Lessons from ‘The Case for Christ’
In our so–called “post–truth” era, where claims of “fake news” are a growing trend and “alternative facts” are frequently debated, more than ever, people crave the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. At stake are marriages, families, and nations. Skepticism, however, often gets in our way of knowing The Truth, says Lee Strobel, author of the bestselling book, The Case for Christ.
In 1980, Strobel was an award–winning legal affairs editor for the Chicago Tribune—and a skeptic. When Leslie, his wife, became a Christian, he used his journalistic skills in an attempt to disprove the claims of Christianity. To that end, Strobel interviewed leading biblical scholars and historians. Surprisingly, his investigation convinced him of Christianity’s trustworthiness.
“The Case for Christ” is now a motion picture distributed by Pure Flix. Strobel’s story of spiritual transformation from atheist to believer is on the big screen in theaters across the United States.
In an intimate interview with SAconnects, Lee and Leslie Strobel share their holiness journey. Leslie points to three things every Christian must do to successfully maintain a loving attitude and an unshakable witness while living with an unbelieving spouse. Lee reveals compelling historical evidence that led him to believe in Christ, including a heartfelt encounter with—The Salvation Army.
I was an atheist because, on the one hand, I had a lot of intellectual objections to Christianity. I thought the concept of an almighty all–powerful God, an all–knowing creator of the universe, was absurd. Books by Bertrand Russell and other famous atheists of his era supported my thinking.
On the other hand, there were underlying emotional, psychological, and moral reasons why I was an atheist.
A Loving Father?
If you study the famous atheists throughout history, such as Nietzsche, Freud, Voltaire, and O’Hare, you’ll find they all had a father who either died when they were young or with whom they had a terrible relationship or who abandoned the family.
For them, the implication is, Why would I want to know a heavenly father if my earthly father disappointed and hurt me? Well, I had a difficult relationship with my father and “The Case for Christ” movie portrays it.
Then there’s usually a moral issue involved. Yes, I was a successful reporter for the Chicago Tribune, but frankly, I was happy in my sin. I was a happy drunk. I was the most gregarious guy in the bar. I would buy pitchers of beer and fill everybody’s glasses. It cost me a fortune, but I got drunk myself and enjoyed the freedom. So I reveled in my sin and didn’t want to come out of it.
Jealous of Jesus
What bothered me about Leslie’s conversion was my feeling that she was cheating on me. I thought there was another man in her life who was giving her the emotional support I should have given her. Actually, I was being jealous of Jesus. I thought she was being pulled into an evangelical subculture, and, as a skeptic, I would be rejected by them.
Is Leslie turning into some kind of holy roller or something? Would she spend her time on skid row serving the poor? That’s not what I signed up for, I thought. I felt this relationship had turned into a “bait and switch”—I marry one Leslie, and she turns into a new Leslie.
In those early years, she would reach out to me, however awkwardly. But that just made me angrier. Our different worldviews were paving their way to the horizon—different ways of raising the kids, spending our money, and enjoying our weekends led to a lot of conflict.
The first big surprise of my investigation was when I realized I could not falsify Christianity in a single weekend. I thought I could deliver one punch, and it would be over. However, Christianity proved to be as resilient as a punching bag I had as a child. No matter how many times I hit it, it would spring back.
I had thought evidence and faith were contrary. I thought faith was believing in something even though you know in your heart it can’t be true. I didn’t realize that true biblical faith is the step we take in the same direction evidence is pointing.
My investigation took a year and nine months. On November 8, 1981, I assessed all the proof and tried to reach a verdict. In light of the avalanche of evidence I had seen pointing so convincingly toward Christianity being true, I realized it would have taken more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian. I could’ve maintained my atheism, but I’d be swimming upstream against a current of truth.
One of the most dramatic bits of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is a report of the resurrection in
1 Corinthians 15. It says Jesus died for our sins, on the third day, He arose from the dead, and then goes on to mention names of witnesses to whom He appeared. Scholars have dated that ancient creed of the Church back to within months of His death.
So here you have a “newsflash” from ancient history—a piece of evidence from the beginning. That is historical gold. It has convinced many people that the resurrection actually happened.
The report is recorded too soon to be written off as legend. When we research ancient history, we’re lucky to find anything even close to the actual events. For example, it was 400 years after the life of Alexander the Great that the first biography was written about him. And yet, that account is considered reliable.
It took at least two generations of time to develop a legend in the ancient world and wipe out a solid core of historical truth. We don’t have two generations of time here; we have a newsflash right at the beginning. That’s a powerful bit of evidence. There have been scholars who have come to faith in Jesus just because of that report.
Even though Lee was pretty adamant about being an atheist—he didn’t want us going to church or giving our money to it—I still felt compelled to tell him about my Christian conversion. I just could not keep it quiet.
Our spiritual journey was always two steps forward, three steps backwards; never quite feeling as if we’re making any progress. There were times when he said, “I have to be alone” and disappeared for a while.
When Lee finally got saved, I almost didn’t believe it. That came out of the blue. One day, he came home and said, “I found Jesus.” I’m thinking, Am I hearing this right? We just hugged and cried. The moment was precious. I know it was real because he said, “I want to pray.” I could tell. There was something on his face that was different.
Advice to spouses
The advice I give to women struggling with a nonbelieving spouse is:
Get in the Word—read your Bible and do your Bible study. To the extent that you’re able, grow in Christ—inside and out. I promise you, your spouse will see a difference in you.
Build your love—remember, you married this person for a reason—because you love him. Rather than dwell on the division between you, focus on those things you have in common. Maintain your joy and allow your husband to understand you still love and respect him. Don’t allow your faith to come between you.
Get a mentor—If there’s any way to get one, do it. My friend Linda was there for me. She was my shoulder to cry on. She never allowed the two of us to gang up on him, nor did she allow us to have a pity party. She loved me. She constantly prodded me and coached me with questions such as, “How do you want to proceed?” “How are you going to stay the course?”
Remember, people don’t come to faith simultaneously. Often there is a spiritual mismatch that must be dealt with.
by Warren L. Maye
In 1974 when Lee Strobel was an atheist and working as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, he was assigned to write a 30–part series on the poor people of Chicago. To find his stories, he went to the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter on the northwest side of the city. Captain Joy Wessel, who ran the Emergency Lodge on West Wisconsin Street, welcomed him and said, “Yes, you can do your research here, just fine.”
For the next two weeks, Strobel practically lived at the shelter. “I watched The Salvation Army provide for people whom nobody cared about. They helped them find work, helped them financially, helped them get off drugs and alcohol, and helped them to love their children,” he said.
One of the volunteers who impressed Strobel was Sally, the shelter’s pointed eared, long tailed, wet nosed collie. “Her job was to sit and let the children pet her. They would talk to her and tell her things they would not tell another person.”
One day, the hard–nosed, no–nonsense journalist saw nine–year–old Penny Kiosowski ask, “Can I brush you, Sally?” The dog rolled over to let Penny brush her tummy. “Sometimes when I’m not feeling too good, Sally makes me feel better,” said Penny, who Strobel later quoted in a story about the shelter.
Strobel continued working at the shelter, observing and taking notes, until the time came to leave.
“I said to the Captain, ‘I’m going now. I’ve got to write my stories.’ ”
Wessel said, “When you first came here, you said you were an atheist. I wonder, do you ever think about Jesus?”
Strobel turned to deliver one of his typical responses, but this time, bit his tongue.
“Now, if somebody on the street had asked me about Jesus, I would have shut them down,” he said. “But because I had seen the love of God expressed through those volunteers and that facility and watched them care for people, they had a special credibility with me.
“The Captain and I had a spiritually profound conversation. I consider her one of the links in the chain that led me to faith.”