My eleven-year-old* daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.
*Yes, she has had an age upgrade. Yes, this means I have now been doing this review for over a year.
Chapter Seven: Separate Artifacts from Evidence: Clean Up Your Crime Scene!
So, you know how at the end of my review of the last chapter I pointed out what a bad idea it would be to finish that session without discussing the statement Lacey gave? And how I suspected this was exactly what Wallace/Jeffries was going to do, but as it wasn’t specified that the session ended at that chapter ending, I was prepared to give Jeffries the benefit of the doubt?
Turns out that not only did that session indeed end, but Jeffries shows zero interest in going over the statement this week either. Having told the children how important it is to hang on every word in a statement if you want to get those cases solved, he is now quite happy to leave the details of Lacey’s statement to get fuzzier in the cadet’s minds for an entire fortnight while he keeps going with Bible class. Priorities, and all that.
Oh – and it’s just occurred to me that the children also show zero interest in discussing Lacey’s statement any further. Even though – as Wallace points out in the opening words of the chapter – there are only two weeks left of the course, they show no apparent concern over the fact that they’re all completely ignoring an important lead while their window of opportunity for closing this case as a group is rapidly closing. I guess this is one of these books where the characters all secretly know that they’re in a book where everything’s going to get wrapped up in the final chapter.
Apart from that whole glaring problem… well, I found this chapter pretty uninteresting. It’s the chapter on how we shouldn’t worry about the problem of textual changes in the gospels over time, and it really doesn’t work well here. Well, not that it would have worked well anywhere considering that we have the perennial problem that this was originally meant to be a Police Cadet Academy course and not a Bible class, but it makes even less sense for it to be in this bit of the book, when narratively we should be ramping up skateboard investigation suspense. I did have some fun reading it to Katie in a hyped-up dramatic tone and wisecracking the whole time – which she also enjoyed – but, as far as this review is concerned, I’m just going to shoot on through this as fast as I can.
So… At the beginning of the chapter, Jason takes the skateboard home and examines it. He finds a squiggly white line on the top edge which nobody noticed before despite the fact that all the cadets made a detailed examination of the skateboard back in Chapter Two and have been looking at it every bloody week since then. He gets excited about this in case it’s an Important Clue, but at the meeting next week Daniel tells them he thinks it’s just a drip from the cans of white paint that were sitting next to the board in the shed. There is a joke about Hannah calling the mark a ‘squiggly’ and the Insert Character wisecracking ‘I missed the class on squiggly evidence’, which would possibly have worked better if these poor kids had been having any classes on any evidence instead of just getting a Bible course, but, as it is, just felt sort of poignant to me.
On that same note, Jeffries tells them that every time he enters a crime scene he expects to find two different kinds of objects, dun-dun-DUUUNNNNN, and everyone leans eagerly forward because they’ve been ‘waiting for Jeffries to share something about a real crime scene’, and, oh dear sweet innocence and naiveté, JEFFRIES IS NEVER GOING TO TELL YOU THINGS ABOUT REAL CRIME SCENES. THIS IS NOT A REAL CADET COURSE. YOU HAVE BEEN LIED TO. Anyway, the two kinds of objects are ‘evidence’ and ‘artifacts’; the things that are related to the case, and the things that aren’t but are nevertheless related to what Wallace wants to tell his readers about the Bible this week. OK, so the last bit was my interpretation.
Entirely irrelevant side note: In medical school we got taught about artefacts on histological slides (and, yes, that’s how we spell it, I guess it’s another of those British-vs-American spellings) and so the medical school’s drama group was called Artefacts as a medical pun. So this chapter did have the benefit of triggering some fond memories of the fun we had there.
Back to CCCFK. Jeffries uses the ‘artifacts’ thing as his cue to explain to the cadets about how there are also artifacts in the Gospels caused by people making mistakes as they copied things out, but, hey, kids, not to worry, none of the changes are important and the scholars can aaaaaalways figure out what the original said. No, Jeffries does not tell them that scholars now believe that these changes include the addition of the story of the woman taken in adultery and the story of the resurrection appearances in Mark, neither of which I would describe as unimportant changes. No, Jeffries does not invite the children to consider the implications of the fact that two stories now thought probably not to be authentic were assumed to be authentic for centuries until gospel scholars read some older manuscripts; he does not point out that this means it’s possible that some of the stories we now think are authentic might turn out, if we ever find any even earlier manuscripts, to also be later additions. And no, Jeffries does not mention the fact that even the very oldest complete manuscripts we have are from hundreds of years after the gospels were written and even the oldest fragments we have are from a few decades after, allowing a substantial window of opportunity in which such changes could have happened. But then, we all knew he wasn’t going to tell the cadets any of that, didn’t we?
Jeffries illustrates the way scholars figure things out by writing three different versions of a sentence in which different letters are missing/changed in such a way that it isn’t possible to figure out the meaning from reading any individual one of them but, by looking at the bits we have in all three, it’s possible to figure out what the sentence said. So, there you go, we did get one bit that was interesting. Unfortunately he then describes this on the next page as ‘two inaccurate copies’ when it was actually three, so, whoops, but I deleted my initial snark about that; it’s surprisingly easy for errors like that to creep in during successive edits and then get missed on proofreading. But, hey, Wallace, something for you to change if you ever write an updated edition.
We also get this:
“Well, scholars and Bible experts have thousands of ancient copies of the Bible documents to compare to one another—more ancient copies than any other book in history. It’s an amazing collection of early documents.[…]”
“Do you know where those thousands of copies come from?” I asked Katie.
“No.” (Which is fair enough, since she’s eleven years old and I asked it as a rhetorical question.)
“They come from monks in Anglo-Saxon and medieval times who copied the Bible out thousands of times. So they’re not ‘early documents’. They’re from hundreds of years after the Bible was written.”
Katie highlighted the words ‘thousands of ancient copies’ in my Kindle app, clicked ‘Add Note’, and typed in ‘NOPE!’
And we also get one of those grey insert boxes about Bible quotes, this one asking what God compares his words to in Matthew 4:4. The answer is ‘Bread’, in case you’re wondering. “Why is he comparing his words to bread?” Katie asked. “I only compare mine to mushrooms!” So, there you are, that was Katie’s one comment on the chapter. (And, no, she does not actually compare her words to mushrooms. She just likes saying ‘mushrooms’ a lot. Along with ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’, ‘jalapeños’, and ‘chickeeeeeeen’.)
Anyway, the sentence that Jeffries gave Jason to figure out is ‘If Jason is a good detective, he will stand!’ and Jason figures this out and stands up and everyone applauds, and it turns out Jeffries chose this sentence for SYMBOLISM (and indoctrination), as the chapter then ends with Jeffries telling the cadets that they can be ‘sure enough about the words in this Bible to take a stand for Jesus’.
And, there you go, we have finished the penultimate chapter! I am so pleased to have gotten through a chapter this quickly. And to be this close to finishing the book. Since it’s this close to the end, I’m going to come up with predictions for the final chapter:
Things I expect to happen in the final chapter:
- As I previously mentioned, Daniel’s sister Lacey will be revealed as the skateboard owner. (Apart from the clues in her witness statement, she’s also almost the only other character who’s shown up in the entire book, so it’s pretty much a ‘Murder At My Friend Harry’s’ literary situation here.)
- I looked at the contents list and the title of the final chapter is ‘Resist Conspiracy Theories – Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!’ so I think it’s fair to guess that the apologetics topic for this chapter will be the Demolishment Of The Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument. (For those not familiar with apologetics, this is the one about how the apostles wouldn’t have just made the whole thing up, so obviously it must all be true because apparently the only possible two alternatives are ‘someone deliberately invented this story’ and ‘this story’s true’.)
- Following on from the above, we will get the ‘they died for their beliefs and never recanted!’ line, because, despite there being little evidence that most of the disciples died for their beliefs and none that recanting would have saved them, this argument always shows up in the Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument (which I think I might shorten to ACTSA). In fact, Wallace used it a few chapters back. Betcha we get it again.
- The inevitable skateboard-to-apologetics segue will consist of the cadets finding out that Lincoln was helping Lacey keep her skateboard ownership secret from her skateboard-disapproving mother and Jeffries using their discovery of this secret as an example of how Lies Are Hard To Keep and thus all the non-existent people who think the resurrection was a hoax cooked up by the disciples are wrong.
- My daughter will randomly utter at least one of the words ‘mushrooms’, ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’ ‘jalapeños’, or ‘chicken’ at some point while we’re reading it.
Things that I regretfully do not expect to happen in the final chapter, although it would be really cool if they did:
- An outraged parent storming into the class demanding to know why the police station is running an illicit evangelising class under the guise of a police cadet class.
- The cadets turning up for their final class and finding that Jeffries has been suspended for running said evangelising course illicitly on police time and property (Lies Are Hard to Keep, Jeffries!) and that the other police officers, contrite about not having spotted what he was up to, have put together a really good class on actual police work for the cadets’ final session.
- Any of the cadets calling Jeffries out on any of the misleading information he gives them.
- Anyone apart from Jason, Daniel, Hannah or Insert Character getting any lines. (Seriously, Wallace… you’re barely giving them any sort of characterisation anyway and it’s not like they’re actors who have to be paid extra if they get speaking parts. Could you not have thrown in some more names along the way so that we could feel like this was a class instead of four people plus a bunch of cardboard cutouts standing around the walls?)
A thing I hope doesn’t happen in the final chapter
- The cadets all falling on their knees and being led by Jeffries through a tearful and impassioned rendition of the Sinner’s Prayer. That would feel seriously awkward to read.
Well, we will soon find out! I might be able to go through the final chapter with Katie tonight. Are you excited? I’m excited.