An Atheist’s Investigation of Christianity: The Case for Christ

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

CaseforChristIf my conclusion in the case for Christ is correct, your future and eternity hinge on how you respond to Christ. As Jesus declared, ‘If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins’ (John 8:24). Those are sober words…I cite them to underline the magnitude of this matter and in the hope that they will spur you to actively and thoroughly examine the case for Christ.

Earlier this year, a reader responded to my review of Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart by making a comment that began a dialogue between him, me and a couple of others. He explained that he had once been a Christian who loved Jesus and the Bible. But after being challenged to examine his beliefs, he discovered his faith was unfounded. He said,

I slowly came to realize that there is zero verifiable evidence for the Resurrection, and the Bible is not a reliable document. After four months of desperate attempts to save my faith, I came to the sad conclusion that my faith was based on an ancient superstition; a superstition not based on lies, but based on the sincere but false beliefs of uneducated, superstitious, first century peasants.

After a while I removed the discussion, as it was pretty lengthy and really didn’t accomplish anything. Because as Lee Strobel’s book The Case For Christ shows, there is actually plenty of evidence to support the authenticity of the Biblical documents and the fact of the Resurrection. But this guy would not listen to anything that I or the others had to say; he had clearly made up his mind. This interaction was the impetus for me to move Strobel’s book to the top of my reading pile.

Like the commenter above, as a skeptic and self-professed atheist, Lee Strobel had believed that the idea of God was a result of myth and superstitious “wishful thinking.” On the surface, too many questions in his mind didn’t add up to the fact of an all-knowing, loving, sovereign God. And to Strobel, Jesus was nothing more than a colorful, if not self-deceived, historical figure, if he actually existed at all.

I had read just enough philosophy and history to find support for my skepticism…There was enough proof for me to rest easy with the conclusion that the divinity of Jesus was nothing more than the fanciful invention of superstitious people.

Besides being a skeptic, Strobel was a criminal investigative journalist and legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. When his wife became a Christian in 1979, he decided to set aside his preconceived ideas and do some honest investigative research to see what kind of hard evidence he could dig up on Jesus and the Bible.

In a similar way in which a reporter researches and analyzes evidence to solve a criminal case, Strobel explored every angle and source in order to determine the truth about the person of Jesus. His findings are presented in this book. Strobel’s investigative process is broken into three phases:

  • Examining the record – Analyzing the authenticity and reliability of the written accounts
  • Analyzing Jesus – Learning who He was, based on his character, his words, his actions, and his identity
  • Researching the Resurrection – Uncovering evidence that supports the fact that Christ rose from the dead

Strobel looks into the authenticity and trustworthiness of eyewitness reports and of Jesus’ biographers, the Gospel writers, as well as what other historians have written. He asks questions such as:

  • Are their stories consistent? Is there a possibility of bias, cover-up, or personal gain on the part of the writers?
  • Is it possible the original facts and the intent of the writers could be preserved for all this time?
  • Are there other writings from the period that support or discredit the claims of the first century Christians?
  • Is the Jesus of history the same as the Jesus of faith?
  • Did Jesus really make claims to deity? And if he did, was there any support for those claims, or was he simply a madman?
  • Is it possible that the resurrection was merely a hoax or a conspiracy?

In order to answer these questions and more, Strobel sought out thirteen top scholars and authorities on the Bible and other historical documents, archaeology, medicine, the teachings, culture, and traditions of first century Judaism, the life and claims of Christ, and the resurrection itself. The content and information was thorough, well-documented, and useful.

What I didn’t care for in this book was Strobel’s writing style. Each chapter begins with a contemporary criminal case that illustrates the type of evidence that will be examined in that chapter, which was fine. But then Strobel describes his cross-country trips to meet and interview various experts, each of which he introduces by giving their credentials (educational background, position, and books written) and describing irrelevant details such as how they are dressed and how their office is furnished. At first it was alright, but it got tiresome by the third chapter and was information I could do without. Then, in the last chapter, where Strobel comes to the point of drawing his conclusions, we read:

The date was November 8, 1981. I…spent the afternoon replaying the spiritual journey I had been traveling for twenty-one months. My investigation into Jesus was similar to what you’ve just read, except that I primarily studied books and other historical research instead of personally interacting with scholars.

So come to find out, these in-person interviews were apparently contrived to fit the format Strobel chose to use. I have a degree in Literature, so I can appreciate the use of literary devices and poetic license, but I personally felt this to be a bit disingenuous.

After two years of (we assume, some) interviews and heavy research, Strobel was forced to re-evaluate his position on Christ:

I was ambushed by the amount and quality of the evidence that Jesus is the unique Son of God…I had seen defendants carted off to the death chamber on much less convincing proof! The cumulative facts and data pointed unmistakably toward a conclusion that I wasn’t entirely comfortable in reaching…In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation, in the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth!…It was finally time to deal with the most pressing question of all: Now what?

For the person who is already a believer in Jesus Christ, this book is profitable, as it will certainly strengthen your faith and convictions. Additionally, it will familiarize you with topics that often come up in discussions about the historical Jesus, the resurrection, and the authenticity of the Scriptures, such as: the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of Thomas, the Jesus Seminar, the writings of Josephus, the physical effects of death by crucifixion, and theories on the resurrection. This may also be a useful book to give someone you know who has questions regarding these issues.

To a person like the man I introduced at the beginning of this article, I would challenge them to read The Case for Christ and do some of your own honest research. But more importantly, along with Strobel’s book, read the Bible for yourself. If you’re sincere in your desire to know the truth, seek God out in prayer, asking Him to reveal Himself to you.

However, something must be kept in mind. We must remember that no amount of physical evidence, historical proofs, or scholarly research will ultimately be what convinces a skeptic of the truths of God, for as the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). There is nothing wrong with building your knowledge base so that you are prepared to “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15), but we are to do that “with meekness and fear, having a good conscience.” The way we live our lives before men is what will cause them to inquire about our faith more than just what we tell them. But ultimately what will really make the difference as we share the truth with others, is not how much we know or how persuasive our speech is, but the power of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:4) who softens hearts of stone and opens darkened minds to accept Christ.

Since The Case for Christ was published in 1998, Strobel has written and published numerous other books, including The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus, The Case for Christmas, and the Case for Easter, and most recently, The Case for Grace.

Were you at one time an atheist or a skeptic of Christianity? Was there something in particular that you read, or a speaker you heard, that caused you to seriously reconsidered your views?

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