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A look at “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel

 

Question & Answer

 
Q: By Darrell
 
A friend of mine recommended the book, “The Case for Christ,” by Lee Strobel. Have you read the book and if so, is it a good read?
 
A: By Rev. David M. Felten
 
Dear Darrell,

Thanks so much for reaching out about the veracity of Strobel’s book. Here are some things you might want to consider about The Case for Christ (and Strobel’s agenda):

Strobel claims to be an objective journalist who uses the well-established methods of investigative journalism to arrive at his conclusions. However, his argument is more propaganda than journalism. He only interviews the proponents of one kind of Christianity: the most traditional and orthodox of Evangelical leaders. Many of these high-profile apologists criticize or outright dismiss (or lie about) the theological perspective of mainline Christianity as heresy (or Strobel misrepresents their opinions for his own purposes).

Strobel outright ignores the work of contemporary Biblical scholarship in seminaries like the one I attended (Boston University) and negatively skews the views of the scholars who have influenced me and become my mentors – many of whom were a part of “The Jesus Seminar,” “Living the Questions,” and other efforts to promote contemporary Biblical scholarship outside of academia. Strobel doesn’t interview a single one of them (carefully avoiding all but a few hand-picked academics from mainstream institutions of higher learning). So, right out of the gate, he’s misrepresenting himself as being objective, undermining his claim to have “made a case.”

Some of the things he points to as “evidence” are just plainly silly. The only scholars/pastors who agree with Strobel’s perspective are those who have isolated themselves in a dogmatic bubble and refuse to deal with modern scholarship, archaeology, history, and literary criticism.

For instance, Strobel claims that the Gospels are “eyewitness” evidence written by the actual apostles. Nobody who actually reads the texts and takes them seriously can believe this. Yet Strobel enthusiastically defends the perspective of those who misrepresent and distort the text.

Case in point: Strobel’s sources deny the obvious textual evidence that the Gospels were written many years after the fact by, in some cases, people who clearly had never been in Palestine (and could not possibly have known Jesus personally). The “synoptic problem” (where it’s clear that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke copied from him) is dismissed. The existence of the “Q” gospel is disregarded altogether. Never mind that the Gospel of John is all out-of-whack with the other Gospels: different orders of events, different theology, Jesus in ministry for a different number of years, Jesus’ message being completely different than in the Synoptic Gospels, etc. Despite being glaringly obvious, the people Strobel consults for his “proof” just ignore it all.

Overall, Strobel only goes to people who will tell him what he wants to hear. In regard to “historical” evidence, Strobel finds a person who totally ignores the vast majority of historians and scholars to support his “case.” Take the story of the Roman census as recorded in the beginning of Luke; there is no evidence outside of or anywhere else in the Bible that would support this event as historical. Likewise, there is no evidence that Matthew’s story of children being massacred by Herod ever happened. But somehow, Strobel is able to twist this information in his favor. It’s never mentioned that Matthew’s Gospel has Mary and Joseph living in Bethlehem (with no need to travel from Nazareth for Jesus’ birth). So, it’s clear from reading the text alone (I know, I know – reading the Bible is such a pain!) that Matthew made these stories up. They’re stories. But Strobel doesn’t like that, so he finds a person who will tell him what he wants to hear so he can include it as “evidence” in his “case.”

Strobel also spends a lot of time laying out the typical Evangelical arguments for how we know that Jesus is “actually” God incarnate and how we know that the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus actually occurred — but the details of why this is problematic will have to be the topic of another column.

If your friend is a casual Christian (and by that I mean someone who goes to church, is convinced that Jesus died for him, and tries to be a nice person), then I can see how “The Case for Christ” would be a book in which they find comfort and assurance. However, if a person is sincere about taking the Bible seriously and actually following Jesus’ teachings, then I think The Case for Christ is not only unhelpful, but misleading.

Because there are so many outright lies and misrepresentations in the book, I find it excruciating to read. It makes me sad that it is as popular a book as it is – but a lot of people just want to have their childhood beliefs affirmed and don’t want to think too hard about religion.

As an alternative, let me suggest another “introductory” kind of book that completely changed my outlook on faith and my approach to ministry, Marcus Borg’s: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. It definitely makes its own “case,” but for a much more credible and relevant Jesus.

Thanks for inquiring about the Strobel book. I’m always happy to make my own “case” for why Strobel should be thrown out of court.

~ Rev. David M. Felten

*** This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. David M. Felten is a full-time pastor at The Fountains, a United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, Arizona. David and fellow United Methodist Pastor, Jeff Procter-Murphy, are the creators of the DVD-based discussion series for Progressive Christians, “Living the Questions”. A co-founder of Catalyst Arizona and also a founding member of No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, David is an outspoken voice for LGBTQ rights both in the church and in the community at large. David is active in the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church and tries to stay connected to his roots as a musician. You’ll find him playing saxophones in a variety of settings, including appearances with the Fountain Hills Saxophone Quartet.

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