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Lee Strobel Interview

Lee Strobel, former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, recounted his spiritual journey from atheism to faith in a New York Times bestseller which has become a Christian classic: The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Zondervan).

A revised and updated paperback edition is now available. A film based on the book is in production and will release in theaters nationwide in March 2017. ConversantLife interviewed Stobel by phone from his home in Houston, where he serves as Professor of Christian thought at Houston Baptist University.

You wrote The Case for Christ in 1998. How has your approach to Christianity and your own experience with Christ changed since then?

I was a skeptic—really I was an atheist—when I began my investigation into the beliefs of Christianity. I was driven by the apologetic of my wife, Leslie, who had become a Christian and whose changed life convinced me to check this out. It was a combination of being angry with her for cheating on me with Jesus and being curious about why she was a changed person. Now as I look back on my life, I can see what happened in my faith journey.  Here’s an illustration that may help.

Let’s say you are a manager in a company, and you want to see your boss on a particular day. There are several signs that point to his being in the office and available. Your boss has accepted your calendar invite; when you arrive at work, his car is in the usual space; when you pass his office, his secretary tells you the appointment is confirmed. All the evidence points to your boss being in his office and available to see you. But it’s not until he opens the door, and you see his face, and he invites you to come in that you know for sure that the meeting you hoped for is going to happen.

That’s the way it was with my faith journey. The evidence for my faith got me to the point when I was able to trust Jesus, but it wasn’t until I actually encountered him personally that Jesus became absolutely real to me.

You took a very rational approach to questions about faith and belief when you wrote The Case for Christ. Do rational arguments carry as much weight with people today?

For a while we got away from presenting reasonable arguments for why the Christian faith is true. I think this was the case because people who had questions about their faith weren’t finding a place where they could wrestle with them. The church wasn’t responding to people’s doubts and concerns about God. So rather than stick around to ask them, people left.

I think the pendulum is swinging the other way. After a few years in which people were more concerned about felt needs, they are now asking questions that are intellectual in nature. In fact, 3 of the top 6 reasons young people are leaving the church are apologetic: Is Jesus the Son of God? Can I trust the Bible? Why is there suffering and evil in a world made good by God? These are the questions people are asking. For that reason, apologetics is making a comeback, and many churches are leading the way by providing a place for people to wrestle with their doubts about God and the Bible.

So doubt can be a doorway to belief?

Absolutely. And it doesn’t have to be the doubts that you have personally. You may have a neighbor or a friend who is asking questions about God and Christianity, so you go to your pastor for help. In this way, the demand for Christian apologetics is bubbling up from the pews. I see pastors and churches beginning to do more training than teaching. We have to stop teaching people about the Bible. We need to train them to give answers to honest questions, and this involves interaction.

Doubt can purify and strengthen faith. If you don’t deal with doubt, it can cripple you. But if you talk with others about it and do your own investigation, doubt loses its power over you. You realize that others have doubt, and you realize there are reasonable answers to your questions.

Shortly after I became a Christian, a young woman—I think she was a senior in high school—asked me to come to her house and talk with her and her father. When I got there, I saw stacks of academic books on the coffee table. Clearly the father had been doing some research. At dinner, he pummeled me with questions that raised doubts about the validity of the Christian story. I felt like I was in the middle of a kind of spiritual vertigo. My mind was spinning with doubt. What if I was wrong about this whole faith in God thing?

I told the young woman and her father that I didn’t have the answers to their questions, but I would do some investigating and get back to them. Through that process, I found there were satisfying answers to the toughest questions, and I was more equipped and encouraged as a result.

How important is the study of theology in the life of a Christian?

The study of theology has not been emphasized as much as it should be. When the cold wind of doubt blows, you are easily capsized if you aren’t tethered to strong theology. It’s like a boat in a harbor. If that boat is anchored, it won’t drift when the wind blows. But if you cut that line, the boat will eventually start drifting. We have a line called theology. When that line is cut—when people stop learning about their faith and what it’s all about—there is drift.

The Case for Christ has sold more than 5 millions copies. There must be some great stories about how that book has helped people.

It’s overwhelming. In fact, just last week, I was being interviewed on a radio show, and someone called in to tell a story about the book. The caller had always wanted to read The Case for Christ but never got around to it. Then he was diagnosed with diabetes, and he began to go blind. He decided he wanted to read the book, so he asked his girlfriend to read it to him.  When she got to the end of the book, where I offer the reader the opportunity to enter into an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ, she prayed to receive Christ.

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