Lee Strobel: Casing for the Faith
- Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Lee Strobel is on a mission—and it isn’t just to reach lost souls. He’s out to change the way evangelicals approach apologetics.
The former atheist and author of the best-selling Case for Christ series, which has sold more than 8.5 million units, has his finger on the pulse of contemporary Christian culture. And one of the things he’s seeing is a shift in the way Christians share their faith in a hostile environment.
“We’ve really seen a vehement attack against the historic beliefs of the church and against Jesus,” he said, during a recent telephone interview.
He’s referring to the growing trend, which is characterized by books like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris, which claim to debunk all religious faith and point to a scientific rationale for everything from creation and evolution to global warming.
Strobel understands the rationale—as well as all the arguments behind the denial. An award-winning investigative reporter, Strobel worked his way up to legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. He didn’t find faith until 1981, after a two-year investigation of Jesus’ claims. But after a few more newspaper stints, he wanted to reach out to others of the same ilk. So he joined the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, and he became a teaching pastor. Later, he held a similar position at Saddleback Valley Community Church, before quitting to write fulltime.
Now, the atheist-turned-apologist is responding to the onslaught of attacks on Christianity.
“It’s like it’s open season on Jesus,” he said. “In response, average Christians are going to their pastors and saying, ‘What’s up? I don’t know what to tell my friend.’ So it’s percolating up from the pews to the pulpits, and pastors are really seeing a need to talk more about apologetics and do what 1 Peter 3:15 says, to give an answer for the hope that we have and communicate what we believe.”
One of the ways that Strobel hopes Christians will communicate their beliefs to others is by using his new DVD, The Case for Faith: The Film, which distills the teaching from his book into a 79-minute visual format. Based on his Gold-Medallion winning book, he investigates two of the most common objections to the Christian faith, by believers and skeptics: Why is Jesus the only way to God? And how could a loving God exist if there is evil and suffering in the world?
These are the questions Strobel once asked, as an atheist—and according to him, they are now more valid than ever. To tackle them, he interviews a wide variety of experts and authors, including Joni Eareckson Tada, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Greg Koukl and Rick Warren.
The film, which he hopes will reach those who “don’t want to wade through 100,000 words,” is targeted for a dual audience of believers and non-believers.
“It’s for Christians who want to understand why they believe what they believe, people who have gaps in their knowledge and grasp the underpinnings of why we can have confidence in Jesus and the New Testament,” he said. “We hope they’ll all get excited and bring their friends who are spiritually confused or curious. Maybe nominal Christians, maybe people of other faiths. The books have generally been marketed in six packs that Christians buy, keeping one for themselves and giving away the others.”
It’s not infrequent, he said, that readers tell him, “This has helped me personally but I can think of at least a dozen people that I think it would help.”
Part of the issue today, he stressed, is the shift in American evangelicalism.
“It’s a dawning of a new age of Christian apologetics, which is in response to the militant atheists which have been attacking faith in general and Christianity in particular,” he said. “And I think churches are responding to this in a very positive way.
“Whereas before, it was ‘Sit down and let me tell you why the resurrection is true,’ now, it’s more dialogue,” he continued. “It’s ‘Let’s talk about this.’ [With the video] you can go through a curriculum and invite your friend in. We’re finding that these little groups who are inviting non-Christians to join them is an enormous trend.”
One of the movements stoking this trend, he said, is the Alpha Course. Founded in London by Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the late ’80s, the ten-week “dinner party” small group format has swept the world, crossing every denomination and language. At present, more than 11 million people have attended an Alpha Course.
“People get together and they talk about apologetics,” Strobel said. “It’s an incredibly powerful vehicle. People want to talk, give their opinions. They want to have community. Similar to Alpha are the creations of seeker small groups of Christians and non-believers. We’re seeing enormous numbers of people coming to faith. Willlow Creek began tracking this a few years ago. Over 80 percent who join these groups and stay come to Christ.”
Strobel is quick to point out that it isn’t just the Alpha Course, of course—even with those kinds of numbers. “Alpha is the leader, in that it’s penetrating mainline churches and everywhere. But it’s part of a broader initiative. This is the basis of twenty-first century apologetics. You create a safe place to talk about dangerous questions … No question is off limits. It’s, ‘Let’s go through this experience together, let’s love each other. ‘ It’s phenomenal. I just see this as an incredibly response to the cynicism of these atheistic attacks.”
One of the most exciting things to happen out of this trend, Strobel said, is the motivation for Christians to explore their own faith and reach out more to people. He sees very long-term implications for this movement—including a countertrend to the militant atheists.
“We’re going to see a Golden Era of Christian apologetics emerge where people are asking real questions, but in a relational setting,” he said. “And part of that community experience is showing you care.”
For more information about Lee Strobel, his books and his latest DVD, The Case for Faith: The Film, visit www.LeeStrobel.com.
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