Francis Pieper wrote:
A word on the rational proofs for the Christian religion, as employed in apologetics. The Christian apologist is in a position to show any rational man, particularly if he have [sic] a well-trained mind, that after all it would be more reasonable to accept the claims of Christianity as true than to reject them as false. But he must ever keep in mind that his real business is not to demonstrate the truth of the Christian religion to the unbeliever, but to uncover the insincerity of unbelief, for all who reject Christianity do so, consciously or unconsciously, because of their evil will and not because of their pretended “intellectual honesty” (Christian Dogmatics, I, 110).
It is almost as if Lee Strobel had this quote in mind as he wrote his book. This is an apologetics book about Jesus Christ: “But who was he really? Who did he claim to be? And is there any credible evidence to back up his assertions?” (16). Yet there is more to this book than that.
This book has an introduction and conclusion. In between are 14 chapters comprised of 13 separate interviews that Strobel conducted. The interviewees were scholars in the fields of Scripture, medicine, and psychology, to name a few. Chapters 1-6 (five interviews) examine the record about Jesus. Strobel interviews scholars on the origins and reliability of the New Testament (especially the gospels), the manuscripts of the New Testament, the external sources to the New Testament, and archaeology. Chapters 7-10 (four interviews) analyze Jesus himself. Strobel interviews scholars about Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ psychological mindset, Jesus and the attributes of God, and Jesus and the Messianic prophecies. Chapters 11-14 (four interviews) research the resurrection. Strobel interviews scholars on the medical causes of Jesus’ death, the empty tomb, witnesses to Jesus’ resurrected body, and any circumstantial evidence to the resurrection.
In addition to being an apologetics book about Jesus Christ, this book is a personal account of Strobel’s journey from atheist to Christian. As the atheist Strobel interviewed the scholars, he himself began to question his beliefs. This reviewer appreciated that at the end of almost every interview, Strobel asked the scholars about how their scholarly life has affected their spiritual life. They all confirmed that the former had strengthened the latter. (What else would one expect, from people who spend their lives in God’s Word!) Those little confessions of faith show that the scholars’ apologetics was not an end unto itself, but a means to an end: it defended their belief and also strengthened that same belief. Those confessions made this book more than an ethereal collection of facts, proofs, and counter-arguments. They made the collection personal to the people who confessed them. This reviewer found that refreshing.
There are a few instances and turns-of-phrase with which Lutherans would disagree. For example:
- Strobel’s definition of “canon” is “the books that have become accepted as official in the church and included in the New Testament” (69; emphasis added).
- “[T]he Jews of his day didn’t have any concept of the Trinity. They only knew of God the Father – whom they called Yahweh – and not God the Son or God the Holy Spirit” (143). However, 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7, 45:7, 97:7, 102:26-28, 110:1ff are all passages used in the New Testament to show Christ’s deity (cf. Matt 22:41ff and Hebrews 1).
- Alpha and Omega as an Old Testament title for God (183; emphasis added).
- The bare phrases “accepting Jesus”, “receiving Jesus”, and “make a decision in the case for Christ” (195, 276, 289-291).
Nonetheless, those are few and far between. The actual evidence Strobel gathers from his interviews is simply spectacular. The interviewees begin with God’s Word as true and continue from there. The external evidence is only used to corroborate Scriptures’ internal evidence. This reviewer would like to note the following items (of many) that he found beneficial.
- Chapter 11 on the medical evidence: The things that our Lord endured leading up to his death are horrific and humbling, terrific and terrifying, loving and loathsome all at once.
- “‘Frankly, I don’t think a typical person could have done it,’ [Alexander Metherell] finally replied. ‘But Jesus knew what was coming, and he was willing to go through it, because this was the only way he could redeem us – by serving as our substitute and paying the death penalty that we deserve because of our rebellion against God. That was his whole mission in coming to earth. … So when you ask what motivated him,’ he concluded, ‘well … I suppose the answer can be summed up in one word – and that would be love’” (218).
- “Theologian Gerald O’Collins put it this way, ‘In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all’” (222).
- “However, the apostles were willing to die for something they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands. They were in a unique position not to just believe Jesus rose from the dead but to know for sure. And when you’ve got eleven credible people with no ulterior motives, with nothing to gain and a lot to lose, who all agree they observed something with their own eyes – now you’ve got some difficulty explaining that away” (267).
This book could be an aid for any pastor (or any Christian) to review what they believe. Satan has constantly assaulted our faith by trying to undermine God’s Word, specifically in this case: the record of Jesus, who Jesus is, and the resurrection. This book offers some ways to defend one’s belief with a defense that is grounded in God’s Word. This book also will strengthen one’s belief with a faith that also is grounded in God’s Word.
Even if someone does not find the time to read the entire book (though I would encourage people to find the time), the last chapter has a nice summary of the entire book – all fourteen chapters and thirteen interviews. In the conclusion, Strobel makes his appeal to the reader to examine the evidence themselves. Is the case for Christ strong? Unequivocally yes!
Lee Strobel is a former atheist. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri (1974), earned a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale Law School (1979), and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Southern Evangelical Seminary (2007). He was a journalist at the Chicago Tribune for 14 years. He has been a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Church. In addition to The Case for Christ, Strobel has written numerous books defending different aspects of Christianity.