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Enlightening if you want to believe it, easy to riddicule if you don't...
on 29 September 2013
This is the kind of book that people tend to rate from one extreme or the other. That is, they'll either be convinced by its arguments and give it four or five stars, or they'll find it lacking and give it one or two. There aren't very many people who would give this a "neutral" three stars because, by its very nature, it's very difficult to have neutral feelings about it.
For those reading about 'The Case for Christ' for the first time, this is a very famous and long enduring book which attempts to explain, in as simple language as possible, a rational case for the existence of Jesus Christ as the son of God. I was given a copy to borrow at an Alpha Course (a free and friendly course for non-Christians to learn about Jesus and Christianity), and I've since learned that this book is very common among such gatherings, and held in high regard by Christian apologists in general. The book's author, Lee Strobel, a former journalist with a legal background, explains that he began this book as an atheist looking to better understand Christianity but, by the end of his research, came to the conclusion that the evidence undoubtedly points to the fact that Jesus was the son of God, and the Bible is the word of God. Strobel uses his journalistic skills and legal understanding to present a systematic and rational argument in favour of his new belief, not to mention one that is highly readable and entertaining at the same time. The book consists of various interviews, where Strobel (who allegedly begins as a sceptic and ends up convinced of the Bible's legitimacy) probes into the minds of some of the most respected and academically decorated Christians in America. The result is a powerfully convincing defence of Christianity, if you want to believe it, and one of the most hopelessly one-sided critiques of the Bible, if you don't want to believe it.
And this is where Strobel's promising adventure falls flat. To his credit, I don't think Strobel actually says in this book that he ever set out to present all of the arguments, but rather to show a convincing case in favour of his own newly developed belief. But that's the problem, and why this book should never be recommended to anybody who flat out doesn't believe, because they'll just cling further to those beliefs because of reading it. Strobel interviews some very impressive figures here, but he never presents the other side. He asks them probing questions, where these intellects tear apart their detractors, but he never looks at the arguments of the people with other opinions. Everybody here shares the exact same opinions, and they're presented in such a way to tell us that these are the "only" legitimate opinions, that the opposing arguments are all contradictory and full of holes, and the whole book is framed in such a way to make these theories seem as convincing as possible. Detractors are either atheists, clutching at straws and refusing to accept what's obvious, or they're "liberal" Christians, changing things to suit their agenda. If this was legitimately looking to explore Christianity from a neutral point-of-view, and to show the facts and let the reader make up their own minds, it would have allowed for some of the detractors who were so brutally torn apart to offer their counter-arguments, and it wouldn't have been written in such a way to convince us of the author's beliefs. As such, any knowledgeable atheist, or "liberal Christian", could easily tear this apart and ridicule it... and they do exactly that. Just type "The Case for Christ rebuttal" into Google and you'll be presented with countless examples.
Like I said, if you want to believe that Jesus is the son of God, then you'll accept every word in here. If, however, you genuinely want to learn and understand, then I would highly recommend that you read this book, take notes, and compare it side-by-side with some of the excellent rebuttal websites. Of course, those sites are trying to make Strobel look just as silly as his interviewees tried to make their detractors look, so exercise caution and use your own judgement and common sense. Alternatively, if you're already convinced that Jesus isn't the son of God, you might want to read this because it's about as entertaining and readable an insight into the beliefs and arguments of Christian apologists as you're likely to find. Me? I learnt a lot from reading this and comparing Strobel's words to those of his online adversaries. For one thing, I now feel pretty confident that Jesus was actually a historical figure, and that is pretty much beyond reasonable doubt. I've also learnt that Christian beliefs can, indeed, stand up to scrutiny and logic. But it's a shame that many atheists won't get that impression from this book, as its own biases serve to de-legitimise it.