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Lee Strobel is a Christian apologetics author. One of his most well-known books is, "A Case For Christ"
The Case for Christ records Lee Strobel's attempt to "determine if there's credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God." The book consists primarily of interviews between Strobel (a former legal editor at the Chicago Tribune) and biblical scholars such as Bruce Metzger. Each interview is based on a simple question, concerning historical evidence (for example, "Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?"), scientific evidence, ("Does Archeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus' Biographies?"), and "psychiatric evidence" ("Was Jesus Crazy When He Claimed to Be the Son of God?"). Together, these interviews compose a case brief defending Jesus' divinity, and urging readers to reach a verdict of their own.
It should be noted that when the book is entitled, "A Case For Christ" its objectivity should immediately be in question. Any search for truth would not start with the conclusion. It's well known this was the approach Strobel took in writing this publication so it's no surprise what the book's ultimate claim will be.
Reviews and critiques of Lee Strobel's "A Case For Christ"
- As its title indicates, this book defends the case *for* Christ and does not purport to be an impartial examination of the evidence. Lee Strobel had made his mind before he wrote the book, and this volume is a reconstruction, in the form of a series of interviews, of his own conversion, which took place over a two-year period of intensive reading after that of his wife.
- Precisely because Strobel is now a Christian, the fourteen scholars he chose to interview are all devout Christians themselves; they are all presented in a favourable light as rational, well-informed and benevolent individuals; and they all assert that their study of the archeological and textual evidence for Christ has strengthened their faith in his divinity. Whatever counter-arguments are presented in the book seem to have been included merely to make the book more convincing, by showing that all the "hard questions" have been dealt with.
- In light of Strobel's frequent reminders that he used to be a hard-nosed, skeptical journalist, I skimmed the table of contents and index to see which critics of Christianity he interviewed. In so doing, I discovered a glaring deficiency in Strobel's journalism: Strobel did not interview any critics of Christian apologetics, even though he attacks such individuals in his book. For example, Strobel devotes an entire chapter to his interview of Greg Boyd (an outspoken faultfinder of the Jesus Seminar), yet Strobel never interviewed a single member of the Jesus Seminar itself! Likewise, he repeatedly criticizes Michael Martin, author of Case Against Christianity, but he never bothered to get Martin's responses to those attacks. This hardly constitutes balanced reporting on Strobel's part; indeed, on this basis, one is tempted to dismiss the entire book.
- My biggest complaint is that Strobel's reporting is one-sided in several aspects. For one, all the scholars he interviews are all conservative, evangelical Chrisitans. Not once did he interview a person of who might have been more liberal... much less interview a non-Christian scholar on Christian or Biblical studies (and there are many).
- Furthermore, never *once* did Strobel look to find rebuttals or other perspectives on the statements and evidence that these scholars gave him. Many of the information he received was controversial or from a very narrow viewpoint. This supposedly "excellent researcher" made no effortto seek a response to this evidence (even if he ultimately sought a rebuttal to said response).
- No liberal Christians, no Jews, no Muslims, no secular scholars were ever consulted either for opinion, viewpoint or rebuttal. Very shallow "reporting and research."
- Strobel has a Degree of Master's of Studies in Law from Yale. But after earning such a degree, a person is essentially the equivalent of a law student who just finished his or her first year of law school. Furthermore, many students do not take an Evidence course during their first year of law school. This may explain why Strobel does such a poor job examining the totality of the evidence and misses or fails to mention basic evidentiary legal concepts. I know that Strobel is not offering this book into a court of law, nor does he hold himself out as a lawyer. But it is misleading when he invokes legal terms when in fact he does not have complete legal training.
- In describing its Master of Studies in Law program, the Yale Law School website reads: "[the] Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.) degree program for a small number of non-lawyers who want to obtain a basic familiarity with legal thought and to explore the relation of law to their disciplines. It is a one-year terminal program designed for those who do not desire a professional law degree, but who are interested in a rigorous curriculum and grounding in legal studies. Candidates in the M.S.L. program are ordinarily experienced scholars with research or teaching objectives in mind, or journalists seeking an intensive immersion in legal thinking so that they are better able to educate their audiences upon their return to journalism."
- This is exactly what Strobel did. He was a journalist by trade, went to Yale Law School for just one year to gain a basic grounding in legal studies, and returned to journalism. I am not saying that Strobel did not learn anything during that first year of law school. But any lawyer will tell you that after one's first year of law school, one really doesn't know much about the law. In fact, any lawyer will tell you that one doesn't know much after graduating from three years of law school! A career in law entails a lifetime of learning.
- Here is an example of Strobel missing a basic concept in evidence law: He never addresses the issue of hearsay. Hearsay is an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Subject to many exceptions, hearsay is generally inadmissible as evidence. If the gospels are used to prove the truth of its statements, then they are technically hearsay. If they do not fall under a recognized exception, then the statements would be inadmissible. On the whole (I am not going to go line-by-line here), the gospel statements do not qualify under any of the recognized exceptions.
- Chapter 2 is entitled "Testing the Eyewitness Evidence," yet he never once mentions the hearsay problem or that the eyewitness accounts are that of unavailable witnesses whose statements would be inadmissible in court because the declarants could not be cross-examined. This is the underlying purpose of the hearsay rule: it attempts to exclude out of court statements as untrustworthy since they cannot be tested by cross-examination of its declarants. Furthermore, the eight "tests" that Strobel uses (e.g., "The Intention Test," "The Ability Test," etc.) are not recognized legal tests used to evaluate eyewitness testimony. They sound like they are because he puts the word "test" there, but none of them are legal tests one will learn in Evidence class or in practicing law. He made them up.
- This passing treatment of evidentiary legal concepts epitomizes the overall problem with the book, which is its passing treatment of all issues. It briefly mentions its own problems and provides only lip service to opposing views. Granted, this is not meant to be a serious scholarly book and is meant for mass consumption. But you could find something much more intellectually challenging on the subject than this.
- There was a study done where 12 people witnessed a crime perpetrated by a person with a red shirt. These 12 witnesses were questioned by officers a day later and officers referred to the man as wearing a yellow shirt. 10 of the twelve people said the perpetrator wore a yellow shirt when asked to give an eyewitness account of the crime. This book doesn't delve into studies of this sort, but instead reports a highly emotional story where an eyewitness testifies against a known criminal and sends him to prison. Thus according to Lee all eyewitness accounts are infallible. Lee then confirms Jesus' resurrection because he is told by a 6'2" christian writer that although scholars claim the story of the resurrection was told 40 years after the fact he can argue it was actually told only two years after the fact. It has to be true. After all other historical writings document events 500 years after the fact and are accepted as factual. Another nail in the coffin for the logically impaired. He has proved the resurrection took place. This is what our culture accepts as logic?
- Mr. Strobel's entire quest to find out the facts surrounding Christianity are apparently because of a "character change" in his wife when she became a Christian (pg. 16). He even states that her integrity changed after her conversion (must we then wonder what it was like before?). Sorry, but even if someone is changed for the positive by a belief, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the TRUTH of that belief; it means only that the person sincerely believes it herself. How many countless people of all religions (and atheists too) are wonderful people of excellent character, integrity, and personal confidence? Does this mean that what all of them believe is so?
- This shaky premise begins The Case For Christ, and it is steeply downhill from there. I'll spare most details for the sake of brevity; logical readers will see the numerous flaws for themselves. However, the hammer blow to the book's entire line of "reasoning" comes on page 61, while Strobel is interviewing Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, a professor at Denver Seminary. When questioned about inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible, Dr. Blomberg offers many of the usual Christian rationalizations. Finally, however, he delivers this gem of logical reasoning: "And there are occasions when we may need to hold judgment in abeyance and simply say that since we've made sense out of the vast majority of the texts and determined them to be trustworthy, we can then give the benefit of the doubt when we're not sure on some of the other details." Strobel, of course, makes no comment and implicitly agrees to this point.
- Wow. Armed with this presumption, I could start my own religion complete with holy book. All I require is a few facts and historical truths mixed in with the dogma. I wonder if Dr. Blomberg would extend his gratuitous, non-critical approach to books of other religions which also contain some historical truth. Sorry, folks, but it doesn't work this way. The burden of proof is on the Bible to show that it is absolutely error-free. We don't start by believing a book until it is proved UNTRUE, do we? A logical person's default position has to be that of skepticism.
- In the end, Lee Strobel reveals Christianity for what it is: a religious belief based on lack of conclusive evidence.
- This book presents itself as an unbiased seeking after the truth about the life of Jesus. The narrator, Mr. Strobel, claims to have great journalistic credentials. Unfortunately, the book presents a case for Jesus as God that only a true believer could swallow.
- The book is intellectually dishonest. I was barely 25 pages into the book before I came across several gems such as this. Mr. Strobel claims corroborating "evidence" for the Gospels being fact, because they are, "Confirmed by a sort of 1st-century journalist," (p. 25) after citing Papias (p. 23) and Irenaeus (p. 24). Both Papias and Irenaeus were active in the 2nd-century -- making them out to be 1st-century makes them seem closer to the events in question, not four to seven generations later. Both were early Christian church leaders, nothing like a journalist:
- Irenaeus, (c. 130-202) was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyon, France. His writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology, and he is recognized as a saint by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church; both consider him a Father of the Church. He was a notable early Christian apologist.
- Papias (2nd century) was one of the early leaders of the Christian church, canonized as a saint. Eusebius calls him "Bishop of Hierapolis"
- This deceptive tactic is typical of the entire flimsy fabric of the case Strobel makes.
- Also typical is Strobel's citing of "indirect eyewitness testimony." (p. 25) Strobel begins the book by describing some of the trial of Timothy McVeigh. He states that McVeigh was convicted by only circumstantial evidence, thereby implying that circumstantial evidence is reliable. In U.S. courts, there is a specific term for "indirect eyewitness testimony." It's called hearsay, and it's not allowed. ("No, really Your Honor, Bob told me that he saw Mr. Strobel rob that bank.")
- Strobel notes that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke appear to have copied material from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is purported to be (scholars aren't sure of course) the companion of Peter. And Mark is purported to have, "handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter's preaching." (p. 24). So we have Matthew and Luke copying the work of Mark who is interpreting the preaching of Peter, who actually saw Jesus. This is Strobel's idea of evidence: "indirect eyewitness testimony." This is hearsay on top of hearsay on top of hearsay.
- Strobel quotes Josephus, born in 37 AD (p. 77): after Jesus' death. He participated in the war with Rome (66 - 74 AD). Josephus writes how a High Priest Ananias convened the Sanhedrin to question James, brother of Jesus and others. Josephus writes that this Ananias declared that James and others had violated the law and should be stoned. James, "had apparently been converted by the appearance of the risen Christ ... compare John 7:5 and 1 Corinthians 15:7 -- and corroboration of the fact that some people considered Jesus to be the Christ." (quote: Edwin Yamauchi, p. 78) Let's see: Josephus writes about a high priest at least a generation older than himself (hearsay) and that high priest convicted James, Jesus' brother of a crime worthy of stoning ("[he] had transgressed the law" (p. 78)). From this we are to conclude that Jesus was god resurrected, and this matches the Bible verses, so it must be true. Right.
- Also from Josephus, is the passage from Testimonium Flavium, "he [Jesus] was one who wrought surprising feats and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. ... crucified ... appeared to them restored to life." (p. 79) Yamauchi admits the passage is controversial: "early Christian copyists inserted some phrases that a Jewish writer like Josephus would not have written." (p. 79) Insertions such as: "If one ought to call him a man," "He was the Christ," and "on the third day he he appeared to them restored to life." (all noted by the expert, Yamauchi, pp. 79-80) "The passage in Josephus probably was originally written about Jesus, although without those three points I mentioned." (Yamauchi, p. 80) And Strobel leaves it at that! All the supernatural godlike references (all hearsay anyway) were admittedly added by later Christian copyists (when? Yamauchi doesn't say.) Again, no one is disputing that a Jesus lived and taught in Palestine in the beginning of the first century, which is all the Josephus passages tell us. Pretty reliable that Josephus reported hearsay about a Jesus without supernatural aspects (p. 81). Amazing evidence!
- Strobel and Yamauchi also quote Pliny the Younger (63-118 AD), born 30 years after Jesus' death. "I asked them if they were Christians ... they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses ... in honor of Christ as if to a god." So, Pliny simply confirms that there were early followers of Christianity. No one disputes this. From this passage, Yamauchi concludes that it is "Very important. It was probably written about 111 AD [80 years, 4 generations, after Jesus' death] and it attests to the rapid spread of Christianity, both in the city and the rural areas, among every class of person." (p. 82) Pliny mentions nothing about rapid spread, numbers of Christians, their locations, or their class. This conclusion is typical of the logic and reasoning used throughout the book. It's pathetic.
- We are left with copies of copies of copies (errors in transcription acknowledged) of hearsay upon hearsay. This is presented as strong evidence. Only to a true believer. The book is superficial and too glib by half. It might be entertaining if presented as a novel; but it's got nothing on the DaVinci Code there (not that I believe anything in that book either!)
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