by Greg West
I once participated in a panel discussion answering audience questions about faith and science. I was thrilled to be invited to be on the panel but I must say that I was somewhat intimidated because not only was I the only panel member without a Ph.D., but I don’t hold any college degree at all! I guess they wanted a layman on the panel and that happened to be me. When it came my turn to give my opening statement I said something like, “Let me start out by saying that unlike the other members of this panel, I am not a scholar… but I know a lot of scholars, and I know how to ask questions.”
I think that many people miss the fact that learning apologetics is just as much about asking questions as it is knowing the answers, and I can tell you that after I recommitted my life to Christ after nearly a decade of being a professing agnostic that I had a lot of questions, but I had no idea of where to find the answers and there was not yet a Google to turn to. I had used the excuse of doubt to turn my back on my faith as a young man, and now I was hungry to be able to know why I believed what I believed and how I could effectively express that to others when sharing my rediscovered faith… and that’s when I happened to meet Lee Strobel!
Ok, I didn’t meet him personally, although I would have that privilege many years later. I was wondering around in a Christian bookstore when Lee’s book, The Case for Christ caught my eye. I was intrigued; this was the kind of thing I had been looking for… an investigative journalist and former atheist who had found reasons to believe and wrote a book about it. I had no idea what apologetics was at the time, but I was about to find out and it would change the course of my life!
I took the book home and started reading. Expecting it to be a ‘personal testimony’ type book, I quickly discovered that it was much more than that. In recounting his investigation into the truth claims of Christianity, Lee says that as an investigative reporter (with a law degree from Yale, I might add) he had no problem with picking up the phone and dialing up a scholar who might have some answers to the hard questions he was asking—and that’s what he did in The Case for Christ (and other books that followed in the series)—he consulted the experts and then wrote it down in a way that laymen like you and I can understand.
I was thrilled to find out that there was an abundance of evidence supporting the truth claims of Christianity, and that my faith did not have to depend on personal and emotional experience alone, like it did when I was growing up in the church. I devoured The Case for Christ and I wanted more. I thought that perhaps I should look into reading some books by some of the experts that Lee had interviewed for the book, scholars such as J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, and Gary Habermas. When I inquired about books by these scholars at the Christian bookstore, I was told that I needed to look in the apologetics section—you know, that tiny corner they have way in the back, past all the Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer books that are prominently displayed throughout the store. My first reaction was to think, “apolo-what-now?”, which was probably the same thing you thought when you first heard that word—a word that unfortunately gives many people the wrong impression about the discipline, which people like cold-case homicide detective J Warner Wallace say we should do away with and replace it with ‘'”Christian Case-Making”. I tend to agree, but I think the word ‘apologetics’ will be around for quite a while. I’m getting a little off track here so let me get back to Lee Strobel and The Case for Christ.
The Case for Christ was the first apologetics book I ever read but it was certainly not the last. If I had picked up something like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview instead, I probably would have given up reading it after a few pages and things might have turned out differently; I might not be doing things like participating on a faith and science panel or teaching apologetics classes at my church; The Poached Egg might never have come to be.
The ripple effect of The Case for Christ and the subsequent books in the series cannot likely be measured. I know more than a few apologists who credit Lee Strobel as their introduction to apologetics—Lee himself says he has lost count of how many people have written or told him how The Case for Christ was either directly or indirectly involved in their coming to faith in Jesus or who were strengthened by it during a struggle with doubt.
I wish that every Christian would read The Case for Christ, especially if you have even a passing interest in apologetics but are somewhat intimidated about going deeper because of some of the scholarly works on the subject. Not everyone needs to be an expert in apologetics, but if every Christian were to familiarize themselves with the basic arguments in favor of the truth claims of Christianity, the world could be turned upside down!
I was thrilled when I finally got to meet Lee Strobel at a lecture he was giving on The Case for a Creator in Tulsa. When I introduced myself he greeted me with a bear hug that nearly suffocated me, and was more than happy to inscribe my original copy of The Case for Christ that I offered for him to do so. I’ve given away countless copies of the book, but I’m glad I held on to the first one I bought to keep as a reminder of how I got into all of this in the first place, and how it ignited a passion that God would turn into a career in full time ministry.
A pastor I know calls Lee Strobel, “America’s Apologist”, and while I think he’s absolutely correct in that assessment, I think that Lee himself would humbly deny being an expert apologist, but would tell you that he knows quite a few and that he’s not afraid to ask questions. Thankfully God has enabled him to use that talent for His glory and to help build the Kingdom!
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