Monday, September 3, 2007

The Case for the Real Jesus Review

Late last week I finished reading an advance copy of Lee Strobel's forthcoming book, The Case for the Real Jesus. With this latest book, former atheist and journalist Lee Strobel has turned his attention to some of the various attacks that have been mounted on the Biblical picture of Christ in recent years, particularly the questions stirred up by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and the recent discovery of the Gospel of Judas (along with this year's incredible [in the early sense of the word: not credible] announcement by James Cameron of the discovery of the ossuary of Christ - a discovery deemed not credible over a decade ago by all serious scholars). The book will be published by Zondervan on September 10th in hardback.

The text is 311 pages long, and is broken down into sections (essentially large chapters, save for a couple sections large enough to warrant being broken into multiple chapters). Each section covers a particular challenge to the claims of Christian orthodoxy that has arisen (or has changed significantly) in the past few years. Strobel opens with a short introduction, then moves into the body of the text, examining in turn the following challenges:
  • "Scholars are uncovering a radically different Jesus in ancient documents just as credible as the four gospels."
  • "The Bible's portrait of Jesus can't be trusted because the church tampered with the text."
  • "New explanations have refuted Jesus' resurrection."
  • "Christianity's beliefs about Jesus were copied from pagan religions."
  • "Jesus was an imposter who failed to fulfill the Messianic prophecies."
  • "People should be free to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus."

Each of these points is dealt with in an investigative fashion: Strobel sits down and interviews a widely respected Christian Ph.D. (in each case, people who have earned the recognition of their opponents as well as their supporters) on the topic at hand. Following these sections is a summary-oriented conclusion, several appendices, and an index.

Strobel's style is clear and compelling. He writes like the award-winning Chicago Tribune journalist he once was - and thus weaves together the interviews as compelling narratives. Scattered throughout the dialogues are his own personal thoughts and contemplations. Along the way, he describes the dominating attributes - scholastic and personal - of each of the men he interviews. At the conclusion of each section, he neatly sums up the most important points made by each author, clarifying any hazy issues and tying up any loose ends from the earlier stages of the chapter/interview. His voice is clear and compelling, making for an easy read. (Despite being in the midst of classes and considerable work, I finished the entire book in less than four days.) Honestly, I had a difficult time putting the text down when it was time to go back to doing homework.

The Christian apologist makes no bones about the fact that he is a Christian, nor about the fact that he is ultimately arguing for the Christian view on the subject. At the same time, he does his best to fairly treat the criticisms raised by those who have attacked Christian claims in recent years. Furthermore, he notes that he is concerned as to whether the claims of Christianity hold up against new critical attacks made against them, as it is important for his own faith. As Paul wrote, and Strobel seconds, Christians are to be pitied above all men if Christ did not actually rise from the dead.

The merits of the book are in its clear style and high information content. Strobel delivers an incredible amount of information in a very short span of time, and yet manages not to overwhelm the reader. He accomplishes this by spreading the information out and coherently weaving it together. The interview format contributes to this, but Strobel's own voice and skill with the text are what bind the information together into an engaging narrative, rather than a simple (and dry) presentation of facts. His willingness to press the interviewees on difficult issues is also a significant merit to the text. Though of course he is not looking to disprove his thesis - that is, that Christianity does stand up to the claims made against it - he also is not interested in a padded case for Christianity that will not hold up intellectually. (Of course, many people opposed to Christian apologetics reject Strobel's arguments prima facie on the notion that he's biased, but their argument is flawed, since they themselves are likewise biased, though in the opposite direction. This does not diminish the value of Strobel's contribution; nor does it damage the excellent scholarship Strobel is tapping into.)

I can think of no significant demerits to this book.

My recommendation for this book can be summed up as follows: "Go buy it as soon as it comes out." This sort of apologetic information is essential for any Christian interested in being able to defend their faith against the textual and philosophical criticisms currently being leveled against it. Strobel makes a clear case, loaded with information, in a memorable way that will be useful to believers of all backgrounds. Even for someone familiar with these arguments, this will be an extremely useful refresher.

May you walk in peace and the grace of God tonight!

- Chris

1 comment:

  1. I just got finished doing some edits to the complete and final version of The Real Jesus DVD.

    I was happily surprised when I began production on this in 2005 that “The Real Jesus” has become an apologetics buzzword of sorts. Lee Strobel’s "The Case for the Real Jesus" and Luke Timothy Johnson’s "The Real Jesus" are two books I highly recommend.

    I used Johnson’s book as a reference in the video and I just got Strobel’s book as I was finishing up this month. I was surprised to see that the format of Strobel’s “Six Challenges” and my “Seven Myths of the Higher Critics” were so similar.

    The final version is now finished! Really! The total running time with all the extras is now 2 hours and 20 minutes -- up from the hour-long project I announced was almost finished earlier this year.

    The DVD just needed a few cosmetic edits (nothing the average viewer would even notice) and we even added seven minutes of a "Bonus Feature" entitled: "Who is Jesus?"

    It's the best feature of the DVD and adds a lot of appeal especially as an introduction when it will be show to small groups as a five to ten week seminar. The video is divided into ten parts for this reason.

    The final version is available now!

    Check out the YouTube clips at website.

    Then you can order it if you like what you see. The final version has over an hour of additional materials, interviews, a bonus feature and is re-edited with Eric Holmberg as the host and narrator.

    I've been doing a weekly radio show on Tuseday nights with Pastor Joe Dunn of Metro Praise Church in Chicago. It's a Skype-based web-cam/chat-room/radio-show with two pastors in Chicago and Indiana. A lot of diverse people show up in the chat room -- witches, atheists, nihilists, etc. -- and ask crazy questions.

    I sent Joe Dunn an advance copy of The Real Jesus DVD. I was really pleased to hear his comments. He opened the show by holding it up to the web cam and saying, "I just got done watching the best video on Jesus that I've ever seen! This is the greatest thing ever! I've seen all kinds of stuff by Ankerburg and other guys like that and this is by far the best thing I've seen on the topic of The Real Jesus."

    He loved the interviews with the experts, the graphics, the music, everything. He said he wished he had 100 to give away, and so on. He said he likes all the "charts" and was going to go back and study them on still mode. That, of course, speaks to me about what is needed in a future study guide, not just text, but the same visuals I used in the video.

    This is a good review because I have all kind of ideas about how I want to continue. I have enough script material to do at least two more of these in the next few years. I was thinking that that there are at least 10,000 Joe Dunn's out there, pastors who are training young Christians in their churches how to stand up against postmodernist reinterpretations of Jesus and militant atheist attacks on the Bible. This video is the perfect training tool.

    The big question is how to reach these pastors.

    Obviously, we need to get about a dozen endorsement quotes from pastors and a few well-known church leaders on The Real Jesus -- then we need to advertise this to thousands of church leaders throughout the world.


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