Well, I just finished reading “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel about fifteen minutes ago. I had read the “youth edition” way back in high school, and I must say, it was better the first time around. First off, the youth edition has pretty pictures and diagrams to keep kids’ attention. Second, back in high school I knew much less than what I know now. Back then, I found it thoroughly convincing, and it definitely reinforced the idea that my beliefs were on a bedrock-solid foundation. Now, having read the full version, with much more knowledge about the conclusions of scholars in my head, I must say that it was a horrible book.
I don’t say that lightly, either. The introduction paints a picture of a courtroom – there is the story of a man who was falsely accused because the evidence pointed towards the fact that he committed the crime. However, a later investigation of the evidence completely turned the case around. Strobel then tries to liken that to this book. He tells the reader to be the “juror” for the case of Jesus Christ, and examine the evidence neutrally and with a non-biased frame of mind. However, the rest of the book does a complete 180 on that idea. Not once does he interview a skeptical scholar that will present the evidence for the other side. He sometimes tries to summarize the skeptical viewpoint in a sentence or two, so that the Christian scholar he is interviewing can address it. But that’s as close to presenting both sides as he gets. In other words, it’s like judging a court case having only heard the testimony and seen the evidence of the defendent. The prosecutor only gets his case presented through tiny summaries by the defense.
Now, perhaps this is being a bit critical. After all, it’s called “The Case for Christ.” So perhaps it should only be read alongside an adequate summary of the opposing side, so that you can get a true feel for the arguments. It’s really the only fair way to judge this case. A quick Google search brought up a couple reviews of the book by skeptics: one by Scott Bidstrup, and another by Jeffery Lowder. You can read these independently, but it works best if you’ve got a copy of the book at hand that you can follow along with. Then you can actually get the feel of an actual court case like Strobel describes.
At any rate, there were many points in the book where I either chuckled to myself, or had to stop reading so I could shake my head. First off, not only are all the scholars he interviews Christians, but many of them are members of a specific organization called the Institute for Biblical Research. A look at their home page reveals a few things. First off, it’s composed of evangelical Christian scholars only – so it’s only a thin slice of Christian viewpoints – and secondly, it’s basically invitation only. In order to become a “fellow”, you have to have a doctoral research degree and then have a letter of support by two other fellows in good standing. I’m just going to take a wild guess and say that you’re going to need to roughly share their viewpoints in order to get those letters of support. At least five of the thirteen “experts” he interviews are members of that organization – that’s not a majority, but it’s still a significant percentage. Apparently he is not just biased against skeptical scholars, but also anyone else who doesn’t share his narrow views about Jesus. That’s not saying that these people are horrible scholars, but how can you conduct an unbiased investigation when you’re only interviewing such a narrow demographic? These people represent a small portion of the wide diversity of opinions. And yet within the book they condemn the Jesus Seminar for being a small group of radical liberalists.
In short, I just don’t find the “evidence” he presents convincing. I suppose if this was the only “scholarly” book I had ever read (and I use that term loosely, as it’s not written in a scholarly manner), then I definitely would find it convincing. Things always sound right when you’ve only heard one side of the story. But as a result of my research into what scholars say about the historical Jesus, I know better than to believe the evidence presented. What these scholars present is a valid viewpoint, yes, but there are many, many other interpretations of the evidence, and I happen to find some of those other interpretations more convincing. I will admit that the arguments in favour of the resurrection were among the most convincing. I do not claim to have figured that one out entirely. And I enjoyed reading William Lane Craig’s section – I’m actually going to see a debate tomorrow night between him and Chris DiCarlo on the subject of “Does God Matter?” But the totality of the book fails to convince me. Even if I were to grant that the resurrection happened, without the support of the rest of the evidence, Christianity still only remains a distant possibility. After all, if the resurrection occurred, but the gospels cannot be trusted for accurate information, then where does that leave Christianity? At best, we’d be worshipping some mystical experience based on a guy who happened to have become the first actual zombie.
No, I think that based on the rest of the arguments against Christianity, even with an unresolved argument about the resurrection, I think I can safely lay the religion to rest. Well, I already have, but I’m saying that it can stay there. It’s much more likely that the disciples made it up, or were hallucinating, or dreaming, or were high on ‘shrooms than it is that a dead guy actually came back to life. It’s a possibility, I’ll grant you, but so is an alien invasion. And I’m not writing this from my bomb shelter, so you can tell that I don’t put much faith in mere possibilities. What we’re looking for is probability, and that I do not find in regard to the resurrection. I find superstitious fishermen who were grieving over the loss of their mentor and their own identities, and were looking for some way to resolve what had just happened. The truth about what happened in the days following that, we should conclude, is lost in the mists of time.
So there you have it. “The Case for Christ” is a pretty big dud. And although I gave Lee Strobel another chance, I’m further relegating him into the category of “Christian apologists I am not going to waste any more time on.” Heck, at the very least, it’s better to just read the numerous books that the people he interviewed have written. They at least have degrees in this stuff. Lee Strobel’s a journalist with a law degree. Why is anyone relying on him as an apologist, theologian, or historian? Let’s just at least concentrate on people who know what they’re talking about. But to go along with that, let’s not just focus on a narrow slice of scholars. Let’s look at the whole range of ’em and see what we get. If Christianity still comes out on top after that, then we’ll talk. As for now, I have to put this book away on my bookshelf so it can gather some dust.