The Case For The Real Jesus

December 27, 2007

It’s interesting that many who dismiss the Bible and certain essential Christian claims — saying they believe there is scant evidence to support them — are able to readily embrace rival belief systems and their texts, which are far less reliable.

Former atheist Lee Strobel has used his formidable journalistic and legal background as legal editor of the Chicago Tribune to research and write a number of bestselling books in defense of the Christian faith. His recently released “The Case for the Real Jesus” goes beyond the traditional apologetic to address some of the current attacks on the identity of Jesus Christ, typified by the heretical storyline in the popular The Da Vinci Code.

I strongly recommend this book this Christmas season because it compellingly debunks many of the most recent mythical challenges to Christianity. It is perfect for believers whose perceived spiritual security could be threatened by the crop of fantastic notions now circulating and for nonbelievers who are open to the evidence.

Strobel correctly observes that ideas have consequences and, particularly, what we believe about Jesus will have profound consequences for us individually. Since modern theories directly attack what Christians believe about the very identity of Jesus, Strobel wanted to examine their validity to determine whether the Christian idea of Christ could survive rigorous inquiry.

Having begun as a smug nonbeliever and converting only after subjecting Christianity’s historical and doctrinal claims to scrupulous investigation, Strobel was unafraid to put his faith to the test once again. Are we, believers and nonbelievers alike, similarly unafraid?

Strobel asks, “Are you willing to set aside your preconceptions and let the evidence take you wherever it will? … I had to honestly ask myself that question when I was an atheist and decided to investigate the identity of Jesus. And more recently, this time as a Christian, I had to face that issue squarely once again when I was confronted by six potent challenges that could undermine everything I had come to believe about him.”

Strobel points out that while the heretical ideas about Jesus achieved a new level of prominence in The Da Vinci Code, they have been around for years and have even been circulated widely in modern times preceding that story.

In the 1990s, Christian debunkers received a boost from a group of liberal Christian scholars known as the “Jesus Seminar.” These professors examined the words and deeds of Jesus and, using colored beads to cast their votes, pronounced that fewer than 20 percent of the statements attributed to Jesus in the Bible were actually uttered by him.

What made the Jesus Seminar unique, says Strobel, was not its liberal “scholarship” purporting to discredit Biblical accounts of Jesus but that it bypassed the usual academic channels to enthusiastically make its findings public. In case you haven’t noticed, the recent “evangelistic” fervor against Christianity didn’t begin with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. They have just built on what the Jesus Seminar proselytizing debunkers started.

Strobel says that six major challenges are leaving many Christians scratching their heads and confusing seekers looking for the truth about Christ. He began his research on these challenges conceding to himself that if any were true, they “could change everything” about his beliefs. But, “for the sake of my own intellectual integrity, I needed answers.” He then proceeded to investigate, by studying the evidence and interviewing the premiere scholars on each of these issues:

1. Scholars are uncovering a radically different Jesus in ancient documents just as credible as the Four Gospels, 2. The Bible’s portrait of Jesus can’t be trusted because the Church tampered with the text, 3. New explanations have refuted Jesus’ resurrection, 4. Christianity’s beliefs about Jesus were copied from pagan religions, 5. Jesus was an impostor who failed to fulfill the messianic prophecies, and 6. People should be free to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus.

I love Lee Strobel’s ministry, maybe in large part because I began my spiritual journey as quite the skeptic as well, but also because I believe he has the unique skills, intellectual curiosity and personal integrity that position him to stand on the front lines defending Christ against today’s puffed-up assailants.

Will you take Strobel’s challenge and read the results of his study? As he says, “In the end, we’ll discover together whether the Jesus of historic Christianity manages to emerge intact from the crucible of twenty-first-century skepticism.”