Trusting the Eye Witness
About the Guest
J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective, and his wife, Susie, tell Dennis Rainey about how they met in high school, and then together found the Lord. J. Warner tells how he applied his investigative skills to his study of the Bible, sure he could prove it wrong. To his amazement, the witness accounts set forth in the Gospels seemed compellingly true and trustworthy.
J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective, and his wife, Susie, tell how he applied his investigative skills to his study of the Bible, sure he could prove it wrong.
Trusting the Eye Witness
Bob: As a police detective, J. Warner Wallace was always looking for evidence. That was how he was trained, and that’s one of the reasons why he didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to Christianity. He didn’t think the evidence was there; but provoked by his wife, Susie, he agreed to go to church. Susie says, “When he got there, he was stunned.”
Susie: I’ll never forget it. We were in church, and the service was going on. Jim looked over at me; and he said, “Is he talking to me?” He knew that the message was for him. Boy, did our whole life change from that moment on!
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. That morning in church began an ongoing journey for police detective, J. Warner Wallace.
He set out to see if the evidence could actually support the claims of Christianity, and he was struck by what he found. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You heard a message back when you were in college about evidence for the resurrection of Jesus that significant for you; wasn’t it?
Dennis: It was. Josh McDowell came to the Harvard of the Ozarks—otherwise known as the University of Arkansas. [Laughter]
Dennis: He gave a series of messages about the evidence for the Resurrection—and I’m from the “Show Me State,” Missouri, and also from the tribe of doubting Thomas—and I can’t tell you how profound that evidence was that he presented that empowered me as a young man who was attempting to follow Christ to realize—
—“This really is the truth. This is not what somebody dreamed up, but there really is evidence.”
Bob: You weren’t taking a blind leap of faith as people often talk about in believing in the Resurrection. There’s evidence to support it.
Dennis: And Josh McDowell has sold—who knows how many million books—100 million books, I think, of his book More Than a Carpenter, which outlines the proof of Jesus Christ being the Son of God and defeating death. And we have a guest with us who has an interesting story. In fact, he and his wife, both, were not believers. Not only not believers, they were both atheist. Was that right?
J. Warner: Well, for me anyway, it was right. I don’t know about Susie. Susie always believed in God, I think;—
J. Warner: —but she wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about who that God was.
Dennis: Were you an atheist, Susie?
Susie: No, I was not. I don’t really remember a time that I didn’t believe in God; and that’s thanks to my mom who always took me to church and taught me that there was God, but I never read the Bible.
Bob: And didn’t see much relevance to the whole God thing while you were growing up; right?
Susie: Yes, I didn’t really understand the relationship with Jesus. I just—I knew that there was a God who created everything; but I didn’t understand that personal relationship. I hadn’t read anything in the Bible. So, I didn’t—I didn’t know what Scripture taught.
Dennis: Well, that is Susie Wallace who is married to Jim Wallace—otherwise known as the author of the book, Cold-Case Christianity, as J. Warner Wallace. Jim has been in youth work for have a half a dozen years, lead pastor for five; but probably, most known for his work as a detective, but also in law enforcement for more than two decades. All of this is wrapped up in a book called Cold-Case Christianity.
Susie, I told you before we came in here I wanted to know how he presented the evidence to you that he was the man for you. How did you two meet?
Susie: Well, we met when we were still in high school, and Jim just happened to be at my high school one day. We met, and—I just have to say—it was love at first sight. I just knew there was something really special about him. He was so smart and articulate and playing the guitar—very romantic. So—
J. Warner: I tried every angle I could possibly think of, Dennis; okay? I tried everything, and I think it did work out okay.
Jim: I knew right away when I met her, though—I just knew that—from a very early age, even before I knew God or knew anything about God, I did have a god; and that was marriage. My parents separated when I was very young. My mom never remarried. So, for me, marriage was a huge high value; and even as a young man, at 17, I was looking for that girl that would be the one. Now, once I talked to her and I realized—and of course, she was beautiful—but I knew right away her character was such.
So, I was just looking for somebody, I thought, had the character that I would want to live the rest of my life with. Now, I know that sounds crazy at 17; and she always says, “Oh, come on!” But that’s really, what I was looking for.
Bob: Well, wouldn’t it be nice if there were more 17-year-old young men and young women who were looking at character rather than other things to determine what a relationship should look like?
Dennis: Yes. Bob, you know, you and I have interviewed a lot of folks. We’ve never ever had someone describe himself or herself at such an early age as having the god of marriage—
Dennis: —because his own parents’ marriage had failed.
J. Warner: Oh, that was huge for me. I mean it still shakes me. I always tell Susie this: When I do weddings, I’ll often say, “I value marriage. I love marriage even more than I love Susie.” Now, I want the kind of marriage that, hopefully, blesses Susie—right—because I actually—there’s this transcendent thing that overarches our relationship that I care about so deeply, I will do anything to make sure that is good. So, that’s kind of been the guiding principle for me with Susie.
Dennis: Yes, and the transcendent purpose of marriage that you both, now, have discovered that was made by God—
J. Warner: That’s right.
Dennis: —in His image; and He’s given you a purpose to your relationship.
I want you to take us back to the time when neither of you were practicing Christians or even believed in God and take us back to the point where you started your journey. What caused you to begin to explore this need for finding evidence for Cold-Case Christianity that you write about in your book?
J. Warner: Well, Susie was raised in a Catholic environment. So, she was used to going to Mass, pretty regularly, when she was young; but by the time we started dating and in our early years together, it was really more—if she was with her mother that weekend or if there was a holiday—and again, we never talked about it as a couple. She—I think she knew better than to talk about—I—my mom was also kind of a cultural Catholic growing up. My dad is a very committed atheist, even today.
So, his view has always been: “That’s great. It’s a useful delusion if it’ll help you raise good kids.” He’d be more than happy, even today, to come to a church that I would lead. He’s come to my church when I was the lead pastor. He’ll sing hymns. He thinks it’s very culturally helpful. He loves the tradition of it, but he’s not a believer. And I would have said the same thing—“If you want to do this, great. I’ll go as an atheist;”—but we never really wanted to do it. It didn’t really come up in our lives.
Susie: Not until we had children. Then, that was the real launching off point because when I became a mother, I’m starting to look at the world differently and starting to think about—“What do I want to do for my children? So, are we going to have the kids baptized? Are we going to attend a Catholic church? Are we going to”—
J. Warner: I said, “Great.”
Susie: My son went to a Christian preschool. So, we had gone to the church that the school was affiliated with, a few times; but we were coming along the time to make some decisions,—
—and that was what really started it. We had some friends that invited us to church; and we kept saying, “Yes, someday, someday.” Then, finally, we went; and that was the day.
J. Warner: But I can tell you, when we had our young kids, we were living in one city; and Susie was interested in putting them in the preschool. They would have events, and I would attend the event; but I remember a couple of times making sure I skillfully avoided the actual church service. So, then, we moved to another city, and we had been there about three years. I had avoided church for three years altogether—which was great—but then, Susie started talking about it again.
I said, “Okay, if you want to go, I’ll be happy to go.” We walk into this evangelical church. It’s a huge, mega-church in Southern California; and I thought, “This is kind of like a circus”—if I’m honest with you. I’d never seen church worship—
Susie: Yes. I hadn’t either.
J. Warner: —I had been in Catholic settings; but I had never been in an evangelical setting, neither had Susie.
Dennis: Were you a detective at that time?
J. Warner: Yes, I was working undercover.
J. Warner: Yes.
Dennis: Here is the question—as I was looking at your book—
—and I was thinking about you being an atheist—here’s your wife after you, wanting to get your four children raised with some kind of spiritual belief, even though Susie wasn’t quite sure what that was exactly.
J. Warner: Right.
Dennis: She just knew that there was something there you wanted to achieve. Here you are going to work; and you’re seeing the face of evil,—
J. Warner: Right.
Dennis: —what it does in relationships, how ends lives, over and over and over again. I just wondered, “How did you process that as an atheist, a detective, daily confronting the result of evil?”
J. Warner: Well, you know I think I’m pretty thoughtful about most things; but I am pretty detached when it comes to processing evil. Mostly because, I think, I grew up in a law enforcement family. My dad would show me his cases when I was very young. So, I got to see a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have seen at a young age.
By the time I was doing it myself, I was pretty emotionally detached from the work;—
—and I always talk about how when you worked an investigation, you are always forward thinking. You don’t live in the moment—“Okay, this bad thing happened a few hours ago.”
Now, you’re at the scene. It’s a death scene, and you’re looking at everything. You’re thinking, “Okay, I get it. Something bad happened a few minutes ago. There is something bad in front of me right now, but we have a mission that’s going to culminate tomorrow or next week or next month. If we don’t get moving right now, the thing we are trying to achieve in the next few days, we’re not going to achieve.” That’s that first 48 hours.
So, it never bothered me; but I can tell you the first pastor—that first day in church, that pastor did in some ways tap into a sense I had about morality because he made the claim—he said a lot of things; but the thing that sticks with me, even today. I wish I had that sermon to look at it again—as he said that Jesus was the smartest man who had ever lived and that on the basis of the moral teaching of Jesus, Western Civilization has blossomed.
I thought, “Okay, here I am as a cop enforcing these moral rules”—
—“these laws—that this pastor is really kind of claiming are grounded in the moral teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.” So, I just wanted to know if that was true, and I was interested in smart guys. And I would read smart guys.
So, if Jesus is a smart guy, I was willing to buy a Bible—because we didn’t have one. I still have that Bible, and I just went through it forensically just to mine out the wisdom statements of Jesus. As I did that, I realized that it’s not a series of proverbs. Those statements are encased in the gospels, which claim to be events that were actually seen by somebody and recorded as though they actually happened. And that’s what my casework is.
When you work cold-cases, you’re working events from the distant past where someone has chronicled what a witness; and then, the witness dies. Now, thirty years later, you’re working the case. Well, I’ve got access to reports, then, in my case work where I don’t have access to the author of the report or the witness who he’s talking about.
That’s kind of what the gospels are. So, I said, “If I can apply that skill set to the gospels, I might be able to determine if this was even true.”
Bob: Did you know, Susie, that your husband had kind of been prompted and provoked by this; or was he doing—
Bob: —all of this on his own?
Susie: No, immediately, in church.
Susie: It was really like a miracle happened right in front of me. I’ll never forget it. We were in church, and the service was going on; and Jim looked over at me, and he said, “Is he talking to me?”
Susie: He knew that message was for him. Boy, did our whole life change from that moment on!
Bob: Now, there had to be something going on in your own heart to where something spiritually was being awakened in you.
Susie: Yes—absolutely. We were there. We were at church. I had been wanting to come for some time; and with Jim’s investigation, then, I was exposed to the Bible—so just learning right along with him. I had never read the Bible.
Bob: So, Jim, you were processing—
—this with your wife as you were going through it?
J. Warner: Well, yes, I think so.
Susie: He would share—yes—all of his research.
J. Warner: A lot of it was just a discipline called forensic statement analysis. This is what we do with suspects. We have the suspect come in. We think he’s committed a murder yesterday.
So, we’re going to say, “Do me a favor. Write down everything you did yesterday from the time you got up in the morning until the time you went to bed.” We’re going to give him one piece of paper, one-sided, and an ink pen. It’s going to have 24 lines, and he’s going to write out everything he did yesterday. He’s going to use a certain number of words to describe each part of his day, and he’s going to use certain kinds of pronouns and certain tenses of verbs. He’s going to compress time. He’s going to expand time.
When he gets done with this, I should be able to tell you if I think he’s our guy based on his statement to me; and I should be able to tell you what time of day he did it based on his compression of time and expansion of time.
So, it’s a discipline that you kind of develop; and I’ve been trained in this. So, I started—I said, “Couldn’t I apply this to the gospels? If I do and kind of coming at it that way, what would I learn?” So, I was doing this every day for hours.
I was obsessed with it because it took a long time for me to step in. I didn’t just jump in. That day that we went to church, it wasn’t like—“Okay, I’m a Christian now.” It was: “No, I’m interested now.”
Dennis: And what you did is you read the gospels.
J. Warner: Gospels first.
Dennis: You said—in your book, you said that—“I found out that not only what Jesus said sounded true, but He also made some incredible claims about His own identity.”
J. Warner: Right.
Dennis: And that’s what really grabbed you—was Jesus was claiming something about Himself, not just about what He taught.
J. Warner: Yes, a lot of it was—first of all, I saw attributes in the four accounts—and people sometimes get hung up on the apparent contradictions they might see between one Gospel in compared to another. I’ve actually known students in the years since becoming a Christian, who have told me they were first shaken in their faith when a secular or an atheist professor simply asked them to read through the Passion Week in all four gospels,—
—noting the differences in the way the accounts are written.
And some folks have said, “Yes, once I did that, I wasn’t sure I could believe it anymore because there are so many differences in the accounts.” Well, that’s the stuff that actually got me provoked to think it was true because if you’ve ever worked with eye-witnesses you know how much their accounts vary. There is a certain texture to eye-witness testimony.
By the way, every defense attorney loves this and will capitalize on it in front of a jury—how the witness I just called in, when cross examined, gets a certain detail differently than some other witness. So, you can’t trust them. No, in fact, this is the thing that makes them reliable because everyone comes to this with a different perspective. It’s not just a different location in a room where they’re watching the crime. Sometimes, it’s just a different set of experiences that makes them more sensitive to one aspect.
Remember, most of the time, when you have a live witness, you can work these out because when there is an apparent contradiction, you can say to the witness, “Okay, wait a minute. It sounds like you’re saying this.
Is that what you really mean?” Then, they kind of re-throw it, and you realize, “Okay, now, it matches the other witness.” We don’t have access to the witnesses in the gospels to ask those kinds of clarifying questions.
It turns out—I’ll look at old case reports, and they’ll seem to be contradictory; but if they’re still alive, I can ask questions to clarify. If they aren’t still alive, I have to live with those apparently contradictory eye-witness statements.
Bob: Okay, I’ve got to interrupt you here because the evidence you were looking at—
J. Warner: Yes?
Bob: —these statements from the eye-witnesses.
J. Warner: Right.
Bob: These weren’t recorded the day after the crime was committed, the day after the events in question; alright?
J. Warner: As a matter of fact—
Bob: These are forty-year-old records from after the events in question that were written by these guys; and some people say that there was some bias that had come in over those 40 years—so, they doctored up their testimony.
J. Warner: So, a couple of things about that—that also didn’t bother. Here is why. I mean I’d already been working—when you work old cases, what you discover is that you sometimes don’t have a witness—that was not identified back in the day—
—working a case from 1981, let’s say.
You discover that someone says, “Well, yes, I think my cousin saw it too.” “Well, where’s your cousin?” “He lives in Sacramento.” Okay, well, I’ve got to go to Sacramento; and I have to discover the cousin. Now, they’re going to offer, for the first time, an eye-witness statement that is now 30-some odd years behind the crime. And I’ve got to figure out—“Are you sure?”
Now, there are people who will kind of say, “You can’t trust eye-witnesses at all, but especially, eye-witnesses that wait 30 years to give you a statement.” To that, I will tell this to juries. We say this in front—“If that was the case, we could never make our cold cases because all of our eye-witness statements are 30 years old or plus.” So, what—I always will say it this way: “Not every memory is created equal.”
How I try to put it in the book and how I try to put it in front of a jury is this: “If I asked you guys”—Bob and Dennis—“what did you do with your wives this year for Valentine’s Day?” You probably remember, but it might be tough—but you’d probably remember. It’s only been a couple of months.
J. Warner: So, what if I said to you, what did you do with your wives for Valentine’s Day seven years ago? I need 2010’s Valentine’s Day memory. Could you remember that? That’s tougher.
Dennis: Bob could.
Bob: Well, I’m just thinking that was the year before we started the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise. So, I wasn’t on the cruise that year with her. [Laughter]
J. Warner: So, what did you do?
Bob: I can’t remember.
J. Warner: Okay.
Bob: But I can—to your point, I can remember what I gave my wife on Valentine’s Day in 1978.
J. Warner: Why do you remember that?
Bob: Because we were dating and we were in love and they offered a heart-shaped pizza at Hammy’s Pizza on 11th Street, and she was working the night shift at the hospital. So, I ordered the pizza and took it in.
J. Warner: And what year was that?
Bob: It was ’78.
J. Warner: Okay, so, you can remember, not only the Valentine’s Day in 1978, but some specific details about that day.
Bob: I can remember the look in her eye when I brought the heart-shaped pizza to the hospital because I thought, “I’d like that look to last a lot longer.” [Laughter]
J. Warner: So, let me ask you a question. Let’s go one more year, 1979. One year later, what did you do for Valentine’s Day?
Bob: We were engaged at that point. I don’t remember.
J. Warner: Okay. Oh, so, here’s my point. Not all Valentine’s Days for you are created equal. Now, let’s say your somebody who loves—we’re in a beautiful part of Arkansas; and there’s hunting and fishing out here; I’m sure—some great hunting and fishing.
J. Warner: If you guys went out hunting and fishing every day, I could ask you, “What was your hunting like or your fishing like seven years ago today?” You have a hard time, probably, if you hunt and fish a lot, remembering what it was; but I guarantee you. If you were out fishing one day and a dude walks up to you on the water, you will remember that day for the rest of your lives. Not every day of fishing is created equal either.
So, it really comes down to how spectacular is the event. And if you watched a homicide, you’ve probably only seen one. I doubt you’ve seen more. Now, maybe, if you’re in certain part of the city, you’ve seen more; but the point is for most of us as witnesses, we’re only close to that kind of thing once.
And it sticks with you.
Then, of course, even though you’re giving me this statement, I still need to evaluate. I don’t just trust witnesses blindly. We test witnesses; and there are four criteria we use. So, I’m still going to test you; but if you pass the test, then, I’m instructed by judges to trust you even if I don’t like you because you’ve passed the test. So, I thought, “Could I apply that test to the authors of the gospels?”
Dennis: And I’m going to stop you right there and say to the listener who is listening to the radio and going—“I’m kind of curious about what this guy’s talking about—what Susie’s saying occurred in his life and her life at that church and what propelled them toward Jesus Christ.” I’d say, “Get a copy of Cold-Case Christianity; or maybe go through it with your son or your daughter and talk with them about their faith and what they believe.”
But I think these are days, Bob, when we need to spurring one another on to—
—look at the person of Jesus Christ and ask the questions, “Who is He?” and “What are you going to do with His claims about Himself and, most importantly, about your life?”
Bob: Well, it is fascinating when somebody who is trained as a detective decides to dig up the ancient testimony and looks at it and says, “Okay, I’m going to apply what I know about criminal procedure here and go to work on it”—and then, the conclusions you come to in the midst of that. We’ve got copies of the book that you’ve written called Cold-Case Christianity where you go through the evidence that you examined as a detective to come to the conclusions you’ve come to about the reliability of Scripture.
Our listeners can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of that book. This would be a great book for parents and teens to read through together; and you’ve also got your book, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, which is aimed at younger kids—
—older elementary or young junior high kids. Again, both books are available from us at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order online, or you can call to order. 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know one of the things we are burdened by here at FamilyLife is that we want to reach a lot more people. We believe that the Bible has a lot to say about marriage and family, and we believe there are a lot of marriages and families that need to better understand what the Bible has to say about having a strong marriage and having a healthy family. That’s what we’re committed to here at FamilyLife—to effectively develop godly marriages and families.
The thing that keeps us from reaching more people is just having the jet fuel to do that; and during the month of August, we’re asking FamilyLife Today listeners to help us expand our reach.
One of the reasons why is because we’ve had some friends of the ministry who have come along and said they want to see us reach more folks. They’ve agreed that they will match every donation that we receive this month on a dollar for dollar basis up to a total of $800,000.
So, we’re asking listeners to join and help accelerate the growth of FamilyLife by making a donation, knowing that your donation this month is going to be doubled and we’re going to be able to reach a lot more folks.
So, if you’re a regular listener and it’s been a while since you’ve made a donation—or maybe, you’ve never made a donation—this is a great time to go to FamilyLifeToday.com, donate online; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone; or you can mail your donation to us. It will still be matched dollar for dollar. Our mailing address is FamilyLife Today at Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas; our zip code is 72223.
We just have a little time left to be able to take full advantage of this matching gift. So, please give, if you can, and pray, if you will, that we’ll be able—
—to grow the reach of FamilyLife Today in the months to come.
And I hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’ve got a lot more to look at as we follow J. Warner Wallace on his investigation of the claims of Christ, the claims of the Bible, and see where that investigation led him and the impact it had in his own life. Hope you can tune in for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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