What can be said to the Gospel Coalition’s review of Cold Case Christianity? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Someone in the CAA (Christian Apologetics Alliance) brought to my attention a review of Cold-Case Christianity by the Gospel Coalition’s Gus Pritchard. It’s my thinking that Cold-Case Christianity could be one of the most powerful books to advance the gospel in some time and realizing that Jim Wallace is probably a busy guy, I figured I’d have the fun of dealing with someone who wants to go after the book.
Pritchard starts by saying that his thoughts on the book were like winning the lottery. It might seem to bring some happiness at the start, but in the end, it will only lead to misery. I take it to mean that we might think this is a good argument at the beginning, but in the end we will see that it will not reach those people it is designed to reach.
Well for that, we will have to wait and see, but many people have come to Christ by reading something like Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.” I suspect many will come to Christ through Wallace’s book, or at least move further on their journey or even just get started. This is the kind of book that Greg Koukl, Wallace’s employer now, would say could “put a rock in their shoe.”
Pritchard is not totally negative. He does affirm that Wallace has good thoughts on reasoning skills. This is something I agreed with as well. He also does say the book is entirely readable, which is something else I agree with. The second item he agreed with, and I saved this for last for soon to be obvious reasons, was the importance of recognizing our presuppositions.
Yeah. It’s clear where this is going.
So for the start, I am going to state my presupposition. I am going to presuppose the evidentialist view and presuppose that the presuppositional approach does not work.
Glad we got that out of the way.
Let’s look at what Pritchard himself says:
“First, Cold-Case Christianity places far too much emphasis on the role of extrabiblical sources. No doubt there is a legitimate role for biblical archaeology and extrabiblical writing from antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from extrabiblical sources. And Wallace, I’m afraid, wanders too close to this dark side of apologetics.”
The dark side of apologetics? Did I somehow step into a Star Wars universe?
Yes. How horrible to show that the Bible is backed up by sources outside of it. How terrible to show that these events did not happen in a vacuum. Thankfully, no one in the Bible took this approach.
Except for the fact that when the gospel was being preached, there were no gospels per se and there were no epistles. Paul told Agrippa that the events done weren’t done in a corner. In other words, investigate the claims for yourself! The early testimony was eyewitness testimony. Sources like Tacitus and others show the eyewitnesses were right! This was not done in a corner! This was done out in the open! Archaeology helps us confirm the biblical writings and shows that unlike the pagan myths, these events were rooted in a place and time. Is there some danger that our faith will be destroyed by outside sources?
It really becomes a fideistic approach. If your worldview is true, you should have no problem putting it to the strictest scrutiny. If it is not, then you will have a problem. No Christian should fear further research into what they believe. No Christian should have a problem with extra-biblical sources. Now I do agree there is a problem with stating that EVERYTHING must be backed extra-biblically. I think this is a prejudice we too often have where nothing in the Bible can be considered historical unless it’s verified somewhere else. A gospel account alone could count as a historical claim itself that can be investigated, and indeed is in NT scholarship, but where we can get extra-biblical evidence, I’m all for it.
Pritchard goes on to say:
“All of chapter 12, for instance, is devoted to proving the Gospels have external corroborative evidence—“evidence that are independent of the Gospel documents yet verify the claims of the text” (183). Wallace then addresses the historicity of the pool of Bethesda and makes another worrying statement: “For many years, there was no evidence for such a place outside of John’s Gospel. Because Christianity makes historical claims, archaeology ought to be a tool we can use to see if these claims are, in fact, true” (201-202, emphasis added).”
Yes. Obviously a horrible remark. If we are to approach the unbeliever and tell them examining the case of Christianity will show it to be true, what is wrong with saying we will abandon it if it is false? In fact, if someone becomes convinced that Christianity is not true, they shouldn’t remain a Christian. I would also contend that that person has made a mistake in their research somewhere along the way.
Christianity is a faith that is rooted in evidences so we should be able to use evidences to demonstrate it. I have often been told by those of the presuppositional bent that the approach is used all the time in the Bible. The problem is I can’t find one. I get told passages like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Yes. It is. Wisdom refers to godly living. It doesn’t refer to confirming the gospel to be true. When I look at the apostles in every case, I see them pointing to evidences. These evidences can vary. With Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, they did use the Old Testament, because this was a source that was already accepted, much like one could use the Koran in evangelizing Muslims, or the Book of Mormon in evangelizing Mormons. With the Gentiles that weren’t God-fearers, they would point to eyewitness testimony as well as do miracles. Each of those are evidentialist!
Let’s continue with Pritchard:
“In other words, Wallace seems to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Gospel accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and other extrabiblical sources. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extrabiblical sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word.”
There are some statements that I think are made to sound holy, but really aren’t. In fact, I think it gets to be an idolization of Scripture. We have this idea that when the Bible refers to the “Word of God” it means the Bible. I seriously doubt this. The Bible usually uses the term “Scriptures” instead and the Word of God refers either to Jesus or some command of God. Of course, in that sense, Scripture is the Word of God, but it is false to take the usages of the term in the Bible and give them a meaning never intended. In fact, it often turns the Bible into a magic book.
For instance, how many times have I heard someone say “God’s Word will not return to Him void.” The implication is that if you go out and give Scripture, it will produce results. (Kind of like how the devil quoted Scripture to Jesus?) No. The words of the Bible are not like words in a magic book that have an independent power on their own. Of course, Scripture is something powerful, but like anything else, it must be used properly. You do not just go out there and read Scripture and get results.
Pritchard says that this cannot affirm the Inerrancy of the Bible. As we have said numerous times here, Inerrancy can become a sort of sacred cow that people think they must protect, which to me produces more problems than it solves. For instance, if it must be the case that Inerrancy is to be true for Christianity to be true, then you are really saying history cannot confirm the Bible. We cannot take an independent historical approach and confirm that Jesus rose from the dead. We have to take a leap of faith into Scripture. If Christianity is a historical faith, how could it be that it could not be confirmed historically, especially when the first hearers of the gospel were told to go out and investigate it!
Second, apologetics becomes a “Stump the Bible Scholar” game where if there is one contradiction that the person cannot solve immediately, then all of the Bible is to be thrown out. Are we to say that if there is a contradiction based on how many horses king Solomon had (Which there isn’t) then nothing in the Bible is true? It means Jesus didn’t exist? It means He didn’t rise? That the truthfulness of Luke depends on the truthfulness of the writers of Kings and Chronicles?
It is sad that I have seen Christians saying this. I have seen them say that if there is an error in the Bible then Christianity is not true and Jesus did not rise from the dead.
Friends. The Bible is extremely important. It is the greatest testimony we have to the life of Christ. It is our great guide for matters of faith and practice.
But the Bible did not die on the cross for you.
The Bible is not the sacrifice for your sins.
The Bible did not rise again.
You are out there getting people to come to Jesus. You are not out there getting people to come to Inerrancy. Now if I find an error in the Bible, will I have to change my view of Scripture? Yeah. I would. I would not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I also do not expect to find such an error after over a decade of doing this kind of work and seeing most every contradiction umpteen times.
The position assumes the Bible is in a vacuum and we have to handle it differently from other texts to show it is true. No. I say that if you handle the Bible the exact same way you handle other texts, it will come out on top. The Bible usually gets a different treatment because it has great claims about Jesus and it treats miracles as real. The Bible requires a call on someone’s life and that is something that is resisted.
After this, there is the usual talk about how people are really God-hating rebellious sinners and aren’t capable of examining the evidence. It’s a wonder then how Wallace came to the faith or someone like Lee Strobel or C.S. Lewis or others. Aren’t these included in the category of God-hating rebellious sinners? Are we going to get into a “No True Scotsman” approach now?
The reality is some people will reject every piece of evidence that is given to them. Some people do not want Christianity to be true and will resist it. This is not doubted by anyone I know. Some will be open though. Some people really are searching for something. A book like Wallace’s could be what reaches them.
Let’s also note other benefits of this.
First, it will help the Christian who is struggling. Some Christians want more than a feeling in their hearts. In fact, I think every Christian should want more. If all you have is a personal testimony and how you feel, then why not be a Mormon? If you point to anything beyond personal testimony and feelings, then you are being evidentialist in your approach.
Second, in the public arena, it might not change the opponent, but it can shut him down, which I think is a goal to seek for. There are people who want to destroy our flock like wolves go after sheep. If they are not interested in truth, then you’re not aiming for them. Just shut them down somehow. To see the arguments of the opposition shut down publicly can be and has been a source of encouragement to the Christian.
Third, it helps those of us who are arguing to more regularly learn the evidences. Nothing helps you memorize the material like having to use it again and again. The more you have to say this stuff, the better you get at it.
If the person is open, they will come. If they are not, they will want. I do not see how this would be a problem even with a Calvinist approach. One can say that none will come until the Father draws them but the means of drawing could be a good evidentialist argument.
I conclude by still holding that Wallace’s book is one that I think should be given to those who are seeking truth on a regular basis. I look forward to hearing about it being conveniently “left” on an airplane seat or in a hotel lobby for the curious reader. I look forward to church’s doing book studies of this book. I look forward to college and seminaries using it in apologetics classes.
Thus, I cannot accept Pritchard and while he hesitates to recommend Wallace’s book, I hesitate even more to use Pritchard’s approach. (Of course, I could just be a rebellious God-hating sinner.)
Pritchard’s review can be found here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/cold-case_christianity