From Skeptical to Saved: A Feature Interview with Author and Christian Apologist Lee Strobel

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Last week, bestselling author and Christian apologist Lee Strobel joined The Western Journal for a feature interview discussing everything from the politicization of the post-pandemic church to his groundbreaking 1998 testimonial, “The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus.” This is an uncut look:

Andrew J. Sciascia: I’m joined today by Lee Strobel, the founding director of the Lee Strobel Center at Colorado Christian University. He’s written over 40 books on different Christian apologetic matters, an atheist turned Christian. Thank you, Mr. Strobel, for being with us today.

Lee Strobel: Glad to do it.

Sciascia: Of course. So, for those in our audience who aren’t familiar with you yet, if you could just, kind of, introduce yourself. Tell us who you are and a little bit of your journey to Christ.

Strobel: Yeah, my background is in journalism and law. I was the legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and an atheist. My wife, through a relationship with a Christian nurse, became Christian — which I thought was the worst news I could get. And I thought the only way I could get around this cult would be to disprove the faith, disprove the resurrection of Jesus, which even I recognized as a cornerstone of Christianity.

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So, I took my legal training and journalism training. I spent two years systematically investigating the historical data concerning the resurrection of Jesus, as well as other things — scientific evidence for God and so forth. And ultimately, after a year and nine months, coming to the conclusion that, in light of this avalanche of evidence that points so powerfully toward the truth of Christianity, it would have taken more faith to maintain my skepticism than to become a Christian, and the scales just kind of went like that.

That’s what brought me to faith on November the 8th of 1981.

Sciascia: That was something I thought was so interesting when reading “The Case for Christ” was, at the end of every interview, it seemed like you asked, ‘Has your scholarship on the Bible expanded your faith or has it, kind of, made you question more?’ And the response seemed to always be that they had become more firm in their faith, based upon their scholarship. Why do you think that is?

Strobel: I’m glad you brought that up, because one of the most famous agnostics/atheists today is Bart Ehrman, and his mentor at Princeton University and Princeton Seminary was Bruce Metzger. Bruce Metzger was the greatest scholar on the text of the New Testament in our lifetime. He passed a few years ago. But he taught Bart everything he knew.

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I interviewed Bruce Metzger for my book and I asked him, “Has your great scholarship increased your faith or decreased your faith?” And he said, “Oh, it has magnified my faith. It’s increased my faith to see the proliferation of the ancient manuscripts and so forth.” So, I think when people delve deeply into the evidence, it gives them confidence that their trust in the Bible’s teachings is well-placed.

Sciascia: Now, on the opposite end of that question, you got at — in that introduction, a little bit — aggressive atheism. Now, I was an atheist as well, until about two years ago — more of an agnostic, not as kind of hardcore about it. But something that I always did find so interesting was that folks– I think, you know, on my end, it was colored by the conservatism. I thought, “Maybe I don’t believe this. Maybe I think that this Christian God might be kind of a jerk, honestly. But the conservative ideals that religion teaches are good for the culture.” But so many people have that, kind of, aggressive take on atheism that, for some reason, they are compelled to not only be against it themselves, but when someone like your wife becomes a Christian, you’re like, “Well, no. This can’t be. I’m not accepting of this.”

You have to kind of go to war with it. Why is that?

Strobel: I think part of it is because they realize that Christian values undergird a lot of political opinion in areas like abortion and other areas that they don’t agree with. And so, by trying to deflate the credibility of Christianity, they’re hoping to lessen the political influence of those who believe the biblical values to be those which should be upheld.

Sciascia: I think that branches perfectly into more contemporary matters when it comes to faith and politics.

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You mention in “The Case for Christ” that these folks who were kind of skeptical, all of these skeptics, seemed to come at it with more contemporary terms. You yourself would kind of come at things and you would say, “Well, doesn’t this discrepancy in the history kind of create a hole in the Christian story and in the Christian tradition?” And these experts would tell you, “Well, that’s if you’re looking at it through a contemporary lens — if you’re looking at it with the contemporary understanding of media, and history and all of those things.’

So, what is the danger of these folks who want to manipulate the terms and, kind of, come to things — You talk about even oppression. People come to the table and they say, “Well, if Christianity isn’t a solution to oppression, Jesus didn’t come back and end slavery, you say. Well, at this point, then what use is it, if it’s not going to create justice here on Earth?”

How do you respond to those folks? And what are the dangers of that, looking at through that contemporary, post-modern lens?

Strobel: Yeah, I think it happens on both sides of the equation. I think the atheists, for instance, will ratchet up their skepticism to unreasonably high levels when it comes to things like miracles and so forth.

There was an article by an atheist in the Skeptic magazine who said, “What would it take to convince me that a miracle is taking place?” She said, “If a chicken learned how to read and then beat a grandmaster at chess, then maybe I’d start to think, perhaps, something’s going on.” And I think that’s an unreasonable standard.

So, I think a lot of people who are skeptics will bring an unreasonable standard to evaluating the evidence, when I think the evidence from cosmology, physics, biochemistry, genetics, human consciousness points powerfully and persuasively toward the existence of a God who matches the description of the God of the Bible.

Sciascia: And so, we’re seeing that more and more people don’t seem to buy into this. The polls are showing that there is a major lapse in the religiosity here in the West — and in the United States, in particular. I mean, what comes with that?

We see people like, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Jordan Peterson — not a Christian, but speaks tremendously on the idea that, when people lose value in these important institutions and these important truths, these objective matters, they start to find value in these subjective things that create a danger to the society and create a really flawed architecture for the way that we move. I mean, can you just speak to that at all?

Strobel: Yeah, I think that that’s exactly true. I’m not so sure that all of it is negative.

When we looked at the change in so-called religiosity of Americans — church attendance, for instance, was measured  — and you know, we’re not losing people who are truly committed. We’re losing people who are may identify as a Christian, but they’re not really Christian. And so those are the kind of folks who are falling away. So, I don’t think we’re necessarily losing people who are committed and knowledgeable about the Christian faith.

Now, that makes it a challenge for us who want to see people come to faith. How do we reach those people? But I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy for people to realize, “You know what? I’ve been kind of playing the Christian game. I’m not really a Christian.” Well, that’s probably a good realization to come to.

Yeah, great. Now, let me help you understand what it means to really be a follower of Jesus.

Sciascia: Now, those folks falling away kind of brings me to a question about the divisions that politics has brought into the church, particularly with COVID.

We’ve seen that different churches have, you know — They have seen this issue of pandemic lockdown very, very differently. And it’s created a pretty substantial divide in the way that the church handles things, in the way that people in the church view one another and in the way that people then view us. You know, C.S. Lewis talks in “Mere Christianity” about the fact that we shouldn’t be having these conversations of minor theology or of division in the public eye, because it creates a problem for evangelism, right?

So, I guess, I’m wondering: Are these divisions bad for evangelism in that way or are they bringing more people? Because we’re seeing a wider lens through which you can view Christianity. But is that more of a danger, in fact, that if you’re bringing in people to a watered-down version of the gospel, then it’s almost just as bad as if they had never come?

Strobel: Yeah, or worse … because they have false security. I think the pandemic has really brought to light several stress fractures. My background — I used to teach First Amendment law at Roosevelt University and I studied First Amendment law under Floyd Abrams at Yale Law School. Floyd Abrams is one of the great First Amendment lawyers.

So, I have a particular sensitivity to government coming in and telling churches, “You cannot meet.” That is a problem.

On the other hand, I think churches need to ask themselves, “How can we be good neighbors? Can we love our neighbors as ourselves?” Maybe that means some sort of self-imposed way in which we can conduct our worship services to protect people. But that’s a decision that I think the churches need to make. I think it’s very dangerous when the government starts imposing restrictions on worship. And I think after this pandemic is over, we need to have a national conversation about the limits of government power — that we need to have a very serious conversation.

Sciascia: Absolutely. Now, when we’re looking at that issue, as you’ve said, you know, there is kind of a balance that needs to be struck between — Obviously, we don’t want the government coming in and saying you can’t worship, particularly with the First Amendment, with the importance of religiosity in the mainstream consciousness and with just individuals in the culture — with salvation, you know, at risk there.

You say also that one of those parts of that balance, though, is being good neighbors.

So, how do you kind of feel — not saying call names here — but when we’re seeing folks like [Grace Community Church Pastor] John MacArthur, who have been far more militant in saying, “Let’s prevent the government from coming in and getting in the way.” Do you think there is a danger in that? Do you think that that’s a good approach?

I mean, what do you think that the solution should have been there?

Strobel: I think that there’s a weighing of values, and I think the main value the church has to weigh is, “How do we love God and love our neighbor as ourself? What does that look like?” And that may look different in different settings. It may look different in different places. But I think that’s what we have to wrestle with and ultimately implement a strategy that’s consistent with Jesus’ teachings in protecting our fellow neighbors, who we love, and being a good witness to them and say, “We’re not here to hurt you. We’re here to love you,” and so forth.

So, those are the kind of values we have to take into account when we make those sorts of decisions.

I do think that the pandemic overall has made people, especially, more aware of the fragility of life. My brother died of, quote-unquote, the flu at the beginning of the pandemic, recovering from heart surgery in a nursing home. Most people know somebody who has died or been extremely sick. Leslie, my wife, and I were at a restaurant recently and we got to talking to the waitress, and she started crying and she said, “I’m sorry.” She said, “I almost didn’t come to work today because we lost a family member to COVID.” And I thought, “Well, here’s a young woman — probably 18 years old, probably the first person close to her who’s died — She’s thinking about the fragility of life. She’s thinking about what happens after this life.”

My new book is called “The Case for Heaven” and the subtitle is “A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for Life After Death,” and comes out in September of this year. And, you know, I didn’t write it because of COVID, but I’m thinking, “Man, I hope that can be a help to people whose consciousness about our brevity of life in this world has been heightened due to the pandemic.”

Sciascia: I’m very sorry for your loss, of course.

I kind of want to go back to, and I apologize, but “The Case for Christ” is just, you know — It’s such a compelling read and it’s so foundational in the current Christian culture. So, I just want to keep, kind of, going back to it and going back to the well there. When it comes to, you talk about the Jesus Seminar in that book pretty heavily. So, obviously, we do want to see what you’re saying — a very compassionate gospel, a gospel that represents how loving, how forgiving Jesus was.

How do you — How do we, as Christians, respond to folks who want to kind of over-compassion-ize, over-spiritual-ize faith and water it down to the point where, “Oh, well. We’re bringing people in.” How do you fight that? How do you fight back against the folks who are attempting to bring people in but watering it down to the point where it is … It’s no more of value, spiritually, anymore.

Strobel: Huge danger. Huge danger, and there is a phenomenon in our culture called progressive Christianity. And I was just listening to an interview with a so-called progressive Christian and oh, my goodness. I mean, basically denying every fundamental of the faith in an effort, what? To get along with culture, to cater to culture, to be attractive to culture with, what? A watered-down gospel that has no power to save and no power to transform lives?

This is a real problem. And I think there’s always been a tension in the church, you know?

We want to save people. We know how God has changed our lives for the good. We want our friends and family and neighbors to have that same great experience. And so we have a desire to reach out and we have a biblical mandate to reach out. But the tension comes with what are we reaching out with.

Are we softening things to just make it attractive to people or are we telling them the truth? And I think, you know, biblically, we need to tell people the truth. You know, the wages of sin is death — but the good news is there is forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And if we leave out the part about the wages of sin being death — that is, that what we earn, what we deserve because of the sin that all of us commit, is eternal separation from God. If we leave that out of the equation, what do you mean be saved? Saved from what?

It’s like the illustration some people use of being on an airplane, and you’re on a commercial flight and the flight attendant comes around with a parachute — says, “Would you like a parachute?” No, I don’t want a parachute. You know, put it in the overhead. I don’t need a parachute.

Sciascia: We’re in the sky, yeah.

Strobel: Versus, “The plane is going down! Do you want a parachute?”

Sciascia: Absolutely!

Strobel: Yeah, absolutely. All of a sudden it becomes urgent. And so, if we leave out the part of the gospel that talks about our fate, if we die apart from God, we’re not creating that urgency. And people don’t see, really, the need for having a relationship with God through which we can receive forgiveness on account of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Sciascia: Now, when it comes to your testimony, you talk about, kind of, facing that conviction — getting over that hump was very hard. It’s the realization that, you know, “I’m going to have to change my life here.” Obviously, your pursuit of evidence for Christianity was a year-long journey with lots and lots of interviews, lots and lots of digging and research. Is there one particular, or a set of particular pieces that were kind of most instrumental in really being able to get over that hump? What was the most compelling?

Strobel: You know, it’s a cumulative case, so there’s not one fact that does it. It’s an accumulation of evidence. But for me, it was the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus clearly claimed to be the Messiah, transcended — the son of God. He made those claims. But I could make that claim, you can make that claim: being the son of God. But did he back up that claim by returning from the dead?

And I look at the evidence like on the Four E’s: the evidence for the execution of Jesus, that even the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated his death and says, clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates Jesus was dead even before the wound to his side was inflicted, with multiple ancient sources. There’s no credible scholar that denies that. Second, the early accounts. We have a report of the resurrection of Jesus that is based on his appearance to named eyewitnesses, and groups of eyewitnesses, that has been dated back by scholars to within months of his death. That’s far too early, I believe, to be written off as merely a legend. Third, the empty tomb that even the opponents of Jesus admitted was empty. And then finally, the eyewitnesses. We have nine ancient sources, inside and outside the New Testament, confirming and corroborated the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus.

That’s an avalanche of historical data. So, I put all that together and I say, “Jesus not only claimed to be the son of God — he backed up that claim like nobody else, with his resurrection.”

Sciascia: Now, in the Word we see, in response to [the apostle] Thomas — “Doubting Thomas” — we see Jesus says “blessed are those who believe without seeing,” right? Which is a paraphrase.

Strobel: Yes, which is us all these centuries later. Absolutely. We can’t see it, but we do have the evidence.

Sciascia: Yes. So, how would you suggest — How do you strike the balance between, kind of, the faith without seeing and the pursuit of evidence, the questions?

Strobel: Yeah, I think biblical faith — You know, a lot of atheists will joke that — well, I don’t know if they’re joking. They’ll say faith is believing something, even though you know in your heart it can’t be true. But that’s not biblical faith.

Biblical faith is taking a step in the same direction that the evidence is pointing. That’s logical. That’s rational. You know, I sat in this chair. It could have collapsed, you know. It could have had a bad leg, to this chair, and it could have collapsed. But as I approached the chair, it looked solid. Nobody else has been falling in, you know, broken chairs around here. There’s no reason anybody would sabotage something like that. And so based on the evidence, it makes sense to sit in the chair and see that it works.

Well, the Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” And I think that means follow the evidence and take that step in the same direction the evidence is pointing, and put your trust in Christ. That’s — We do that every day in various aspects of our lives. That’s reasonable, it’s logical and it’s rational.

Sciascia: That brings me to two questions, out of that. First, what is your suggestion to folks who have kind of come to the end of the evidence? Now, it’s that leap of faith. Where — What is your suggestion for those folks?

Strobel: To evaluate the evidence as honestly as you can.

And when you — I believe when you look at the depth and the breadth of the evidence — not just for the resurrection, but for the existence of God from the origin of the universe, from the fine-tuning of the universe, from biological information inside every cell in the body, et cetera — I think there’s plenty of evidence to say, “You know what? It makes sense to take that step.”

And you know what? Try it. Put your trust in Christ as best you can. We don’t have answers to every question. That’s OK. We have enough evidence, though — I think — to justify the conclusion that Jesus is who he claimed to be.

Sciascia: Now, when it comes to bringing evidence to that conversation, can you talk a little bit about what you’re working on now, what you’re working on going forward? Talk about your book and, obviously, your opportunity with LIFTABLEtv.

Strobel: I’ve written a number of books that deal with the historical evidence for Jesus and his resurrection, the scientific evidence for the existence of a God who matches the description of the God of the Bible and answering tough questions about the faith. So, there’s a lot of resources out there. When I did my investigation, there was very little out there. This was back in 1980, you know. I mean, it was hard. Nowadays, there’s a proliferation of really good resources that people can avail themselves of. So, you know, I recommend those books and others out there.

We have a new center at Colorado Christian University where people can take a course in — on the resurrection, on Islam, on world religions, on evangelism. We have, I think, 91 different courses that are all college accredited. You take them fully online, at home. StrobelCenter.com is our website. People can go there and maybe take some courses, maybe not toward a degree. Maybe you just want to learn and grow in a particular area and see where the evidence does point.

I think, you know, this next opportunity with LIFTABLEtv will be an opportunity to continue to create a pipeline down which we can feed all kinds of fascinating interviews, and information, and data, and arguments and evidence for the truth of the Christian faith — and also how we can share with other people in a way that’s natural and effective.

And my new book, “The Case for Heaven,” comes out Sept. 14, where I interviewed people ranging from neuroscientists with a Ph.D. from Cambridge [University], talking about the existence of a soul. Near-death experiences, I explored those — which is a fascinating topic. I look at the evidence, again, for the resurrection of Jesus. I look at Hell. I have two chapters on Hell. I deal with two aberrational doctrines that people are promoting these days. One of them is annihilationism: that God snuffs out of the existence of someone who’s not a follower of Jesus at their death — which is, I don’t believe, biblical. And universalism: that all of us will end up in Heaven. I don’t think that’s biblical either. So, I deal with those. And I also have an interview in that book with Luis Palau, who’s one of the most famous Christian evangelists, who shared his faith with a billion people during his lifetime. He just died recently and, before his death, I sat down with him and talked to him as a person who knew he was going to die. He knew he was — Life was short. He had stage four cancer. How does that change your perspective? How do you look at heaven differently when you know you’re going to die? It’s a fascinating interview.

So, I hope that’s a contribution to the dialog on how can we be confident that, when we close our eyes in this world for the last time, we will open them — for a follower of Jesus — in his presence forever?

Sciascia: And how important for the day-to-day Christian is this knowledge? You know, folks who are firm in their faith. How important is it for them to really know the foundations, the evidence for their faith in day-to-day life, and in argument, and in conversation?

Strobel: That’s a great question. Apologetics, which comes from the Greek word that means “to give a defense for the faith” has two purposes. One is to share with people like, you were an atheist, I was an atheist — is to help us see the evidence for the faith. But it’s also — The other purpose is for Christians to deepen their faith and deepen their confidence in the truth of what the Bible teaches us about Jesus. And both are legitimate functions. Both are important functions.

What’s interesting is every Christian is told 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, and to do it gently and respectfully.” So, all Christians are told we need to help our friends who have questions and doubts — not that we, necessarily, have every answer at the tip of our tongue. But we can help them find an answer to the question, because if we don’t have a pretty good understanding of what the evidence is, we shrink back from conversations, because I’m afraid you’re going to ask me a question and I’m not going to know the answer to it.

So, I think it gives us confidence to be able to tell others this good news of the gospel of Jesus.

Sciascia: Now, for me, that was reading “Seeking Allah, Find Jesus” by Nabeel Qureshi.

Strobel: Yes. I wrote the forward to that. By the way, I dedicate my “Case for Heaven” book to Nabeel.

Sciascia: Oh, excellent. That’s awesome! Also, kind of on that note, he talks about the importance of, you know, he knew the Quran forward to back — he had it memorized. Now, I’m not saying people need to know that. Plenty of people would argue that it’s overstated how much you need to know about the belief and value system of the person you’re, kind of, fellowshipping with. How important would you say that that is?

Strobel: Well, I think it’s important to have a connection, to be able to understand that only a very superficial understanding of religion say, “They all teach the same thing.”

You know, the Quran in Surah 4:157 says Jesus did not die on the cross. Well, golly, I’ve got all this historical data that he did. The Quran says that God does not have a son. Well, I’ve got Jesus saying he was God’s son and proving it by his resurrection from the dead. So, there are fundamental conflicts between, say, Islam and Christianity. They can’t both be true. Maybe one of them is true or maybe neither is true, but they can’t both be true. And my friend Nabeel spent a lot of time as a Muslim, investigating the evidence and coming to the conclusion.

The evidence for Christianity is powerful and persuasive in coming to faith. And I was with him just shortly before he died. I prayed with him in those final moments and dedicated a book to him.

So, I think we need to understand where people are coming from. We don’t have to know every nuance of their belief system, but it helps to be able to connect and to respect people, the Bible says. 1 Peter 3:15, “Do this with gentleness and respect.” A lot of Christian apologists — people who give evidence — forget that part, you know, and they end up getting in arguments that end up hurting the cause more than helping it. When we’re gentle and respectful, people are willing to listen.

Sciascia: Excellent. That’s actually all I had for you today. I always like to give open floor to everyone that we interview. Is there anything that I didn’t touch on that you wanted to talk about, anything you wanted to tell our audience here at The Western Journal? You have the floor.

Strobel: Well, I appreciate that. You know, the latest book I did has already come out. It’s “The Case for Miracles.” And you know, even though I believe it was a miracle — that is, the resurrection of Jesus — that brought me to faith, because I believe the historical evidence for it, I began to wonder: “Is God still in the miracle business? Is it still credible to believe God is supernaturally intervening in lives today?”

And I spent two years investigating contemporary miracles and conclude, “Yes, God is still in the business of doing miracles.” They happen a lot more frequently than we think. And third — and this is more powerful — some of them are a lot better documented than skeptics supposed. And I talk a lot about scientific studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals about investigations into supernatural miracles, and there’s a new trend toward these publications doing those kind of investigations.

And I think it’s just pointing to, you know, as I interviewed one scholar, who said, “It shows something is going on.”

Sciascia: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time today.

Strobel: My pleasure.

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