Lee Strobel’s name was made within church circles by his tenacious examination of the evidence behind Christian claims about Jesus. Published back in 1998, with millions of copies now sold worldwide, “The Case for Christ” has been on my bookshelf for years – perhaps even a decade? – and I’ve only previously succeeded in reading about 80 of its 261 pages. However, I found myself in the position of recommending it to a friend who had been investigating Christian things, and having recovered an enthusiasm for reading in general, and mentally prepared for the prose of a former legal editor, I pulled the book once again from its dusty location.
It’s true that the style is a little difficult to come to terms with – I prefer the gentle prose of an English novelist. But the ‘bulldog-like’ approach has its merits, most particularly because I found myself confronted with many of the same objections my friend had broached. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 reminds us, ‘There is nothing new under the sun’, and even in the 14 years which have passed since Strobel was writing, the arguments against Christianity are still being raised – and dashed, in the face of the evidence.
Apologetically, then, I found the book compelling and affirming in my beliefs. Jesus is the unique Son of God, God Himself, who came to earth to pay the penalty for my sins in order that I might have a right relationship with God and worship Him into eternity. He truly died, and truly rose again, as historical events in history to which all Christians are called to look and in which all Christians find their hope. The best attempts of secular historians to reinterpret the evidence are poor in comparison to the inevitable conclusion that you must draw from the biblical authors’ accounts. What a joy to read!
And yet I found myself increasingly aware of the danger we can fall into as we turn to such a book. Apologetically, I found the book compelling and affirming in my beliefs. But the authority I must turn to for the sake of evangelism is the word of God itself. Peter advocated reasoned defence of Christianity alongside godly living (e.g. 1 Peter 3:15-16), but fundamentally reminded his readers that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). I find myself inescapably reminiscent of a religious fundamentalist as I declare unashamedly the centrality of a biblical message, but I can have no confidence in apologetics in transforming the lives of those who don’t believe in Jesus. My recommendation to my friend that he reads this book was fundamentally to demonstrate to him the historical credibility of the gospel accounts. But as Peter says, it is the Bible that God the Holy Spirit uses to bring about the salvation of Christians, as He draws them from death to life, and saving trust in our glorious Lord and God, Jesus Christ.