The Gospel According to Columbo

by Alan Shlemon

What if Lieutenant Columbo was a Christian? Instead of solving a crime, his task would be to present the Gospel. What would he say? How would he say it?

At Stand to Reason, we’ve always been intrigued by Columbo’s inquisitive style and believe it’s a powerful way to engage people. Here’s what I believe he’d say if he were to present the Gospel. He’d ask three questions. Do you believe people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished? Have you ever committed a moral crime? Would you like to be pardoned? Let’s look at the reasoning behind each question.

1.  Do you believe people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished? The first question gets the ball rolling. It’s supposed to be an obvious question that most honest people will affirm. They intuitively recognize that guilty people deserve to be punished. It’s an established principle in our country and, indeed, many others.

In rare cases, a person will answer no. I’ve found these people are often just trying to be difficult. Their insincerity can be exposed with a clear-case scenario. I ask them, “If a man murders your mother, would you be content with the judge letting him go free without any punishment?” Chances are they’ll say no. That’s because human nature demands that guilty people be punished. Now they’re ready for Columbo’s second question.

2.  Have you ever committed a moral crime? This question takes the conversation from the abstract to the personal. That’s because the Gospel isn’t mere theory, but affects real people.

It’s important they understand that by “crime,” we’re not talking about rape, murder, or other ghastly offenses. Those count, but most people haven’t committed such egregious acts. A moral crime entails breaking any law or moral code, no matter how seemingly small. Lying, cheating on tests, fudging your tax returns, maligning a person’s character, jealousy, and greed are all examples of moral crimes. They may not be against the law, but they’re crimes according to God. That matters because we live in His universe and, therefore, are under His jurisdiction.

Again, most people answer yes to this question because they all recognize they’ve done wrong. In fact, we’ve all done a lot of wrong. We feel guilty because we are guilty.

Notice what follows after the first two questions…


Stand to Reason | The Gospel According to Columbo