By Dr. Valerie Tarico ~
Many Evangelicals believe of Lee Strobel as the man who can remedy your doubts about their religion. His 1998 book, The Case for Christ, has sold millions of copies, was produced into a 2017 film by the similar name, and was not too long ago re-issued in a “new and updated” edition.
The story that Evangelicals come across so convincing and scrumptious is this: Strobel, a hard-as-nails atheist journalist and his atheist family members are out to dinner when his daughter is saved from choking to death by an evangelical nurse who felt named by God to go to the restaurant that evening. Strobel’s wife converts, and Strobel sets out to prove her incorrect, utilizing the similar tactic that produced him a fearsome investigative journalist. He lines up scholars and theologians and confronts them with the hardest feasible concerns about their faith—and comes away convinced that the Evangelical view of the Bible and Jesus is correct. He accepts Jesus as his savior and proceeds to lay out these persuasive interviews in his book, which goes on, as I mentioned, to develop into a religion greatest-seller.
The trouble, according to author and religion critic David Fitzgerald (and other individuals), is that essential components of this story are distorted at greatest and fabricated at worst. Fitzgerald is the author of Nailed and Jesus: Mything in Action, aspect of The Total Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion series. In this interview, he discusses how Strobel stretches the truth to the breaking point, and why.
Tarico: A number of books point out flaws in the Biblical investigation and archeology cited by Strobel, which includes The Case Against the Case for Christ, by New Testament scholar Robert Price tag, and Difficult the Verdict by Earl Doherty. Accurate believers could be persuaded, but couple of significant antiquities scholars or educated skeptics take Strobel’s function seriously. Even so, one particular could argue that Strobel assembled poor proof in very good conscience. You are not so positive. Why not?
Fitzgerald: I cannot give him the advantage of that unique doubt any longer. Strobel has cultivated a completely bogus image that he happily encourages readers to embrace. His fan base is led to think he was a diehard atheist who was converted by these interviews. In reality, he was a lapsed Lutheran who became a pastor at a mega-church. It wasn’t till more than a decade later—and following writing 3 books in defense of evangelical Christianity—he had the thought to choose a line-up of Evangelical academics who help his view and lob softball concerns at them, all below the guise of a “tough skeptic.”
He is cautious about what he claims explicitly, but the reputation of his franchise rests on this pivot, the thought of a really hard-headed skeptic who set out to prove Christianity incorrect but was just blown away by the proof and had to surrender to Christ. Strobel does not set the record straight. As an alternative, he has milked it to the tune of millions of dollars, writing book following book with the similar formula: He positions himself as the skeptic, and then lo and behold, the proof for the resurrection or against evolution (or what ever new evangelical theme-of-the week he’s advocating) is just overwhelming.
Even these days, he keeps up his “tough skeptic” schtick. This quote from a current book is common of Strobel’s rhetoric:
I was determined to attain what ever verdict was warranted by the really hard proof of history and the cool demands of explanation.
Yes, I was hunting for opinions, but they had to be backed up with convincing information and airtight logic—no rank speculation, no flights of faith. Like the investigations I undertook at the Chicago Tribune, I would have no patience for half-baked claims or unsupported assertions. There was also a lot hanging in the balance. As the Jonestown victims had chillingly reminded me, my faith is only as very good as the one particular in whom it is invested.
So why do not you come along with me on this investigative adventure? Immediately after all, as Jesus himself cautioned, what you think about Him has quite actual consequences. Let’s resolve to retain an open thoughts and adhere to the information wherever they take us—even if it is to a conclusion that challenges us on the quite deepest levels…
Tarico: The trouble with Strobel’s books is fairly uncomplicated to spot: It is confirmatory considering. Yes, he makes use of really hard concerns about Christianity as outlines, but then he searches for any proof or line of reasoning that could, in any way, let his version of Christianity to be correct. It is fascinating how he speaks the language of skepticism—and then somehow does the opposite. The skeptical stance is merely a literary device, since he fails to ask the concerns or seek advice from the specialists who could show him incorrect.
But, jumping back, what about this story about him setting out as an investigator to dissuade his newly religious wife?
Fitzgerald: Strobel tells a quite unique version of events in one particular of the much less-identified books he wrote just before his blockbuster, Inside the Thoughts of Unchurched Harry and Mary: How to Attain Good friends and Loved ones Who Keep away from God and the Church. It goes like this:
His parents encouraged him to think in God, and brought the kids to Lutheran church frequently. He hated it and was relieved following going via confirmation that he was accomplished with “the religion factor.” As an adult, Strobel didn’t appear into the proof for God—he basically believed the thought of a God, angels and demons had been absurd to start with.
A couple of years following higher college, he married Leslie, his childhood sweetheart. As a kid, she and her family members attended a Methodist church and later a Presbyterian church with her mother, who would sing hymns to her as a bedtime lullaby. But religion was largely a curiosity for her.
Immediately after college, he landed a reporter job at the Chicago Tribune, exactly where he tells us: “I thrived in the cutthroat atmosphere, the adrenaline rush of deadlines, and the get-the-story-at-any-expense mentality. I was identified as an aggressive and precise reporter. There had been instances, nonetheless, when I went more than the ethical edge. …like utilizing ploys to mislead crime victims and witnesses . . . “My attitude was ethics had been fine to talk about in journalism college, but they shouldn’t get in the way of obtaining a very good story.”
Meanwhile, although Strobel was getting a big a-hole, his wife Leslie became close mates with a neighbor, who one particular day invited her to come to a new type of church meeting in a film theater. She quickly rededicated her life to Jesus, and months later, in January 1980, Lee joined her.
Incidentally, the preacher at that church? Mega-church superstar, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek. In 2018, his assistant accused him of sexually harassing her for the duration of this similar period, and he swiftly retired, which prompted ten added ladies to come forward and accuse him of sexual harassment. Then, each the pastor who succeeded him and the church board also resigned, admitting they mishandled the sexual misconduct allegations.
Tarico: Gross. Wasn’t Strobel operating as a pastor below Hybels when he wrote The Case for Christ? Not that he was necessarily privy to Hybels’ poor behavior. But there is a broad, ugly pattern of Christian leaders with thinly veiled secrets and folks hunting the other way since they do not want to interfere with God’s function. There’s also a broad, ugly pattern of stretching the truth—or breaking with truth—to advance the lead to of Christ.
When folks frame factors in terms of eternity, heaven and hell, then all manner of poor behaviors can be construed as a lesser evil in the service of a higher very good. Chris Rodda wrote a book named Liars for Jesus in which she requires down David Barton, an Evangelical who has actually rewritten American history to suit the Religious Appropriate. Not too long ago, you have been on the speaking circuit speaking about Strobel, and you mention yet another infamous case, Antony Flew.
Fitzgerald: Oh, never get me began on David Barton—his book was so rife with false statements, his personal publisher pulled his book off the shelves! As for Antony Flew, he was a respected British philosopher and atheist who ostensibly flipped in his later years—at least according to a book published in his name in 2007: There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Thoughts. It is this similar beloved Evangelical trope: the “hard-core atheist” who succumbs to the proof. But the book was nearly promptly exposed as a hoax.
What Christians will need to understand is that regardless of regardless of whether Christianity is correct or not, what Strobel and his group of “experts” are peddling to them so effectively is not.The book’s actual author(s) turned out to be its “co-author,” evangelical promoter and businessman Roy Abraham Varghese, and evangelical preacher Bob Hostetler (who has also written quite a few books with yet another well-liked evangelical apologist, Josh McDowell). The pair had taken benefit of Flew, who didn’t create a word of it and was by then suffering from progressive dementia. (At the finish of his life, as it sophisticated, he did start espouse a rather incoherent Deism, so it is uncomplicated to see what produced him an eye-catching target.
But even in his dementia, Flew rejected any belief in a individual god, let alone Christianity.) Other “tells” had been that the book was complete of Americanisms and that the confused Flew himself later couldn’t recognize the arguments attributed to him. But in spite of the hoax getting exposed in 2007, nearly upon arrival, the film version of Case for Christ goes out of its way to name-drop Flew, and Christians are nonetheless repeating the bogus story. In truth, extra Christians look to know “the world’s most notorious atheist” than atheists ever did.
Tarico: You get in touch with these quickly-debunked defenses of Evangelicalism “comfort meals for a desperately grateful Christian readership.” Do you believe that is the complete point? I’ve written about why very good Christians do poor factors to win converts—things like preying on grade college kids (a la Kid Evangelism Fellowship) or preying on foreign students by means of “friendship missions.” I say preying, since the students are lonely, far from parents and far from house, and do not know American culture nicely sufficient to understand they are marks. Is the Strobel/Flew factor the similar?
Fitzgerald: It undoubtedly shows the similar type of dubious ethics (if not outright predatory behavior) that we’ve noticed in a lot of other religious circumstances.
Tarico: I guess Strobel’s dubious story wouldn’t matter so a lot, but you say that he took the similar liberties with his defense of Christianity as with his individual narrative.
Tarico: How does the film version of Case for Christ evaluate with the book?
Fitzgerald: Strobel has claimed that the film is about “80% precise,” which is entirely ludicrous. And I’m not speaking about it obtaining the film remedy. Of course, like all biopics, they alter factors about, simplify storylines, blend characters, I get that. That is not particular. But there’s Hollywood bullshit, and then there is a deeper, extra insidious type of bullshit. The film version of Lee Strobel’s spiritual journey bears nearly zero partnership to his actual life story, but it presents the Lee Strobel Myth™ in each loving detail. It is the imaginary life he desperately wishes had been the case.
For instance, two of the “experts” he “interviewed” and purported to be so impressed with, do not even exist. “Father Jose Maria Marquez” and agnostic “Purdue professor Roberta Waters” are entirely fictitious characters. In reality, all of Strobel’s hand-selected steady of home specialists are evangelical protestant apologists, and only two (possibly three) out of 13 of them even have historical credentials to start with.
Tarico: What about the points raised by these specialists?
Fitzgerald: Strobel does not act like a reporter, and his “historians” do not act like historians—because he is not, and they are not. Either they are misquoted by Strobel, as one particular of them has admitted—or they are acting as flat-out propagandists. Due to the fact it is not just that they are misrepresenting the proof. It is the way they do so—deliberate, calculated and shameless. Here’s a prime instance:
One particular of the craziest components of Case for Christ was Strobel’s citation of “micrographic letters”—handwritten inscriptions on ancient coins also compact to be noticed by the naked eye—proclaiming Rex Jesus and Messiah and King of the Jews. This thought comes to Strobel second-hand from Baptist preacher and disgraced Mississippi State University archeologist, E. Jerry Vardaman, who claimed to have uncovered a secret history of the ancient planet, entirely unknown to mainstream academia, in these tiny inscriptions.
Needless to say, this bizarre theory didn’t pan out, and Vardaman was removed from his academic position. Actual historians had been under no circumstances fooled—just people like Strobel and his specialist Dr. John McRay, who cites Vardaman’s nonsense with a straight face. What’s extra, in Strobel’s “new and updated” edition of Case for Christ, its clear that Strobel has due to the fact gotten the memo, due to the fact he oh-so-meticulously rewrites this section to retroactively distance himself from the ridiculous claim—as if he was skeptical about it all along—but with out removing it, or admitting that he knows it has due to the fact been entirely debunked.
Tarico: You have taken some heat for your writings too—especially your argument that the New Testament stories about Jesus are historicized mythology rather of mythologized history.
Fitzgerald: Definitely, Jesus mythicism is a minority position, and I suspect it normally will be. For a lot of motives, I do not believe there ever was a “Real Jesus”—but regardless of whether there was a genuine historical figure or not, our proof for him is not wonderful, and none of it seems connected to anybody who ever really existed in the 1st century. And in any case, the “Jesus of Faith” is a solution of theological wishful considering, each bit as fabricated as Strobel’s Hollywood conversion story—and for the similar explanation.
Tarico: It tends to make me believe of fan fic.
Fitzgerald: (laughs) Yes! All scripture is fanfic!
Tarico: What do you most want that Strobel’s readers knew about him or about his books?
Fitzgerald: That he is promoting them spiritual junk meals, just as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. And possibly they need to be the ones calling out the David Bartons, the William Lane Craigs and the Lee Strobels, and not leave it to the atheists to do their truth-checking for them. Due to the fact if there is a god that is something like what Christians preach, he does not will need their sleight of hand to prop him up—does he?