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Strobel’s The Case for Christ: Inconsistent Appeals to Authority

A while back a reader here suggested Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, as a compelling book — the very reason why she, a self-described highly rational patent official, turned from skepticism to Christianity. I responded to this appeal by committing to read the book cover to cover, and that’s what I’m doing now.

Lee Strobel — a pastor and motivational Christian speaker who pulls out his credentials as a former journalist — presents his book as an appeal to the skeptical, empirical mind and tells us that he’ll be able to make the case that Jesus is the real and actual son of God who rose from the dead and all that. Strobel says he expects readers to encounter the book as skeptics and evaluate it in a skeptical manner, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. If Strobel wants to convince this skeptic of the reality of Jesus as deity-spawn, then he’ll have to present irrefutable logic, maintain consistent and high-quality standards, and stick to facts that are actually facts. Over the next few weeks I’ll respond to what I’ve encountered in the book.

Even at the beginning of The Case for Christ, things aren’t looking so good. Strobel’s kicks off with a sarcastic dismissal of appeals to authority:

For much of my life I was a skeptic. In fact, I considered myself and atheist…. As for Jesus, didn’t you know that he never claimed to be God? He was a revolutionary, a sage, an iconoclastic Jew — but God? No, that thought never occurred to hi,! I could point you to plenty of university professors who said so — and certainly they could be trusted, couldn’t they?

Oh, those evil university professors! Strobel’s advice here is good advice: don’t believe something is true just because university professors say it’s true. Don’t trust appeals to authority.

But then on the very next page Strobel tells you why his Case for Christ is going to be so tight:

That’s what this book is about. In effect, I’m going to retrace and expand upon the spiritual journey I took for nearly two years. I’ll take you along as I interview thirteen leading scholars and authorities who have impeccable academic credentials. I have crisscrossed the country — from Minnesota to Georgia, from Virginia to California — to elicit their expert opinions…

It’s an appeal to authority.

7 comments to Strobel’s The Case for Christ: Inconsistent Appeals to Authority

  • Jacob

    I will praying during this time that this books touches your life. There is nothing more important than this very topic.

  • Steve

    It will be interesting to hear your take on this as you go through it.

    I’m no expert, but aren’t there at least a few gospels in the new testament where Christ claims to be God or the son of God?

    • Jim

      Some people I’ve read before say yes, some say no.

      A prior question is, why should we take every piece of what’s written in the gospels of the New Testament as indications of empirical reality?

  • deep thinker

    Thanks for taking on this project, it was for me and opening to the tiniest chance…as previously discussed. In the first appeal to authority you quote, was he not describing his former self? If that is the case, then it isn’t really a contradiction is it? It’s a minor point. I didn’t go back and re-read that section.

    • Jim

      In the first passage, he’s criticizing himself for in the past trusting in the authority of anti-Jesus professors. In the second passage he appeals to the authority of pro-Jesus professors in order to impress his readers. I don’t see how that’s not a contradiction in standards. At the least it’s engaging in a rhetorical trick.

      You might call it minor. To me, it’s an indication that this is a person in search of a conclusion who is willing to fit his standards to meet that conclusion, or at least is not being intellectually careful. It’s a warning sign that what Lee Strobel says is so shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value, especially given the big claim his book makes.

      The “tiniest chance” argument is a variety of Pascal’s Wager, one that Strobel’s colleague at Saddleback, Rick Warren, has cited in the past. It suffers from a number of the same weaknesses, including the fact that if there’s the “tiniest chance” of the existence of any other of a set of other named deities (or any of an infinite set of as-yet unnamed deities), we’d better kneel down in obeisance to them, too.

      • deep thinker

        I wasn’t trying to borrow or steal the tiniest chance argument and I do not have a long history of Bible Study or theological considerations; it just is how it worked out for me. You are clearly more versed than I into who has brought which arguments, tricks or fair points to the pro/con christian apollogetics converstation.

        • Jim

          I wouldn’t suggest you were trying to steal anything; “Pascal’s Wager” is just a more familiar name for the argument. I don’t have a long history of courses in Bible study, either. This isn’t about attacking you; it’s about evaluating Lee Strobel’s “Case for Christ.”

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