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Strobel’s The Case for Christ: Inserting Conclusions into the Questions

A reader of Irregular Times recommended I read The Case For Christ by Christian apologist Lee Strobel. The book is so convincing, this reader informed me, that her rational mind could no longer deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, and was compelled by the logic and the evidence presented in the book to accept Jesus as her lord and savior.

I’ve agreed to read the book, but let’s just say I’ve been underwhelmed so far. A summary of my two previous posts on the book’s introduction:

1. Strobel criticizes the appeals to authority used by skeptics of Christ’s divinity. You shouldn’t live your life just trusting what those pointy-headed university professors tell you! But flip the page, and Strobel proudly unveils his strategy to convince that Jesus Christ is the son of God: an appeal to his own stable of academic authorities. Strobel contradicts himself.

2. Strobel suggests that readers should accept belief in Jesus Christ as a supernatural lord and savior by imagining that they are jurors in a trial. If he wins a hypothetical “court case” establishing Jesus’ divinity by telling a story that “fits the facts most snugly,” then readers should convert to Christianity. But Strobel doesn’t explain why a trial is the best way to uncover truth. On top of that, Strobel installs himself as both the “prosecution” that presents the case and the “judge” who rules on the standards for trying the case, guaranteeing a biased “trial.” And where’s the “defense,” the side presenting an opposing case? It is not allowed any independent presence, only quoted selectively by the “prosecution” for the purpose of bolstering the “prosecution’s” case. That’s not how trials are supposed to work. If this is a trial, it’s a mistrial.

In the last paragraphs of his introduction, Lee Strobel moves on from the type of argumentation he wants to make (the prosecution-only jury trial) and sets out the questions he aims to answer:

If Jesus is to be believed — and I realize that may be a big if for you at this point — then nothing is more important than how you respond to him. But who was he really? Who did he claim to be? And is there any credible evidence to back up his assertions?

These questions assume Strobel’s desired answer, because in order for them to make sense, the Bible must contain Jesus making statements, Jesus as a person who was, Jesus as a person who claimed to be something, Jesus as making assertions. But the Bible is not a book in which Jesus makes statements, in which Jesus exists, in which Jesus makes claims, and in which Jesus makes assertions. Nobody, not even a Christian apologist, suggests that if Jesus existed he wrote the Bible. The New Testament of the Bible is a set of stories other people tell about a character named Jesus. The character is supposed to have said things. The character is supposed to have done things. The character is supposed to have existed.

Before a person can possibly answer Strobel’s questions, they must first ask whether there was actually a person named Jesus. It is possible that the answer is “No.” But even if the answer to that first question is “Yes,” the next question is whether there is any proof that the possibly existing person Jesus actually said and did the things that the Biblical character Jesus said and did. That’s a high bar to jump over. Even with newspapers and video records to check against people can’t keep track of what Dan Quayle and Al Gore actually did or didn’t say a bit more than a decade ago. The writers of the New Testament waited much longer than that to begin telling their stories, and they had no video cameras or newspapers.

In introducing his book, Lee Strobel blithely assumes that Jesus Christ actually existed and that there is an accurate record of his remarks when asking the framing questions of his book. Strobel goes on to question those assumptions later, but only after he’s made some leaps on the basis of those assumptions. The use of circular logic suggests either that Lee Strobel is not a straight thinker, or that Lee Strobel is not being straight with readers.

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