Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection by J. Warner Wallace

“Surely you don’t believe that the best explanation for an empty tomb is a resurrection. There must be tonnes of other far more reasonable explanations for that.” Really? Well, I’ve got a cold case detective who says otherwise.

Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review Alive! A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection by J. Warner Wallace. 28 pages, published in 2014 by David C. Cook. Available in Amazon Kindle for USD1.99. Available in Faithlife for free for this month and this month only.

A Detective Enters the Room

Wallace is a cold case detective. In his website it says here:

J. Warner’s professional investigative work has received national recognition; his cases have been featured more than any other detective on NBC’s Dateline, and his work has also appeared on CourtTV and Fox News.

Later it says:

J. Warner was awarded the Police and Fire Medal of Valor “Sustained Superiority” Award for his continuing work on cold-case homicides, and the CopsWest Award after solving a 1979 murder. Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, J. Warner provides his readers and audiences with the tools they will need to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview.

J. Warner was not a Christian who chose to study the Gospels and write a defence of the faith. He was an atheist. He did not believe in this Christian stuff. So when he came to the evidence box that is the Gospels, this hard-nosed detective could have concluded that it was all, everything was, a big hoax. The surprise, which is not a surprise to Christians, is the evidence does demand a verdict, and there is a strong case for Christ.

Dr. Norm Geisler, Chancellor of Veritas Evangelical Seminary had this to say of J. Warner Wallace:

“Few professions better prepare a person to follow the evidence than being a detective. And few detectives are better prepared Christians to be apologists than J. Warner Wallace.”

So that is his shtick. J. Warner Wallace wrote Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Including this book, he has written nine books. Today we review his shortest book: “Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection.” The book is so short that in the time it takes for you to listen to this review, you could have read and finished it.

Alive Cold Case Resurrection J Warner Wallace

Natural Death, Accidental Death, Suicide or Homicide

Do you like watching CSI or Sherlock Holmes or Columbo or Murder She Wrote, remember that? I love a good mystery. I’ve finished multiple readings of Agatha Christie’s series of novels. Every story has a dead body. And here, we have one too.

To explain how he will investigate the resurrection, Wallace, the homicide cop with over two years of experience, gives us a quick primer on how to think through the evidence.

You have a dead body in front of you. What are your options? Is it natural death, accidental death, suicide or homicide? You look at the facts. The facts will help you cross options off your list.

A reason why the cold-case investigation has been so attractive to many is because it doesn’t front load it with presuppositions. Wallace is not asking you to believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Wallace comes in and just asks, “Just the facts mam.”

This is the way Wallace puts it:

Dr. Gary Habermas and Professor Mike Licona have taken the time to identify the “minimal facts” (or evidences) related to the resurrection. While there are many claims in the New Testament related to this important event, not all are accepted by skeptics and wary investigators. Habermas and Licona surveyed the most respected and well-established historical scholars and identified a number of facts that are accepted by the vast majority of researchers in the field.

The Four Facts Friends and Foes Agree

Wallace found four of Habermas and Licona’s minimal facts to be “the most substantiated by both friends and foes of Christianity”, and they are:

  1. Jesus died on the cross and was buried.
  2. Jesus’s tomb was empty, and no one ever produced his body.
  3. Jesus’s disciples believed that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  4. Jesus’s disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations.

With these four facts, many explanations can come out of it. Wallace then says that each of those potential explanations have problems, and that includes the Christian explanation.

Wallace goes through seven explanations. I think it’s fairly comprehensive or at least the main ones are here. So, there is a high chance if you are talking to a non-believer about the resurrection of Christ, one of these explanations will come up.

And that would be where this book shines. The explanations which may sound reasonable at first, it might have stumped you as an alternative and plausible answer to the resurrection, I mean, anything is more plausible than a dead guy coming back to life right? So the homicide detective tells you that actually the alternative explanations are not without their problems.

I think it’s kind of fun to read for yourself what are the other possible explanations for the resurrection, so I won’t spoil that part of the book. But I will give you one example, which I think is the common one.

Explanation #1: It’s All a Mistake

Looking at the four facts, the easiest explanation is to just say that the disciples were mistaken. They thought Jesus died but he didn’t. And that’s why the tomb was empty and there was no body. Because he didn’t die. That’s why when the disciples believe Jesus resurrected because Jesus didn’t die. And their belief, which was false, transformed the disciples.

Ta dah! Such a simple explanation. No need for a convoluted resurrection event. My my! How gullible Christians must be. I’m so smart because I thought of this. And 2000 years of an army of sceptics couldn’t turn this into an open and shut case.

Yeah… about that explanation, the defence would like to call to the witness stand detective J. Warner Wallace. And the defence reminds everyone who is Wallace. He is a detective. A homicide detective. He knows dead bodies. And he tells you that everybody knows whether what they have in their hands is a dead body or a live one. Wallace writes:

It’s been my experience that witnesses who first come upon the dead body of someone they care about quickly check for the most obvious sign of life. Is the person who was injured still breathing? This test is simple and effective; everyone is capable of performing it, and even those who know nothing about human biology instinctively resort to it. It’s also been my experience that three conditions become apparent in the bodies of dead people: temperature loss, rigidity, and lividity.

He goes on in some detail to explain how those three conditions: temperature loss, rigidity and lividity cannot be faked and cannot be missed.

That’s not all, this detective is thorough. Do you remember in the Gospels, the guard stabbed Jesus with a spear and there was blood and water pouring out? Wallace explains that a coroner would expect to see water when a person is injured prior to death. So the fact that this little detail was recorded goes a long way to show that the Gospel writers were recording what was actually observed.

There are other problems with the proposal. Jesus was whipped, beaten, nailed and he was walking around like a normal guy 3 days later. The Roman soldiers had one job, and one job only, and it was not a difficult job. Make sure that the guy you crucified is dead or you are next.

So that off the cuff explanation of the resurrection seems lame now. So what is another possible explanation? Wallace goes through them. Shows you the problems for all of them.

That is the main essence of the book. Remember the book is only 28 pages long. Reading this book will help you, whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, just go through the different explanations. And well, what do you think of it? It’s not so open and shut now is it?

These are the facts, facts that, I remind you, are attested by both friends and foes of Christianity:

  1. Jesus died on the cross and was buried.
  2. Jesus’s tomb was empty, and no one ever produced his body.
  3. Jesus’s disciples believed that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  4. Jesus’s disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations.

The Christian explanation is Jesus was resurrected. The problem? It is a supernatural act. But we have already explored other explanations so which is the most satisfying explanation to you?

Mystery Fans Are Suspicious of Everything

I can imagine a reader feeling cornered here. You might feel you are being led down a garden path. And perhaps you want to take a step away from this question and ask.

Who profits? That’s another great question in mysteries.

Who profits? No, not about the resurrection. Is the detective, is J. Warner Wallace, truly an honest sceptic? Why should we accept his reasoning here?

Let’s once again imagine the detective is at the witness stand and now the prosecution tries to throw some doubt on this witness.

Isn’t it true that Wallace has profited from his cold-case books? Yes.

Isn’t it true that Wallace has established himself as a credible apologist? Think of the reputation and fame that comes with it.

And if he is profiting, then why would we trust what Wallace has to say? Perhaps five years, or ten years later, he might think it more profitable to come out as an ex-believer. To disavow everything he said was true. And thus play for the other team. So why should we follow the detective’s lead? He might be the untrustworthy narrator in this book. The Kaizer Soze of the mystery.

Here is the thing. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if J. Warner Wallace later proves to be just a guy out to make a quick buck. I say this to the most sceptical of readers because that would be easier to believe than to believe the resurrection of Christ.

The claim of the book is there is evidence. It doesn’t matter what Wallace claims. You can check out the evidence. Lee Strobel, the journalist went to look at the evidence. He went into the evidence room as an atheist, and he came out as a believer. You don’t have to take any one’s words for this. That’s the beauty of the Christian faith. It’s not dependent on someone’s dreams or visions. The cross of Christ is a historical event. And Christians claim, not just claim, the entire faith has Christians as witnesses that the resurrection is a historical event.

The Great Revelation is Not The End

But it doesn’t end there. The Christian is not content with you admitting begrudgingly that okay, Christ was resurrected. The finale of the mystery or the puzzle is not to know the final answer, how all the pieces come together. Because in this story, the dead body rose. And because he rose again, as Jesus prophesied, therefore everything else he said is now true. He already did the impossible. “On the third day, I will rise,” he said. He didn’t mean it in a spiritual way. He did not rise in some heavenly tabernacle, not observable by the disciples. He did not rise in Peter’s vision or with a visit by an angel to Mary.

Jesus appeared to witnesses. And those witnesses went to the their deaths convinced that Jesus has risen.

So this book, doesn’t stop here.

At the beginning of his conclusion, Wallace writes:

It’s one thing to “believe that” Jesus rose from the dead and is who He said He was, but it’s another to “believe in” Him as Savior. Every one of us, at some point in our investigation of the claims of Christianity, has to move from “belief that” to “belief in.” I can remember when this happened for me. As a rebellious, self-reliant detective, I initially denied my need for a Savior, even though I accepted what the Gospels told me about that Savior. In order to take a step from “belief that” to “belief in,” I needed to move from an examination of Jesus to an examination of me.

He has more to say, but I really think you can read it for yourself.

Who Is This Book For?

Who is this book for? If you are a Christian, it’s a refresher. You probably know some if not all of the alternate explanations, but it’s nice to get reminded of this.

If you are a non-Christian, and you think you have a perfectly reasonable explanation, or you are sure there are perfectly more reasonable explanations than a dead guy coming back to life, then you should read this book.

In fact, although this book is available for free in Faithlife, you should consider just buying a bundle of this book and just giving it away.

People who would normally never read a book might want to. Wallace writes well, he doesn’t demean or aggressive push the Christian agenda. He just says, these are the facts mam. And the facts say that Jesus has risen.

This is a review of Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection by J. Warner Wallace. It’s USD1.99 in Amazon Kindle. Free from Faithlife for February and only February.

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