Perspectives in Translation
The Reason Why: Lee Strobel Interviews Mark Mittelberg
Best-selling author Mark Mittelberg, who has been my ministry associate for nearly a quarter century, has authored an unusual little book – an update and recasting of the classic work, The Reason Why, one of the biggest-selling books in history. But with its emphasis on the “substitutionary atonement” of Christ – a controversial doctrine among some people these days – will the book gain an audience among a new generation?
Here’s my interview with Mittelberg, who holds a master’s degree in philosophy of religion and has written several other excellent books, including The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask:
Q. The original Reason Why sold an astounding 50 million copies. What’s the reason why you tinkered with one of the most amazing publishing successes in history?
A. That’s a great question, Lee, and frankly it raises one of the most challenging aspects of writing this book. I’d be up late at night working on it and keep thinking to myself: “There’s a reason this book was used so powerfully by God – leading countless folks to faith over the years – so don’t mess it up and change the parts God most blessed!”
But then I’d remind myself that the book was penned almost a century ago and that much of its brilliance was now veiled behind outdated language and, in some cases, outmoded illustrations.
So I’d forge ahead in my mission to remake the book in ways that honored the spirit of the original while speaking in language that a new generation could understand. My simple prayer is that God will once again use The Reason Why to help many more people embrace Christ as their forgiver and leader.
Q. Let’s back up a bit – what’s the story behind The Reason Why?
A. It was a booklet written in 1913 by Robert Laidlaw, a successful businessman in New Zealand. Laidlaw founded Farmers department stores, which are still prominent today. He wrote The Reason Why to explain his Christian faith to his employees.
But what started out as a printing of only 5,000 booklets soon went viral, with many millions printed over the decades. In fact, it became one of the most used evangelistic tools over the past century, leading many Allied soldiers to faith during the two world wars.
Q. What made the book so influential?
A. It clearly presented the gospel which, according to Romans 1:16, “is the power of God unto salvation.” It used simple but powerful illustrations that anyone could grasp. And it spoke with boldness. Unlike some approaches which tell people weakly that “the Christian message seems true to me and, well, it might work for you” Laidlaw was able to cut through the confusion and present biblical truths in ways that clearly made sense.
I’ve tried to keep that character intact – laying out the message with gentleness but also with confidence. I believe the tenants of our faith are true – not just for me or for the members of my church, but for all people of all time.
Q. Where did you get the idea to recast and update the book?
A. I encountered the book soon after trusting in Christ at age 19. I loved the impact of its message, and so I began giving away copies to people I was witnessing to – and I later distributed hundreds of them through a church I was involved with. But I also saw the need for an update in order to keep it relevant to our culture.
I remember a catalytic conversation with a woman at church. She needed a book that would explain the gospel to her brother-in-law, and she asked me for suggestions. I mentioned several books. She said she liked those titles but that they contained too much detail. She wanted something that would be a quick read and offer a more straightforward presentation of the Christian message.
I finally recommended Laidlaw’s The Reason Why, warning her that some of the language was a bit dated – and I resolved to do my utmost to someday update and breathe new life into this vital resource…
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