christianity called God’s Crime Scene, in which we do this inside the room or outside the room investigation with eight pieces of evidence.
In that book I’m citing all of the atheist philosophers, cosmologists, biologists who offer alternative explanations from inside the room. They will ask all the other questions, except they will never allow themselves to ask a “who” question, because they’ve categorically decided up front that science does not involve “who” questions. You can’t have personal agents involved as any explanation when it comes to cosmology, because why?
“Why can’t you?” “Because you can’t! That’s out of bounds.” “Well, why is it out of bounds?” “Well, because you just don’t do science that way.” “Well, why don’t you do science that way?”
In the end, they’ve eliminated the “who” question, and I always say if you eliminate “who” questions, no one ever goes to jail. Well, it turns out, if you also eliminate a “who” question you end up pretzeling yourself, trying to explain how this happened. Because you simply won’t allow yourself to ask the “who,” which solves the whole problem.
Dennis: And what I want to do is answer the “who” question with you in a just a minute, but I want to ask Susie something. What’s it like to argue with him?
I mean, here’s a guy who’s just been in crime scenes—
Susie: Well, now you see why I fell in love with him.
He’s so smart!
Dennis: He’s brilliant!
Bob: I know, but when your evidence doesn’t match his conclusion, what happens then?
Susie: Well, sometimes I am the better detective.
J. Warner: Let me tell you something: if you’re a detective and I’ll say, “I can’t find the peanut butter!” She says, “You’re a detective! You look for it! You’re a detective; you should be able to find it.” You get no help around the house at all.
Susie: It’s usually right behind the milk.
Dennis: So, Susie, what I want to ask you is, what was it like for you to be watching your husband? I mean, I can only imagine; he moved from this laser focus on his career to now a laser focus on his faith and his own relationship to this person from history who claimed to be God in flesh, Jesus Christ.
What was it like to watch this happen?
Susie: Well, Jim was always very intense, a lot of energy for whatever he was interested in. He could go 24/7, doesn’t need a lot of sleep, and he has a great memory. So everything he reads he remembers, and I always say, “How do you remember all that?”
Dennis: Yes; was this persuading you in your own quest for God as well?
Susie: Definitely, because then we were reading the Bible, we were learning truth for ourselves, and that’s just what we’d like to encourage everybody to do, that anyone can read the Bible, see what God has to say, and He’s speaking to you.
Bob: I have to go back to where I started, because we found you at a place where you were starting to read the testimony of the Gospel writers and saying, “Okay, I believe 70 per cent of this, the moral teaching; I just dismiss the miracles.”
Then you started to examine your own philosophical naturalism, your bias in that direction. That started to erode. What happened next?
J. Warner: Well, I finally got to a place where I figured, “Look, if there is a causal agent, a personal causal agent—” that to me made the most sense, right, because we see aspects of design, and design requires designers. Now, I am a designer by trade; before I became a police officer, my background, I had a bachelor’s degree in design and a master’s degree in architecture, and I worked at a firm in Santa Monica. I can tell you that I started to think, “Well, what are the attributes of design that we have good cause to attribute to a designer?”
When I looked at these things in biology, looked at these things in the fine-tuning of the universe, information in DNA—we have no example anywhere in the history of the universe or the history of science in which information has ever come from anything other than intelligence. I mean, these things were compelling for me.
Even objective moral truths—think about this—there are some transcendent, objective moral truths that transcend not just—I can’t create these out of personal opinion; they transcend me.
Our communities don’t even create these, because if you have two communities who disagree we have to appeal to a transcendent adjudicator. What is it that transcends all of us that could adjudicate between our different ideas about moral truths, knowing that moral truths are always personal obligations between persons. If there are objective, transcendent moral truths and moral obligations, there must be an objective, transcendent moral person to whom we are obligated.
I started thinking, “Look, in the end, I have nothing else. I believe that everything in the universe came into existence from nothing, because the science tells us that. Not from space; space came into existence at the beginning of the universe. Time, matter. So space is not nothing; space is something. So if you’re telling me there’s something other than those three things that has to be the cause of the universe, by definition it’s extra natural.”
Dennis: It’s an intruder.
J. Warner: It’s the intruder. So as I looked at that I said, “Okay, if there is a first cause of the universe that is powerful enough to blink everything into existence from nothing, He could probably walk on water.” Right? I mean, He could probably do all this stuff we’re reading in the gospels; it’s small potatoes to Genesis one. That’s the biggest, most amazing miracle in all of Scripture, and we have good reason to believe that is a miraculous, extra natural event.
But at the end, here’s where I ended up: with “belief that.” Belief that everything in the gospels that was recorded actually occurred the way it was recorded. That doesn’t give you “belief in.” That gives you “belief that,” that what it’s saying about Jesus is true. So what are you going to do with it? So now I had to take another step. I had to start reading, not what the gospels said about Jesus; what do the gospels and the letters of Paul, the entire New Testament, all of Scripture, Old and New Testament, say about me?
That changed everything for me. I can’t remember—people will say, “Do you remember what it was to convince you—” No. I’m a cumulative case. We make cases cumulatively; it takes months to develop those kinds of cases; the same was true for me. But I can remember where I was when I first read about me in the gospels.
Dennis: And so, when did you finally realize you were a jurist of one and that Jesus was coming to you going, “Jim, I want your love, I want your heart, I want you”?
J. Warner: I think it first started, again, in God’s Word; it started in First Corinthians for me. Now I’m reading through Paul’s letters and I’m reading about the natural man, and I’m reading about how no one seeks after God, and I’m reading about the fallen nature of man, and I’m realizing that is describing me perfectly. Here I was, a guy who was enforcing the law, and I think I had a pretty moral—you know, Susie have been together faithfully for 37 years, and I have a high value for marriage and a high value for these kinds of relationships, a high value for parenting, a high value for my kids.
But, I knew that all that stuff that is right under the surface of that good face we put on in our lives was true for me. And there was no doubt that on the outside, if you looked at me, you have said, “He’s a pretty good guy.” But we don’t worship a good God; we worship a perfect God. If you have enough power to create everything from nothing you have power to eliminate imperfection. So I knew that I wasn’t comparing myself to a good God; I was comparing myself to a perfect God.
Now look, even compared to a good God I’m a mess, but compared to a perfect God I’m way out of the ballpark, and that’s when I realized that I could trust what it was telling me about Jesus, so why wouldn’t I trust what it was telling me about me? It’s telling me that Jesus is the Savior of the world, it’s telling me that I need a Savior—good combination. There’s, “I need a Savior,” and look over here. Here’s Jesus.
I remember coming home and saying, “Wow—” I was convicted that I was in need of a Savior, that I was a mess. People would say, “Well, you’re not a mess.” No. Trust me. I know my thoughts. And anyone listening to this show who’s had a good life—really?
That’s why when you read the Sermon on the Mount, now I’m reading it not for whether it’s historically valid or how many people were hearing it, what is He saying, and how does that compare to Luke’s version of it? I’m not doing that anymore. Now I’m reading it to see, “What does it say about me?” I realized it’s telling me that the bar I had for my own goodness was really low, and the bar that Jesus sets is reasonably where it should be, and it convicts me.
Bob: You know, what you’re describing was the transformational point in my life as well. Because I had heard the claims of Christ and I had thought Christianity, “yes, makes sense, and even if Jesus had to die for the few bad things that I had done in my life. I’m a mostly good guy, so if that had to happen I don’t understand that, but if that had to happen I guess that’s okay.”
Until somebody sat me down and said, “I don’t think you get it,” and took me to Romans Three, “There is none righteous, no, not one; nobody seeks after God,” and said, “This is describing you.” That’s the point where people move from, as you said, “I believe that Jesus,” to, “I believe in Jesus.” Now it is, “I understand my need,” and when you understand your need, that’s a difference-maker, isn’t it?
J. Warner: Yes. I put it this way. All homicide detectives also have to work officer-involved shootings. I had an officer-involved shooting one night. I am speaking to the police officer after the shooting, so clearly the officer survived, but I asked him; I said, “What did you do?” He said, “I knew that I was caught flat-footed. The guy’s maybe six feet away from me, he’s pointing the gun; I couldn’t do a takeaway move, I just knew I didn’t have my hand on my gun. He had the gun up first.”
Now, all of us have worn bullet-proof vests doing this job, and we’ve seen the vests stop bullets in the range, so we know that the vest can stop bullets. We have belief “that.”
But in that moment, the officer said, “I just decided that since I couldn’t do anything I’m just going to tense up my stomach muscles and take the first couple of rounds. I knew I was wearing my vest, and I’ll get out to return fire.”
I realized that night that this guy had moved from “belief that” to “belief in” in a millisecond, because now he trusted in the vest to do what he knew it could do. But what I noticed about that whole situation was that it was his experience, having seen the vest stop bullets in the range, that evidential experience that allowed him to trust in the vest in the moment of crisis.
That was my own experience. I need to know, “Can I trust that this is true? Because if it’s true,” as C.S. Lewis says, right, in God in the Dock, “if it’s not true it’s of no importance. If it’s true it’s of critical importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
It’s either of no importance or of critical importance, and once I realized it was true I was all in.
Dennis: And what that police officer did was ultimately surrender to his vest.
J. Warner: That’s right.
Dennis: And what you’re saying you did was you surrendered to Jesus Christ.
J. Warner: You surrender; that’s right. Who would you be if you didn’t? This is God. You’re only going to be in a position of surrender. You’re not going to out-God God. You’re going to have to surrender to God.
Dennis: And to a person who’s listening right now, real quickly, what do they need to do to surrender? We know how that—you put your hands up, like this?
J. Warner: Right. Yes. The only reason you do that is because you realize the person you’re putting your hands up to has authority over you.
I needed to know who was I? So the first thing I would ask you is to ask yourself the question: who do you think you are, really? I mean, really, in your deepest thoughts? You know yourself better than anybody else. If there was a holy God, a perfect God, how well do you think you would stack up in your thoughts?
That’s what it really comes down to, and once you realize that you don’t measure up—and you can never really measure up, because of the nature of who we are.
But we can trust—look, how I think we’re ever going to be reunited with a God who’s created us when we fall so short, by our very nature, of that God. Well, there’s a way, but it’s not by your own works, it’s by something that God did for you.
Can you imagine a God who loves you enough to not only show you the way home but to offer you the free ticket to get in? That’s what I just didn’t realize. Number one, I didn’t know I wanted to go home. I didn’t know I needed to go home. I didn’t know what that even means, to go home.
So if you’re listening, it’s about you deciding, first of all, do you really know who you are? And do you know your need? If you’re honest with yourself you end up in the same place that I ended up, that everyone ends up; you know you need a Savior. You need to be forgiven. There’s always something for which we need to be forgiven, and this is a transcendent kind of forgiveness. It’s not just the kind of forgiveness that your friend can offer you or your partner can offer you or your spouse can offer you; there’s stuff that’s so completely about your nature, who you are from head to toe, that only your Maker could actually only really truly forgive.
J. Warner: And that’s really where we are, and that’s why we say that Jesus is the answer, because is the offer that God makes for you. Every crime has a punishment. What if I could offer you forgiveness and have somebody else take your punishment? What if you were standing in front of that judge and he said, “You know what? You’re guilty, and we’re all guilty, but instead of you suffering that punishment I’m going to come down off this bench where I sit and I’m going to take the handcuffs off you, put them on me, and I’m going to take your punishment for you.”
That’s what’s happening here. It’s not that God is saying, “I’m going to substitute—” God is Himself taking your place, taking the punishment that is due you. That’s a great offer! Who else could even do that, except for God? God’s not placing that punishment on some other human named Jesus for you. No, no, no. We’re Christians. We believe that Jesus is God incarnate.
God is taking that punishment on Himself. That’s a great deal, but if you don’t recognize first that you deserve that punishment, you’ll never take that offer.
So the first step in any of this is to search your own heart, your own mind, to think about where you really are, and be honest with yourself. You know your need, and there’s a way to fulfill that need.
Dennis: And the person of Jesus Christ is the most valid place to place your faith.
J. Warner: Right.
Dennis: The most valid person to surrender to. He lived the life, He is God, and He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”
Bob: And I would encourage listeners who want to investigate this, go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link you see there that says, “Two Ways to Live,” because it really does lay out what the Bible says is true about who God is and our relationship with Him.
The question for all of us is, what do we believe, and is our life centered around that belief? Is that really what we’re living for?
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “Two Ways to Live,” to better understand the message of the Gospel, and then look for information about J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s a great book for college students, for high school students, moms and dads may want to go through this with their high school students together. You could do this around the dinner table, family devotions. Or there’s another book for younger kids called Cold Case Christianity for Kids, and this is for kids eight to 12, and we have copies of that book available as well.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about both books. You can order from us online, or call to order; 1-800-FLTODAY is our number. 1-800-358-6329.
That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
Now tomorrow we want to talk about why young people are, in fact, rejecting the claims of Christianity, and whether we need to be talking about the rational basis for our faith more than we are. We’ll have that conversation tomorrow; hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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