Friday, March 11, 2005

The Case for Christ – Book Review

I am an agnostic. I honestly don’t know if God exists or not. To me, the idea that there is an all-knowing and all-powerful being which has always been there and has created the universe and everything in it is incredibly improbable. But the idea that the Universe “just happened” and that life “just happened” and that humanity also “just happened” is also equally improbable to me.

Religion was never a part of my family’s life while I was growing up. None of my friends were overtly religious. The only time I was ever in church was for weddings or funerals. And I was reasonably content with that. But a few months ago, my 12 year old son told me that he wanted to start attending church because some of his friends were telling him that he was going to go to Hell if he didn’t. So we picked the closest one to us, an Evangelical church, and just showed up one Sunday. Since then, we’ve been back infrequently.

I’ve decided to take this opportunity to really learn about religion because I want to help my son, if he chooses to believe (or not), to do so with a firm understanding of the issues. So, in addition to infrequently attending church, I’ve begun to do some web research. I’ve participated in some online discussions. I've subscribed to the weekly essays from Bishop John Shelby Spong. And I’ve begun to read some books on the subject. The first book I purchased was Does God Exist, but I was quickly bogged down in it as I have no grounding in religion. You need to have an understanding of the basic Christian teachings to be able to decipher the debate in this book. So I put that one aside for now and looked for something a little more basic. That’s when I found The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

I purchased this particular book because of what was written on the jacket. For example; “Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God?” and “Retracing his own spiritual journey from atheism to faith…” and “Strobel challenges them (a dozen experts he visited) with questions like …Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event?” and “It’s a riveting quest for the truth about history’s most compelling figure” etc. I hoped this book would give me a basic understanding of some of the teachings of Christianity. I also hoped this book would let me peer into the mind of the author a bit, and see what kinds of questions he internally wrestled with in his “…journey from atheism to faith”. The book succeeds on the first count, but fails on the second.

As green as I am about Christian teachings, almost anything discussed would be a revelation (pardon the pun) to me. So this book certainly taught me many things about Christianity. There is a lengthy, multi-part discussion on the Crucifixion and Resurrection. There are chapters discussing corroborating evidence for the existence of Jesus (mostly the writings of non-Christian followers), a discussion of how reliable the Gospels are and a comparison of the Bible with Archeology. There’s even a section on “The Rebuttal Evidence”. All well and good. But how intellectually honest is this? Not very, I’m afraid. I don’t mean that Strobel’s falsified information or tried to hide inconvenient facts from the reader. With my cursory knowledge (at this point) of Christianity, he would have had little trouble in fooling me. But if you look at how the book is constructed, you’ll note that every person he interviews (and he interviews 12 of them, the number is a coincidence, I’m sure) strongly believes in Jesus and the Scriptures. Even the person he interviewed for the “The Rebuttal Evidence” is a believer. And he describes all of his interviewees as “honest” and “intellectually forthright” and “to the point” and “having a scholarly demeanor”, etc. They all have several degrees from various universities. He has universally high praise for all of them. He agrees with everything they say. Contrast this with his description of the Jesus Seminar, the principle foil of “The Rebuttal Evidence” chapter. He describes them as “…a self-selected group that represents a miniscule percentage of New Testament scholars…”. He subtitles the chapter where he begins to discuss the Jesus Seminar with his chosen interviewee as “Writings from the Radical Fringe”. And he agrees with every point that is made against them. A real rebuttal section would have included an interview (or two) with someone on the other side of the fence, just for honesty’s sake. But Strobel doesn’t do this and, IMHO, it cheapens the value of this book.

No where in the book does Strobel really look like he’s wrestling with his conscience on this issue. It appears that his mind is made up and his only interest is in making “The Case for Christ”. This is fine, but I had hoped for a bit more balance.

If you’re a novice like me, you’ll find much to learn from this book. And you will be introduced to many figures in the Christian debate (albeit only on one side). But if you’re looking for a balanced view of the debate, you’ll need to go elsewhere.

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