I just finished reading The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel, a book I first heard of when Jennifer at Conversion Diary mentioned it as instrumental in her own conversion from atheist to Catholic. Is it odd that I have a great appetite for reading apologetics even though I am a cradle Catholic and though I already know most of what the book says? For some reason though I find it very satisfying to see all the arguments laid out neatly, all the objections responded to. I think in part it is because my own faith is so very intellectual. It is pleasing to see other people explaining that it is so reasonable and that there is no contradiction between faith and reason. Perhaps it is also because I am aware that I’m not at all good at speaking of my faith to others? Perhaps it just scratches an intellectual itch to seem to be learning about my faith without really challenging myself to grow. In any case, I found this book a hard one to put down and read it straight through in a couple of days.
Strobel is a graduate of Yale Law and an investigative journalist. As an atheist, he set out to prove that Christianity was a myth and instead found that the case for Christ was watertight. He read and reasoned his way into becoming a Christian and the book’s structure parallels his own journey to faith. However, it also is much more lively than just a dry compendium of rehashed sources. Instead, Strobel presents the book as a series of interviews with various experts: Biblical scholars, legal experts, archaeologists, even a forensic pathologist, using them as his expert witnesses. This makes for great reading because each of Stroble’s interviewees is an interesting person in his own right and as each takes the stand to give his witness it is not at all impersonal. I love the way Strobel frames his narrative, introducing each chapter with a scenario from his days covering criminal cases. First he reviews how a particular kind of evidence was used to convict a particular suspect. Each of these stories is interesting in its own right. Once we’ve understood how the evidence works in a court of law, then we turn to seeing how the same kind of evidence can be used to build the case for Christ. I think sometimes the theological debates can seem so abstract and ivory-towerish. And yet everyone loves a good crime drama, we all understand the importance of evidence in the courtroom. Strobel builds on our cultural fascination with criminal procedurals, building a case for Christ for the Law and Order generation.
Strobel is a tough audience and a good stand in for the reader who does not want to be convinced, he raises plenty of objections, gleaned from a wide reading of current atheist counterarguments. And though his experts shoot down each of the arguments in a convincing fashion, he leaves each chapter open-ended, allowing his readers to make up their own minds. He isn’t out to make you believe, merely to present the case that belief is rational and to show that the case against Christ is weak.
This book isn’t an encounter with Christ. Rather it’s very detailed directions to the place where an encounter could happen.
I would highly recommend it to anyone who thinks that Jesus was just a nice guy, a good and moral teacher but no greater than any other teacher. In fact, if you are reading this and don’t believe in Christ, I challenge you to read this book. See for yourself what the evidence is. Don’t be lazy and assume that you already know what the book is going to say. It’s an easy read, a fun read and won’t cost you much in the way of time or money out of your pocket. Heck, I’ll even send you the book on my own dime if you send me your address.
My one disappointment with Strobel’s account is not so much with the book itself as with the implied happy ending. Strobel investigates himself out of atheism and into life as a follower of Christ. In fact he has the courage of his convictions and is now a pastor. And yet he goes and joins the evangelical Willow Creek church. This is disappointing to me because it seems that after expending so much energy and time to find Christ Strobel might have exerted himself just a bit more to investigate the historical claims of the Catholic Church to be the one true church founded by Christ. I am convinced that if he had bothered to do so he would have found the evidence equally compelling and would today be Catholic. It makes me almost want to pick up my pen and write him a letter to challenge him to give the Catholic Church the same kind of fair hearing as an evangelical that he gave Jesus as an atheist. I so admire his willingness to ask hard questions and to follow where his investigation took him even when it challenged everything he thought he knew and believed. I’d like to think he wouldn’t shrink from one more challenge to go higher up and further in.