by Matthew Nies
Did Jesus exist? Is Christianity rational?
These and analogous questions are central to Lee Strobel’s enduring success The Case for Christ. First published nearly twenty-five years ago, Strobel’s award-winning, multi-million-copies-sold masterpiece has spawned successive books, devotionals, study guides and Bibles, and even a major motion picture. It has been read, re-read, reviewed, and revised.
Strobel begins The Case for Christ by examining pre-determinations in a courtroom, and how evidence and fact, objective in itself, can be manipulated or used to push even skewed narratives. Strobel then trains our focus to Jesus, who was a victim of injustice and hate, and the evidence for Christianity.
Though a Christian and a pastor when he wrote The Case for Christ, Strobel notes that the book’s investigation raises the same tough questions he parsed more than fifteen years before writing it, when he was a skeptical Chicago Tribune legal journalist pondering his wife’s conversion. Critics with varying degrees of credibility have noted that the pursuit of marital bliss could bias any man’s objectivity, and that Strobel can only conjure softball questions in his interviews with thirteen lauded academics—including archeologists, medical examiners, historians, and Biblical scholars. Really, Strobel raises tough questions, the very questions diehard skeptics have raised, though they may seem easy because of how resoundingly the experts answer them and quell any doubts regarding the reason and historic veracity of the Gospels and Jesus’ existence and testimony.
While Christians will celebrate each of these victories, because each bolsters the reasons to have faith in their faith, Strobel does not answer every question critics of Christianity have ever posed. This has and will leave some readers unsatisfied and unconvinced of Strobel’s conclusion to his case. His focus, while broadly examining the existence of Christ and attestations of his life, is narrowly tailored to specifically the proof of Jesus’ existence, deity, resurrection, and transformative message. There is little to no discussion of the Old Testament, outside of mentions of prophecies fulfilled by Jesus, or much of the New Testament, though what would the New Testament expound on if not its central premise?
But The Case for Christ examines this central premise in great depth. Christian readers will find encouragement for their faith and renewed resolve as the interviewed experts expound on specific details of early Christianity, and that the account of Jesus has never been satisfactorily disproved. To name a few examples, I was struck by the one-in-a-trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion chance of Jesus fulfilling all the prophecies he did; origins of the term “excruciating” to describe Jesus’ suffering on the cross and the anciently unknown medical consistencies of the crucifixion; contemporaries’ catalogs of a sudden solar eclipse at or near the time of Jesus’ death, similar to Gospel description; the hundreds of attested eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus; the historically quick formation of the 1 Corinthians 15 creed after the resurrection; and the complete transformation of ancient skeptics like James and Paul into champions of the Christian faith at a time when there was every reason to not be a Christian. Yes, I was convinced. What more would I need?
And yet, like any apologetic piece, The Case for Christ is not a silver bullet. If a person does not believe it or its assumptions, they will not believe it or its conclusions. C.S. Lewis’ powerful book Mere Christianity, first conjured as radio talks during WWII, still resounds in our modern-day discussion of Christianity. And yet, critics and cynics remain, perhaps more than ever, according to statistical indications. Strobel lists other profound apologetic books like God Under Fire and Gregory Boyd’s Cynic Sage or Son of God? because he does not view The Case for Christ as an exhaustive dialogue in defense of Christianity. It seems unlikely that such dialogue could be exhausted.
Every society has debated truth, and history is more often told by the powerful or their ubiquitous representatives. This has been a critique of the Christian church and its political actions, though long after its origins on Easter Sunday, when women discovered an empty tomb. Today, we witness the same debate, and even at times bemoan a greater struggle against the polarization of truth, often rooted in a postmodern declaration of “my truth.”
Strobel’s point, and that of the lifelong academics he interviews, is that Christianity is not tied to one or another’s truth, but a truth rooted in belief, of course, and in historic and philosophic soundness. Jesus’ message of who he was, why he came to earth, and how he died and rose from the grave, ultimately rests in a tomb. Is it empty? The Case for Christ, like any good apologetic book, invites you to dip your head in to look and see for yourself. It is a book many will love and some might hate, but The Case for Christ is too significantly straightforward to leave unread.
Matthew Nies is a prose editor for Agape Review. He is the author of the poetry book Sunset Dreams (Wipf & Stock, 2019). Nies grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota, and currently lives with his wife and three children in the Washington, D.C. area.