Spotlight interview with Lee Strobel on The Case for Christ movie: No one is beyond hopeApril 7, 2017
We have the opportunity to talk with Lee Strobel, former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. He is now a professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University and a pastor at the Woodland’s Church just outside of Houston. He’s the best-selling author of more of 20 books. His classic book, The Case for Christ, details his journey to Christianity. It is now a feature length film released by Pureflix Entertainment and you can find all the information about it at CaseforChristmovie.pureflix.com.
Listen to our interview with Lee Strobel here:
Carmen: Lee, welcome to The Reconnect, it’s great to be with you. Okay, so give us a sense of the time period in which the film takes place, because I will tell that it’s hard to find the kinds of telephones that you use in the film and people aren’t gonna be familiar with typewriters, and they’re gonna be very distressed that the children are not in car seats.
Lee Strobel: That is so funny. You’re right. The movie takes place in 1980, and it was a different world. We had to go out and find all these old typewriters and telephones and pagers instead of cell phones. Of course, the hairstyles make us all look like idiots. But we all looked like idiots in 1980.
Carmen: The opening line of the move is about the importance of facts and the relationship of facts to the truth. You know as well as I do, our culture is having a really hard time today with the concepts of facts and the truth. So just talk with us about the important of evidence, in particular, the importance of you discovering for yourself the facts related to the resurrection of Jesus.
Lee Strobel: Well, you know, Christianity is unusual among world religions in that it invites investigation. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 verse 17, if Jesus had not been raised, you might as well as walk away from all of this. You know? You’re fully justified in rejecting this faith. So, it makes certain claims of things that happened in history, that Jesus, it claims, lived, and He died and then He was reliably encountered afterwards. Those are historical issues that can be investigated just as you can investigate any other historical issues.
Whereas it’s very difficult to, say, take, oh, say, Hinduism and try to get to its roots is very confusing and difficult. But Christianity says, “No. Bring it on. Check us out. Investigate it yourself. Look at the evidence,” because it has confidence that there were footprints left in history by Jesus, and if we investigate those footprints we find that they point towards the truth of who He claimed to be.
Carmen: One of the things that I found particularly piercing was the phrase, “the father wound.” Can you talk with us about the father wound? Because there are so many people walking around today with a father wound.
Lee Strobel: Yeah, you know, it’s very interesting. People, because of my books and the angle I’ve taken with the evidence, think that it was merely intellectual obstacles that kept me from faith, but that’s rarely true for anybody, including me. Often there’s something deeper. Often, there’s an emotional issue. If you study the famous atheists of history, Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche, Freud, Voltaire, Wells, Feuerbach, O’Hair. You just go down the list. Every single one of them had a father who died when they were young, divorced their mother when they were young or with whom they had a terrible relationship.
The implication is, why would you want to believe in a heavenly Father if your earthly father has disappointed or hurt you, because a heavenly Father’s just gonna hurt you more. And Freud even observed this. In my case, I had a very difficult relationship with my father. He once looked at me on the eve of my high school graduation and said, “I don’t have enough love for you to fill my little finger.” So we had a rift in our relationship, and never really healed fully before he died. Was that a factor in me going down the road toward atheism? I think it might have played a role.
Of course, CS Lewis says you can get around this because whereas our tendency is to imagine a heavenly Father just to be a magnified earthly father and all our earthly fathers are flawed in one way or the other. Instead of thinking of Him that way, we should try to imagine what the perfect father would be like. He’d be loving, he’d be accepting, he’d be encouraging, he’d be grace-filled, and so forth. That’s a picture of our heavenly Father if we can imagine a perfect father.
Carmen: Folks, we’re talking with Lee Strobel about his story, which we know as the book The Case for Christ, but it’s now a feature film by Pureflix, and it’s by the same name, The Case for Christ. Lee, I know that people think of this movie as being about your journey, the journey of a skeptic to faith, but I gotta tell ya. I feel like it’s really a story about marriage and how a woman, your wife, made the gospel so visible, so substantial, and so beautiful that you had to investigate what in the world was going on.
Lee Strobel: I think that’s a great observation. It really is, because I think people may have the misconception this is a documentary that purely presents the evidence, but you’re absolutely right. It’s a story of two people that fell in love when we were 14 years old, got married young. She was 19. I was 20. Had a similar worldview. I was an atheist, she was agnostic, and everything was pretty copacetic until she gets led to faith in Jesus. And all of a sudden this tumultuous era of our marriage opens up where I’m the hostile atheist trying to get her out of this cult that she’s involved in, and she’s trying to grow in her faith. It is about that kind of marriage relationship, and a lot of people face that. Or they’re married to someone who is not growing like they’re growing spiritually, and that can be frustrating as well. So we wanted to be honest about that kind of impact that a spiritual mismatch can have in a marriage. I think a lot of people relate to the marriage story.
Carmen: Oh, they do. I mean, I know so many women who are experiencing right now what your wife was experiencing between the time that Allison couldn’t reach the faucet until the time she could, right? So that’s the span of time we’re talking about.
Lee Strobel: Right.
Carmen: And so if you would, just speak directly to women who are listening right now who are praying like your wife prayed that God would turn their husband’s hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.
Lee Strobel: Yeah, you know, Leslie and I wrote a book about this to try to help people in this position. It’s called Spiritual Mismatch, and it’s all about the experiences we went through, but trying to help people to go through this really tumultuous era of their marriage. I want to say what a woman named Sylvia said to Leslie when she came to the church and said, “I don’t have any hope for my husband. He’s this hard headed, hard hearted legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. He’s never gonna bend his knee to Jesus.” What Sylvia told Leslie was, “No one is beyond hope.” That was the verse that she gave her, Ezekiel 36:26 that you referenced. It says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” That’s a great verse to pray for someone who you love who’s spiritually confused.
I’d encourage you, if you can, get a mentor. Get a more spiritually mature Christian of the same gender and build a relationship with that person to help you as a shoulder to cry on, someone to pray with you, someone to help you grow spiritually, someone who won’t let you make this a pity party or make it you and her against your husband, but to help you problem solve and so forth. That’s a really important component that Leslie got through this experience.
Carmen: The character in the movie who personifies what you are describing, this mentor person, is Alfie. I love that character. For my listeners, it’s not a spoiler to tell you this is a very powerful and yet humble African American woman who’s a nurse. She is totally available, completely tender, and faithful and kind and wise. And, Lee, I was reminded as I was watching. I was reminded of a very similar character who appears in the War Room, a very similar character who appears in the movie The Shack. God has his witnesses in our culture. And we seem as a culture to be very open to strong African American women of faith. So, I know that I’ve got some women like that who are listening right now. I want you to issue them an invitation that they would not be hesitant to speak into the life of a white family in the way Alfie spoke into yours.
Lee Strobel: Oh man, you know, Alfie, and I’m using the name from the movie, made all the difference in our life, in our marriage, in our eternities, the way God used her to speak into our lives to mentor Leslie. To lead her to faith first of all and then to mentor her and to encourage her, to cheerlead her, to help her grow spiritually. Even though I lashed out at her at one point trying to get her to back off because I didn’t want Leslie to be sucked into this Christian subculture where I wasn’t welcome as an atheist. Nevertheless, it was Alfie’s influence that gave Leslie the courage to invite me to come to church, which I ultimately did and heard the gospel for the first time, understood it for the first time, launched my spiritual investigation, and not only came to faith, but in God’s great sense of humor ended up on the staff of that very church.
Carmen: I know. I love it. I love how comprehensive your personal story is. And, folks, we’re talking with Lee Strobel. You can get information about the movie online at CaseForChristMovie.pureflix.com. But you can also follow Lee on Twitter at Lee Strobel. Lee, you and I have a mutual friend. He makes an appearance not only in the film, but, you know, he’s a character in your own investigative experience and his name’s Dr. Alex Metherell.
Lee Strobel: Right.
Carmen: Talk with us about how did your conversation with Alex ultimately kind of seal the deal? It seems to me, this will be my interpretation of where you were at in your process at the time. It seems to me that in your conversation with Alex you go from asking the investigative questions of “What?” “Who?” “Where?” “When?” and “How?” to a really different question and that question is “Why?” “Why would Jesus have done this?” Do I have that? Am I interpreting that correctly? And if so just talk about that.
Lee Strobel: Well, you know, Alex Metherell is a great expert on the crucifixion of Jesus and he’s a medical doctor, also has a PhD in engineering and is a great, godly man, as they say, mutual friend who I admire so much and who was portrayed in the movie by a terrific character actor who I think really gives him his due as a winsome person and a loving person and a kind person, not just a brilliant person. But, you know, the resurrection, you know, you have to establish was Jesus was dead before you can believe that there may or may not have been a resurrection. That issue, I think, is resolved. Dr. Metherell, when I interviewed him for my book, The Case for Christ, really spelled out the details of what Jesus endured during the crucifixion and established that there’s no way that He survived.
In fact, there’s no record of anybody ever surviving a full Roman crucifixion. Of course, as a scholar who was a skeptic and later came to faith observed about a hundred years ago, even if He had survived, He would have been so broken and beaten and bloodied by the flogging and the crucifixion itself that had He survived, the disciples would not have triumphantly said, “Oh boy. This is great. We want to have resurrection bodies like this someday, too.” They would have called an ambulance, and they would have got Him taken to a medical center because He would have been in such horrible condition. There’s no way Christianity would have been launched as a victorious faith in light of that.
Then, you look at the Journal of the American Medical Association, which peer-reviewed, scientific, independent journal, which did a study of the historical and medical evidence for the crucifixion and determine that Jesus was dead even before the wound to His side was inflicted. The question of whether He, Jesus, truly died, even Gerd Ludemann, the famous atheist New Testament scholar says it’s historically indisputable, and Alex Metherell is one of those great people who can communicate that with authority because as a doctor and an engineer he understands what physically took place during the crucifixion of Jesus.
Carmen: Again, folks, we’re talking with Lee Strobel. We’re talking about the movie, The Case for Christ, out now by Pureflix. In the closing scene, Lee, or almost the closing scene, first of all I love the concept of “right here right now” church.
Lee Strobel: Yeah. I do too.
Carmen: That is an awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome phrase. But your prayer is so honest and so real. I would invite you to just speak directly to the skeptic who’s listening right now. Just tell us what the difference is between knowing enough and knowing everything.
Lee Strobel: Yeah. We can never know everything. Our knowledge is always gonna be limited. But at some point we know enough. We can know, I think, with certainty that Jesus not only claimed to be the Son of God, but He backed it up by returning from the dead and we’ve got the evidence for the execution. We’ve got early accounts, some so quickly after the death of Jesus that cannot be legend. We’ve got an empty tomb that even the opponents of Jesus admitted was empty and then we’ve got nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament confirming and corroborating the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus. So, we’ve got a clear and compelling case for the resurrection being true. Enough, I believe, to stake our eternity on.
Carmen: All right, Lee, you are a college professor and a pastor. What are the questions that people are asking today that maybe you hadn’t even thought of yet in 1980? What are the questions that we need to equip listeners to engage on today with their skeptical friends?
Lee Strobel: Even though there’s a proliferation of side questions that come up, things like social issues, abortion, euthanasia, gender issues, and so forth. Those kind of questions are more current than what I investigated back then. But they all go back to the question of “Is Christianity true?” And that all goes back to the question, “Did Jesus return from the dead?” So, whenever a question of any kind comes up I want to ask the question, “Oh, well, did Jesus come back from the dead or not?” Because if He did, then His teachings are not just the pontifications of a wise sage, but they are proclamations of the Son of God. So, they’re not just suggestions for how we might want to consider living. They really are divine guidelines for our own good to help us live lives that are gonna be the most fruitful and fulfilling. Even though you’re right—questions come and questions go—ultimately the question of the resurrection is still at the forefront of Christianity.
Carmen: So, let’s just close with this. In your own experience. So you move from this place of, wow, investigating the evidence for the resurrection, claiming it as true, I mean just really embracing it, tell us, then, how you actually started a journey of discipleship because the transition from “believe and receive” to “disciple” is I think a mystery to a lot of people.
Lee Strobel: You know, what was key to that for me and I think for most people, a couple of things. Number one, having a small group of people who you can do life and community with, strong Christians who you can learn from and you can build into their lives. Sort of a mutual discipleship among believers, I think is really important to have that support structure as we continue to grow. The other thing that really grew me up, and I’ve seen this so many times, when you look, what is in common? What is held in common by people who have really matured spiritually? Almost always they have had a missions experience that has been profound in their lives.
My son who kind of was confused as a kid, as a teenager, didn’t know where he was going in life, was not a good student in high school, went on a missions trip between high school and college, God got a hold of him in the middle of that. He ended up going to the top of his college, now he has a PhD in theology and is a professor at a seminary, writes articles for the Harvard Theological Review. I mean, he’s now one of the great scholars of Jonathan Edwards in the world. And I look in my own life. I went on a missions trip to India where I lived in an orphanage for a period of time and worked among the people in Southeast India. There’s no coincidence that I ended up leaving my journalism career for full time church ministry after that experience. I think God gets a hold of us when we get away and we’re put in a third world situation and our faith tends to come to the next level.
Carmen: All right, folks, you’re hearing Lee Strobel and, Lee, I’m gonna press you to talk about one more character. Since you just referred to the fact that you left full time journalism and went into full time ministry. Not everybody does that. God doesn’t call everybody to leave their vocation. Talk with us about the guy who is also in the newsroom, he’s also, he’s right there. His desk is right next to yours and he’s a Christian. Talk to us about his witness to you.
Lee Strobel: The religion editor fortuitously had his desk right next to my desk. I was the legal editor. He’s a wonderful guy, and I remember him inviting Leslie and me to his house for dinner with him and his wife and him praying before dinner. I thought, “Oh my goodness. What in the world is going on here?” But, you know, his witness as a smart and discerning reporter, journalist, tough, aggressive in what he did and yet a follower of Jesus unabashedly really spoke to me. His witness in my life came largely just me observing his life and seeing integrity and authenticity and honesty and professionalism but also the unmistakable signs of a follower of Jesus.
Carmen: All right, folks, if you want to be equipped, not just in this season but in every season, to share the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you want to be encouraged in your own faith. If you want to be equipped to answer the questions of skeptics around you or if you want to go see a good movie that’s got some really powerful characters who you’re gonna want to know, The Case for Christ is not only a book but now a movie. You can find out more information about it at CaseForChristMovie.pureflix.com. Lee, thank you so much for being with us today on The Reconnect.
Lee Strobel: My pleasure, Carmen. God bless you and your listeners.
Case for Christ pictures from Pureflix Entertainment