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A review of the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. I am writing this because my SO asked me to read the book and, as I wish to develop my writing skills, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and do a review. I disliked the book and aim to convince you not to waste the time reading it.

Mr Stobel, a former newspaper legal editor, wrote this book about his search for Christ. His wife converted to Christianity, and driven by curiosity as over the positive changes in her life, he examined the evidence and did the same. He wrote a book about the journey.*

The chapters are based around a series of interviews and follow this format:

  • An anecdote, a real life criminal case example. Usually interesting.
  • The interview. I will not go into detail, the scratchpad may be infinite, my patience is not. You can read the book, or one of the1 online2 rebuttals3.
  • The homily. Mr Stobel will ask how the interviewee came to Christ or relate to Christ through their specialty. They will then explain.
  • The deliberations. Some questions to ponder over.
  • More resources on this topic.
The Interviews
  1. Mr Stobel speaks to Carl Blomberg (PhD), a renowned historian, Gospel expert and devout Christian about the Gospels. Raising questions with the aid of a popular book by Karen Armstrong, he determines that the attributed authors and dating of the Gospels are probably correct. Later they discuss and dismiss reasons why the Gospel writers might not have been accurate.
  2. Renowned theologian and devout Christian, Bruce Metzger (PhD). He speaks of the high fidelity of the Gospels, that is to say, how are we sure the Gospels have been copied correctly? He presents plenty of evidence to show the Gospels have not changed noticeably since they were written.
  3. Edwin Yamauchi (PhD), renowned expert in ancient history and devout Christian. (See a pattern here? It doesn't change. You can skip ahead, I won't mind.) Dr. Yamauchi speaks of the non-biblical historical evidence, which states that Jesus existed and people at the time believed that he had done some of the deeds described in the Gospels.
  4. Famous Archaeologist and probable** devout Christian, John McKray, (PhD). Dr McKray re-affirms the reliability of the Gospels and reconciles apparent contradictions with the historical record.
  5. Theology professor, Bête noire of the Jesus Seminar and devout Christian, Gregory Boyd, (PhD). Dr Boyd disputes the somewhat facile claims of the Jesus Seminar and the Gospel of Thomas. Not a particularly difficult task.
  6. Ben Witherington III, (PhD), theologian and devout Christian. Dr Witherington states that the evidence shows Jesus claimed to be the Messiah.
  7. Renowned psychologist and devout Christian, Gary Collins (PhD). Dr Collins says Jesus was not mad, nor was he a hypnotist.
  8. The theologian and devout Christian, Donald Carson, (PhD). Was Jesus God? According to Dr Carson, yes.
  9. Loius Lapides, (M.Div., TH.M.), describes his journey to faith in Jesus as the Messiah of the old testament.
  10. Alexander Metherell, M.D., PHD, and devout Christian, covers the medical evidence. Jesus is described as having suffered injuries in the Gospels. Yes, they were fatal injuries.
  11. William Lane Craig, PHD, D.TH, theologian, expert debater and devout Christian, speaks about the Jesus's tomb. It was empty. Because God resurrected Jesus.
  12. Gary Habermas, PHD, D.D and devout Christian. He describes the evidence for Jesus's appearances after his death.
  13. J.P. Moreland, PHD, and devout Christian. This philosopher gives six pieces of circumstantial evidence for the resurrection.

That may be the last interview, but there's one more chapter before the references, a grand summation of the previous arguments. He goes back to the anecdote of the introduction, and I will relate that here. Bear with me, it's pertinent.

This concerns a famous open and shut case Mr Strobel covered as a young reporter. There were witnesses and expert testimonies, all pointing to the guilt of the accused. Even the accused entered a guilty plea. After the trial was over he received a tipoff from an informant, explaining what really happened. Mr Strobel investigated and found new facts once he looked for them. The original facts fit the new theory better and the defendant was exonerated. He states he learned two lessons:

  • Evidence can point in more than one way, has ALL the evidence been collected?
  • His preconceptions blinded him to inconsistencies in the initial version of events, which explanation best fits all the evidence?
He says this can be applied here. Once he accumulated more evidence about Jesus, and looked at it without preconceptions, there could only one explanation and he became a believer. The explanation he supplies certainly matches the evidence he supplies. That, you may have seen coming.

What I get out of the anecdote is somewhat different.

  • Dissenting opinions are important! Unless you are an polymath genius and have background knowledge of the situation at hand or a have a lot of time on your hands for research you're gonna get snowed by the experts. I was left turning pages, bitterly disappointed, when does the informant come in?
  • To push the analogy of comparing the book to the anecdote further, the accused in the case had not contested the accusation. As a low-income neighborhood male with a criminal record accused of shooting a police officer, a not entirely unreasonable strategy. He did not fight the case because he would lose and wanted to plea bargain. Mr Stroebel appears to have followed a similar strategy of appeasement, cross-examining the experts with the savagery of a dead sheep with not too probing questions.

I was going to develop the theme of lack of evenhandedness more, but before posting I did a quick google and came across Do Writers Have an Obligation to Present Both Sides of an Issue?4 by Jeffery Jay Lowder. He points out that the title is 'The Case for Christ', not 'The Case for and Against Christ'. He does not fault Mr Strobel for failing to interview dissenting viewpoints. He says Mr Stobel "refutes at great length objections not made by the critics" but does not fault him for this. He faults him for doing the above and then promoting the book "as the work of a professional journalist." In my opinion, people who review it as fair, evenhanded or a work of journalistic integrity are also fair game.

Trapped by that logic, I, too, cannot fault Mr Strobel for bias. It does however make the book very irritating to read. I disliked:

  • The homilies. If I want preaching, I can go to church.
  • The leading questions in the deliberations.
  • The prose, which reads like an editor told Mr Strobel that there weren't enough adverbs and descriptive nouns, so he sprinkled some in. The anecdotes at the beginning of chapters were well written and interesting, but in the interviews, I found the descriptions detracted from the story. I'm guessing years of crime reporting may have lead to a style unsuited to philosophy.
  • His repeated references to his journalistic experience,prowess and integrity.

Worst of all, the complete one-sidedness of it made it a difficult read for me. (See 5 for a detailed critique of Mr Strobel's style.) I dislike being spoon-fed, even when it is necessary.

If you find continuous blatant bias annoying, this is not the book for you.

* In The Case Against 'The Case for Christ'6 by Scott Bidstrup points out that some incorrectly claim Mr Strobel was a atheist when he wrote this. Page 14 shows he wrote this some time after he became a avowed Christian.

** Oddly, there was no homily from the 3rd subject. Did Dr McKray not have one ready, was he insufficiently eloquent or did Mr Strobel forget to ask? I find myself oddly consumed with curiosity at the reason for this deviation from the norm...

Feel free to msg me with suggestions!

References

  1. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/strobel-rev.html
  2. http://home.teleport.com/~packham/strobel.htm
  3. http://home.ca.inter.net/~oblio/CTVExcerptsIntro.htm
  4. http://lowder.blogspot.com/2006/01/do-writers-have-obligation-to-present.html
  5. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_doland/strobel.html
  6. http://www.bidstrup.com/apologetics.www.bidstrup.com/apologetics.htm htm

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