So the problem is that there are many many scholars out there who cannot communicate to average people. I mean, that’s just the reality of it. We do have many who can — I mean, we have great scholars like J.P. Moreland or Craig Hazen or Mike Licona, Bill Craig, Gary Habermas — I mean, there’s a lot of these guys who are respected for their scholarship but can also get up before a group of average people and communicate what they believe. Which is great, God bless them, I love that. But there are others who are equally brilliant and they live in this academic world and that’s where they’re suited. And they’re really good at writing articles for scholarly journals, and writing these books that are so heavy that the average person just can’t get it. And what I’ve seen my role in the Kingdom as being is someone who, having the background of journalist, and with law training, to be able to sit down with these people and ask them questions, having read their work as best I can and try to approach it as one of the questions I as a fairly typical person would have. And then try to force them to (the old saying) “put the cookies on the bottom shelf”, you know, make the material accessible to average people. And then I try to present it in a unique way, you know, organize it in a unique way that reflects who God made me to be, and communicate to a larger audience.
Friday, October 26, 2012
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today I interview Lee Strobel. Lee is probably best known as the author of a series of best-selling Christian apologetics books: The Case For Christ, The Case For Faith, The Case For a Creator and The Case For the Real Jesus, among others. As a former atheist and professional journalist, Lee became a Christian after investigating the evidence for Jesus. The purpose of our interview today is to learn a bit more about Lee’s background, ask him about his experience as an apologist and what advice he has for apologists, and find out what his current projects are. Well, thanks for joining me today Lee!
LS: My pleasure Brian — thanks for having me! I’m a big fan of your website; I visit there multiple times a day and it’s just a tremendous resource so I’m very happy you asked me to join you.
BA: Excellent. Well, Lee, this interview is particularly special to me as it seems in my mind that you’ve been one of the most influential popular apologetics authors, at least in my time I think. There must be countless up-and-coming apologists who, maybe, got into the field through reading The Case For Christ or The Case For the Creator. So my question first is, since you wrote This Case For Christ back in ’98, what sort of response have you had from those who’ve read your books?
LS: Well, man, Brian — it’s been the ride of a lifetime, it really has. It’s far exceeding anything that I anticipated. I can see God’s hand in the project in remarkable ways from the beginning. There’s an analogy I like to use from baseball: I’m a Chicago Cubs fan and in Wrigley Field in Chicago, sometimes a batter will hit the ball, and it’ll be a high fly, and the outfielder will easily catch it. But then, sometimes, he’ll hit the ball no harder, and yet the wind in Chicago will take that ball and take it out on to Waveland Avenue for a home run. And that’s sort of the way I feel about this book, because I feel like, you know, I hit the ball, but the Holy Spirit has just taken this project — The Case For Christ, and the other ‘Case’ books — and just done something that went far beyond what my puny efforts were, and have taken it to heights that I never would’ve anticipated and that I can clearly attribute to God because I know it wasn’t me.
When I look back on The Case For Christ — when I wrote it, you know, I was working a full-time job at Willow Creek Church, which was very busy, and I took some weekends and some vacation time and some evenings and I wrote that book, including all those interviews, in less than 6 months. And I look back and I say “well, that’s not possible!” — I mean, how can you do all that in 6 months, just in a part-time evenings and weekends kinda basis. Again, I look at it and I go “it was only God”, and for whatever reason God has anointed this project in ways that I certainly don’t deserve, and has really done things that have amazed me.
We’ve had so many amazing stories through the years. Let me just give you a couple of funny ones — we had this one guy who was going to a book store in the Chicago area to look at a magazine on astronomy because he was an amateur astronomer. And he takes a magazine and he sits down on a bench to look at it and he sits on a book. And he pulls the book out from underneath him and it’s one of them — I think it was The Case For Christ, one of my ‘Case’ books, I think it was The Case For Christ. And he looked at it, and he thought to himself “I’m an atheist, I don’t believe this stuff”. And he kinda tossed it aside. But then, he said, “for some reason I just felt compelled to pick it back up, and to buy it and to read it”. And he said “that’s what clinched it for me, and I ended up coming to Christ”. And I go, whoa! How do you explain something like that? It’s just amazing. I had another kid come up to me and he said “I was in Florida on Spring Break, and I was drinking, I was hungover, it was morning — early morning hours, and I’d been drinking all night. I felt terrible in my life. I had so many questions about God; I wanted to believe but I couldn’t, I had too many objections”. And he said “I’m walking down the beach, and I found something half-buried in the sand, and I pulled it out…”, and he said “it was a copy of your book The Case For Faith! And I picked it up and I read it and it dealt with the exact objections that were keeping me from God”. He said “that’s the day I gave my life to Christ”. So, it’s just amazing to me how God has used this book.
And, you know, Brian — I’m an evangelist who uses apologetics, and so the biggest thrill for me is when I hear stories of people coming to faith because God used a book to answer a question or maybe point them towards evidence that they needed for their own use. But I’ll tell you, the one most unexpected thing, and I think there’s a bit of a lesson here for apologists, was when I was interviewing one of the scholars for The Case For Christ. I stopped the interview because I had to change the tape in the tape recorder, and during that break he said to me “you know, Lee, nobody’s going to read this book”. I said “well, what do you mean?”. He said “we live in a postmodern world — I mean, young people especially, they’re not interested in evidence for faith, they’re not interested in historical data about the resurrection and things like that”. He said “I don’t think anybody’s going to read your book”. I remember going home and telling Leslie “nobody’s going to read my book — I’m wasting my time!”, you know. And I was really depressed! But here’s the funny thing — it’s so unanticipated — since The Case For Christ came out the single biggest group of people who have communicated with me that God has used it to bring them to faith are 16-24 year-olds, which are the very people that this scholar, this expert, thought didn’t care about this stuff. And the truth is, they do care!
You know, God has made us as rational beings, and for many people, they need evidence, they need facts, they have spiritual sticking points in the way between them and God and they need some help resolving those questions and those doubts. So it was a shock to me that so many young people responded in a positive way, and that’s why we ended up doing student editions and even children’s editions — because of the demand among young people who say ‘no, we care about this stuff’. So anyway, that’s kinda a long answer to your question but it’s, you know, one of those experiences in my life where I can point clearly to God and say that, apart from whatever reason He decided to use this project, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. But he’s just done things that blow my mind.
BA: Well, I think maybe one of the things I can draw out from that is that you didn’t think it would make that much of an impact, and it did. And that’s really exciting! It should encourage us to stay the course and to do what God’s put in front of us, and be faithful with it.
LS: Exactly! You’re exactly right. You never know — when you feel God’s leading you into an area of ministry, and you say “well, I don’t see any earthly way that this is going to make a difference”, and yet God will use it in ways which will exceed our expectations. I remember when I proposed Case For Christ to Zondervan Publishing House — I’d done a couple of previous books, and they’d done pretty well — but I went in, and I said “OK, here’s like, 10 books that I’d like to write”, and one of them was on apologetics — one of them was Case For Christ. And I thought that there was no way that they were gonna publish this book because the rap back then was “apologetic books don’t sell”, so I thought a publisher’s not gonna be motivated to publish a book nobodies gonna buy. And yet, they looked at me after I cast the vision for this thing and said “that’s the book — we want you to do that book”. And I thought, well, OK, you know, they don’t sell — apologetics is not an area that I can expect to have great results in terms of readership. But, you know, God’s opening this door and who know’s what’s gonna happen? So I think you’re right. When God opens a door you go through it out of obedience and trust that He’s gonna use it in ways that He wants to use it for His glory.
BA: Well, Lee, for those who haven’t read Case For Christ or the other ‘Case For’ books, you were formally an atheist and also a journalist with the Chicago Tribune. And so you set out to investigate the evidence for Jesus. I’ll let you recount that if you could, just briefly, for those who aren’t familiar with your story.
LS: Yeah, I was an atheist since — well, I first called myself an atheist in High School, and thought that the idea of an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the Universe was just absurd, wasn’t worth even my time to consider. I had married a woman who was agnostic; she was just sort of spiritually confused. And so it was a neighbor who reached out to my wife; my wife gave her life to Christ, which I thought was the worst news I could possibly get, because I didn’t want to be married to a holy-roller, or somebody who’s gonna spend all her time on skid-row serving the poor or something! So I was really — honestly, I thought I was gonna divorce her. But I began to see positive changes in her character and values, and it encouraged me to go to church with her one day, where Bill Hybels was preaching, as a young guy, and gave a message called ‘Basic Christianity’. And it knocked out a lot of my misconceptions about the faith, and so I decided that I’d use my journalism training and my legal training to systematically investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity or any other world religion.
And so, I launched on what turned out to be a nearly two-year investigation — of the evidence of science, the evidence of history, philosophy and so forth — trying to come to a conclusion about whether any of this made sense, whether there was anything to back any of this up. And on November 8th 1981, alone in my room, just kind of sifting through all the data I’d collected over that two years, I came to the conclusion that in the light of the evidence it would require more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian! And so I realized that Jesus not only claimed to be the Son of God, he backed it up by returning from the dead, and then I recalled a verse that a Christian had pointed out to me earlier, John 1:12 which says “to as many as who receive him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name”. And so I realized that, “OK, I’ve got the believe part down, now I need the receive part”. And that’s when I repented of my sin, received forgiveness through Christ and my eternity changed, and my life changed in ways that I never foresaw. Cos I loved my work in journalism, I loved the Chicago Tribune, I loved the big city competitiveness of that environment, but God called me into other things, for which I’m really grateful because I would’ve missed all this adventure of the Christian life, obviously, if that hadn’t happened.
BA: As you’re recounting that story, I think sometimes “well, what if there’s skeptics listening to you Lee?”. I’m thinking, has anyone ever come up to you and said “well, Lee, that’s a nice story about you looking at the evidence, and coming to Christ, but you really just made that change because of your wife”, or “your own personal reasons”, or “you’re having a mid-life crisis or something”. What’s your response to that? I mean, obviously there are many factors that go into those sorts of things, but what’s your response to, you know, the skeptical objection like that?
LS: I actually have seen somebody online who said “Oh, Strobel’s just become a Christian cos he was afraid his wife was gonna leave him”, or something like that. And I just kinda shake my head and think, man you should talk to my wife! That’s just not the way it went down. The, you know, the problem in our marriage was really on my side, because I did not want to be married to a serious Christian, and I was the one talking about leaving because of that. She was willing to try to stay the course in the marriage even though difficulties obviously were ahead, being married to a non-believer, but it was really my negative reaction to the idea of her being a Christian that caused the problems in our relationship. But it really was the changes in her — her character and values and so forth — that were the impetus that caused me to investigate. And so, you know, it was really the evidence that tipped the scales for me. I was not willing, as a principled person, to play along with something if it wasn’t true. And I had to know: is there any substance to this? She claimed that the difference in her life that I was seeing was because of God. I didn’t believe in God!
So I needed to find out, you know, could there really be any evidence that supports this. Or — might I be able to dissuade her from her faith if I’m able to find evidence that points in the opposite direction, and get out of this whole predicament by convincing her that her faith in Christ was misplaced, and that faith is nonsensical? Well, it turned out the other way, and I just found that it was the evidence that was compelling. Despite, as you say, there’s a lot of factors that go in to this: I had moral reasons for there not being a God. I mean, it wasn’t just that I was intellectually skeptical — that was true — but I was also living a very immoral life, and frankly did not want to have a God looking over my shoulder, did not want to have someone to whom I was accountable. So there are a lot of motivations that go into, you know, why a person believes what he believes. Rarely is it purely intellectual. But in my case, the evidence is what tipped the scales to say, well, wait a minute, if this is true then Christ deserves my allegiance, my worship, my all.
BA: With that in mind, what role do you think — as an apologist — that evidence plays over and against, or alongside, other reasons like personal or existential reasons — kind of thinking of Pascal saying, you know ‘the reasons of the heart’.
LS: Yeah, you know, I think it’s — people react in different ways. My wife’s journey was much more a journey of the heart, in the sense that she met a Christian, who shared her faith, explained the gospel, it made sense, you know, immediately to Leslie. She did have questions but those were pretty easily addressed. And, she felt tugged toward God in very powerful ways after she had heard the gospel. And so her coming to faith was more a process of the heart than of the head. I was different, and I needed — because I had so many intellectual obstacles in my way — I needed resolution to that before I was willing to take a step of faith in the same direction that the evidence was pointing, by putting my trust in Christ.
So I think people are different. That’s why I love dealing with physicians, engineers, teachers, scientists, historians — you know, people who tend to deal with evidence, deal with facts, deal with logic, deal with that which is real versus that which is just imaginary or that which is wishful thinking. So I think different people react in different ways, and I think, as apologists, we need to recognize that. Sometimes we project on other people that they’re like us, and so their questions must be our questions, and they must have the same obstacles that I had. But everybody’s different, and I find that apologetics is effective in helping many people in their spiritual journey; for others, it’s a whole different experience.
BA: Well, yeah, I think when we get to heaven, will we find out that it was really your wife’s prayers, and not the evidence, you know, or…
LS: Bingo! You know, that’s a very good point. Because my wife, when she was a new Christian, met some women at church, and she told them, she said “I don’t have any hope for my husband — he’s a hard-headed, hard-hearted legal editor at the Chicago Tribune, he will never bend his knee to Jesus Christ”. And this one elderly saint put her arm around her, kinda pulled her aside, said “you know, Leslie — no-one is beyond hope”. And she gave her a verse from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 36:26, says “Moreover I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” And so, my wife — unbeknownst to me — prayed that verse for me for the entire two years of my investigation, behind the scenes. So she was praying for me, and you know, I don’t for a moment discount the power of that. I’ve seen God answer prayers in absolutely remarkable ways. So, you know, were my wife’s prayers a factor in this whole thing? Yeah, absolutely. It’s a multi-dimensional process! It’s rarely a simple “going from point A to point B” by sifting through some evidence.
BA: Mmhmm. Sometimes I think, you know, I watch discussions online, or sometimes I take part in them, and I think “I wonder if the people who are presenting their arguments are also praying”. Are they, you know, before bed are they going to the Lord and just crying out that these people that they’re spending hours online arguing with, are they asking God for the right tone, or for the Holy Spirit to work on their heart. Because, yes God might use these evidences and arguments, but it’s really God moving on their heart and how we have to just depend upon Him. And so, that’s why I wanted to ask you about that, because I know in your testimony that played a key role, even though God used the different evidences and was able to speak to you through them.
LS: Yeah, absolutely, and when I began my investigation I, even as an atheist, prayed. I said “God, I don’t believe You’re there. I’m convinced You’re not. But, if You are, I want to meet You, I want to know You”. So, I was open enough to say, you know what, I’m willing to take 15 seconds and pray a prayer to a God I didn’t believe existed, because the stakes were so high. If He does exist, it changes everything, so it was worth me saying “God, You know, I’m going into this. And if You’re there, I really want to find You. I don’t believe You are, but if You are, show Yourself to me”. And, you know what, I think those kind of things — the power of prayer — something we won’t really appreciate fully until we get to heaven.
BA: Wow, you know, if I was at an intellectual point where I could honestly say “I can’t believe in God” — I still in my heart would be like “God, if You’re there, You’ve got to do something. I’m willing to serve You if You’re there, but I can’t believe”. And so I wonder, what’s going on in people’s hearts who would be even unwilling to serve a loving God if He did exist, or if they could be shown. And so, sometimes I feel like, before I even do any apologetics, I wanna figure out like, hey listen — if it was real, wouldn’t you wanna believe? Wouldn’t you be willing? Isn’t your heart willing to be submitted to a God if it were true? And wouldn’t you pray — just if He’s there? I mean, what have you got to lose! It’s not Pascal’s wager but surely there’s no-one gonna be looking over your shoulder and mocking you for praying that prayer in private!
LS: I always tell people, you know, when I interact with them or speak to non-believers, I challenge them to, first of all, make this a front-burner issue in their life. In other words, to make this a priority to investigate whether or not God really exists. Number two, to do it with an open heart and an open mind. To be like an umpire in a baseball game that says ‘I’m gonna call a ball a ball and a strike a strike, regardless of how it affects the outcome. Just because that’s the truth of what, you know, whether it was a ball or a strike!’ So I want people to be open-hearted about it, be sincere about it, and part of that would be to say, you know, if you’re willing, to say “God, I don’t believe You’re there but if You are, show Yourself to me”. So I want them to be open-hearted and sincere about it. And the third thing I encourage them to do, is to say once the evidence is in, once you — you know, you’ll never exhaust every question you possibly have — but once you have enough evidence, be willing to reach a verdict. Because you can go on the rest of your life and ask questions.
There’s some point, as I did November 8th 1981, I had to sit there and go, well, let me reflect on this evidence I’ve seen, and reach a verdict based on the facts that I’ve collected during this, nearly two year investigation. So I try to encourage people along those three lines, and you know, most people are willing to do that.
BA: Well, Lee, I wanna shift gears now. I wanna ask you about — you know, one of the things that I find is so great about your work is that you’ve had what I see as the privilege of being a popularizer, and that’s not to use the word in any negative connotation whatsoever. And that is, you’re taking the scholarly and you’re bringing it to the level of the layman. You’re putting the best of scholarship within reach, and in an approachable way to a popular audience. And I think, well, not everyone can be an expert, so Lee, what encouragement would you have for apologists to go ahead and be popularizers, if you will?
LS: You know, we’re fortunate, especially these days, to have so many scholars who are doing the hard work of — in an intellectually rigorous way — analyzing historical/scientific evidence and so on. And we ought to be grateful to them, we ought to be encouraging them, we ought to be supporting them in what they do. And, you know, I’m not a scholar! I’ll never be a scholar — I’m a journalist. I ask questions, I investigate, I try to write something that the average person would understand, would appreciate and respond to. And so, I have great respect for the scholars that I deal with: I always compensate those that I interview, because I think it’s only fair that they’re compensated for their time and their expertise, and I always give them credit, I want to make sure that people understand that this is based on the research that they have done. And obviously, they’re more credible than me, having earned PhDs and studied this kinda stuff on this kinda level for a long time.
So I think that — you said, you’re a popularizer and I don’t want that to be a negative — well, I don’t take that as a negative at all. We all have our roles in the Kingdom and mine happens to be someone who kinda fills that gap between scholarship and popular writing. And I’m grateful God uses me in that way. And the other thing is, there are some scholars who are very narrow in their area of expertise. And so, you have to be aware as you access scholarship to try to popularize it, that just because a person has a PhD doesn’t mean they know everything about all topics. And so you have to really go in and talk to them about the areas that they’re particularly knowledgable about, and passionate about, and then put that as part of a mosaic, to be communicated and put together with other scholars to present a compelling case for faith — which is what I try to do in my ‘Case’ books.
BA: Mmhmm. Another way you’re continuing to do this is, with your writing you’re going to release a new novel called The Ambition. I’m reading it right now, and it’s great — I love it. I don’t want to give anything away but go ahead and just describe what the novel’s about in your own words.
LS: Yeah! You know, my daughter’s a novelist, and she’s written probably five novels that have a Christian thread through them. But she’s able to reach people I can’t reach. I mean, there’s certain non-believers who will not pick up a book called The Case For Christ — I mean, they’re not gonna do it! But they’ll read a novel. So I was kinda inspired by my daughter and thought, you know, what if I could expose a whole new group of people to evidence for the faith and some of these issues by wrapping the Christian message in a compelling piece of fiction that they would be more willing to access.
So I wrote this book called The Ambition; it’s kind of a John Grisham legal thriller, you know. It’s got a corrupt judge in a crime syndicate murder case, it’s got a disillusioned pastor who’s hungry for power, it’s got a cynical newspaper reporter who’s sniffing around for a scandal in the church. There’s a gambling addict who secretly has tape recorded a pay-off to a judge, and everybody who kinda gets near that tape, their life is in jeopardy. The book starts with a murder, so there’s mayhem, and corruption. I tried to write what I knew about, cos having been a journalist in Chicago I covered the crime syndicates, I covered a lot of the crime syndicate trials, and I covered the corruption cases involving the judiciary — some of the judges that I knew ended up in prison because they turned out to be corrupt. And so I tried to take what I had experienced in Chicago as a journalist, mix it with my experiences both as spiritual seeker — because I do have a character who’s a newspaper reporter, who’s skeptical, and looking for a scandal in the church; and also my experiences in ministry — because I have a pastor who’s sort of become disillusioned about the church but he thinks that maybe politics is the answer.
And so I try to mix all that together into a story that I’m hoping will reach a new audience. And it’s not didactic — it doesn’t hit you over the head with a message, but I’m hoping to open up some people to some of the issues involved with the Christian faith. So we’ll see what happens! I had a lot of fun writing it; it was incredibly difficult. It was a lot of fun at the same time. And I decided to do a sequel, because I love the characters so much and there’s loads that I haven’t killed off for the next book! I really want to spend some time with them, so I’m actually in the process now of writing a sequel.
BA: Well, in the part of the book I’m in, you just killed one of them!
LS: Oh, did I! Oh dear, sorry about that.
BA: Ha ha! No, there’s so many elements in there — it’s definitely a Chicago book, and there’s a lot of things that I thought, well, this is just Lee, you know, loving his home town. But there’s a lot of things I think, well, I looked at it thinking, hmm, alright Lee, you know, he’s writing this novel — it’s maybe unknown territory. I don’t know…so I’m skeptical, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt but ‘it’s gonna be cheesy’ you know, in the back of my mind I’m thinking “don’t step out into an area that’s not yours”. But now I’m thinking, this could really take off and I’m thinking if a sceptic was reading it, would they think “oh, here I’m being preached at”, and I thought, no, you know — they’re going to latch on to the character, there’s a character that you’re going to latch on to, and you’re gonna kinda follow them and say, “yeah, I wanna see the pastor go down”, or, you know, whatever! You create a lot of tension, and the dialogue is, you know, there’s really good back-and-forth dialogue, and twists and turns, and you think “oh, that was clever!” So I’m really looking forward to finishing that off soon.
LS: Thanks! Thanks. You know, you hit on the exact challenge, which is I’m known as a Christian writer, how do I write something that won’t be seen as cheesy, or won’t be seen as didactic, won’t be ‘hit you over the head’. And so, it is a challenge, to try to say as an evangelist, as an apologist, how can I write something where I ratchet back the ‘hit you over the head’ factor but try to create characters that people will relate to and deal with issues like pain and suffering, and like spiritual seeking, and like corruption, and like the possibility that miracles might actually take place. And to talk about the church: one of the themes of this book is that, even though this pastor’s become disillusioned with the church, in the end, you know what, the church is special, the church does play a central role in the world, and ought to. So there are these subtle themes that I hope people pick up on. Although you can read it just on the one level and I hope just enjoy it as a thriller with a lot of twists and turns.
BA: Yeah. Well, my next question was going to be what’s your goal in writing it? Because I couldn’t come to the interview having half read it (or a little bit more) at this point and say “oh, Lee I see that your goal in writing this is simply to say *blank*” — it isn’t a book like that. I think you’ve kind of answered the question of your underlying goals but I’ll leave it at that and I hope that people will pick it up. Some of us apologists, we think that if we’re reading a novel we’re really wasting our time because we could be reading logic, or philosophy or, hahaha…
LS: Haha! You know, Brian, that’s such a good point. I’ve got a friend who’s a brilliant guy: Harvard educated, just a brilliant guy. And he never reads novels. And I said “why not?!” and he said “cos they’re not true! I don’t wanna waste my time with them”. And, you know, having written a novel, I can honestly say there are parts of that book that are truer than any of my non-fiction; just because it’s fictional doesn’t mean truths can’t be communicated. And so I hope to do that in a fun and interesting and engaging way. But the one thing I’ll mention too Brian, that’s kinda different — in fact, Publisher’s Weekly just did an article on this because my book is one of the first to do this — when it comes out on May 17th, as people read the book, if they have the print edition, there’s little icons every once in a while in the book, and if you take your smart phone, your iPhone or whatever and you click on it, up will come a video, and in that video I kinda give a little background.
You mention Chicago hotdogs — there’s a little scene in the book where I mention hotdogs, well, all of a sudden a video will come up of me in Chicago at a hotdog stand talking about hotdogs and the whole Chicago experience, and it’s only about a 60- or 90-second clip, but we’ve got about a dozen of those through the book, and it adds some background. Like, I’ll talk about a real murder case like the Harry Aleman, who was a crime syndicate hit-man in Chicago whose life I covered a lot when I was a reporter, and I’ll mention him in passing in the book, but then if you click on the icon, I’ll come up and I’ll kinda give the rest of the story — and the time that Harry Aleman confronted me, and the murders he committed, and it’s all shot on scene in Chicago, so it’s got cool Chicago settings. And then if you read the eBook edition, like, on an iPad, you can click on hyperlinks as you go and the videos come up. So, anyway, it’s something we thought we’d try, and see if it resonated with people!
BA: Well, I like it. Now, I’m thinking about how you’ve used your writing gift, and your passion in that area of apologetics, to create something that reaches the world — in this case a novel. What are other areas that, if you’re speaking to other apologists, they’ve got gifts, maybe, different communication gifts, or you name it, what are the different areas that you think maybe there’s a lack, or a place where we can reach culture?
LS: Yeah, wow, great question. You hit on it, I think, in the question when you said what areas are they kinda feeling drawn to, or where do they feel gifted and so on. I think, you know, God has given us a wide spectrum of apologists, and I celebrate every single one of them. You’ve got a list of a hundred or so on your site, and I probably know several hundred beyond that, and I celebrate every single one of them. And they all bring something different to the table! You know, you’ve got this incredible website! That is nothing I could ever have done. And yet you’ve created a training, equipping, encouragement, educational, topical website that is serving people all over the world. And I’m thinking, God bless Brian, cos I couldn’t do that. And, you know, I write books — that’s my background, and that’s what I was trained in, that’s what I enjoy; other people have other niches that they fill. Mike Licona, my friend — you know Mike — he loves to debate! I’m not a good debater; I’d be terrible at that. I’m not a scholar. But I sure cheer on Mike as he does that — and Bill Craig, and others who debate. So I think the important thing is to say, as an apologist, what is the niche that God is calling you into? What area is it — is it technology, is it more relational, is it speaking, is it more one-on-one? Whatever it is. And then say, “God — expand my horizons! Help me think outside of the box; help me to innovate something; help me to try something new.” — in whatever niche that God has put you in. You’ve done that with your website! You’ve created features that I never would’ve thought of, and I just think it’s great — it’s got all these things I can click on and get instant information, and so forth, that I never would’ve anticipated. But God has opened your thinking to say, you know, how can I maximize the internet to encourage and foster more apologetics.
So I think each one of us, whatever niche we’re in, we just need to say “God — help me think beyond the obvious”. And some of that will be technology, but a lot of it, I think, is gonna be more in the relational area. I think the relational side of apologetics is where the coming growth is. I’m a bit supporter of small groups for non-believers. My good friend Gary Poole wrote the book Seeker Small Groups, which is how to do a small group for non-believers. I think it’s phenomenal. We had — I hired Gary in Chicago when I was part of Willow Creek Church there — and before long we had 11 hundred non-believers in these groups, and as we tracked them over time we found the conversion rate was 80 per cent! 80 per cent of the non-believers who joined a group and stayed with it came to Christ. Well, that’s remarkable. And, you know, that’s an area that Gary is called to kinda innovate in, and I’m kinda propagating the discoveries that we make in that area, because I think it’s where one of the cutting edges is. So it doesn’t have to be just merely technology and media, it can be (and should be) relational and personal as well.
BA: Yeah, the idea comes to mind of “find your passion, find your gifting, and put them together and you might just find your calling”, you know.
LS: Yeah, haha, that’s exactly right! Yeah, I think sometimes we think “oh man, is this really what God has called me to do cos I really enjoy it a lot!” And I think, you know, He gave you that passion. He gave you that desire. He’s given you gifts and abilities, and background and experiences, and temperament and so forth, and shaped you to make a contribution to the Kingdom, and if you enjoy it it’s probably a product that, yeah, you’re probably doing what God’s called you to do.
BA: Well, let me ask you about your experience as a journalist, and what, from a journalism perspective, and a researcher, what sort of advice do you have for apologists?
LS: Well, I think asking questions is key. And it’s the attitude with which we ask them, and it’s the curiosity that’s expressed, and it’s the willingness to say “I don’t have all the facts — I’m not the world’s leading expert. That’s why I’m asking questions of you.” And to say, you know, sometimes you’ll see a television journalist, and he’ll be doing an interview with somebody, and you feel like he’s giving more of his opinion than he’s getting from the person he’s interviewing, because there’s real desire to show how much he knows. And I think a good journalist comes in, not to try to show how much they know, but to really listen to the knowledge, data and information from a source, in order to be able to understand it and then communicate it effectively to others. So that’s what I try to do when I talk to other apologists. I want to, not so much talk about what I’m doing, I want to talk about what are you learning? and where are you growing? and where do you see God blessing your ministry? and what are the cutting edges, and growing edges of apologetics in your particular experiences? So I’m always asking questions because I really truly want to learn, and I know I don’t have all the answers, and yet I know, as a journalist, that there are answers out there. And one of my joys in journalism was to get a tip on a story and then explore it, investigate it, find the story and publish it, and have a big impact as a result. And I love that in the world of apologetics as well, when we have for instance some claims of an archaeological discovery, as we’ve had recently in the middle east, to be able to say, “Wow, could that be true? Well, let’s find out! Let’s interview scholars and experts and really get to the bottom of this whole thing. I don’t have all the answers, but I know people who are really smarter than I am, and well-educated, and they well might.” So, I like pursuing, you know, information in a sincere way, in a dogged way, as you say, not taking anybody’s word at face value, but asking why they believe what they believe to make sure they can back it up.
BA: Well, I think that’s good. So I wanna ask for more advice! And I’m asking it on behalf of those people that I kinda alluded to maybe earlier, where they read Case For Christ, it really ignited something in their heart, you know, like “wow, I’ve found apologetics, I’ve got the bug”. But they’re thinking, well, what do I do with this? Where do I go with it? And, Lee, you’ve been in this field for a little while, and I’m wondering what you would say to those people coming up to you after a talk, saying “hey, I really want to get into this — where do you point me?”
LS: Yeah, you know, you do get people who say that, and I just wanna give them a hug and say “that’s fantastic!”. Especially, I get excited when a woman comes up and says “I feel called into apologetics”. Cos we don’t have a lot of women apologists, and I’m not totally sure why that is, but I really try to encourage women to pursue this field. We need more women apologists. Well, we need apologists of all kinds. I’d say a couple of things: first of all, there are wonderful educational opportunities now, to really get a good grounding in philosophy of religion, apologetics — some wonderful educational institutions. I’m a huge supporter of Biola University, and Talbot School of Theology, in fact I just did a radio commercial that’s gonna be airing around the US soon, promoting Biola. I just think that it’s a tremendous resource for the Kingdom, with great people, great scholars who are passionate and sincere Christ followers, who can really — they’re a great resource to go to for growth and education in the area of apologetics. There’s a lot of online opportunities now to pursue further education — to get a Masters degree or whatever, — to grow in our knowledge. The other thing I’d say to people who feel called into it is don’t forget that apologetics is a hand-mate to evangelism.
You know, I think one of the heartbreaking things is sometimes you’ll see people who are really smart people and they become aficionados of apologetics, and they study and study and study, and they read all this stuff and they learn all this stuff, they’ve got all this knowledge, but they don’t do anything with it. And they’ve sort of cut themselves off from everyday people, and the lost whom God has called us to reach out to. So the one thing I’d emphasize is apologetics is a tool in evangelism, and our ultimate goal is to see people coming into the Kingdom of God, and apologetics is one way that the Holy Spirit draws people into the Kingdom — it’s a mechanism by which questions are answered and people are assured of the evidence and so forth, but we have to keep in mind “what is the goal here”. I remember when my son was a little kid, like seven years old, he was on a soccer team. And they lost every game! But they looked good — I mean, they were passing the ball pretty well — but they always lost. And finally I said one day to Kyle “you know, what’s your goal as a team?” and he said “oh, well the coach says the goal is to control the ball”. And I said “well, that’s the problem — the goal is to put the ball in the net, and you do that by controlling the ball”. And it’s the same thing with evangelism and apologetics. Our goal should not be to become brilliant apologists. Our goal should be to help people come into the Kingdom of God, and we do that often by studying and learning, but we don’t stop there. We wanna be involved with ministries and churches and opportunities personally where we’re engaging with people with questions, helping them in their spiritual journey, and encouraging them to put their trust in Jesus Christ. So I’d really like to emphasize that: that head knowledge is fine, but until we put it into action in terms of leading people to Christ I don’t think we’re using apologetics the way it could be maximized.
BA: Now, Lee, you’ve got some things that you’re currently working on, and you’ve mentioned to me the Institute at Cherry Hills. Why don’t you talk about that and what you’re doing lately?
LS: Yeah, I really believe in apologetics being part of the local church, and I know that’s your heartbeat too — and I hope it’s everybody’s heartbeat. I think para-church organizations have a huge role to play and are very important; I support many of them personally and financially. But I believe in apologetics in the local church, and so, as I moved to Colorado from California about 18 months ago, because my grandchildren are here, and I really want to play a role in the spiritual life of my grandchildren, so we moved out here to be near them, and all three of our granddaughters now live in the same neighborhood, and we’re able to play a role — Leslie and I — in their development, which we love. But we want to be part of a local church here, and so Mark Mittelberg (who’s been my ministry associate for about 25 years) and I — he moved out here as well — have connected with a church called Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch Colorado, and we’ve started what’s called the Institute of Cherry Hills. And the goal of the Institute is to try to innovate new ways that local churches can use evangelism and apologetics to reach their communities for Christ. And so we want to try things! It’s like a petri dish, you know. We’re gonna do a bunch of things that don’t work, and that’s fine, but we’re hoping that God will bless certain things and we’ll be able to tell people “hey, we tried this here — maybe you should try it in your church”. And so we’re doing all kinds of things in terms of apologetics and evangelism. For instance, we’re starting seeker small groups — small groups for non-believers — to try to innovate new kinds of groups and new approaches that can be used to lead people to Christ. We’ve got a team of impassioned evangelists at the church — we had 300 people at our last meeting. And we’re building a team out of that; we’ll have an apologetics group out of that, that will have a role in the church.
So, we’re just trying new things! And we hope that we’re not alone in this. I hope that everybody who’s a Christian is part of a church and trying to help that church be effective in evangelism in their community, and trying new things, and going out on a limb spiritually and seeing what God blesses and then telling the world when something works and God’s blessed it — say “hey, we tried this and here’s what happened”. And other churches can say “wow, we could do that too”. So that’s one of the things we’re doing. I just do it as a volunteer, but I do it because I’m passionate about seeing local churches effectively reach our neighbors and friends and colleagues and family members with the gospel.
BA: Well, if someone wanted to find that online, where would you want to point them?
LS: Yeah, you can go to chcc.org: that stands for Cherry Hills Community Church. Or you can just type in TheInstituteAtCherryHills.com, and it’ll take you right there. And you’ll see there a bunch of resources that, you know, what we’re doing, and trying. And anybody that’s in Colorado, all of our meetings and training sessions are open to anyone who wants to come, so we’d love to serve other churches if we can. We did a thing recently where we had about a thousand pastors from Colorado join us for a one-day conference on evangelism. It was totally free, we did it at Colorado Christian University, and did a whole day of training and encouragement, and motivation and practical help to local churches, trying to help them be more effective evangelistically. So anybody who’s in Colorado is more than welcome, but, you know, you can stop by our site, or you can read about what we do in our newsletter.
BA: Well, I was just going to say, for those people who aren’t in Colorado you’ve got this great newsletter, and I’ve been getting a few issues so far. So, tell people what that’s about, how they can sign up, and also your website.
LS: Yeah, you know, I’ve just started this newsletter — we just came out with the second edition, and it comes out every 10 days to two weeks. And it’s on apologetics and evangelism. Usually there’ll be a lead story that I’ll write, or somebody will write, and it’ll be on that topic, and I’ll do a Q&A where people can ask questions — say, well what about this, or what about that? And I try to research an answer and provide that. I have notes on things going on around the world on evangelism and apologetics, and links to things and so forth. So it’s meant to be a resource that will encourage Christians in their own personal apologetics and evangelism. I’m hoping that non-believers who read it will be encouraged too, and ask questions. I’ve been getting an enormous amount of questions submitted by readers, which has been so encouraging because of the — I don’t know how many I’ve received — but of the scores that I’ve received all but one, and one was not bad, but you know, they were all so sincere and encouraging “Lee, I’ve got a question — it’s really hanging me up on my spiritual journey, I need to understand why this or this”, and I just love the tone that people have. They’re saying “I really want to know — help me find an answer”. And again, I’m not the world’s leading expert, but I’ll call the world’s leading expert and find out! Get some good answers. So we do that, and it’s totally free, it’s called Investigating Faith and they can get it at LeeStrobel.com, or BibleGateway.com — I’m doing it in partnership with Bible Gateway. So either place — if you go to LeeStrobel.com you’ll not only be able to sign up for the free newsletter but you can see the trailer we did on my novel, which is like a 60-second — did you see that Brian?
BA: Yeah, yeah!
LS: Isn’t that cool! They did such a cool job of doing this like 60-second Hollywood-type trailer on the novel. Anyway, my website — it’s totally free; there’s hundreds of free video clips there, and one of my projects over this next year or two is to continue to fill that reservoir with good video clips that people would benefit from.
BA: Well, Lee — thank you for everything you’ve done, and for what you continue to do, and thanks for joining me for the interview, it’s been great.
LS: Well, Brian, it’s been great to connect with you, and I appreciate the people who access your website. I know there are people who care about truth, care about God, care about reaching the lost, so I feel in great kinship with them and with what you’re all doing. So thank you for the contribution you’re making as well.
BA: I’ve been speaking with apologist and author Lee Strobel. Links to all of Lee’s resources can be found at today’s blog post at Apologetics315.com. If you have enjoyed today’s interview, please share it with a friend via Facebook or Twitter, and remember to subscribe to this podcast in iTunes as podcast episodes are released a day in advance of the blog posting. While you’re in iTunes, please leave a positive review. This is Brian Auten of Apologetics 3:15, and thanks for listening.