Strobel: Case for Christ

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When I went home to Portland this year I was at a family party and, as always, began talking Theology. One gentleman asked me if I’d read Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ.” Although he was a skeptic himself, the writing style and theme of the book, which claimed to investigate the historical Jesus Christ using the same strict methods found in a legal hearing, really impressed him.

In many ways, Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” is the antithesis of my own book, “Dead Little Fish.” The Case for Christ has sold well and made the author, and his family, notable celebrities – which automatically gains my respect. However, it irks me that the book pretends to be open-minded when it is in fact a rigorous and pre-meditated defense of the historical Jesus.

Lee Strobel interviews 13 of the most highly credentialed and respected New Testament scholars, and uses their testimony, along with his own eager compliance, to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is irrefutably historical, and that everybody worthwhile knows it. However, at the same time, he not only completely dismisses all contrary evidence and testimonials, but he even scathingly introduces them with bias-laden adjectives and negative character profiling.

Evidence which does not support the historical Jesus is labeled as ‘irrelevant’ to his quest, because it doesn’t help him to find the historical Jesus he’s looking for. The Gnostic gospels are “too mythological” to be used as historical evidence, while the four canonical gospels are treated as credible eye-witness accounts. Although his dialogs are engaging and interesting, Strobel cites less than 10 original sources or ancient texts, and most of these are biblical references. The quotes he does use are the same weary passages of Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger – highly contested passages that many scholars claim are outright forgeries. I dismiss them in the first chapter of my book, by showing how the surrounding controversy alone forbids them from being accepted at face value.

Lee Strobel’s format is basically the same in every interview, start out with a glowing introduction to whichever scholar he has chosen to meet, which earns reader sympathy. Ask questions and then explain why the answers really shocked and convinced him. After one such conversation, he exclaims, “That is stunning corroboration for the most important assertion by the most influential individual who has ever lived.” Does that sound unbiased to you?

Most of the book is written as an obvious fiction – for entertainment. We see this in the use of flowery description, scene setting, and emotional cues. But by describing himself as a “skeptic,” a journalist, and a Harvand Law school graduate, Lee Strobel then betrays the implied reliability of his investigation by giving us a blatantly one-sided report on the evidence. For example, he begins with the assumption that “The Jesus Seminar”, a collective of over 300 hundred scholars who doubt the historical nature of the biblical testimony, are a radical minority of unempirical troublemakers. And then he goes out to interview someone who has written books to refute the “Jesus Seminar” findings. He never consults any of the members of the group itself, or any sympathizers, instead choosing to seek out their opponents.

If this were truly a legal hearing, then Lee Strobel’s tactics would be to hold a closed court hearing, duck tape the prosecutor, get 12 of the defendant’s best friends on the jury and let his mother be the judge. And then, at the end of day, when the defendant is released, rejoice in how the unanimous verdict has unequivocally demonstrated the defendant’s innocence.

So be warned: For all it’s romanticism, Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ is a fantasy, if you must read it do so critically.