on January 11, 2004
Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Christ, is proclaimed as a journalistic investigation into the truth about Christ. While Mr. Stobel does attempt to follow journalistic practice, it's in the vein of hard-hitting journalist like Barbara Walters. When he feels an expert hasn't fully answered a question he leaves off saying he didn't want to play "stump the scholar." While he often alludes to works by skeptics, he never interviewed any in his book. All the experts he interviewed have degrees in divinity or are professed evangelical Christians. In addition, while he mentions areas in Jewish or Islamic doctrine that refute the Christ claim, no experts from theses faiths are asked why their faith traditions refute the Christian claim.
Over all The Case for Christ provides some interesting insights, but the book is definitely written by a devote believer that set out to prove his beliefs. It is very much like a panel of beef ranchers explaining that there is no harm eating beef with every meal.
If you are looking for a novel that bolsters the Christ claim look no further. On the other hand if you are looking for a balanced examination you need to look elsewhere.
on August 8, 2003
I suppose that the target audience is they who are already committed believers. Given it's very poor reasoning, circular logical, and simplistic analysis I don't think this will convince one serious skeptic. When I was a born-again fundamentalist I think this book may have given me some comfort from skeptical inquiry. I am an apostate, a living example of de-conversion. For those Christians who don't think it's possible, it definitely is and it does happen. And lest you think otherwise, I was indeed a genuine Christian, having had strong faith, a born again experience, and a sincere love for God. There were always things about the faith that bothered me but I dismissed them because I knew that I FELT God in my life.
Then I educated myself. I learned about the sciences, history, the history of religion. Then I re-evaluated the claims of Christianity. A long, long story made short: it doesn't hold up to the scrutiny of knowledge, reason, and logic. I studied the Bible front to back and sought to make sense of it in light of what I knew of the world and the history of the universe. I studied it for internal consistency, for historical reliability, and for conformance to what we know empirically and objectively from the sciences. I was surprised at how easily and quickly the Bible failed on all three grounds, and further surprised at the gratuitous violence committed in the book in the name of God. I couldn't believe I had never seen this before. How do Christians justify this? How can they know God is good if he commands and sanctions such evil behavior? The answer I got was basically God is God; he is good because he says he is, he can do whatever he pleases and still be good. And I realized how illogical, unreasonable and intellectually bankrupt the Christian faith is. Most of its arguments are circular and are cop-outs.
The biographies of Jesus do not stand up to scrutiny, despite what Craig Blomberg and Lee Strobel want you to believe. The only four biographies that we have are clearly not eyewitness accounts; that much is clear from a careful reading of them. They were written from oral tradition that was handed down from eyewitnesses for decades before being written between c. 65 CE and 100 CE. They often contradict one another, contradicting one another in major events such as chronology and place and in the details of Jesus' life. When the synoptics agree, they often agree word for word, demonstrating copying not independence. Textual analysis has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that Mark was written first and both Matthew and Luke copied from Mark for their narrative. The ascribed authorship is only a second century tradition, not supported by the documents internally or analytically. Q is dismissed as a hypothesis only in this book, without revealing how well reasoned and supported it is. That Matthew and Luke have produced two sets of teachings of Jesus, both of which are presented in nearly the same order and in many cases using the exact same wording even though they are both translating into Greek the original Aramaic sayings is very convincing evidence for Q's one-time existence. Many evangelicals have even admitted the strong case for Q. One of the simplest tests of historicity is independent, internally and externally consistent biographies of an individual. The gospels fail on all counts. They also have not been reliably preserved for us, prior to the fourth century anyway. They were modified, redacted, changed multiple times. The additions to the resurrection account in both Mark and John attest to this. It's also present at the end of Matthew, which ends with a Trinitarian baptism despite the consistent practice of baptizing in Jesus' name only throughout Acts. It is NOT possible to be an intelligent, informed person and believe the gospels are eyewitness accounts written by the authors claimed.
The chapter entitled "Scientific Evidence": are we to take this seriously? There is precious little in the gospels that can be corroborated scientifically, in the face of spectacular miracles, the dead rising, people levitating and appearing out of thin air, and flying angels. Archaeological evidence does not corroborate the gospels. The fact that Jesus existed, preached in Galilee, and was crucified in Jerusalem are not up for serious debate. Archeology only demonstrates that the environment that these things occurred in was fairly accurately portrayed: it says nothing about the multiple supernatural claims within the book itself.
The chapter on psychological evidence was really amusing: the simplistic lord, liar, lunatic approach. Of course this is a false dichotomy since there are multiple options that exist besides these three. No answer is given to the clear evidence stretching from the first gospel of Mark to the last, John that the life of Jesus, his claims, and his divine status become greatly embellished over time. The divine claims did not come from Jesus, as Mark and Q demonstrate; they evolved after his death amongst his followers. The circumstantial evidence of Jesus' resurrection only proves that there was a belief that Jesus rose from the dead, not that he actually did. We need multiply attested, consistent, non-contradictory historical documents to demonstrate this. The four gospels are so inconsistent in their resurrection and appearance accounts that any attempt to reconcile them is doomed to failure.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 talks about a distinctly spiritual resurrection. The gospel of Mark tells no appearance stories, Matthew a very brief one, Luke and John more elaborate ones. What we have here is a growing myth that is getting more fantastic with the passage of time. Paul also speaks about an appearance to Peter, the twelve, 500 brethren, and all the apostles. That's a lot of people, yet the only eyewitness we have of this is Paul himself, who claims that his was a vision more than a physical appearance. Doesn't this sound fishy to you?
This book is very poor argumentation.
on June 28, 2003
In his effort to shore up the crumbling Christian edifice, Strobel pulls out the same old tired "references" to Jesus from ancient times, i.e., Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, which have all been either debunked as forgeries or shown to have no value at all in establishing a "historical" Jesus. Josephus is clearly a forgery, as has been shown by numerous authorities over the centuries.
Strobel then brings out modern authorities, who merely wave their hands and state definitely, "Jesus existed and was God." Now, if the existence of Jesus was not disputed, Strobel would not need to write such a book. Fortunately, Earl Doherty has taken it upon himself to refute Strobel's book. Doherty's other book, "Jesus Puzzle," shows that Jesus is a fictional character created from older concepts. The same is established quite thoroughly in "The Christ Conspiracy." Also included in this group of truth-telling books is "Jesus Mysteries." All of these books are highly recommended. It's high time for the world to wake up to the reality that Jesus Christ is a mythical character, little different from Zeus, Ganesha, Thor and all the other gods in mythology. In fact, it is evident that Jesus IS all the other gods in authority, rolled into one.
If you want to face reality, harsh though it may be, or refreshing as it was for me, forget these "historical" Jesus books, which have failed after almost 2,000 years to prove anything. Read the books above that demonstrate Jesus Christ to be a myth instead. The world will be a lot better off when everyone realizes it. What a beautiful world it could be.
on May 5, 2003
Strobel's "A Case For Christ" might be a nice affirmation of faith for Christians, but I highly doubt it's going to convince any skeptics. Honestly, I'm rather surprised its so popular among Christians.
My biggest complaint is that Strobel's reporting is one-sided in several aspects. For one, all the scholars he interviews are all conservative, evangelical Chrisitans. Not once did he interview a person of who might have been more liberal... much less interview a non-Christian scholar on Christian or Biblical studies (and there are many).
Furthermore, never *once* did Strobel look to find rebuttals or other perspectives on the statements and evidence that these scholars gave him. Many of the information he received was controversial or from a very narrow viewpoint. This supposedly "excellent researcher" made no effortto seek a response to this evidence (even if he ultimately sought a rebuttal to said response).
No liberal Christians, no Jews, no Muslims, no secular scholars were ever consulted either for opinion, viewpoint or rebuttal. Very shallow "reporting and research."
Lastly, I was suprised how easier Strobel was convinced (makes you doubt how much of a skeptic he really was). Much of the evidence presented by the scholars is subjective or circumstantial, yet Strobel takes it as gospel (excuse the pun). It makes me wonder that if he'd investigated any other religion he might have turned up as a die-hard Hindu.
Strobel is a good writer, and he addresses issues that are important to Christians, but this book in no way deserves the publicity or five-star reviews it has received.
on February 24, 2003
The questions surrounding who Jesus was are ones that hold a great deal of interest for me. They are more interesting still in light of the fact that the Christian faith is beginning to lose steam, at least in a conservative and traditional sense. I came to this book wanting to hear that someone could make a good apology for an interpretation of the literal Jesus. However, as I say in the title, I did not agree with that when I started the book, thus I don't believe it. If you have done little research in the field, or are already a Christian this book will probably help you feel comfortable in your beliefs, if you are not, it will not change your mind. It suffers from one major flaw, and really only has one serious argument. The major flaw is that Lee Strobel attempts to establish the evidence for Jesus as though he were in a court room trying to prove his case-hence the title. While laudable in his goals, he has the serious shortcoming of arguing against nobody. He interviews many different 'witnesses' and has them explain why they believe in the Bible, but the skeptical questions he puts forth are of his own devising, even though he is a Christian, this seems a little biased. A truly balanced case would have interviewed 'expert witnesses' on both sides of the debate. Without doing that it is very easy to appear as though you've won the case. I suppose that Mr. Strobel assumes you'll go on to do your own research, but overall he sets up arguments that are easily defeated when you talk to a well informed critic on the other side of the spectrum. If he wanted to 'win' his case it would have been far more powerful to show that it held water even against the most skeptical claims, which he isn't in a position to give. Beyond that he really only has one argument and that is that the Gospels were written down accurately and they mean literally exactly what they say, if he convinces you of this, you can believe all the other claims, but if that one falls, he doesn't have anything. Ultimately, I don't really think he has anything, but some may find it interesting.
on April 26, 2002
The author presents himself as an objective journalist, but his interviews are very one-sided and the arguments are not always convincing. Take for example, the chapter (2) on testing the eyewitness evidence. The author presents eight tests to prove that the gospel writers were accurate in their records. Test five, the bias test, asks if the gospel writers had any motivation to skew their writing (either to exaggerate or lie). The not so convincing answer is that they had nothing to gain (financially or otherwise) and everything to lose (they would be persecuted and ostracized).
I found myself, as I read these arguments, wanting to ask my own questions of the expert that the author was interviewing. For example, if the gospel writers were followers of Christ and were going to be persecuted anyway, why not bias the work and make even more exhorbitant claims about Jesus? Of couse, this question was not answered because the author never really challenged the experts he was interviewing. You would think that a good journalist would ask the "other side" what their response was to an argument?
If the author cannot prove the point that the gospels (which he didn't for me since he did not really challenge his experts) are verifiable truth then most of the other arguments he makes throughout the rest book are based on a shaky foundation. Although, I admit that some of the arguments are pretty good (much better than the one for the bias test).
on April 1, 2002
This book covers a lot of the same ground as Josh McDowell's "More Than A Carpenter," and for my money McDowell does it a lot more efficiently. Strobel seems to be trying to present his interviews with the Christian experts as if both he and the interviewee were characters in a novel, so the book is filled with utterly useless (no, worse: distracting) references to when Strobel paused to take a sip of his iced tea and so on. That said, even a fairly skeptical person will probably finish this book with a feeling that it's at least a possibility that some of the major events of New Testament did happen, which is a pretty big step since I'm thinking most skeptical types would start the book with a pretty strong opposite opinion.
For my part I'm more convinced than ever that books like this (including McDowell's) are a waste of time. All the sides have experts who are completely convinced, and convincing, that their evidence is accurate and that it utterly destroys the beliefs of their opponent(s). If the evidence is as overwhelming as Strobel makes it out to be, it is inconceivable that there would be any knowledgeable scholars of the first century who are not Christians, but obviously this is not true. If Strobel had interviewed even one non-Christian expert on the period I might have had a very different review for this book, but as it is I can't help but dismiss all of his powerful case as biased, since the tower of evidence -- supported at many levels by only a slim girder -- is not ever subjected to serious counter-argument.
on October 9, 2001
Since Strobel claims to be writing from a balanced, journalistic perspective, I was surprised and very disappointed that he interviews only Christian apologists and conservative Biblical scholars -- and not a *single* scholar with conclusions that vary from those of Evangelical Christians (he is now a pastor at an Evangelical mega-church). For example, he interviews an avowed enemy of the Jesus Seminar, Greg Boyd, without interviewing a single member of the Seminar. He presents the Seminar's position and findings only through someone who presupposes their innacuracy. How balanced is that?
He also spends some time rebutting arguments that skeptics or "liberal" Bible scholars don't even try to make -- such as, Jesus was clinically crazy. He interviews a psychiatrist in order to prove that Jesus was not mentally disturbed. Now tell me, how could a man from the 20th century, based on copies of documents 2,000 years old written by men who had no training in psychiatry and only limited (or no) direct experience with the events of which they are writing, diagnose the mental status of one first-century Jew? This is just silly.
Presenting one side of the issue is not balanced journalistic reporting. This book is a thorough presentation of contemporary conservative Christian scholarship and apologetics, and I do give him credit for his extensive research in this area -- thus the two stars. But his "evidence" and arguments are totally one-sided. Obviously, the book is aimed at Christians with little knowledge of other scholarship who already believe in what Strobel is arguing and aren't going to be too critical (or even notice) the fallacies contained within. If you're looking for balanced journalistic reporting on the subject, move on.
on October 3, 2001
First, I'll get it out in the open that I am a Christian, so please don't take my negative review as some sort of anti-Christian diatribe. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a former atheist myself, I consider apologetics something of a hobby. It reaffirms my faith, and also prepares me to witness effectively. So I *wanted* to like Mr. Strobel's book, but couldn't.
There were other reviews that mentioned Mr. Strobel's poor journalism, insofar as he presents a one-sided view of Christianity and never interviews members of the Jesus Seminar (or any other skeptics, save the firmly converted Louis Lapides), which is a true observation. In defense of Strobel, his book is written from the perspective of an atheist (albeit a converted one), so his questions come from within. He is recounting his own journey to Christianity, answering his own doubts, so his chosen path here is decidedly personal, and therefore not subject to formulaic rules of "good" journalism. Perhaps Strobel's mistake was his repeated and overt brandishing of his journalistic experience, which leads the reader to believe that this book will be an example of unbiased reporting (when have you ever known *any* journalist to be unbiased?), which it clearly is not.
Strobel has certainly done his homework in his investigation, having crisscrossed the nation in an effort to prove his point. I cannot find fault in his effort and applaud his work. He presents his points in an ordered fashion, not unlike a prosecutor building a case, which was obviously his intention. He succeeds admirably here.
But this book chokes on Strobel's amateurish prose. A skilled editor could have done wonders for this book, which has so much extraneous illustration that it gives the reader a headache. Here is but one arbitrarily chosen example: "Words gush from him like water from a ruptured water pipe." p112.
Strobel also tries to paint his interviews like a screenplay: ""Really?" I said, shifting in my chair, which was perpendicular to his, in order to face him more directly." p157. It's incredibly obnoxious reading. One cannot help but wonder how his handwritten notes or tape recordings of the interviews were so detailed as to include the subject's position in his chair. And even if they were this detailed, who honestly cares?
This book could have been a real winner, but the writing itself provides the main obstacle to its success.
on September 4, 2001
Although subtitled "A Journalist's Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus", the author, who is an Evangelical Christian, presents only "evidence" which supports his own biases. All of those interviewed by the author in search of "evidence" are Evangelical apologists such as Craig Blomberg, Bruce Metzger, Gary Collins, Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland who have a very narrow, literalist interpretation of the Bible. Others, outside this realm, are not interviewed, but receive negative criticism by those interviewed. Much of what is presented is highly speculative, and would not be supported by more traditional scholarship. For example, Craig Blomberg claims, with little question, that Matthew was an eyewitness to Jesus but sort of checked with Mark before writing his gospel. You're not going to find many historians who agree with this interpretation. An interview with Donald Carson, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, concerning the issue of why Jesus or Paul was not critical of slavery is a real insult to the memory of those who may have lived under such oppression. This book would be of little interest, except in a critical sense, to outside the framework of Evangelical Christianity. The book is, however, an easy read, and for this I give it 2 stars.