Decades ago a skeptical journalist with an Ivy League law degree challenged Christianity with an in-depth investigation to see if its claims can hold up under scrutiny.
What resulted was the book The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, and a series of other “Case for…” works, including The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity.
Earlier this month, the DVD version of The Case for Faith hit bookstores across the nation.
Investigator and author Lee Strobel spoke to The Christian Post last week about his thoughts on why young Christians are losing faith and why Christians still can’t answer the age-old question of why there is so much suffering in the world if there is a loving God.
CP: The book version of Case for Faith came out in 2000. Back then, did you already have intentions of making a film version? If not, what changed your mind?
Strobel: When the book first came out I didn’t really think in terms of a DVD. I am primarily a writer of books and I enjoy that. But I come to realize that a lot of people prefer a visual medium.
My kids, for instance, who are both very smart kids – they love books but they also enjoy the emotional impact and visual impact of films. And that really prompted me to ask the question whether we should take The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator and create a visual experience through a film that can both deal with the intellectual questions but can also communicate at a more personal level then a book can do.
CP: Going into the investigation, did you already have your own set of answers to the two questions you were investigating (Why is Jesus the only way to salvation and Why is there suffering in the world if God is loving)? Or did you really not know?
Strobel: When I originally investigated these issues as an atheist, they were certainly major obstacles in my faith, as they were for Charles Templeton - who we sort of filmed the film around – former pulpit partner of Billy Graham who became an atheist. I think for a lot of people these questions are obstacles.
So when I originally did my investigation as an atheist these were major cognitive concerns for me. Of course when I made the film later and wrote the book later as a Christian what I tried to do was sort of retrace and expand upon my own original journey to faith and ask the kind of questions I had when I was a skeptic so that I could bring the reader and viewer along with me on that experience.
CP: Charles Templeton diagnosed his own loss of faith as stemming from his lack of theology. Do you think that this is the same reason that causes many young Christians today to lose their faith?
Strobel: I think there are often multiple reasons why a person turns away from God as Charles Templeton did. Just thinking personally - and I think I’m like a lot of people - a lot of it was because of my intellectual objections.
Especially these days when you have militant atheists writing books, attacking faith, attacking Christianity – it causes a lot of spiritually curious people to turn away from God because they have been convinced that it is irrational to believe in Jesus being the son of God.
But I think often, as in my case, there are underlying moral issues. I was living a very immoral life at the time and I did not want there to be a God. I did not want to be held accountable for my life. So I had a motive for not finding God, and I think that is true for a lot of people, frankly.
I don’t want to judge about what I don’t know about people’s lives, but from my perspective that was a factor in my life. And I bet it is a factor in a lot of lives.
So I think there are often multiple components, but I don’t want them to diminish the importance of the intellectual questions. I think especially these days, as I’ve said, it’s open season on Jesus and attacks on Christianity on the internet, films, and television, and newspapers and college classrooms and best-selling books.
This is a time when a lot of people are being convinced it doesn’t make sense to believe in God. So I think this is an important time for films likes these and books like these to present the other side and show that the evidence of science does point to a creator, history does point to Jesus being the son of God, and there are good answers to these tough questions on why there are pain and suffering in the world and why Christians claim that Jesus is the only way.
CP: The questions you set out to answer in the film are not new and many theologians and apologists have set out to address them, including C.S. Lewis. Why do you think that after so much time and so many books written on the subject, most people still don’t know the answers?
Strobel: Well, I think because the answers don’t come easy. It is very difficult to give a 15 second sound bite on why there is pain and suffering in this world and not have it come off as being flippant or surface level or superficial.
Now these questions require some time to answer. There are multiple reasons why there are pain and suffering in this world and why evil exists.
I think there are different strands of arguments and evidences that you have to consider. Ultimately, I think the Christian worldview does provide a good answer unlike other faiths, which I don’t think resolves these ultimate questions of pain and suffering in a reasonable way.
The other thing is I think a lot of people don’t pay attention to these questions in the film. For instance, the pain and suffering issue is not particularly pressing on them. Yeah, there have been books written about them for years, but all the sudden an individual gets cancer or their son dies or their daughter dies or something bad happens to them and now all of the sudden they are motivated to wrestle with the question of where is God in the midst of all this pain.
So I think sometimes people aren’t really in tune with this question until it becomes very personal to them. And then they look for help.
CP: You addressed two of the top questions that block people from accepting Christianity. What are some other popular questions that people have?
Strobel: Another one that is popular, among Christians especially, is the question of doubt. Can I still be a Christian if I have doubts? So in the bonus feature of this DVD we created a lot of material dealing with the issue of doubt and how Christians can face it and deal with it.
Christians can have doubts and they can have questions and the unhealthy way to deal with that is to keep them inside where they fester and grow and can undermine our faith. The healthy way to deal with it is to talk about it and be honest about it.
Sometimes we are reluctant to do that because we don’t want people to think we are not spiritual, but I think it is the best thing we can do.
Our faith, frankly, can emerge stronger having look doubt in the eye and dealt with it rather than shrinking back, afraid of doubt and putting it in a corner and growing up in a ball and letting doubt erode our faith over time.
CP: From covering interfaith conferences, what I’ve noticed is that faith leaders prefer to talk about commonalities between their religions rather than differences. But like the film noted, the big difference with Christianity is that it is the only religion where you can’t take the teacher or Jesus out and still have the same religion. Do you think it is best for Christians participating in interfaith gatherings and dialogue to focus on their different views of Jesus or focus on common teachings?
Strobel: I think it is important to have dialogue with people of different faiths. I have a good Muslim friend who comes over to my house. Good guy; reads the Qur’an in Arabic. He comes over to my house and we talk about faith and we talk about things we have in common, but I can’t shy away from the differences that we have. So I talk about why I’m not a Muslim and about the evidence that exists that show Christianity is true.
And you know what? We’re still friends and we don’t draw knives at each other, and we don’t yell and scream at each other. We can be friends and disagree. But I can’t shrink back from the uniqueness of Jesus. I have to disagree when the Qur’an says that Jesus is not the son of God and did not die on the cross.
And I disagree on historical terms. I believe the evidence is on our side. I think that one of the dangers of interacting with other faiths is that we focus so much on the commonality that we forget that there are huge differences. Every other faith in the world that I’ve ever seen is based on a work system – where I’m trying to work my way to God by doing good deeds.
Christianity is unique. It is the only one that is based not on trying to earn our way to God but on the free gift of grace that is offered through Jesus who died as our substitute to pay for our wrongdoings and offers forgiveness and eternal life. Really to anyone that would accept.
So I think when we paper over those differences we are making a huge mistake. That is the Gospel. We are called to tell people the Good News. And as much as I believe in dialogue and mutual respect among people’s of different faiths, I cannot and will not shrink back from talking about the uniqueness of Jesus and that He does not only claim to be the unique way to God but he demonstrated through his resurrection that he is divine. And thus we can trust him when he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Is there anything you would like to add?
Strobel: One of the other things we are doing, and I’m really excited about it, is we created a web site www.leestrobel.com that is full of free videos. We have hundreds of free video clips that anyone can go to and spend as much time as they want and use the search engine to type in tough questions and we have leading scholars and experts come up and answer questions.
And they don’t just say what Christians believe but why we believe and what is the evidence. People can type in Islam or resurrection or whatever you want and “boom” up will pop a bunch of free videos that you can access. And I’m really excited about making that available to the world as a free resource where people who have questions or doubts, whether they are Christians or spiritual seekers, can find good information and reasonable responses from people who spent a lifetime studying these stuff.