In "The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus", Lee Strobel takes his readers on a search to examine the claims of Christianity; specifically, he researches the historicity of the New Testament accounts, the claims of Jesus that he is the promised messiah, and the truth about the accounts of resurrection. Strobel interviews scholars across the United States about these topics and recounts his conversations with these men.
Strobel was an atheist at one time in his life. After the conversion of his wife, he eventually began investigating the claims of Christianity on his own. Using his journalistic background as a legal editor, he considered the weight of the evidence that the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life are reliable. Consequently, he had to come to a decision about the claim that Jesus is God in flesh, the promised messiah, and came back to life three days after being killed.
This book is not an account of Strobel's actual personal journey. He has in a sense retraced his steps, and interviews experts in the field about many of the major questions that he wrestled with in his investigation. This book reads as a long conversation between Strobel and each of the people he interviewed.
Strobel's accounts are very comprehensive. He goes into great detail about each of the questions he raised, follows the necessary questioning paths, and demonstrates that he was not afraid to ask challenging questions to find the truth. However, no single text will ask every question and scrutinize every detail. If you read this book with a specific axe to grind, you may feel confirmed in your suspicion that he did not ask the right questions. Yet, I hope readers will catch the fact that this is not what he was trying to do.
The strongest aspect of Strobel's investigation is that is that he applies an appropriate amount of scrutiny to the evidence we have about the Gospel accounts and Jesus. He has replicated the level of scrutiny that we would find in a courtroom if the evidence was presented and cross examined. Most importantly, he decides to make the reasonable decision that the evidence makes a strong case that the accounts are reliable.
Once he was faced with the conclusion that the accounts are likely to be reliable, Strobel knew he needed to make a decision about who Jesus is. Even with the weight of all the evidence, a faith decision is still needed to accept that Jesus is God as he claims. As Strobel states,
"After a personal investigation that spanned more than six hundred days and countless hours, my own verdict in the case for Christ was clear. However, as I sat at my desk, I realized that I needed more than an intellectual decision."
He finally comes to the decision that:
"Yes, I had to take a step of faith, as we do in every decision we make in life. But here's the crucial distinction: I was no longer trying to swim upstream against the strong current of evidence; instead I was choosing to go in the same direction that the torrent of facts was flowing."
I recommend this book for anyone who is willing to have their beliefs challenged. Readers who are not Christians will be faced with many truth claims, but many will appreciate the amount of the energy Strobel used to ask so many relevant questions. Christians will be challenged to take a deeper look at the reasons for their beliefs. The weight of the evidence presented demands that the reader make a decision; Strobel walks his readers through this process with the care and honesty that would they would appreciate.
This book is always on my shelf no matter how many copies I have given away. Some book on the subject my have more information but no one puts it as plain as Mr. Strobel and the information it contains is more than enough to turn back many skeptical claims.
Falls Short In Spots, But Interesting On The Whole
October 2, 2013
Age: Over 65
This is a book by a former investigative journalist and legal affairs writer. The author's academic background includes graduate work in legal analysis, a point with which thoughtful readers will immediately connect. He attempts to build up a case for the idea that Jesus is exactly who he says he was, laid out as a point-by-point presentation in the manner of legal evidence, in particular, the testimony of expert witnesses (respected scholars in specialty areas of biblical research). Properly, he begins with the scriptural texts themselves, since, obviously, no analysis of Jesus will be valid if the texts upon which it depends are unreliable. In a sense, therefore, this is the most important chapter in the book. It is also here that the weaknesses show most evidently. The author calls on the expertise of a well-known textual scholar to argue that the New Testament materials, to the extent that they purport to be authentic reports of the words, acts, and events in the life of Jesus, are trustworthy. The crux of the problem, in particular, the gospel "biographies" of Jesus, is that they are redactions from oral reports. The author's expert attempts to dismiss the idea that because oral transmissions from one person to another are inherently distortable, therefore the accuracy of the later written redactions of them are in question. This particular scholar notes, as a primary reason against such a view, that oral transmission, especially of religious materials, is a refined art among the Jews of Jesus' time. He cites, among other reasons for this assurance, that the ancient rabbis developed the art to such a high degree that transmission of the oral law remained the same from teacher to pupil down through the generations. The problem with this argument is that the people who attended Jesus' sermons and witnessed his acts were largely the uneducated or under-educated "people of the land", unlearned in both the written and the oral law, for whom the learned Jews (scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees) had little but contempt. Yet it is these people, not skilled practitioners in oral transmission, who would likely be the background sources for the later written accounts of Jesus. The idea that there might be among them those who would correct distortions in the rendering of any story about Jesus simply begs the question. More significantly, however, is the existence of different oral traditions concerning one point or another in the life of Jesus, the evidence for which is the differences in detail in the gospels themselves. The logical conclusion is that by the time the gospels take written form, divergent recollections of the same teaching or event are already present. It is also known that each of the gospel writers draws from available material for different purposes, assembling and editing to fulfill that purpose. How much gets emended or omitted is simply not ascertainable. The better approach to the analysis of the texts is simply to take them as they are, and to assume that their portrayals of the essential characteristics of Jesus' life and teachings are true, absent compelling evidence to the contrary. This approach is better than arguing, say, that because copies of the gospels are far more numerous than other ancient texts, and mostly in agreement, therefore they are more accurate in their portrayals of Jesus. That is rather like arguing that because photocopies of a document all agree, therefore the original document from which they were reproduced is correct. I most appreciated the very end of the book, in which the author candidly states that no amount of scholarly research can ever resolve every single issue concerning Jesus, regardless of how detailed and sophisticated it may become. He urges those of us who would continue to study the issues, and to think critically about the truth concerning Jesus, to consider this undertaking to be the calling of a lifetime. As another scholar whom he quotes says: "We ourselves, and not merely the truth claims, are at stake in the investigation." With these sentiments I heartily agree.