Friday, August 26, 2011

The Case for an Unbiased Jury

Out of deference to someone I love very much, I've spent part of my last two weeks reading Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ". I was too young to understand the book when it was first published (1998), but I do remember reading the young adult version in late middle-school/early high school. I read the teen version with the intent to bone up on my biblical knowledge so that I would be more prepared to talk to people "who didn't know Christ"; unfortunately, even at the time I was a little disappointed. The book contained more questions than answers, and I was able to make "well what about X?" or "...then how did Y happen?" observations on my first read-through.

Disappointed that the arguments were either weak or misguided, I shrugged it off, figuring that there would be more Biblical scholars that would one day write their wisdom into a young adult format that would be more convincing than Strobel. And off I went.
This time, I was ready. My brain is fully formed and functional (more or less, amirite?). I know how to research, draft an argument, and gather evidence. I am now more familiar with logical fallacies in order to know where I am being deceived by slippery language. I am more aware of other perspectives and arguments and can therefore see when lies of omission are made. I am in possession of handy argument-building tools like paper, writing instruments, a laptop, the Internet, books, and tea. Lots of hot tea.

I picked up a copy from the downtown library and nonchalantly snuggled down into the couch a few days later to begin reading. I'm excited to see all of the evidence in one place, one handy-dandy package; I'm expecting a quite serious, research-based journey through the evidence for the person of Jesus.

Spoiler: that is not what this book is.

It just isn't.

The reader learns very quickly that Strobel was in no way interested in getting the truth; in fact, the book is entirely one-sided. This reviewer said:

"When I say The Case for Christ is investigative writing at its worst, I mean that it presents a terribly one-sided view of the discussion. Of all the scholars, historians, and experts that could have been interviewed, every single one of the thirteen featured in the book is an Evangelical Christian. Strobel hand picks statements from a few skeptics to present to his conservative scholars, but much of the time the opposing view is given by the author himself, who often throws soft balls and sets up strawman arguments."

Sadly, I found this to be quite true. By the fourth or fifth chapter's worth of doing mental gymnastics trying to justify why Strobel set the book up like he did, I was just too tired to continue. I simply don't understand why Strobel even compelled himself to market the book the way he did: masquerading as investigative journalism when in reality it is as biased as Fox News, pretending to ask "hardball" questions while escaping real contradiction and conflict, and requiring no evidence from his scholars.

Given the organizations that Strobel's scholars are affiliated with (Moody Bible Institute, Liberty University), it is impossible to even suggest that Strobel has thoughtfully presented the evidence for and against the divinity of Jesus in an unbiased manner. His interviewees are fraught with presuppositions and foregone conclusions. Worse still, Strobel abandons any credibility by not interviewing scholars in the appropriate fields. My patience exhausted once I began to read Chapter 8: The Psychological Evidence. Given that Jesus could not be reached for examination, I had to conclude that the chapter had no point at all. Reader Siamang asks Strobel:

"Is your primary audience christians or non-christians? Because I cannot imagine many non-christians would accept a philosophy professor from a bible college to be a better authority on cosmology than an actual cosmologist.

You seem to fancy yourself an expert on Biblical history. Would it be alright for me to interview a professor of economics or law or sports medicine or some other unrelated field who has leaned back in his armchair and puffed on his pipe to determine whether or not the Dead Sea Scrolls are accurately translated? Or should I actually confer with linguists and historians and archaeologists?"

Indeed. Strobel's selection of scholars and method of interrogation is very sloppy journalism. It was hard to slog through.

So, I did my best. I took copious (though not exhaustive) notes through the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2. I grew weary of the constant assault to my intelligence and stopped taking notes by Chapter 3. I cycled through frustration, anger, amazement, and disappointment. The arguments were worse than the two- and three-page term papers my 9th graders turned in. I gave it up midway through Chapter just wasn't worth it.

Strobel bases his entire argument and observations on the assumption that the Bible is an accurate and reliable source (which is why he devotes two chapters to it). If that assumption is incorrect, then his interview with the psychologist who analyzed Jesus' words is moot. Unfortunately, Strobel does a horrific job of proving that first point, and without that foundation the rest of the arguments come tumbling down, like a house built on sand. Each argument was riddled with unanswered questions and/or logical fallacies; there was nary a single statement made in the first two chapters that I could confidently agree with.

Although my initial plan was to give an in-depth analysis of the book as a whole, I think the refutation is more powerful as-is: preservation of the notes that I took while reading. I simply made little stars on some of the more interesting or controversial quotes while I was reading, jotted them down in a notebook, and let it percolate for a few days. Then I returned to it, typed up my shorthand alongside the original quotes I had transposed. From there, I simply expanded upon those initial reactions and drafted them into "points". Some are rather light-hearted and not meant to be taken as serious academic arguments; you can tell by the length of my notes that I was getting tired of repeated myself by the end of it, so those thoughts are not as fully developed as some others.

Part of why I think this "analysis" is interesting is the sheer volume of quotes that I found interesting; I had to restrict myself to two quotes per page, or I would have had a book of my own on my hands. There are some pages that have multiple factual errors or logical fallacies represented; the arguments grew so warped and bloated that it was difficult to discern, specifically, what was wrong with them. As it is, I only took notes through the first 70 pages and have a 14 page Word document, 1.5 spaced with 1" margins. And those are just my notes! Each quote may have been a book or a journal article unto itself.

I've also included a few notes that Bryan made as he read through it; they are the underlined portion.

Find the complete notes at this link.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your notes! I appreciate the time you took. Congratulations on coming out to your family and being free!

    -Godless Girl

  2. You got farther along than I did. I don't think I made it past chapter 4 before giving up completely.

  3. I commend your efforts here. I am not sure I could have lasted as long as you did.

  4. Thanks, all. If anyone else decides to pick apart the other 330 pages, please let me know. Actually, don't...I probably have other things I should be doing (other than getting annoyed with Lee Strobel).

    @GG Thanks! It's not been easy; I think I may have done some permanent damage, but it's a huge relief to just come out and say it. I can't imagine, though, coming out as a high schooler with no one else to turn to; the experience definitely made me appreciate my situation more!