Book Review - “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel (Zondervan, 1998) is a U.S. best seller in which the former legal editor of the “Chicago Tribune” cross-examines a dozen authorities in their fields with questions like “How reliable is the New Testament?”, “Does evidence exist for Jesus outside the Bible?” and “Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event?”

The Table of Contents is reproduced below and you will see from the chapter headings that the range of issues under discussion is extensive and of great interest.

In terms of impact and intellectual credibility, “The Case for Christ” does not quite make the grade. Some critical observations made by Jeffrey L. Lowder summarise the difficulties well:

Case for Christ is a creative, well-written contribution to Christian apologetics. Moreover, Strobel is to be commended for summarizing the work of so many leading apologists for Evangelical Christianity in such a compact and easy-to-read format. Yet Strobel did not interview any critics of Evangelical apologetics. He sometimes refutes at great length objections not made by the critics (e.g., the claim that Jesus was mentally insane); more often, he doesn't address objections the critics do make (e.g., the unreliability of human memory, that non-Christian historians do not provide any independent confirmation for the deity of Jesus, etc.) Perhaps this will be a welcome feature to people who already believe Christianity but have no idea why they believe it. For those of us who are primarily interested in the truth, however, we want to hear both sides of the story.

In other words, the problem with “The Case for Christ” is that it presents itself as a legally forensic work on Christian evidences yet makes claims well beyond the limits of the established facts, virtually implying that only a very biased person would not accept the objective truth of the New Testament scriptures.

To give an example of Strobel’s over-stated style, in the concluding chapter he states –

“I’ll admit it: I was ambushed by the amount and quality of the evidence that Jesus is the unique Son of God. As I sat at my desk that Sunday afternoon, I shook my head in amazement. I had seen defendants carted off to the death chamber on much less convincing proof!” (Page 264)

This is hardly a balanced appraisal of the available evidence. In reality, the maximum a book dealing with Christian evidences can do is to establish a certain amount of historical credibility for the New Testament documents (e.g. their textual reliability, a topic well covered in chapter 3). Outside of this, many issues will inevitably remain a matter of faith.

The author of the Last Debate Blogspot (who is a believer himself) puts it this way –

… it does not seem particularly controversial among historians to assume that there really was a radical Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine who hailed from Nazareth and was crucified by the Romans, whose teachings inspired a cult that grew into the world’s largest religion. It’s not even controversial to attribute many of the sayings in the Gospels to this man. Making the leap, however, to saying that what seems unlikely or impossible (immaculate conception, miracles, resurrection) must be true because portions of the Gospels are plausible is specious. One could well argue that based on the astonishingly accurate depictions of real locations and the proven existence of antimatter technology and some guy called “the Pope” that Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons is a true story.

The drawback of “The Case for Christ”, then, is a lack of intellectual rigour and an inability to genuinely engage with opposing points of view.

On the plus side, a great deal of evangelical thinking on Christian evidences is conveniently summarised within the covers of a single book. Chapters 1-5 are especially impressive (containing a large amount of objective historical information). Chapters 6-10 disappoint, but the quality picks up again with chapters 11-14.

In the matter of presentation, European readers may find the actual writing style of this book off-putting. Instead of constructing a question and answer approach without editorial comment, Strobel describes the interview surroundings, the appearance and personality of the expert being interviewed, and uses dramatic phrases more appropriate to fiction to make the book a more vigorous read. There is a great deal of invariably irritating “fluff”. Here are two samples.

Slender and bespectacled, Lapides is soft-spoken but has a quick smile and ready laugh. He was upbeat and polite as he ushered me to a chair near the front of Beth Ariel Fellowship .. (Page 173)

He let his analogy sink in. Turning to face me more directly, he asked, “Do you see my point?” I nodded to indicate that I did. (Page 32)

As long as you bear in mind that “The Case for Christ” is written from the standpoint of faith and is not the work of a highly objective, fearlessly enquiring investigative reporter, you will find it a readable introduction to current evangelical thinking on various Christian evidence topics. But if you are hoping for a definitive rebuttal of objections to the Christian faith, you will be disappointed.


Introduction: Reopening the Investigation of a Lifetime

1. The Eyewitness Evidence – can the biographies of Jesus be trusted?
2. Testing the Eyewitness Evidence – do the biographies of Jesus stand up to scrutiny?
3. The Documentary Evidence – were Jesus' biographies reliably preserved for us?
4. The Corroborating Evidence – is there credible evidence for Jesus outside his biographies?
5. The Scientific Evidence – does archaeology confirm or contradict Jesus' biographies?
6. The Rebuttal Evidence - is the Jesus of history the same as the Jesus of faith?

7. The Identity Evidence – was Jesus really convinced that he was the Son of God?
8. The Psychological Evidence – was Jesus really crazy when he claimed to be the Son of God?
9. The Profile Evidence – did Jesus fulfill the attributes of God?
10. The Fingerprint Evidence – did Jesus and Jesus alone match the identity of the Messiah?

11. The Medical Evidence – was Jesus' death a sham and his resurrection a hoax?
12. The Evidence of the Missing Body – was Jesus' body really absent from the tomb?
13. The Evidence of Appearances - was Jesus seen alive after his death on the cross?
14. The Circumstantial Evidence – are there any supporting facts that point to the resurrection?

- what does the evidence establish and what does it mean today?