Here begins a new series investigating the claims in Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.”
During my period of “wandering in the desert” somewhere between belief and skepticism and right up to my present day non-belief, I have been asked more than once to read this book, as well as “The Case for Faith” and other apologist manifestos. I am almost certain that I’ve already read both of these books at some point during my Christian tenure, most of what C.S. Lewis has had to say on the subject, “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” and others. None are convincing and fail because of their purposeful attempts at obscurantism. Lewis was the most erudite of the bunch, but for some reason, seemed to have convinced himself that Jesus could have only been a “lair,” “lunatic” or “lord” with no other options on the table. He didn’t seem to realize that Jesus could have been first, wrong about his purpose on Earth and second, fictionalized in total or in part by his supporters.
In any case, I recommend these two books by Strobel, not so much for their intellectual muster and arguments in favor of Jesus, but as a mental exercise for the non-believer to do what many, dare I say most, believers are too afraid or too intellectually lazy to do: reading and engaging with contrary opinions.
Introduction: Reopening the Investigation of a Lifetime
I was originally going to call this series “The Case Against The Case for Christ,” but quickly learned that Robert Price has already written a book by that name. Thus, I conjured a title that is just as fitting, since Strobel in “The Case for Christ” frames his introduction around a murder case that he worked as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune. The murder trial involved a man who was wrongly accused of shooting a cop who responded to a dispute. The policeman was apparently carrying an illegal pen gun at the time of the incident. The pen gun fired inside his own pocket, resulting in a non-lethal wound. The officer subsequently pleaded guilty to misconduct and was fired, while the accusation against the man was dismissed.
After a source alerted him to the possibility of a different theory about the shooting — that the gun wound resulted from the pen gun — Strobel then makes the most baldly disingenuous statement that I could have fathomed at this early point in the book (p. 13):
When the police told me the case was airtight, I took them at their word and didn’t delve much further. But when I changed those lenses — trading my biases for an attempt at objectivity — I saw the case in a whole new light. Finally I allowed the evidence to lead me to the truth, regardless of whether it fit my original presuppositions (emphasis mine).
That was more than twenty years ago. My biggest lessons were yet to come .
Later (p. 14), he informs us that he has interviewed 13 “leading scholars and authorities” with “impeccable academic credentials” to give weight to his case. If Strobel is going to investigate the case for Jesus from a place of objectivity, one might think, given his background in journalism, that he would interview scholars with different viewpoints to get the fullest picture possible, for instance, Price, John Dominic Crossan, Neil Silberman, Bart D. Ehrman, Israel Finkelstein and others. As any good journalist knows, there are not just one or two sides to a story, but in some cases, three or four. While Strobel is disingenuous, he is not stupid; he knows that his general church audience, and maybe even the stray non-believer who happens to peruse is book, may take the professionals that he presents as legitimate sources. And Strobel is betting on that fact. Readers of this blog can no longer claim ignorance.
So, before we get into the meat of the book, let’s first briefly take a look at these 13 “scholars” and see just how impeccable their credentials are in view of Strobel’s claim of objectivity:
Denver Seminary prepares men and women to engage the needs of the world with the redemptive power of the gospel and the life-changing truth of Scripture. Through real relationships you’ll find real answers to help bring real change to the world.
Blomberg is author of “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels,” “From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation” and “Contagious Holines: Jesus’ Meals with Sinners.”
2. Bruce Metzger — Formerly a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and biblical translator. According to his obituary:
On both academic and popular levels, Metzger was well-known for his involvement (since 1952) with the RSV and especially NRSV translations. From 1977-1990 he was Chair of the Committee of Translators for the NRSV, and was largely responsible for seeing it through the press. His association with the RSV and NRSV was given additional visibility by his editorship of various study Bibles and tools based on these translations, as well as his service as Chair of the Committee on Translation of the American Bible Society 1964-1970.
3. Edwin Yamauchi — A Christian author and professor of history at Miami University in Ohio. He is a founding member of the Oxford Bible Fellowship.
4. John McRay — A New Testament professor emeritus at Wheaton College, McRay is just another Christian apologist. In his 2008 book, “Archaeology and the New Testament,” McRay writes in his preface:
In these pages we invite readers to step inside the current study of archeology as it relates to the New Testament period. It is for those who wish a convenient, one-volume introduction to the field. If it stimulates its readers to further research, reflect, and respect the New Testament as the historical revelation of the Word of God, it will have fulfilled its author’s hopes (emphasis mine).
Further, Wheaton’s mission statement reads
Wheaton College exists to help build the church and improve society worldwide by promoting the development of whole and effective Christians through excellence in programs of Christian higher education.
and carries the motto:
This mission expresses our commitment to do all things – “For Christ and His Kingdom.”
7. Dr. Gary Collins — A psychologist who taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is author of “Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential into Reality,” “The Biblical Basis of Christian Counseling” and “Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide” and is as qualified to provide an unbiased view of Jesus as James Dobson, another Christian psychologist who can not be trusted to provide any kind of objective view of the New Testament.
9. Louis Lapides — Formerly with Beth Ariel Fellowship in Sherman Oaks, Calif., he holds degrees from Dallas Baptist University and Talbot School of Theology.
10. Dr. Alexander Metherell — Strobel outright admits here that Metherell is a Christian:
I’ll be honest: at times I wondered what was going on inside Dr. Metherell’s head. With scientific reserve, speaking slowly and methodically, he gave no hint of any inner turmoil as he calmly described the chilling details of Jesus’ demise. Whatever was going on underneath, whatever distress it caused him as a Christian to talk about the cruel fate that befell Jesus, he was able to mask with a professionalism born out of decades of laboratory research.
11. William Lane Craig — One of the most well-known Christian apologists in the nation.
12. Gary Habermas — Another of the most well-known Christian apologists.
I have only added the title “Dr.” on those names if the sources were, in fact, medical doctors from legitimate institutions. Every single one of them are at the very least, Christian, and most of them are or have been active apologists.
So by every account and right out of the gate, Strobel betrays the precedent that he claims to have set as a journalist. All of these individuals live their lives based on one worldview, and one can not get closer to the truth by examining only one, or even two, sides of any story.
Remember one of Strobel’s opening lines: “Finally I allowed the evidence to lead me to the truth, regardless of whether it fit my original presuppositions.” Actually, this can’t be further from the truth. He seems to have purposefully selected people who were going to tell him what he wanted him to hear. Further, he admits on page 15 that he challenged these “experts” with the same objections that he raised “when I was a skeptic,” indicating that he was no longer a skeptic when he conducted the interviews. So, there you have it. Strobel becomes convinced in the truth of Christ and then seeks the counsel of various apologists across the nation to help write his equally apologetic book, thereby confirming his views, which he never sought to challenge in the first place.