Several years ago, I was with my family as we were leaving our first Back to School Night. My daughter was entering kindergarten and, despite the fact that I knew she would do wonderfully in school, I was more than a little terrified. At the same time, a young child was making national news by claiming – at six years old – that he was really a girl and would be living as one (as if a six-year-old is in any way mature enough to make that sort of life-altering decision or understand its implications) and the school was being forced to accommodate that.
What terrified me about that back to school night was the realization I’d been coming to terms with over the previous weeks. I was beginning to understand that I was effectively powerless to raise my kids in the faith that I believed to be true. I had no tools to show that God exists, that Jesus was a real person, that he really claimed to be God and that he really was risen from the dead. I knew that the world was moving away from its Judeo-Christian heritage and there was a distinct possibility that it would take my kids along for the ride.
What followed from that was the beginning of an investigation into the truth value of Christianity, theology and apologetics in an attempt to “keep my kids on God’s side”, as Natasha Crain puts it. Surely, I believe that God is sovereign and that my children’s eternal destiny is not something that I can guarantee in either direction, but what I can do is to give them the best possible chances of success. The challenge for me, therefore, comes in taking what I’ve learned in my own journey and passing it down to my children effectively. I can give them a copy of On Guard when they’re in high school, but I don’t want to wait that long.
For someone like me, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids and similar books are a godsend. What Susie and J. Warner Wallace have done is take complex, nuanced and sometimes very technical information and boiled it down into a package that is very accessible for a young child.
But first, a disclaimer:
My own kids are pretty sharp *humble brag*, but I still wonder if they may have been a tad too young for this. The suggested age range is 8 to 12 years while mine are 8 and 6. On top of that, my son is… well, he’s a six-year-old boy. Keeping him focused and on task is always a bit of a challenge. At the same time, my daughter is mildly autistic. She’s smart (autism is not mental retardation, she’s not stupid) but it’s not always easy to speak her language or follow her train of thought. She’s also not immune to a child’s penchant for distraction.
However, with a bit of extra parental involvement – some explaining of terms, some clarifying of concepts – the two of them have made it through the entire Cold Case Christianity for Kids “Academy” and we’ve had some fun doing it. An older kid in the 11-12 range may be able to do the entire book with the activities on their own while younger kids will probably need some help but either one should work. Kids aren’t stupid, don’t be afraid to challenge them.
Cold Case Christianity for Kids (CCC4K from here on) is, as the title suggests, an alternate approach to the same material presented in Wallace’s other books, Cold Case Christianity and, to a much lesser extent, God’s Crime Scene. The goal of the book is to give children the tools to think critically about important issues as well as establish the idea that the Christian faith is based on historical events (the death and resurrection of Jesus) as opposed to legend or myth.
CCC4K follows an almost identical format as the original Cold Case Christianity, but shortened and simplified for kids. This simplification is done through the use of kid-friendly vocabulary and analogy rather than by “dumbing down” the conceptual basis. Kids may not be familiar with terms like “reasonable doubt”, “historicity” or “textual criticism”, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of understanding the ideas. In addition, the case is a bit more streamlined to help keep hold of a child’s attention. As an example, the book devotes about a half a chapter to hitting the high points of five evidences for the existence of God. This material parallels about one half of Wallace’s second book, God’s Crime Scene, wherein he examines eight pieces of evidence instead of five. In CCC4K the Wallace’s have chosen to omit the page space devoted to dealing objections to these evidences, and that's a decision I understand and agree with. Doing a deep dive into something as esoteric as the nature of consciousness and why it is not sufficiently explained by evolution is guaranteed to put a nine-year-old to sleep.
This parallel format is intended as it allows the parent or teacher to study alongside their children without forcing either one into a book that is not appropriate to their reading level. The benefits of this are many. One of the principles that is regularly taught in the community of Christian apologetics is that, when your child asks you a tough questions (and they do ask tough questions sometimes), it’s perfectly alright to respond by saying “That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer. Let’s look at that together and find out.” This response teaches the child several things. First, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask questions, even hard ones. Second, it’s perfectly acceptable to not have the answers to those questions so long as you’re willing to look for the answers. Third, that learning is a lifelong and valuable venture, not something you stop once you graduate from high school or college. I’ve heard some bloggers say that their kids now try to come up with the hardest questions they can in a sort of competition to see who can stump mom or dad. Personally, I think that’s pretty cool. Getting kids to engage their minds and think hard about important issues is something we all should be encouraging, rather than letting them make decisions based on feelings or desires as our culture is so prone to doing.
In addition to the information content of the book, CCC4K also aims to give kids tools for critical thinking that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Kids are encouraged to be cognizant of and avoid presuppositions (Chapter 1 is entitled “Don’t Be a Know-It-All”) and use abductive reasoning to find the best explanation for a given phenomenon. They are also given good reasons to believe why we can trust the New Testament as we have it today and that it wasn’t changed over time as it is often accused (The Chain of Custody). Honestly, reason and logic are things that are sorely lacking in modern education which makes it critical for parents of faith to make sure our children are learning those skills from us. The fact that the Wallace’s have devoted ink to this in a children's book is encouraging and helpful.
Just like the original, the case for Jesus is paralleled with another investigation, the difference being that the parallel investigations laid out in Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene are taken from real homicide cases that Wallace has worked in the past. I appreciate this approach because it shows that there is no special pleading going on in the case for Jesus, rather it stands up to the same criteria that we would apply to any historical event, be it the work of a detective, an historian, or any of the hundreds of decisions and inferences we make every single day.
The Wallace's have done a very good job in “translating” the material from the first book into a language that kids can understand. Those who have read God’s Crime Scene and Cold Case Christianity know that the examples he gives (again, from real homicide cases) can be a bit graphic. This would, of course, be inappropriate to include in a children’s book so the decision was made instead to track the case for Jesus alongside a fictional investigation into a skateboard found in a shed. This works surprisingly well. The cumulative case for God’s existence is paralleled by multiple points of evidence showing the age of the skateboard. The accusation of contradictions in the gospel narratives is laid against character interviews that seem contradictory but make sense when other factors are taken into account. The character trail of who had the skateboard and when provides a nice analogy to the chain of custody we see in the church fathers which allows us to know that the gospels were not changed over time. A lot of these issues of textual criticism and manuscript evidence become very clear and simple. Likewise, the terminology used is kid-friendly without being condescending.
However, the real triumph of this book, I feel, is not inside the book itself. In addition to the printed copy, the CCC4K website also includes introductory videos from J. Warner Wallace to be played before each chapter (maybe a minute or two each). Also, the Wallace’s have assembled a set of activity sheets that include one worksheet of fill-in-the-blank answers and one page that is more fun (a word search, a crossword, etc.) that can be completed at the end of each chapter. The design of these activity sheets is quite clever as they are arranged in a very specific way as to draw on the skills and tools being presented in the preceding chapter. For example, one chapter of the book is all about abductive reasoning and learning to infer the best explanation for a given scenario based on the evidence. The activity sheet for this chapter is a crossword. It wasn’t until I was printing out the sheets for my own kids that I realized that a crossword puzzle is exactly that; abductive reasoning to the best explanation based on a certain set of evidence. Between the clue, the length of the word and the letters placed by intersecting words, it becomes possible to figure out exactly which word is to be placed in the squares even though, when you started, all you had were blank squares. Now, I seriously doubt that a ten-year-old would make that connection, but it’s probably not necessary for them to do so. The reinforcement is there even if they’re not conscious of it.
Once all of the activity sheets are done (which are optional), the parent or teacher has the ability of printing out an academy certificate with the child’s name and presenting it to the child to honor their achievement. And it is an achievement. The book is not as long or complex as many other theological or apologetic works, but it is certainly more challenging than most of the other fluff that kids read today, if they read at all.
All of this combined – the parallel format, the activity sheets, the certificate – allows the adult a great deal of creativity to do more than simply hand the kid a book and tell them to read. For homeschooling or stay-at-home parents, this package has the potential to be transformed into a fun weekend activity, especially now that we’re heading into winter when many kids will be spending several weeks sitting around the house. It can be done in a day (my first read-through of the book on my own only took about an hour and a half) or over the course of several days by doing a chapter a night. Go crazy with it. Print out the sheets, assemble them in an inexpensive report cover for a “case file”. Get some cheap aviator sunglasses or NYPD hats to create your own police academy in your living room. Sunday school teachers at small, local churches could take this on as a long term project to educate their students. I even considered putting together an Academy Kit with some of the items I mentioned above and giving them as Christmas presents to some of my nieces and nephews. I imagine some of those crazy DIY Pinterest Moms could put together some fun hands-on activities to go along with everything else. Since all of the work is done, the rest is simply a question of how creative you want to get with it. I would like to see someone like a ChristianBook.com or another retailer perhaps put these packages together and sell them in bulk for churches and Christian schools.
I question the choice of putting this additional material on the website instead of including them in the printed book, but I also understand that it’s impossible to put the video introductions inside a book. Putting the sheets inside the printed copy would likely lead to the videos being neglected and unwatched. By putting the activity sheets and certificate online, most families are more likely to consume all of the material rather than just most of it.
As a whole, there’s very little to criticize about this book. Needless to say, as a Christian, I’m biased about the value of the evidence and arguments presented in the book and, as someone who has been following Wallace’s work for several years now, well… I’m a fan. In light of this, a similar review by someone more antagonistic to the material might look very different.
That said, there is one aspect of the book on which – had anyone asked me (and no one did) – I would have suggested a change. The book is presented in the format of a story and, as a hobbyist fiction writer, I know that the choice of point-of-view and tense is more important than one may assume. CCC4K is presented in a sort of first-person, real time point of view where the reader is not so much told a story as they told what’s happening to them which tends to read something like an old MUD or text adventure, “You walk into a room. There is a chair, a gun with bullets and a dead chicken on the floor.” I’ve never liked this format because it always felt awkward and it commits one of the cardinal sins of fiction writing, telling instead of showing. “You are very excited about your first day at the police academy” is far less effective than something like “Jenny signed up for the Police Cadet Academy the day it was announced. She’d set her alarm for 5:00AM, was dressed in a freshly ironed uniformed by 5:15 and was downstairs eating her cereal by 5:20, even though she’d barely slept the night before. She didn’t need to be at the academy until 9:00, but she was taking no chances on being late. She showed up at class almost a half hour early. Once she found her desk, she took out her pencils and notebook from her bag – all brand new – and straightened the belt of her uniform before sitting. She knew the ear-to-ear smile on her face was not very “professional” – police officers are supposed to look stern and intimidating – but she couldn’t help it.”
That said, what I’m criticizing here is really nothing more than a nitpick. CCC4K is not a novel and this issue with the POV is really nothing more than a stylistic choice that, I’m sure, most people will never notice unless they’re crazy like me. More importantly, this is a really minor quibble that does nothing to undermine the content of the book itself. CCC4K is intended to deliver tools and information, not to entertain. Also, none of that is to say that the book is badly written. It’s easy to follow and the prose, except for the stylistic choice I’ve mentioned, becomes invisible after a few pages which is a good sign.
Overall, CCC4K is a fantastic resource for any Christian parent or teacher who is interested in strengthening the faith of the children in their life. Whether it is given as a gift, used as a home schooling supplement, a Sunday school curriculum or as a summer vacation activity, there is a lot of value to the book; not only in the information it presents, but in the parallel approach and the supplemental materials. I can see this becoming a watershed for Christian children’s education, a new gold standard if you will. Several reviewers have already named this book as an essential for apologetic children’s training and I completely agree with that assessment. Bible stories and devotions around the dinner table are great, but in the day and age we live it is becoming increasingly necessary to give our children reasons to believe that Christianity is true, rather than just assertions. If you’re interested in doing that with your own children, this book is the best place to start.
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Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.