Learning to Be a Detective

I love personal testimonies, don’t you? Each and every one of them is an act of God’s grace upon an individual—opening a person’s eyes to the truth of Christ’s identity, death, burial, and resurrection. They are miraculous moments in which one is spiritually born again (literally, “born from above”) by placing his or her faith in Christ alone.

A recent favorite of mine comes from a man named J. Warner Wallace. He was a devout atheist working as a cold-case detective for the Torrance Police Department (in Los Angeles County).  Wallace explains in his book, Cold-Case Christianity:1

I was thirty-five years old before I first paid attention to a pastor’s sermon. A fellow officer had been inviting me to church for many months, and while I was able to put him off for some time, I eventually acquiesced and attended a Sunday-morning service with my family.

I managed to ignore most of what the pastor talked about until he began to paint a picture of Jesus that caught my attention. He characterized Jesus as a really smart guy who had some remarkably wise things to say about life, family, relationships, and work. I began to believe that this might be true. While I was uninterested in bowing my knee to Jesus as God, I was at least willing to listen to Jesus as a teacher. A week later I purchased my first Bible.

cold_case_1__54508.1363200625.380.380My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview, yet I suddenly found myself reading the Gospels to hear what Jesus had to say. Something about the Gospels caught my attention, more as an investigator than as someone interested in the ancient philosophy of an imaginary sage.

By this time in my life… I had interviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of eyewitnesses and suspects. I had become familiar with the nature of eyewitness statements, and I understood how testimony was evaluated in a court of law. Something about the Gospels struck me as more than mythological storytelling. The Gospels actually appeared to be ancient eyewitness accounts.

…I was eventually trained in Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA). By carefully employing this methodology and scrutinizing a suspect’s choice of pronouns, use of tensed language, compression or expansion of time (along with many other linguistic tendencies), I was typically able to determine if he or she committed the crime, and I could often establish the time of day when the crime actually occurred!

If this technique could provide me with such incredible insight into the statements of suspects and witnesses, why couldn’t it be used to investigate the claims of the Gospels? I began to use FSA as I studied the gospel of Mark. Within a month, and in spite of my deep skepticism and hesitation, I concluded that Mark’s gospel was the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter. I was beginning to move from a belief that Jesus was a wise teacher to a belief in what He said about Himself. I began a journey from casual assent to committed trust… I’m still a detective… I’ve learned a few things that may help you investigate the truth claims of the Bible.

The author’s experiences rival any criminal investigative program you may have watched.

I will tell you up front that I am going to provide you with a number of examples from my career as a homicide and cold-case detective as I share what I’ve learned over the years; I will be telling some cop stories.

Wallace’s book is an excellent read for both the cynical and the convinced. I loved learning from him how we can apply the skills of a detective to the truth claims of Christianity. Whether you’re an unbeliever or a believer, there’s something to be gleaned from these pages.


 Wallace, Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). 18-20.