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EPISODE 38: Cold Case Detective Investigates God
Former atheist Jim Warner Wallace embarked on a personal investigative journey and eventually became convinced of the reality of God and the truth of Christianity.
Visit J. Warner Wallace’s website: https://coldcasechristianity.com
Books by J.Warner Wallace:
- Person of Interest: Why Jesus Still Matters in a World that Rejects the Bible
- Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
- God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe
- Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith
Well, welcome to the Side B Podcast, Jim. It's so great to have you with me today.
Well, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Before we get started into your story, why don't we start with where you are now, so the listeners have an idea of who you are?
I worked homicides, cold case murders mostly, in Los Angeles County for a number of years, and most of my work ended up on Dateline, so there are several episodes out there that will illustrate the kind of work we're doing. They're unsolved murders. There's no statute of limitations on a murder. I was not a Christian most of my adult life. Now it's been 25 years, I guess, I've been a Christian. I was 35 when I first walked into a church. And somebody described Jesus as really smart, and that's what really started the journey for me. So today, I write books, I still have a couple of cold cases that are open that I need to tinker on a little bit, and for the most part, I get a chance to talk about Jesus a lot, which is what I love doing.
That's fantastic. Well, let's get started back early in your story because, like you said, you were an atheist probably for most of your life, so I'm very interested in how those views towards atheism got started. What formed that kind of belief? What was the culture that that was fostered? Your family? Did they have any kind of religious belief? Start me in your childhood.
I think my mom was raised definitely as kind of a cultural Catholic but not somebody who ever opened a Bible, really was familiar with scripture. If we had a Bible in the house, I wasn't aware of it. I think she has one now, but it was not the kind of thing we had in our house. And I didn't know any Christians. I really didn't even know any Catholics as a kid growing up. But I think I would have identified my Boston Italian side of the family, her family, were definitely raised within kind of a Catholic ethos, but really uninformed kind of view, and it was the kind of thing that we might go, when I was younger, much younger, like elementary school age, I remember we would go to church on Christmas, for sure on Christmas. Easter not so much. But by the time I was maybe in junior high or maybe upper elementary, I just told my mom I was done with it. "I don't want to go on Christmas. I'd rather not go."
And I had a very sarcastic view, largely because... You know, my parents divorced when I was pretty young, and my mom was not allowed... She talked about... I wasn't even sure what the heck she was talking about, but there were certain privileges that the church offered that she was no longer going to be allowed to take advantage of. That's how I saw it. That's all I really knew. I didn't know there was a sacrament issue or any of that, I just knew that, "Really? So now you're in a different status because my dad left you?" So I just thought, "All of this is such a bunch of nonsense," and I was growing in the '60s and '70s, when, you know, this is the Star Trek generation that lands on the moon and eventually thinks that science will have the answer for everything. And I was in southern California. I was in Los Angeles. So I was in a relatively secular environment. No one around us that was Christians. Never got invited to church by anybody. Just saw no place for it.
So at first... I could be relatively patient with people who are believers, unless they try to aggressively assert what they believed. Then I'm going to call it out for the nonsense that it is. And that was pretty much my view. And as a detective, I often would encounter Christians... We had a couple in the department who were officers who were not really good at articulating what they believed or, more importantly, why they believed it to be true. They were just raised in the church or they had an experience that changed their minds, and I'm not a big believer in experiences, so... I mean, everyone has an experience, so I just didn't think that that was worth considering.
So, to me, it just seemed like a bunch of nonsense, but I would, for the most part, not say much about it until I encountered one of these Christians who would be outspoken, and then I was quick to knock it down. And that was my view. So I would say I was a thoughtful atheist, because I really thought... and part of it is it's not hard to be thoughtful if the people you're encountering who say they're Christians are not able to defend what they believe at all. All you have to do is give a 10% effort, and you're going to exceed the other side by ten times. They just weren't able. They were not equipped to... Like, "Why do you trust the Bible?" "Do you have the originals of the Bible?" "No." "So if you don't have the original document, how can you even trust that you have anything close to the original document?" And a lot of the folks I would push back even... and I'm just hearing this stuff from other nonbelievers.
This is a little bit before the proliferation of the internet. So there's a lot more skepticism out there today than there was... I just would hang out with other atheists, and we would mock these Christians together, and then you start picking up on their way of mocking, you start adopting that yourself. Before long, you all sound like each other, and that was really where I was for a number of years. And I can point to... I watched a guy do a bank robbery, just to have him tell me he was a saved Christian on the way back to jail. So I was not impressed.
Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like there were a lot of reasons for you not to be impressed really, between the hypocrisy-
Well, yeah. I would've probably said that, anyway, but the arrogance in me... And a lot of us think we know better than anybody else around us, especially if you're in a position on a job where you're constantly called to solve the problem. They call us to come in as an authority figure to settle this thing. Well, if you start to take that too seriously, you start to think that basically you're the source of information, rather than somebody else. And I think it's probably not uncommon amongst people who do that kind of work to kind of think that they can't be taught anything.
That's an interesting insight, really, and sometimes we're not aware of our own blindness in that direction, right? You were in a position of authority, and I think that that would really feed into your understanding of yourself as knowing more than.
Not only that, you kind of feel like you're the good guy.
So you're the atheist who's not doing a bank robbery-
... talking to the Christian who is.
That's true! Absolutely!
Yeah. So that's part of it.
Yeah, no, yeah, I totally get that. So there were a couple of things that you raised there that interest me. One is you said that you were a thoughtful atheist, and I'm curious did you understand the implications of where atheism goes, in terms of the big questions of life.
So I would've said it this way: I would've said—this is the old Jim now, okay? I would've said that moral truths are grounded in groups that make decisions about what is the law of the culture, and those things change and evolve over time, and you Christians ought to know that, because at one time you affirmed polygamy and slavery and a bunch of stuff that you would say is not good now. So clearly it's not grounded in the nature of your God. It must be grounded in the nature of the time in which those groups lived. That's what I would've said. Okay. And that typically would stop the conversation right there.
But again, as a logical, analytical, obviously very bright person, did you pursue the logical endpoints of your atheism? In terms of where that headed, whether it be how you explained the origin of the universe.
I would've said, "Well, look, I'm not quick to jump to God for those kinds of scientific quandaries or mysteries that we have since solved. I mean I could have easily jumped to God, I guess, when I thought that Zeus was the thrower of the lightning bolt, but at some point we discovered where lightning really comes from, what causes lightning in the atmosphere, and so I don't have to attribute it to an act of Zeus. I can actually find a naturalistic explanation, and so for every other thing you want to quickly attribute to God, I would say, 'Be patient.' The way we were patient with lightning. You will eventually have an answer from a naturalistic perspective. That is the trajectory of human history. It's not toward theism, it's toward naturalism," and I would've said, "Just be patient."
Oftentimes you'll hear an atheist say, "Well, there's no evidence for God," right? There's just no evidence for God. Dismissing out of hand without consideration. Did anyone even try to bring any logical argument or evidence for you to even seriously consider?
Well, yeah. I mean I'm sure that a couple of these guys who are Christians in our department would make claims that they thought were well supported historically about the Gospels, but I had bigger problems in terms of even believing that... I mean I would give you there's some form of Jesus maybe, but there's not the miraculous form of Jesus. That's just stupid. I mean why would we believe that anything in the New Testament that describes a miracle is reliable? The minute you enter a miracle into your narrative, you had made a genre change. You're no longer doing history. You're now doing mythology. That's the genre in which miracles occur. You're not doing science if you're going to interject a miracle of God, either. So I would have said, these are two, by nature, by definition, naturalistic disciplines, and you cannot do science or history if you're going to start including miraculous explanations. That, to me, was the foundational groundwork that we started, so I would say, "You were talking history for a second there until you mentioned that, and you just switched over into mythology."
I would've said the same thing that people say to me today. "Look, are you going to go solve the next crime by assuming that there's a demon out there that is equally as responsible as the suspect you're looking for? No, you're not even going to consider supernatural explanations. You're only going to consider naturalistic explanations because you know in your heart of hearts there are no such things." That would've been my response.
Yeah. And so when you think of Jesus and the miraculous as mythology, then I would imagine that your view of the Bible or any kind of religious text would fit in that genre.
Yeah. And I'll tell you why. So part of this for me, too, was growing up with a divided family of atheists and Mormons. So I don't really have any Christians. I wouldn't call my mom a Christian growing up, even though she would've said she was baptized as Catholic. I mean it just was not part of our life at all, and she was not reading scripture, she was not ever talking about this stuff. It was just like, "Well, you know, I'm a Californian, and in that way, I'm also a Catholic." So because you happen to live here does not mean you know anything about California, and that's kind of where she was. The other side, though, I had a group of very well-informed Mormon believers, because my Dad's second wife because a Mormon pretty early on in their marriage, and then they had six kids, all of whom they raised LDS. My dad's a very committed atheist. He will tell you why he thinks Mormonism's false.
So I'm watching all this, and I'm thinking, "Okay, all of you nut jobs think that your religious view is true. You think yours is true. The Mormons think theirs is true. They think you're wrong, by the way. That's why they're out knocking on your door, to try to convince you that Mormonism is better than Christianity. Well, why would I believe any of this nonsense?"
"It's just all different levels of nonsense." And so that's where I stood for many years as an atheist.
So you've painted a very clear picture of where you were.
Pretty dismal, right? But I'm just being honest with you. People will say, "What kind of atheist were you?"
Susie will tell you that, when I finally walked into that church with her and this started to change, she saw just a change. Years later, we did an episode on 700 Club, and they wanted to come out and interview her, and I had never really heard her talking about it, and as I'm watching this interview with her, I realize, "Oh, wow! She saw that entire thing as a miracle." Because while she was open and neutral, she saw that I was completely closed. And so something had to happen in order to change that.
Right. So let's step into that. So you were a detective, and you had no desire for God or anything to do with religion. It was complete nonsense, and even, obviously, you had some kind of antipathy towards it as well. For good reason. For good reason.
Well, I'm not sure it was a good reason, but it was the reason I held, anyway. You can embrace an atheistic worldview without ever having to bend your knee to God. But this worldview requires you, as a first step, to do this thing we call repentance. Right? To repent. To change your mind. To trust in Christ. To confess your sin. To bend your knee. Every tongue will confess. And I think that's just a really hard step for a lot of us. Our atheism has never asked... As a matter of fact, our atheism has elevated us, whereas Christianity puts us in our proper place. It's a hard thing to bite off.
It is. And you raise a good point for me because, in looking at all of these stories, one of the most interesting things for me is to see what moves someone from a closed to an open posture towards God. Now you mention your wife Susie. So obviously, she has something to do with leading you, perhaps, in another direction. Why don't you walk us through what moved you from a closed to at least a curious perspective?
Well, Susie and I met in 1979. We were together about 18 years before we walked into that church, and during those 18 years, I can honestly say we never talked about God's existence.
Was she an atheist?
She was raised as kind of a cultural Catholic also but much more open. And so, because I knew her before we got married, once we were married, this was just not part of our relationship. It was something we did on Christmas. If she was with her mom, she might go to a Mass with her mom. And if I was there, too, if I wasn't working that night, because I worked as a police officer. Sometimes you're working on holidays. Murders almost always occur on holidays. So you're always working holidays. But I would go if I was available, kind of the same way you would sit down for a Thanksgiving dinner. I didn't like turkey, but I'll sit down for the Thanksgiving dinner because it's part of that traditional holiday.
So in the same way, I would go, "If you want to go to a Mass, great," so when we had kids, she said, "Well, do you think we..." because she had been... She said, "Even you, your mom was a cultural Catholic as a kid. Should we start?" I'm like, "No!" I mean, "If you want, I'm... I want to do what pleases you, so if you think we should do this, then we're going to do this." My dad, even today, will go to church as an atheist. He thinks that the world is a better place, the country's a better place, if it holds to Christian ideals, even though he thinks they're based in a foolishness, they're based in a delusion. He says the ideas that emerge from that delusion are still powerful, and, "I would rather live in a country that is under the shadow of Christianity than one that isn't."
And I'm, very honest, the same way. "Yep, I can agree with that." It's a relatively law abiding, conservative worldview? Okay. I'll be happy to go if you want to go. But I also knew that if I wait long enough she may just forget about it. She may not push it. And for three years, she didn't. She would mention it. Like when we moved into this neighborhood, I knew right away that our kids were school aged, and she was thinking, "Should we take them to church?" And I just avoided it and always had an excuse, every weekend. But then, about three years into living here, it came up again, and I said... For whatever reason, I said—and this is where I think God works. I said "Okay, I'll go if you want to go."
I assumed we were going to go down to this Catholic parish, but somebody had invited us to a big evangelical church, so we ended up at this big evangelical church. And we walked in, and I'd never been in an evangelical church, really. Not for a church service, for sure. And I'd never seen anything like this on top of it all. This was a megachurch. And I was pretty sarcastic. I went with a partner of mine who had invited us, so he was there, and he kind of played off my sarcasm a little bit, so that was good. It made me a little more comfortable. But I can remember Susie—her only experience ever going into any kind of setting like this was a Catholic setting as a kid, so she was like, "It doesn't seem very holy here." Because it was like a big warehouse!
And it was like a big stage presentation, you know? And so I was just willing to sit through it. I really didn't think we would ever come back to it. I figured we'd probably go someplace else maybe next time or whatever. But the pastor pitched Jesus in this way that was provocative, saying that he was the smartest man who ever lived. He said a bunch of other related... You know, "He's more important than any other historical figure," all kinds of other stuff. Some stuff that he said was biblical that I just didn't really care about. But the idea that He was smart did provoke me to buy a Bible to see if that was true.
And I got a pew Bible, and I still have it. And I put the tabs in it because I started to pour through this, and I started to look at the gospels, and I thought, "It's clear these people who are writing the gospels think that this stuff actually happened. They want me to believe that it happened in this order. They're acting like they're eyewitnesses of this. John even says, at the end of his gospel, "We could say a lot more than we've said so far, but it would fill up a lot of books.'"
So I started to look at these gospel accounts as eyewitness accounts, and one of the things you do to test eyewitnesses is something called forensic statement analysis that'll help you test deception, deception indicators, things like this, So I started first in the Gospel of Mark and worked my way through all the gospels, and when I got done, I told Susie... This took some time. And I told Susie, I said, "You know, they seem like they would pass the... If I was doing this... Take out the miracles. These pass the test." The only thing that's in there that bothers me is the miracles.
But at some point I did start to reexamine my biases against the supernatural, and so when you're talking about, for example, the beginning of the universe, you have to ask yourself, "Is there anything inside of space, time, and matter, that can cause space, time, and matter, or are those two mutually exclusive cause and effects?" So in other words if you can't cause yourself to come into existence, that means whatever causes space, time, and matter has to be outside of space, time, and matter, and there really is a problem. So you already believe in something extra natural if you just seriously consider the beginning of the universe. So I just tried to learn to drop my innate biases against any... Because if there's a God who's powerful enough to blink everything into existence from nothing, well then every New Testament miracle is a small potato miracle. You can probably walk on water if you can create the water to begin with.
So I had to at least kind of open the door to that possibility, that reasonable inference, and that's where I started to see my change in my own view of the gospels.
I bet that was surprising to you. I mean, having considered the Bible myth or mythology as a genre. Delusion, I think you used the word. To suddenly, as an investigator, a serious investigator looking at the eyewitness testimony and saying, "There's something really valid here. There's something historical and accurate here that I can't dismiss." I suppose those things were breaking down the wall of resistance, I guess you could say, because it sounds like you were willing to actually look at it in a serious way, rather than just dismissing it, and so-
No, that's true. And a lot of that for me was—even though at some point I told Susie, "I think these are probably going to test out okay, but I don't know why God would have to come this way when He came this way. Why would He die on a cross?" I didn't understand the gospel even as I was confirming the claims of the gospels. So at some point I was like, "By the way, if this thing happened. If Jesus actually rose from the grave, it's game over." Everything changes because the authority of people who rise from the grave is different than those who don't. So I have a tendency to trust people who come out of the grave. So that gives Him an authority that would change the way I see everything He said.
A lot of this was us trying to make that transition.
So just for clarity, you said you were willing to take with credence the things that you were finding in the Gospels except for the miracles, but then you just described the greatest miracle apart from creation, and that is-
Yeah. So this is why when people say, "How clean was the investigation?" I wrote a book called Cold Case Christianity. Well, actually, it was my investigation that's in Cold Case Christianity and the one that's in God's Crime Scene, and the one that's in this new book, Person of Interest, that was happening all at the same time for about nine months, and what I mean is that I had to stop at some point and say, "Well, what's keeping me out? The miracles." So then I'd say, "Okay, do I have really reasoned, substantial reasons to reject miracles?" I knew that this was always bugging me from the Star Trek days, like, "How do I explain the beginning of the universe?" The standard cosmological model is still a big bang cosmology even today, and that's still the standard model because most physicists and astrophysicists and cosmologists think that's how the universe came into being. Everything came into being from nothing at a point in the distant past. And we're talking about nothing. There is no space before space, no void before the void. All space, time, and matter came into existence from true nothing, the stuff that Aristotle says that rocks think about, nothing.
So that means that I already had a belief in something outside of space, time, and matter that could have that kind of causal power, so that's when I returned to the Gospels and said, "Okay, so if that's the case, and if they check out every other way, am I supposed now to believe that He rose from the grave?" Now that would explain certain things that I see in history. That's the stuff we're talking about in Person of Interest. In other words, if he really did rise out of the grave, wouldn't you expect there to be a ripple effect on human history that goes beyond the four authors of some little gospels in the first century? This is a huge rock that someone's throwing in a lake. I would expect all kinds of ripples.
But as a guy raised in southern California, I wasn't educated on what impact Jesus of Nazareth had on human history. I would've said it was probably very limited. It was probably whatever Christian history you want to dig up. I had no idea that literature, art, music, education, science, and other world religions were standing on the shoulders of Jesus of Nazareth. And that's what we're trying to do in this book is to show... Once I started to look at that, I go, "Okay, this makes sense now."
Given the possibilities, three possibilities: One, He's a myth. It's fiction. It's all fiction. It's always been fiction from the very beginning. Would He have this kind of impact on culture? Would you be able to reconstruct every detail of the myth from these weird aspects of human culture? I don't think you could. Number two, He's another... just a guy. A guy who lived. What other person who's ever lived has had this kind of impact? I mean unless you don't know the kind of impact Jesus has had. You won't find anybody else who has had this kind of impact on history. In the most important things, that were important to me as an atheist, literature, art, music, education, and science. How about this? He's God incarnate, entering into His creation. Well, now all that impact makes perfect sense! Right? That we, as humans designed in the image of God, eventually encountered God, and then we can't stop talking about Him. And He provides the catalyst and the igniter for all the things that matter in history! And that's really what we're looking at in Person of Interest.
So it was a very ugly kind of... I was lucky. I was assigned, at the time, as undercover detective in undercover division, and a lot of that is down time. This is before the internet, but it was just early enough. I didn't have a computer. So I asked my sergeant, "Hey, if I come in every morning and I pay for the ink and the paper, would you let me print out everything I can find about Jesus?" And he said, "Yeah, as long as you bring the ink and the paper," and so I did. And I had these huge binders of stuff I was trying to dig up, plus all the books I could find, and I kept them in my unit and my car. It was an undercover car. And I just had them in the passenger seat, and they were all stacked up, and so I would just sit for hours digging through this data, and that's what is in these different books.
So what was this process like in terms of time? How long did it take for you to kind of move through this process of your gradually moving from being totally unconvinced to being convinced that there was something real and true about the person of Jesus and the story and the Bible?
Well, I think it started in the middle of... was it '95? Maybe '95. And I think by the middle of '96 I have a name tag where I'm serving in the children's ministry. And I did that, really, before I was a believer, but not much before I was a believer. Believe it or not, I was in this huge megachurch, and we were going now more often toward the end of that first year, and our kids would not sit still in the children's ministry, so one of us would sit with them usually,
So we were asked to lead it, and I remember saying, "Well, I don't know anything about scripture. I'm learning, but I don't feel like I'm equipped to teach students." They said, "Look, we've got curriculum. So I started serving in children's ministry even when I didn't know anything. So yeah, I just don't know when. I wasn't keeping track of it back then. I didn't know it was going to lead anywhere. I should have a spiritual birthday, but I don't because it was a process for me. It wasn't an epiphany moment. It was a series of events, and at some point, I'm serving in the church, and I'm sure by that time I was probably pretty convinced it was true.
So, as you were becoming convinced that it was true—you had spoken earlier about Christians who really didn't know how to answer your objections and who didn't seem very well informed. Your understanding of Christians were they were uneducated. As you were reading through this material, obviously some substantive material that you were reading through, perhaps Christian writers or thinkers or apologists who obviously were educated in some way. I wonder. Obviously your perception of Christians and Christianity was being changed. Were you discussing any of these things with other Christians who were more educated as you were moving through this process?
Well, I mean I wish. There were people I was listening to, I started to listen to, on air. One of them was Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason. He had a local radio show here in Los Angeles, and I was listening to him. He had a couple of hours a week, two or three hours a week. I can't remember how long it was. And I was not always convinced at first, but I was impressed that at least there were other kinds of Christians out there.
Right. At the beginning, when you were talking about, as an atheist, you saw God basically as a God of the gaps, that it was just an excuse for explaining what we don't know quite yet in science, but science will know, or naturalism will know, at some point. But obviously, when you came to believe that God exists, how did that affect your understanding of the reconcilability or the compatibility of science and God and thinking about comparing that with your earlier explanation?
Well, sadly, when I first started looking at this DNA and the information in DNA and how you explain information in DNA, it was not something that was on the forefront yet, so a lot of this has been a process, too, of getting to a place where you're looking, "Okay, what is the best inference for the things we see in the universe?" which is the approach I took in this book called God's Crime Scene, right? It's kind of an inside or outside the room principle. Not every death scene's a murder scene. If I can explain everything that's in the scene, that's in the room, by staying in the room for an explanation, it's not a murder. It's going to be a suicide, a natural, or an accidental. So if I get there and there's a pistol, but it's your pistol. There's one shot fired. Well, you can fire one shot. There's no one's fingerprints or footprints in the room other than yours. Well, this is probably a suicide. On the other hand, if I get there and it's not your pistol and there's bloody footprints leading out of the room, well now clearly the best explanation is not in the room anymore. It's outside the room. Now I shift to murder.
Well, the same thing can be true of the universe, okay? If I can explain everything I see in the universe by staying inside the natural universe for an explanation, space, time, matter, physics, and chemistry, then there's no intruder. But if the best explanation for the stuff in the room is somebody outside the room, you're going to have to go outside the room for an explanation. And that's exactly the approach I took as a new investigator of scripture. I'm like, "Okay, so which is the best explanation? Is it inside or outside the room?" Well, it's really... The origin of the universe, the fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the appearance of design in biology, your consciousness, your free agency, your moral intuitions, even evil is best explained by a moral standard, a creative force that's outside of space, time, and matter, outside the room. And so, in the end, that's still the best explanation for the stuff we're seeing in the room. So it's not a jump, right?
It's that I'm trying to find the... You go to any crime scene, there'll be evidence in the crime scene. And each of your partners will develop an inference. They'll say, "Oh, I think this is best explained by the girlfriend." "No, it's best explained by his wife." "No, it's best explained by his coworker." We're just trying to figure out what's the best explanation for the evidence in the room. Same thing with the universe. And so I think it was a reasonable way to approach it, and I do think that, today, to jump to science to say... in all those eight areas I mentioned, science is relatively quiet. How did life originate in the universe? "We'll figure it out someday." Well, that's just science of the gaps. It's just the equivalent of God of the gaps. Someday God will tell me. "Well, some day a scientist will tell you," is the exact same approach. So we have to be careful. In all of those eight areas, it's really just science of the gaps.
That's quite a juxtaposition from where you've come. It sounds like, Jim, that you took a real intellectual journey and you found a worldview that is not only true with regard to eyewitness testimony in the scripture but also gives you a comprehensive worldview for how you can look at all of reality. I'm curious. You mentioned one other thing I want to explore, and that is you said that you were investigating or researching the Gospels, but you separated out the gospel, apart from that. I know that belief in Christ is not only intellectual belief that He existed at a certain place and time in history, and all of these things led up to Him and have fallen out in history in terms of seeing the amazing effect of Who that Person is. But I know that to call yourself a Christian is really more than that.
Right. That's "belief that." That's not "belief in."
The demons believe that.
But they aren't saved. Right.
So, for those who are listening, especially maybe a skeptic who doesn't understand that it's more than just an intellectual belief, that there is something called the gospel, how would you put all that together?
Okay. So I think even my acceptance of the gospel—so the gospel, what I mean by saying the gospel, is the plan of God in which He can reunite Himself to us, or us to Him. Because we have separated ourselves from God by our fallen nature and our rebellious nature. And we all know this even if you're not a Christian. You know you don't teach your kids, your infants, to be impatient. That's their default position. You don't need to teach them to be jealous, teach them to be prideful. That's their default position. We are fallen by nature from the moment we emerge from the womb. That's just the nature of who we are. The question is how did we get there? Why is that the case? And how do we get reconciled? If there is a Being that is powerful enough to create everything from nothing, well that Being has the power to eliminate imperfection. You're trying to unite yourself not to a good God, to a perfect God, to a morally perfect God, and you might have good days, but you never have morally perfect days. You're not a morally perfect being. How do you ever expect to be reunited to a morally perfect Being?
Well, you're going to have to adopt the perfection of some—you're never going to be practically perfect, but you could be positionally perfect, and that's about the gospel. That's about what is it that brings us back to God? How is it that God forgives who we are? How is it that we can repent and change? And who's nature can we adopt if our nature is never going to be good enough? And it's not. There's the one perfect Man, right? And this is the gospel.
Now, I will tell you that, in order for me to make those kinds of claims I just made, those are thoughtful claims. Those aren't feelings. Those are intellectual propositions about the nature of God, the nature of humans, and the nature of reconciliation. These are actually intellectual claims. So I think even to understand the gospel, you're going to have to use your mind to do it. This is why Paul doesn't talk about the renewal of your feelings or the renewal of your emotions. He talks about the renewal of your mind. This is a thoughtful worldview. We have always been people of the book. We are a teaching worldview.
The first thing Jesus says is don't go out and make converts, "Go out and make disciples, teaching them what I have taught you." That means, right away, you're going to be establishing monasteries and cathedral schools and universities. You're going to have to teach people how to read. You're going to have probably create alphabets. You're going to have to translate everything because you're a teaching culture. Well, that's the culture we are.
The difference, though, for me was you can read everything there is to know about Jesus and you can research everything there is to research about Jesus, and you can get to believe that Jesus is who He said He was. That doesn't make you a Christian. But I needed to move past that and start to read the New Testament, not for what it said about Jesus, but for what it said about Jim. And I trusted it for what it said about Jim because I first tested it to see what it said about Jesus. And once I determined it was telling me the truth, I started to trust it for what it was saying about me. And what it said about me was really true, that I'm not God. I don't have a right to even put myself in that category. And I am that fallen person who seeks after his own selfish gain, who is always, by comparison to God, depraved at best and in need of a Savior. Lucky for me, I already knew there was a Savior, so I just put those two things together, and that's how I gave my life to Christ.
So I'm a Christian because it's true, not because it works for me. I say that all the time. Because I honestly think that's what you have to ground this in. Because there's going to be lots of days when I'll say God is good but I'm having a terrible day. Outwardly, I probably could make a case that God is not that good. But I know that God is good, that God is love by nature because I've thought through the evidence, and even on days where I don't want to believe it, it's still true.
Yeah. That's powerful. As we're coming to a close, you've... That's really some excellent advice, even for the Christian to push towards understanding the grounding of their belief, to investigate it seriously, to take the Word seriously, to look into the reasons and the arguments why God exists and why it's true and it's worthy of belief and to be able to give good answers. I'm not sure if you want to add to what you've already really encouraged and really admonished the Christian to do, but is there any other word for the Christian before we move to advice to the skeptic?
So I would say this: There's already something that you have much more robust knowledge of probably. Even those of us who call ourselves Christians. Now look, you have a great podcast that examines these issues every single episode, so maybe the audience that's listening to us right now is already... like you're preaching to the choir on this, okay? Because they already get this. But most of our friends who are Christians know far more about the NFL rule book than they do about this playbook we call the Bible. They know far more about the H&R manual at their business, or what the rules are, if you're a cop, what the law in California is. You can do the penal code. You can probably recite portions of that. No problem. But you can't do the Bible. And you even call yourself a Christian.
So what it comes down to is that we have the capacity to do this. We just don't do it. We just do it in other areas. And that gives away what we really worship. That gives away what really matters. Now I'm as guilty as anyone. I was a Christian for a number of years before I left law enforcement. I still have a couple of open cases, but I am officially retired. And when I drove off that compound for the last time, it struck me that my identity is still in my work. I say my identity's in Christ, but I wouldn't feel the way I'm feeling right now if that was true. I'd be celebrating the fact that I get to now live my identity more robustly because I have more time. Instead, I was mourning the loss of my identity. Because in the end you can say all these things, but how we live is often very different. So my advice to all of us who call ourselves Christ followers is let's show it.
Now I'm offering not as somebody who's saying, "Be like me." No, no. Don't be like me. I can't do this, either. I have the same problems, the same limits. I find myself still having the same hesitation, the same distraction, the same sinful inclinations. I'm Paul in Romans 7. I'm still doing the stuff I know I shouldn't do, and I'm not doing the stuff I know I should do, and that's just the nature of what it is to be human. So don't take this as, "Well, you could be more like me." No, I need you to be less like me. We need all of us to be less like us. So that's my advice to those of us who call ourselves Christ followers.
Now when it comes to advice to atheists, let's just consider the outcome of where this all heads. Think of it as a thought experiment. It used to be C.S. Lewis, I think it was, the idea of liar, lunatic, or Lord. Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or a Lord. Well, I think there's another trilemma that we can look at that's a little bit different. He's either fiction or just another guy who lived in the first century or the God of the universe. If you look at how history has panned out, the fuse and fall that we talk about in any crime scene. Before the crime occurs, there's a fuse that burns to the detonation of the bomb. Then there's a fallout afterwards. The same thing happens with Jesus in the first century. A fuse that burns up to the appearance of Jesus, this explosive appearance of Jesus, and then fallout of history. The Person of Interest book I'm talking about just examines the fuse and the fallout. But if you ask yourself a question. He's only one of those three things. If He is mythology, then how do we explain His impact on history? If He's just a mortal, how do we explain? But if He's God, now this impact makes sense, so my suggestion, my encouragement for those of us who are wondering which of those three it is. He's either a complete lie. He's either just a regular person living in the century. Or He's the God of the universe. It turns out that the history the way it shaped out with humans on planet earth, it's far more reasonable to believe the third option than it is the first two.
And so I would say know your history, know the impact that this sage, this ancient sage from this obscure corner of the Roman Empire. How in the world did that guy change everything? Why are we calling it the first century for that guy? Well, we are because He's not just a guy.
I am just so overwhelmed with all of the wisdom and insight you've presented, not only through your story but just along the way. I'm also—I guess I just want so, for those who are so closed or so dismissive of the faith to really take an honest look, like you did. And I'm hoping that this story sparks at least the curiosity that it did in you. Because I'm confident, as you are, the detective who's devoted years to looking at the evidence now, that you're more convinced than ever that this is true, that God is real, that Jesus is who He says He was and He's worthy of following. So I'm hopeful that, at the end of the day, there will be someone out there inspired to actually just stop and really be willing to take an honest look.
Thank you so much, Jim, for coming on today. This is an extraordinary story. You're an extraordinary man and follower of Christ, and we have all benefited from your work, and I just want to thank you so much for coming on to tell your story, so that when people read your work, they can even know more of your background and who you are as an author, and more importantly, as a follower of Christ. So thank you so much for coming on.
Well, thanks so much for having me. All of those nice things you said, I feel embarrassed, because none of them are true, but what is true is that we worship a God that's so big that He can take every one of these broken stories, every one of these people that think that they're so full of themselves that they actually matter, and He can take our gifts that we give back to Him, which much look like the crayon drawings of your children being offered back to you as an offering. And all of this work, all of these podcasts, everything we do is just another version of the crayon drawing that we're giving back to Jesus. And luckily, you know what? He smiles. With what little we're able to give Him, and so I'm just glad to be on the podcast with you. Thanks for having me.
Thanks so much.