J. Warner Wallace was a Los Angeles homicide detective and expert on solving cold cases when he started using his detective skills to investigate the claims of the gospel. As an atheist, he considered four typical areas used by detectives to judge whether suspects and witnesses are telling the truth. He ended up accepting Jesus as the true Messiah and assembled his findings in the book Cold Case Christianity.
This started his journey toward being one of the most well-known Christian apologists today. His apologetics website and ministry, formerly known as PleaseConvinceMe.com, has now been brought under the name of his book.
Wallace had the opportunity to present his conclusions in a nutshell when he was “put on the witness stand” as himself in the movie God’s Not Dead 2. In its opening weekend of April 1, 2016, over eight million dollars’ worth of movie goers got the chance to hear him tell the truth.
We started our interview by asking our apologetics colleague why it’s important for Christians to see God’s Not Dead 2, because some of us in Ratio Christi know quite a few people who still haven’t seen the first movie.
“Actually, when I speak around the country I ask people if they’ve seen (the first) God’s Not Dead, and about 85 percent of church audiences have seen it,” he says. “The good thing about what we do and what Ratio Christi does with students is – we’re trying to help students take a step in the hostile environment they have to be in. The documentaries we may produce don’t get much viewing by church audiences, but church folks are watching major movies that deal with these subjects. So a major movie is a great opportunity to spread the word about our areas of study.”
He believes churched people are noticing the downturn in our society’s values and viewpoints.
“Our church audiences do feel a shift in the culture, and we’re wondering if we’re going to win or lose the battles. These movies are engaging the church; we use them as a gateway to important issues and the audience can agree their kids are experiencing this, and we mention that the cases are listed at the end of the movie. Skeptics often say we’re making a fuss about nothing, but it’s actually happening.”
RC: Is it vital for us to encourage non-Christian Americans to see it, and how can we approach them to do so?
JW: Many of our most adamant objectors may not go to see it, but some may be the wives or husbands of believers and they’ll go with them. What we need to do most is encourage believers to mention what comes up in the movie when myself or author Lee Strobel explain things (as characters). It introduces the broader church culture to what I do and what Ratio Christi does. It would be great for parents to have these answers for the kids before a real-life situation comes up for them.
RC: How did it come about for you and Lee to be part of the cast?
JW: I met Rice Broocks who wrote the book God’s Not Dead that inspired the first movie. He is a pastor, and he was starting to write about apologetics. He asked me to meet him for dinner. I didn’t know what he wanted from me at first, but he got me interested in sitting down with the writers for the next movie, and we talked about how to introduce a case for historical Jesus studies into a movie plot line. They ended up using a lot of information I gave them and so they asked me to “testify” in the movie.
(Broocks’ latest book with co-author Gary Habermas - Man, Myth, Messiah - is displayed several times in God’s Not Dead 2).
RC: How did you feel playing yourself yet acting?
JW: I tried, as I do in real life, to be animated and to engage people who are watching. After it was filmed, we asked Lee to join us, and it was fun to see how well they added him in.
RC: The “ACLU attorney” character in the movie tries to claim you did this research from your subjective viewpoint “as a Christian.” How often do real-life nonbelievers try to catch you at this, not knowing you were an atheist at that point?
JW: What they’ll do typically is say, “Well you couldn’t have been an atheist, or you don’t have a good definition of what an atheist is.” With some people, they will reject the claim no matter what. They’ll ask if I wrote something while an atheist because they don’t believe me, but they can talk to the police officers I’ve worked with to get the truth.
I never turn that around on atheists by saying well, you weren’t really a Christian when you became an atheist. I don’t try to win people by saying I was an atheist before.
RC: Did the director or writers consult you as a detective as to whether they were being realistic enough or covering enough ground for your scene?
JW: There are some things about this – and true of every courtroom movie I watch – some corners may get cut for dramatic purpose, but for the most part it was pretty authentic. The characters feel authentic – but we must forgive the use of some artistic license. The rules of evidence were pretty close to the truth. I was allowed to write my own dialogue, although we had to do some editing.
RC: You’ve released a follow-up book to Cold Case Christianity. How is God’s Crime Scene different?
JW: The first one was because I got interested in the person Jesus and knowing if the gospels were reliable accounts of who Jesus was. After Cold Case, I was still left with some suspicion about the miraculous occurrences attributed to Him. I was what you’d call a philosophical naturalist, so I began asking myself why I should reject the miracles. God’s Crime Scene asks, was this (the crucifixion) really a murder? The facts could make a difference between homicide or suicide. There are things in the universe that people must explain regardless of who they are. If they’re naturally unexplainable, we must go out to the supernatural.
There’s also a third book coming, Forensic Faith! It’s set to be released in January 2017, and we’re doing a children’s version, Cold Case Christianity for Kids.
RC: For people who haven’t read your books or seen the movie yet, why is it a good thing that witnesses have different versions of an incident? Skeptics always use the excuse that “the four gospels don’t all say the same thing.”
JW: When I get a call to solve a murder, the first thing I do is ask the police officers to separate the witnesses because we want the subtle differences in their stories. I picture what it will be like when a defense attorney is cross examining these folks. The jury is told they are not to regard witnesses as unreliable because of minor, or even major differences… are they about the core elements of the crime or differences that could be expected?
RC: Do you foresee an escalation in real-life cases for America like the fictitious one in the movie, with teacher “Grace,” and is there any way to stop it?
JW: We are definitely going to see that we will lose the ability to voice what we believe in settings where the federal or state government has any money or involvement at all. There’s going to be an argument for neutrality, more school prayer being removed, any vestiges of Christianity exclusively being mentioned – I see that now in my own city. I was asked to lead a prayer once while I was in police uniform. I mentioned the name of Jesus, and afterward I was told I could mention God but not Jesus. We’re heading in that direction.
We don’t have to win this in a particular way, and I’m not sure we can “win.” We have to be faithful. We can’t bend the knee. We must continue to make our case but be strategic about it and be able to articulate why we should have the freedom to make our case.
(Editor’s note: Ratio Christi’s president and CEO, Corey Miller, often says “We must defend our freedom of speech and defend our right to defend our freedom of speech.”)
The last Pew Report still said 70 percent of the country identify as Christians in some way. The problem is that the 70 percent don’t agree on many things. If we could animate, educate, and motivate the 70 percent it would be better.
To say we’re being “persecuted” in this country isn’t true. But if we don’t address things like putting out these movies now, in fifteen years it will be way worse. We have to keep ringing the bell. We’re going to have people say we’ve dominated the scene forever, get over it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the right to voice what we believe. This is the time to wake up the church. This movie highlights the shift.
RC: Ministries like ours (Ratio Christi and Cold Case Christianity) have regular contacts with students and teachers to help them explain and defend the faith in academic settings. How valuable is this?
JW: We have to be faithful in putting out materials that can capture web search traffic where people are searching for answers. We must provide resources over and over again, because the voice from nonbelievers is also being produced. By starting organizations on campus, that is also the audience we’re writing to. I’m writing for people 15 to 30 years old – what are their challenges? We’re writing at a level deep enough for the graduate student but understandable for the high schooler.
Please contribute to the work of Ratio Christi with this confirmation from Mr. Wallace that it is a very worthwhile cause to reach students with evidence for biblical truth. And don’t forget to read Cold Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene and then Forensic Faith when it comes out!
Now, get an attorney's viewpoint about how realistic the fictional cases in the movie are. See our interview with Erik Stanley from Alliance Defending Freedom.
Content in blogs does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views. Details