Atheist turned Christian Lee Strobel details his investigation of the evidence for Jesus in his best-selling book, “The Case for Christ,” which was published in 1998.
A former legal editor at The Chicago Tribune, Strobel is the author of more than 20 books. “The Case for Christ” was released as a film in 2017.
Strobel talked with The Outlook about faith and the resurrection.
What was your journey from atheism to faith?
Even after his own wife came to Christianity, Strobel still wasn’t convinced.
“My wife came to faith in 1978,” Strobel said. “I launched my investigation on Jan. 20, 1980. After a process of about one year and nine months, I came to faith on Nov. 8, 1981. Even though I was an atheist, I immediately honed in on the resurrection as being the linchpin of the Christian faith. Ultimately, I knew if Jesus returned from the dead, then He is who He claimed to be, and if He is the Son of God, then He’s correct about what He says about God. The dominoes all sort of fall over.”
Written over two decades ago, “The Case for Christ” documents the details of Strobel’s 13 interviews with widely recognized scholars and experts. After reflecting on the research, Strobel was convinced the evidence tipped 100 percent in Jesus’ favor.
Strobel is grateful that God used his love for investigative journalism to reveal Himself to him.
“God meets us where we’re at,” Strobel added. “If we’re open to Him and sincerely seek Him, then we’re going to find Him. He’s not playing a game of hide-and-seek.”
“My wife didn’t need a two-year investigation. She saw the love of the woman who reached out to her and came to faith. I tend to be a skeptic, so I needed facts, evidence and logic.”
What are the main reasons people don’t accept the resurrection story?
Strobel’s individual experience with the Son of God has led to many encounters with non-Christians.
One of whom was Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine.
“Hugh believed in something greater than ourselves that brought the universe into existence,” Strobel said. “I asked him about the resurrection and he immediately said, ‘Well, if the resurrection is true, that trips a whole series of dominoes over about us having eternal life and that changes everything.’ I said, ‘Have you ever looked into it?’ He said, ‘No.’ I actually walked with him through a lot of the evidence, but here’s a man with a rather high IQ with a vague belief in God that recognized the significance of the resurrection, but never took the time to take the next step, which is, ‘Is it true?’”
Strobel said the main reason many people don’t take that next step is an absence of objectivity.
“Few people come at it with an open mind and heart,” he added. “Back when I was a journalist, we were taught to keep your biases out of your reporting. When I would write an article on an abortion topic, you couldn’t tell where I stood because I would quote both sides fully and accurately and let the reader decide. I approached the investigation the same way. I hoped I would disprove the resurrection so I could rescue my wife from it. But I set it aside, and I wanted to call a ball a ball and a strike a strike. I don’t think everybody does that.”
What about the fact that no eyewitnesses saw Jesus leave the tomb?
“The way to prove the resurrection is very simple,” Strobel said. “One: Did Jesus exist? Two: Did He die? Three: Was He reliably encountered afterward? Nobody has to see him literally return from the dead and get out of the tomb, which is really irrelevant. We believe in dinosaurs. Why? Because we found their bones.”
Talk about the so-called “inconsistencies” in the Gospel accounts.
“As a journalist, I covered major trials all over the country,” Strobel added. “If you had four witnesses that said the exact same thing, they would probably corrupt the case. They would say, ‘You all have colluded here. You’ve gotten your stories, and you’ve eliminated any secondary details that are in conflict.’ That’s not how evidence works. Everyone sees an event from a different angle and that colors what details they use and don’t use. When you look at these supposed inconsistencies, they kind of disappear, and you notice they’re all in the secondary details. They’re not contradictions, but different perspectives.”
What about skeptics who don’t believe in miracles?
“Some people say, ‘You can’t violate the laws of nature, therefore miracles by definition are impossible,’” he said. “A miracle doesn’t overturn the laws of nature, rather it’s an intervention. If God created the universe, then for Him to intervene is child’s play. If I had an apple and dropped it, the Law of Gravity says it’s going to hit the floor. But if I drop the apple and you reach in and grab it before it hits the floor, we haven’t overturned the Law of Gravity, we’ve just intervened.”
What’s significant about the disciples before and after the resurrection?
“If it were a made up story, how do you account for the explosion of growth in the very same city where Jesus was put to death just a few weeks before in Jerusalem?” Strobel said. “We have nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament that corroborate and confirm the conviction of the disciples encountering the resurrected Jesus. Most of what we know from ancient history is from one or two sources, so this is an avalanche of data.”
What about those who say the story is a legend?
“(Historian) A.N. Sherwin-White said, ‘The passage of two generations of time isn’t even enough for legend to grow up and wipe out a solid core of historical truth,’” Strobel said. “The question becomes, ‘How close are these resurrection accounts to the event itself?’ Scholars date the Christian creed in First Corinthians 15 to within months of the death of Jesus. You can’t have legendary development happen that fast.”
Can you share a few stories that have come out of “The Case for Christ”?
>“I have plenty of examples of people like me,” he said. “They’re people who tend to be skeptics, engineers, medical doctors and professors. Their minds are wired to look at evidence and follow it where it leads.”
>“I was talking to a guy who was a Christian and ordered a copy of the book on Amazon,” Strobel said. “His father was an atheist from China and the doorbell rang, but the kid wasn’t home. The father answered the door, thought the package was for him, opened it up, ends up reading it and comes to faith.”
>“Interestingly, the single biggest group of people who have reported back they have come to faith through the evidence of this book is 16- to 24-year-olds,” Strobel added. “One guy who is an amateur astronomer went into a bookstore in Chicago and accidently sat on the book. He says, ‘I don’t believe that stuff,’ and throws it down. But he felt almost like a voice inside of him saying he needed to get the book, bought it and came to faith.”
>“One church in New Zealand rented out a theater to see ‘The Case for Christ,’” Strobel said. “Twenty-two people came to faith right there.”