The Case for the Real Jesus - Lee Strobel, A- (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Case for the Real Jesus - Lee Strobel, A- (Book Review)

I like Lee Strobel's books for their apologetic weight. His writing is terse and to the point, he interviews very reputable scholars, and he asks the right questions. That being said, I wouldn't necessarily give his books to a skeptic, and I wouldn't necessarily read them cover to cover.

On the first count, someone who is already distrustful and sneering at Christianity probably won't possess the objectivity to benefit from Strobel's work, given that he is a believer, and no amount of journalistic distance can disguise that. In fact, Strobel doesn't make any attempt to hide his faith, since his conversion story from atheism to Christ figures prominently in each of his books.

With this given, someone who is antagonistic to Jesus might say, "His faith is never on the line here, we know how this book will end." And they may be right. This doesn't mean that Strobel's arguments and research are not sound, just that people who would rather not read him have an easy out. That's too bad, but unavoidable (everyone has their own set of biases).

Does Strobel shake with fear each time he starts a new project, wondering if this particular quest for knowledge will destroy his faith? I doubt it. I hope not. However, I do find myself wishing that Strobel would address this issue directly, since it's probably in the back of many readers' minds.

On the second count, I wouldn't necessarily read Strobel's books cover to cover because they aren't really narrative prose. Strobel frames his interviews in a quasi-narrative way, driving from interview to interview, but in reality there's not enough detail, not enough plot, not enough authorial personality included to make the books work sequentially. That's not necessarily a blessing or a curse. Strobel's various "cases" are just that--intellectually rigorous, carefully reasoned arguments that can be read in about any order, but probably not at the beach.

Given the above, I was happy when I received a review copy (the real deal this time, an "advance" edition with a warning that the final proofs may differ) of Lee Strobel's latest, The Case for the Real Jesus. And despite myself, I started reading it straight through, because the material he deals with is compelling.

If you've read Strobel before, you'll be familiar with his deliberately evidentialist approach to apologetics. This book is in the same vein, but takes aim at some of the more recent, "postmodern" issues with Christ, dealing with the likes of Dan Brown, James Cameron and Michael Baigent: Do creditable extra-biblical ancient documents reveal a different Jesus? Has the church tampered with the Bible to airbrush Jesus' image? Do new explanations refute the resurrection? Was Christianity a knock-off of pagan religions? Did Jesus twist Jewish prophecies rather than fulfilling them? Why can't postmodern people believe in any kind of Jesus they want?

I'm impressed with this book, and recommend it. Strobel's arguments are solid and convincing--and the credentials of the people he interviews are impressive. The Case for the Real Jesus will be most useful to Christians who want to stay ahead of the latest trends in heresy (grin) and perhaps give a copy to a smart friend who is open to learning about Christ, but has questions. If you're not familiar with Strobel, I highly recommend his earlier books as well, especially The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ, which are more timeless apologetic works.

Solid book, A-.

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Vinny said...

I doubt that Strobel has any reason to be concerned that he is going to find anything to undermine his faith. In "The Case for Christ," he only interviewed conservative Christian scholars. In "The Case for a Creator," he only talked to "scientists" that support intelligent design, most of them from the Discovery Institute. I don't think he is in much danger as long as his inquiry never leads him to any scholars or scientists who might present the evidence and arguments for the other side.

Ariel said...

Hey Vinny, you're making a similar point to what I'm saying above. I think it's a weakness of Strobel's approach.

To give Strobel his due, though, he doesn't pose an an expert who's equipped to answer the skeptics. Rather, he sticks to his forte, which is journalism. He takes the claims of the anti-Jesus scholars (from their books) to the pro-Jesus scholars to get the claims addressed.

You know what I'm saying? I don't think there's anything criminal about responding to written arguments. It would be cool if his book featured personal interviews with both sides of the debate, though.

Vinny said...

I am on the local library's waiting list for "The Case for the Real Jesus" so I have not read it yet, although the reviews I have seen suggest that it follows the same approach as "The Case for Christ" which I did read.

I do not think that Strobel does a very good job of presenting the skeptics' arguments or asking the questions that they would ask. Moreover, by repeatedly using the analogy of a court case, I think he creates the misleading impression that the reader is seeing the evidence on both sides of the question.

Ariel said...

Fair enough.

Some people (like you, perhaps) will benefit from reading the original atheistic books Strobel is drawing from, then assessing his work in light of the opposing authors. Or, to be even more thorough, reading some of the full-length books by the people he interviews.

E.g., read the DaVinci Code, then one of the numerous works that debunks it. Or, on another front, read Christopher Hitchens' Letter to a Christian Nation, then Douglas Wilson's Letter from a Christian Citizen.

(Hard to beat that example for one to one correspondence.)

Anonymous said...

Ariel - I think you meant Sam Harris as author of "Letter to a Christian Nation"

My take on Lee Strobel is that the remnant of journalism he has managed to bring to the question in "The Case for Christ" would only serve him on Fox news. What respectable reporter talks only to one side of an issue?

Ariel said...

Ariel - I think you meant Sam Harris as author of "Letter to a Christian Nation"

Indeed I did. Thanks for correcting that.

What respectable reporter talks only to one side of an issue?

Like I've said above, I think Strobel's book would be strengthened by a more documentary/journalistic approach to both sides of the conversation. It would mean lots more interviews, a different format, lengthy time spent developing his manuscript, and a longer book.

Having said that, I don't think there's anything ethically wrong with reading the published work of atheists and critiquing their arguments. Admittedly, there is no "live" give and take between interviewees and atheist authors--but neither do I feel like Strobel is caricaturing or portraying people unfairly.

Jay Rogers said...

I just got finished doing some edits to the complete and final version of The Real Jesus DVD.

I was happily surprised when I began production on this in 2005 that “The Real Jesus” has become an apologetics buzzword of sorts. Lee Strobel’s "The Case for the Real Jesus" and Luke Timothy Johnson’s "The Real Jesus" are two books I highly recommend.

I used Johnson’s book as a reference in the video and I just got Strobel’s book as I was finishing up this month. I was surprised to see that the format of Strobel’s “Six Challenges” and my “Seven Myths of the Higher Critics” were so similar.

The final version is now finished! Really! The total running time with all the extras is now 2 hours and 20 minutes -- up from the hour-long project I announced was almost finished earlier this year.

The DVD just needed a few cosmetic edits (nothing the average viewer would even notice) and we even added seven minutes of a "Bonus Feature" entitled: "Who is Jesus?"

It's the best feature of the DVD and adds a lot of appeal especially as an introduction when it will be show to small groups as a five to ten week seminar. The video is divided into ten parts for this reason.

The final version is available now!

Check out the YouTube clips at website.

Then you can order it if you like what you see. The final version has over an hour of additional materials, interviews, a bonus feature and is re-edited with Eric Holmberg as the host and narrator.

I've been doing a weekly radio show on Tuseday nights with Pastor Joe Dunn of Metro Praise Church in Chicago. It's a Skype-based web-cam/chat-room/radio-show with two pastors in Chicago and Indiana. A lot of diverse people show up in the chat room -- witches, atheists, nihilists, etc. -- and ask crazy questions.

I sent Joe Dunn an advance copy of The Real Jesus DVD. I was really pleased to hear his comments. He opened the show by holding it up to the web cam and saying, "I just got done watching the best video on Jesus that I've ever seen! This is the greatest thing ever! I've seen all kinds of stuff by Ankerburg and other guys like that and this is by far the best thing I've seen on the topic of The Real Jesus."

He loved the interviews with the experts, the graphics, the music, everything. He said he wished he had 100 to give away, and so on. He said he likes all the "charts" and was going to go back and study them on still mode. That, of course, speaks to me about what is needed in a future study guide, not just text, but the same visuals I used in the video.

This is a good review because I have all kind of ideas about how I want to continue. I have enough script material to do at least two more of these in the next few years. I was thinking that that there are at least 10,000 Joe Dunn's out there, pastors who are training young Christians in their churches how to stand up against postmodernist reinterpretations of Jesus and militant atheist attacks on the Bible. This video is the perfect training tool.

The big question is how to reach these pastors.

Obviously, we need to get about a dozen endorsement quotes from pastors and a few well-known church leaders on The Real Jesus -- then we need to advertise this to thousands of church leaders throughout the world.


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