The Case for Christ

The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel, Zondervan, 1998.

Veteran criminal reporter Lee Strobel has provided the church with a powerful case for the claims of Christ in this fascinating and hard-hitting book.

Strobel, previously an atheist, finally committed himself to Jesus after an exhaustive examination of the evidence which persuaded him of the truth of the New Testament. He conducts the reader on a similar tour in this book.

With a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale law School, the author covered criminal trials with a trained legal mind for the Chicago Tribune. He learned how to assess evidence to determine the truth in hard cases. He applies those skills to a rigorous investigation of the claims of Jesus to be the long-awaited Savior of the world. His method is at once simple and comprehensive: Interviews with thirteen prominent scholars focus on thirteen different types of evidence used by trial lawyers in the courtroom to prove innocence or guilt.

The book divides into three parts: Examining the Record; Analyzing Jesus; Researching the Resurrection.

Strobel begins with "The Eyewitness Evidence: Can the Biographies of Jesus be Trusted?" He ruthlessly assesses the reliability of the Gospel accounts, the letters of Paul, and the testimony of the other Apostles in the New Testament. He concludes with a resounding "Yes" – we can believe the reports of these eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Next he asks a more fundamental question: Were Jesus’ Biographies Reliably Preserved for Us? Modern textual criticism demonstrates that we have an overwhelming number of trustworthy manuscript evidence for the New Testament from very early times. We can be 99.9 % sure that we are reading what the authors wrote.

But they were biased? Is there no "corroborating" evidence from non-Christian sources outside the New Testament? Yes, there is ample testimony from Jewish and Roman sources to support the New Testament accounts of Christ.

How can we be sure that what the New Testament says happened really did? Can we find any objective signs that the authors wrote careful history, or were they just sharing their personal faith? The chapter on "scientific" evidence calls the work of archaeologists to the witness stand. The result: We discover that external evidence from stones and documents not only does not call into question what we read in the Bible, but always confirms the biblical accounts.

Strobel then proceeds to analyze Jesus himself.

Was he really convinced that he was the Son of God, or did the early Christians come up with this theory later? From his actions - such as forgiving sins and accepting worship – and from his explicit statements, we can see that Jesus considered himself to be the divine savior.

Yes, but maybe he was crazy! Not according in the opinion of psychologist Gary Collins. Jesus had none of the marks of mental imbalance, and all the traits of a perfectly sane man.

Well, then, did he ACT like God? Did he "fulfill the attributes of God"? He performed mighty miracles. He demonstrated supernatural knowledge, promised to be with his disciples everywhere they went, was described as "with God" before the foundation of the world, and is said to be "the same yesterday and today and forever."

Finally, "Did Jesus – and Jesus Alone –Match the Identity of the Messiah?" A careful look at the Old Testament prophecies considered messianic in Jesus’ day proves that he fulfilled so many of them that no one could say it was coincidental.

All Christians acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus as the foundation of their faith in him. Strobel concludes his book with four chapters which show "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Jesus actually died; that the body was missing form his tomb; that he appeared to many people at many times over a period of more than a month; and that an impressive array of "circumstantial evidence" makes his resurrection credible.

All along the way, Strobel grills his "witnesses" with hard question. He had done his homework before each interview, and was armed with quotations from those who reject the claims of the New Testament. Indeed, as someone who taught New Testament for several years, I was impressed with this reporter’s wide knowledge of the field. The most difficult challenges to the apostolic records were met with courteous but convincing rebuttals from his experts as well as from Strobel’s own reading.

One major value of this book, then, is the hard-nosed, rigorous treatment it gives to Christian assertions about Jesus. Strobel knows the mind of the unbeliever and he feels the weight of the objections thoughtful people have brought against the idea that Jesus is the divine savior.

In the end, he concludes that the evidence for the claims of Christ is simply overpowering – enough, in fact, to convince anyone with an open mind.

I would highly recommend The Case for Christ to anyone seeking a firmer basis for faith in him as well as for any serious seeker for the truth. Educated Chinese will find it most useful in answering common questions about the reliability of the New Testament accounts of Christ.

With the assistance of non-Christian high school students from Beijing, I checked portions of the Chinese edition. The translation seems to be mostly very accurate, faithful to the original but sufficiently idiomatic to be accessible to Chinese readers. After helping me evaluate the book, my friend said, "This is interesting. May I take it home and read it?" He did say that some Bible background would be helpful in getting the most out of the book, though I thought that the author had explained almost every term.

Let’s briefly compare Strobel’s outstanding book with other apologetic works available in both English and Chinese:

Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict, is much longer and covers much more territory. Strobel has taken aim on one target – the claim that Jesus is the Son of God – and has hit a bull’s eye. His reportorial style makes for much easier reading than does McDowell’s encyclopedic treatment. Like McDowell’s book and John Stott’s now-classic Basic Christianity, The Case for Christ relies on the presentation of objective evidence to establish a case.

I’m Glad You Asked, by Ken Boa and Larry Moody (Wende Hao in Chinese) seeks to lead Christians step-by-step to effective responses to questions from non-believers. It deals with more basic questions, such as the problem of evil.

Finally, I prefer Carl Henry’s massive God, Revelation, & Authority, Volumes 1-4 (both in the full edition and the abridgment) to all other modern apologetic works. For those with the time and background to appreciate his argument, Henry first addresses the fundamental presuppositions of unbelievers, then marshals the evidence for the truth of the Bible. He answers all the questions which I have heard Chinese intellectuals raise.

Both for Christians needing more information and argumentation and for non-believers eager to know the truth but bothered by tough questions, however, The Case for Christ would be a good book with which to begin.