After his wife became a Christian, talented journalist and atheist Lee Strobel took on an enormous two-year-long project: to use his journalistic and legal training to systematically investigate whether there was any factual standing to Christianity, especially in regards to the resurrection of Jesus. After coming face to face with the avalanche of evidence that points toward the truth of Christianity, Strobel found that it “would have taken more faith to maintain [his] atheism than to become a Christian.”
Strobel detailed his investigative journey in the best-selling book The Case For Christ, which has since been made into a movie. He is now the author of many more books that deal with apologetics, and he joins us on our Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast this week for Part 1 of a 2-part show.
Strobel encourages all Christians to follow his example and equip themselves to share with nonbelievers not just what they believe, but why they believe it. “I like to not start necessarily with the Bible when I’m dealing with someone who is not a believer,” says Strobel. “Instead, I like to base it on a common ground I have with the nonbeliever in science and in history.” After all, it was science and history that first convinced him of the truth of Christianity when he was an atheist.
But what if you are a believer, and aren’t aware of all this scientific and historical evidence for the Christian faith? Strobel says that’s okay. “Apologetics, or evidence for faith, has two functions. One is to reach out to the nonbeliever; the other is to strengthen our own faith. Sometimes it’s helpful for us as Christians just to be familiar with the breadth and depth of evidence for our faith, just to bolster our confidence that our faith in Jesus is well placed.”
Click below to hear Lee Strobel’s encouragement and advice for Christians to share not only what they believe, but why they believe it, in Part 1 of a 2-part show.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. One of the strengths of the Christian faith is how its principles and truths are rooted not just in abstract faith, but also in sound reasoning. As the very fundamentals of Christianity come under increasing attack in our culture, we constantly have to remind ourselves to keep in mind 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you.” But Peter goes on to say we should do that “with gentleness and respect.” That can be a tricky line to walk.
I’m excited today to be joined by a man who has spent his entire life, practically, putting this into practice and giving guidance to all of us who are trying to do the same. Lee Strobel is the bestselling author of a book, and now movie, The Case for Christ. Other books include The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for Grace, and his latest book, The Case for Miracles. Strobel was at one time legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. He was a professor of Christian thought at Houston Baptist University. Most recently, he has teamed up with Colorado Christian University to establish The Lee Strobel Center for Evangelism and Applied Apologetics, which seeks to fuel spiritual renewal in America by equipping churches, ministries, and individual Christians to naturally share and defend their faith.
Lee Strobel, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
LEE STROBEL: Thank you, so great to be with you. I appreciate so much what you do.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, thank you. Most of us know who you are, but for those of us who may be unfamiliar with your faith background, could you start by giving us a quick overview of how you came to faith in Christ?
LEE STROBEL: Sure. In my early life I was an atheist. My background is in journalism and law, so I tended to be quite the skeptic about things. I thought that faith was a waste of time and certainly not built on any rational foundation. My wife though, who was an agnostic, ultimately came to faith in Christ. It was really two things that happened. One, the positive changes in her character and values attracted me towards the faith. At the same time, I kind of wanted to rescue her from this faith so that we could get our old life back. So I decided to use my journalism and legal training to systematically investigate whether there was any factual underpinnings to Christianity; especially the resurrection of Jesus, which I recognized as kind of the key to the whole thing. And so I spent two years of my life investigating the historical evidence for the resurrection, and then ultimately became convinced that based on the avalanche of evidence that points so powerfully toward the truth of Christianity, it would have taken more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian.
TRACI GRIGGS: Wow, what a great story! I always love hearing that. Now you’ve spent much of your life as a Christian exploring the intersection of faith and reason. What is unique about the way that you believe these two pillars interact in the Christian tradition?
LEE STROBEL: Well, unlike other faith systems, the evidence of science—of cosmology, physics, biochemistry, genetics, human consciousness—points toward the existence of a creator who just happens to match the description of the God of the Bible. And then we look at history, as I mentioned—at the historical evidence for Jesus, who not only claimed to be the Son of God, but then backed up that claim by returning from the dead. And we have strong evidence inside and outside the New Testament that Jesus is who he claimed to be, the unique Son of God. And therefore Christianity is not based on legendary beliefs or mythology or wishful thinking, but it really is built on a solid foundation of historical truth.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, in our current culture it seems like we have a tendency to vilify the other side and even be afraid of talking to them. Do you think it’s possible for Christians to engage in the most contentious cultural debates and not only maintain their Christian testimony, but actually to use that as an opportunity to talk to others about their faith in Christ?
LEE STROBEL: Well, I think people these days are more interested in talking about spiritual matters than they have been in the past. So I think our culture—even though you’re right, it is a tumultuous time to be alive and to be a Christian—people are curious about faith, they’re curious about Christianity. So I find that it’s pretty easy to get into a spiritual conversation. And if we do what you quoted earlier, of Peter saying that we should share with gentleness and respect, I think people are more receptive than we give them credit for.
TRACI GRIGGS: Talk about that a little bit more because, at least in the political environment, it seems like evangelical Christians are lumped into one group and there are a lot of misconceptions about them. So how do you bridge that gap and get a conversation started?
LEE STROBEL: You’re right. In the popular culture these days, Christians are caricatured as being homophobic, and bigoted, and extreme right-wingers, and white supremacists and so forth, which of course is totally inaccurate. But we have to get beyond that, and how do we get beyond that? I think it’s through relationships; it’s through friendships. It’s through letting people know who we really are, and being authentic, being honest, being gentle, being forthright. It’s through listening, doing more listening than talking, asking more questions than giving answers, and being authentically interested and concerned about where other people are coming from. But then to bring a biblical perspective in a gentle and respectful way, and to explain why we believe what we believe. Increasingly today, we have to be able to share with people not just what we believe, but why we believe it, why it makes sense, why it syncs up with reality. And so I tried to get beyond some of the social disputes that we have in our culture and get down to the spiritual questions. So where do we come from? Who is God? How can we know him personally?
TRACI GRIGGS: So when people hear that word apologetics, they think of college professors; they think of people who have studied for years and years. Is it that difficult to come up with some of these reasoned arguments, do you think, on cultural issues that we face every day?
LEE STROBEL: Well, I think we have to be willing to say, “Golly, that’s a great question you’ve just asked. I have no idea how to answer it, but you know what, let’s pursue an answer together.” There are so many good resources out there today that we can go to that can help us reach a friend. If they are not a Christian—let’s say they’re an atheist or an agnostic—I’ll say, “Hey, would you be interested in watching a debate between one of the smartest Christians in the world and one of the smartest atheists in the world, with a no-holes-barred intellectual shootout on the question of whether God exists? Would that be interesting to you?” “Well, yeah, that is kind of interesting.” Well then you can go on YouTube, and you can watch the debate between William Lane Craig—the Christian—and Christopher Hitchens—the atheist—that was held a few years ago at Biola University. It’s a wonderful debate to watch with someone and then to discuss it and to talk about it. But sometimes it’s good to be able to say, “Hey, here’s a fair playing field, here’s an even playing field, let’s watch a no-holes-barred debate and then talk about it.”
TRACI GRIGGS: Okay, so to give you the opportunity to give a shameless plug for your books, would you think that working through those as well, with somebody who had some interest, would be an opportunity to share what you believe?
LEE STROBEL: Oh, absolutely! People give away my books all the time; I give them away all the time. Some people, though, watch movies and they learn visually, and so for those people I say, “If you’re on Netflix, you can get for free our movie The Case for Christ, which is the dramatic portrayal of my faith journey from atheism to faith and what it did to our marriage. It’s a very well done motion picture; it won some awards. You can watch that and then it’s a great opening to have the discussion about, “What do you think about that investigation?” Because the evidence is in the film, and the gospel is in the film as well.
TRACI GRIGGS: And I think, just for people that might not be familiar with your books, I appreciate the fact that they’re very easy to read. There’s not lofty language in there. I mean it really is easy to follow, so that would be a good place for people to start, I think.
LEE STROBEL: Well I appreciate that. I see myself as a bridge between the academic world and the everyday world. And that comes from my journalism background. I don’t portray myself as being a know-all expert. I go to people with PhD’s in the relevant areas who are authors of peer-reviewed academic articles and major books, and I ask them the tough questions I had as an atheist. Then I let the reader decide whether or not they provide good answers. So, for instance, in The Case for Christ, I have interviews with 13 scholars with PhD’s from Cambridge and Yale and Brandeis and other major universities, who articulate, as you say, in a very easy to understand way. “What is the evidence? How do we know that Christianity is not wishful thinking, but that it is really based on historical evidence?” My book, The Case for a Creator, looks at the scientific evidence that points toward the existence of a creator who matches the description of the God of the Bible.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, I’m assuming you’re not going at these people quoting Bible verses then.
LEE STROBEL: Well, you know, it’s interesting, I like to not start necessarily with the Bible when I’m dealing with someone who is not a believer. You know, I’m going to set aside the question of whether the Bible is the word of God. I believe it is; I believe it’s the inerrant word of God. But I set that aside and I say, “Let’s not start there. Let’s start with history. What can we know from history? What evidence can we find about Jesus and about his life, death, miracles, and resurrection. And let’s use the same techniques that you would use if you’re going to evaluate the writings of any ancient writer.” We can take those same investigative techniques and apply them to the New Testament and to other ancient writings and try to determine what is the truth. So I don’t set the bar so high at the beginning to say, “I’m going to defend inerrancy,” right off the bat. I’d rather say, “Let’s try to determine what history says.” And I believe there’s good evidence that what we find in the New Testament is good history. And I think there are good reasons for that that I explained.
And the same with the question of science. I use evidence that is not only accepted by Christians, but accepted by every scientist. And I believe that evidence from cosmology—which is the origin of the universe—to physics, genetics, human consciousness and so forth, points toward a creator who matches the description of the God of the Bible.
TRACI GRIGGS: Most people I think feel like science has been commandeered by people who are atheists or who don’t believe in the Bible, so that’s an interesting approach. There’s that old saying, “The Bible said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Why do you believe that for at least communicating with people outside of our faith, that that is just not enough?
LEE STROBEL: Well, first of all, you’re right about science. There’s a difference though between science and scientism. What we see in our culture today is a lot of scientism. What scientism says is that science is the only way to discern what’s true, and if you can’t prove it to me scientifically, I’m not going to believe it. The problem with that is that statement, “The only thing you can know is what science tells us,” is not a scientific statement and therefore it’s self-refuting. So science is a way that we can learn things, but it’s not the only way we can learn things. There’s a lot of people will say as you mentioned, that “If it’s in the Bible, I believe it and that’s the end of the discussion.” That’s fine to base your faith on scripture, as I do myself, but in sharing with people who don’t have that worldview, I want to say, “You know what, I think I can demonstrate quite persuasively that the writings of the New Testament are accurate when they talk about Jesus claiming to be the Son of God and then rising from the dead and thus proving he’s the Son of God, and I’ve got good evidence outside the Bible that supports what the Bible tells me.” So I like to base it on a common ground I have with the non-believer in science and in history. Now, the average Christian may say, “Well golly, I don’t know that much about cosmology or physics or historical data,” and that’s okay. That’s why, as you mentioned earlier, that people like us write books and you can go through those with nonbelievers. You can give them a book, have a discussion about it and so forth. Apologetics, or evidence for the faith, has two functions. One is to reach out to the nonbeliever; the other is to strengthen our own faith. Sometimes it’s helpful for us as Christians just to be familiar with the breadth and depth of evidence for our faith, just to bolster our confidence that our faith in Jesus is well placed.
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