I was sent this book a few years ago by someone who thought it’d convince me of the divinity of Jesus. I felt that the book didn’t prove it’s point. I saw that the film is now on Netflix, so I figured I’d better watch it to see what points are emphasized (since the film can’t hope to bring in as many arguments and evidence as the book did).
Since it’s been a couple years since I read the book, I have decided to A) not re-read my previous review and B) look back at the book as I feel is appropriate.
In watching this film (currently paused at exactly 29 minutes), I am struck by his outward hostility to Christianity. I view Lee Strobel as a very passionate person. Passionate people tend to be all or nothing. So, while it seems like he’s a “devout” atheist, I’m more inclined to believe that he’s just the kind of person who views the world as black or white. There is no grey for him. So he either believes or he doesn’t believe; nothing else matters.
I got this from the book, too, I think. For him, he’s able to drum down the truth of Christianity to just the Resurrection. I find it ironic that he got this idea not from his own investigations but (by film-lore) by his editor, I think. This strikes me because, well, what if his editor had told him that all of Christianity revolves around the Virgin Birth? Or the Literal Interpretation of the Bible?
There are a lot of atheists who come to the conclusion that there is no god after years of studying the Bible. Here’s an excellent example. These are people who know the Bible inside and out and have many, many reasons why they don’t believe it. Yet, Strobel, a “devout” atheist has no clue what even the basic tenants of Christianity are. He’s saying he doesn’t believe in something he knows absolutely nothing about. It’s then not a surprise that when given a glossy bit of the faith, he believes that there must be something there and since the world for him is black and white, he now must do everything in his power to prove it correct.
Which brings me to why I just hopped off the couch and grabbed my copy of the book. I don’t read bibliographies very often. Mostly I just look at them to see if they exist and to what length research was done. In this first 29 minutes of the film, I realized that Strobel is the kind of journalist who likes to talk to experts and read their books, but I wasn’t sure if he’d spend much time in a library looking at the primary sources.
Guess what? Out of about 140 citations, 4 seem to come from primary sources. All the rest appear to be secondary sources or not contemporary to Jesus sources (depending on the nature of the source).
I’m not saying that this is a bad way to do academics, but one of the things that I recall from the book was the chapter on how immediate to the Resurrection the sources were. What I mean is, Strobel spent some time discussing when the Gospels were written and other sources and concluded that most were written 30 to 80 years after the Resurrection. But, every subsequent mention of this dating used the low end of the spectrum. Since I was reading this like a regular book and not as an academic challenge, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what sources he was directly referencing when talking about a particular date, so maybe he was always using evidence from an earlier source rather than a later one, so claiming it was written 30 years after the Resurrection was appropriate, but my memory has him speaking very generically about all his sources, yet using the earlier date.
By the way, shortly before the 29 minute mark, Strobel is talking to a scholar who claims that some sources are from mere months after the Resurrection seeing Jesus walking around. Strange, that sounds like what the Gospels say but these weren’t actually written down for that 30 to 80 years. Plus, I don’t recall Strobel writing about such a short time frame. The way it’s presented in the film, you’d think you can go to an archive and pull out a bunch of bound diaries where folks wrote:
3 June 0001
Today I saw Jesus walking around the market place, buying some sugar. Funny, I swear he was crucified 2 months ago!
Okay, the film is resumed. I don’t know if I like the way it’s focusing on his family life and “transformation” from atheist to Christian. I guess it’s because I don’t buy him as being particularly strong in his atheism (he seems to not know why he’s atheist, since he doesn’t even know what it is that he doesn’t believe in). It seems fake and I’m not sure how many people can really identify with him. I mean, I know that there are plenty of people like him, but I think that there are a vast majority more who are atheists because they know the Bible and other religions well, are agnostic because they’ve never had an interest one way or the other and don’t care about what they don’t know, are “spiritual” because they don’t know about theism, or are deist because they don’t believe in the power of prayer.
Ooh…We’ve hit the first bit of historical flubbery in the film. Comparing the Iliad to the Bible for historical authenticity. Yes, we believe that copies of the Iliad are accurate to what was originally written by Homer. But this doesn’t prove that Hera and Zeus actually had the conversations that are written there. Or, since I know the Odyssey better than the Iliad, Odysseus didn’t actually fight a cyclops or deal with Circe. Just because it’s a reliable copy doesn’t make the subject matter as written true. Supernatural events are probably made up.
Ugh. Lee is an asshole. Telling his wife that she’s “cheating on him with Jesus” while he’s staying up all night and obsessing about disproving Christianity.
Ooh! He’s actually discussing the evidence. Yes, the questions are good and the answers probable. But, they still miss a certain bit. When a Biblical scholar asks an atheist if they want the truth or just want to prove what they already believe, ding, ding, ding! That’s exactly what Biblical scholars are doing! If they’re Christian, then they’d be hard pressed to come up with an explanation that doesn’t lead to their Christian faith.
And boom! The scene ends with a hanging issue: sure, it’s reasonable that the 4 gospels would have varying accessory details about the main story of “a group (or single) woman visits Jesus tomb and found it empty”–cool! I can believe this. Except: where’s the evidence that no one removed the body during the 3 days?
Answer: I remember that he’ll get to this in a little bit, and the answer is that there was a guard and moving the stone and other stuff that’s a great argument if we knew for certain that there’s no evidence of tampering. Except, I’ll refer you back to the Iliad: a work of fiction that is taken as a very reliable source for what it says about historical facts. It’s still full of conversations between the gods that are obviously made up, unless they were divinely inspired, of course. There are plenty of contemporary sources that aren’t included in the New Testament. Why? Because of tradition and because they alter the story a bit (don’t do anything to prove the supernatural bits).
Power: what’s the agenda. It’s not a new thing.
Ugh. Why is the wife getting advice that she’s supposed to listen to Lee? She tries to talk and he shuts her down, but she’s supposed to just listen to him and take his abuse while he gets away with abusing her?
I guess I wasn’t paying much attention in the book about his story of the cop shooting gang informant (I don’t remember this). But wow. What a way to seriously prove my hypothesis about him seeing the world as black and white. All he cared about was telling the world about how the police were protecting their informant. He didn’t think twice about exposing the truth (as he saw it) without considering the consequences. He didn’t wonder why the cop got shot (since the cop and the informant had a history, there’s definitely a motive that needs to be addressed, especially with the history of abuses in the Chicago PD) or consider what information the informant was giving police. Was it worth keeping quiet about? In Lee’s world, shooting a cop is a black and white event and the guy deserves to go to jail for life without any consideration of extenuating circumstances.
I’m not saying that the informant doesn’t deserve to go to prison, but depending on what information he gave and why the shooting occurred, he doesn’t deserve to have any “friends” in prison knowing that he’s a snitch and killing him for it. The world is a very gray place!
God. Lee is such a misogynistic asshole. He’s decided that his wife is incapable of deciding for herself what she believes and that she’s being manipulated. Excuse me, but she’s a grown woman who can decide for herself what she thinks. She doesn’t need a husband to tell her what her opinion is. Strange, he sounds like most Evangelical Christians who buy the whole “Umbrella of Protection” crap and that women need a keeper.
Why do I expect he won’t change a bit once he becomes a Christian? Oh wait, he doesn’t have to!
Wow! “She’s different”–like, she’s her own person with her own mind and her own thoughts! Why is this so baffling to assholes? Oh yeah. Because they’re assholes!
Ya know, I don’t recall being this upset with Strobel while reading the book. I mean, I disagreed with his arguments, but I didn’t judge his character. But with this film, his character disgusts me!
Sigh, I wish that Lee had gotten a tougher lecture when it came out how crappy a journalist he’d been with the Hicks trial. Oh yay, he got to go get drunk and have his own pity party. Because he’s the smartest man in the world! Grr.
Sigh. And of course, the film ends at the exact same place the book does: he still has questions and doubts, but can’t deny what evidence he’s gathered. There still isn’t any proof, but there’s enough probable cause to get him to become a Christian.
That’s probably the thing that makes me mad at Christians like Strobel. They claim to have all the answers (or rather that all the evidence points to where they want it to) and declare that to believe otherwise is wrong. Here’s the thing! A lot of people are presented with every bit of evidence that Strobel was and they have decided that it’s just not enough proof. Or rather, there is plenty of room to doubt.
Like I said, the Iliad and the Odyssey are a good example because they show how easily fact and fiction can be intertwined together. It doesn’t really matter that the Bible had multiple authors because there was always the one narrative: the one that Jesus wanted publicized.
Okay. So, here was my thought process as I wrote the above paragraph about Jesus’ end-game. “Huh. I wonder if the author’s were present at the Loaves and Fishes Miracle (since it’s one that I happen to remember).” So, I went and pulled up the Loaves and Fishes and read the Wikipedia Article. Which led me to take the link to a chapter of Mark that talks about Jesus feeding 5000 and then 4000 in two separate miracles.
This is a chapter written by “Mark”. I’m not a theologian, but a quick Google search led me to another Wikipedia article that says that historians believe that Mark is actually written by an unknown person. Which is fine for the point I will be making here.
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
–Mark 9: 2-8
The author of this is using a third person omniscient perspective. They know all, yet weren’t actually there. In this case, the only people on the mountain were Jesus, Peter, James, and John. So,unless one of these men is the anonymous author of Mark who writes of themselves in third person, the author wasn’t there and this is a bit of he said, he said. John, who apparently is the same John that authored a gospel, doesn’t seem to mention this event, but if he did mention it in passing (debatable) he’s very vague on details. If God had spoken so blatantly to me, I’d definitely write all about it! So, did it happen? I’m dubious. If the 4 did go to the top of the mountain and decide that Jesus would be labeled the Son of God, but didn’t decide on the details, then yes, artistic license 30 to 80 years later is very probable. The exaggerator and the circumspect.This makes as much sense as any explanation.
Which is why The Case for Christ doesn’t make as strong an argument as it claims to.