For me—raised Christian, studied religions in college, searching to solidify exactly what I believe--The Case for Christ was exactly what I had been looking for: a reinforcement of some things I knew or felt were true, and a starting point for an exploration of the points still in doubt or question. Strobel himself says it on page 270, in the conclusion of the book:
"Perhaps after reading expert after expert, listening to argument after argument, seeing the answers to question after question, and testing the evidence with your logic and common sense, you've found, as I have, that the case for Christ is conclusive....On the other hand, maybe questions still linger for you. Perhaps I didn't address the objection that's uppermost in your mind. Fair enough. No single book can deal with every nuance. However, I trust that the amount of information reported in these pages will at least have convinced you that it's reasonable—in fact, imperative—to continue your investigation."
That last part is crucial, and it's something I've believed for as long as I can remember: if there's even the possibility that any of the world's religions are true, then it's of chief importance that you figure out what to believe...and even once you've settled on something, to continue challenging and testing your beliefs for the rest of your life. Truth (capital T) should stand up to any scrutiny; even if your truth (lowercase t) should fall to devastating criticism, that doesn't automatically make your truth false—or that criticism Truth.
In other words, we're doomed to argue about religion until the Flying Spaghetti Monster comes to claim us all.
Religion, like politics, is a subject we humans don't seem to know how to discuss rationally. We can calmly disagree about TV shows, parenting styles, and fashion, but scuffles over religion ironically bring out the worst in us. Too often I've seen atheists categorically dismiss Christians as mentally deficient for believing in something they can't directly measure. Too often I've seen Christians hand out vicious judgment before hearing the other side of the story, as though Romans chapter 14 is just there for decoration. Instead of sharing our beliefs, understanding each other, and helpfully showing the other person the folly of their ways, we too often spit on the visitors to our ivory towers.
Having borrowed The Case for Christ, I went online to find a copy for myself and a copy to give to other people—given how helpful it was to me, and how accessible it is (complete with discussion questions at the end of each chapter), I figured it would be nice to have a spare that I could lend out to any religious searchers, or anyone who contends that you need to shut off your brain to believe in Christianity. Strobel makes it clear that men have been sentenced to death with less evidence than there is for the Biblical identity of Jesus; I think that's a compelling notion that makes for meaningful conversation, regardless of how much Strobel only skims the surface of the subject.
I was shocked to read the reviews of the book on Amazon. The recurring theme was, "Don't give this to an atheist, because they'll hate you." People blasted the book, some going so far as to say that, if this book reflects Strobel's journey to faith, then he wasn't much of an atheist to begin with to be converted so easily—that's not just a criticism of the book; it's a personal attack, and one that I would find offensive if it were leveled at me. While there are hundreds of positive reviews of the book, it's clear that the naysayers—at least, the ones whose comments I read—seem to object to the fact that this is The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, and not Lee Strobel Interviews Everybody in the World with an Opinion About Jesus and Concludes Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt that We Can't Agree on Anything.
I also found a book by Robert M. Price that's a direct response to this one, The Case Against The Case for Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel. The cover of the book is the same one Strobel uses, with the impression of a hand with the crucifixion nail hole in it, except it's giving a thumbs-down—so you can tell already this is going to be a polite, respectful disagreement. The book description reads as follows:
"Leading New Testament scholar Robert M. Price has taken umbrage at the cavalier manner in which Rev. Lee Strobel has misrepresented the field of Bible scholarship in his book The Case for Christ. Price exposes and refutes Strobel's arguments chapter-by-chapter. In doing so he has occasion to wipe out the entire field of Christian apologetics as summarized by Strobel. This book is a must-read for anyone bewildered by the various books published by Rev. Strobel."
Bear in mind that, as I was reading this description, I was still in that euphoric "I just read a very enjoyable, thought-provoking book that has helped open the door for me to start thinking seriously about my spiritual life again" mindset. Which promptly disappeared as soon as I got to the reviews, if not by the end of that description. I think one of the reviewers puts it best:
"Unfortunately, those who can most profit from exposure to this book are the ones least likely to read it."
Ooh! Ooh! I can tell you exactly why: Because, even before the reviewers start lambasting Strobel and praising Price, that book description is specifically targeting all those atheists I was warned not to buy The Case for Christ for. I might've been persuaded to read the book if it had read something like this:
"Millions of readers worldwide have seen the evidence presented by Rev. Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Christ, but how many have put that evidence to the test? Leading New Testament scholar Robert M. Price examines Rev. Strobel's arguments chapter-by-chapter, exposing dangerously flawed logic and inaccurate facts that misrepresent the field of Bible scholarship. This book is a must-read for anyone who has taken Rev. Strobel at his word, or who is bewildered by the various books he has published."
See, that would've gotten me interested. Instead, I'm looking at a book that sounds like a fair reexamination of Strobel's book, poisoned by raging personal bias. There's nothing wrong with writing a scathing rebuttal every now and again—and I'll reiterate that I haven't read this book, so I'm only going off of the description and the reviews—but I'm struggling to think of any work refuting Christianity or Christian literature that isn't laced with some sort of venom or smugness. The vibe I get from most counter-Christian arguments is not, "Hey, you're wrong, I'll show you why"; rather, it's more like, "FOOL! You know nothing of reality!" I don't know if pro-Christian arguments sound that way to other people (they probably do), but it seems counterproductive to craft a very intelligent, persuasive argument and completely ignore the sensibilities of the people you're trying to convince.
You know where I'm going from here? Other religions. I'm at the point in my study of Christianity where the questions I have yet to answer are the really complicated or contentious ones; before I spend any more time investigating the faith I grew up with, I want to apply the same critical eye to the rest of the world's religions (well, maybe not all of them, but you know what I mean).
If I call myself a Christian, I want it to be not just because I believe the evidence and arguments and it all feels right, but because I've looked at the evidence and arguments for other belief systems and found them unconvincing. I'd like to think I'm open-minded enough to give other religions, even atheism a fair chance—to give Truth a chance, wherever it may be found—and my next step is to take Strobel's approach to other beliefs. What do we know about Muhammad from historical records? How well have the sayings of the Buddha been preserved? How would a psychoanalyst describe L. Ron Hubbard? I'll do some investigative journalism of my own, and see where that takes me.
Whether Strobel's right on the money, woefully mistaken in every regard, or somewhere in-between, The Case for Christ is precisely what I needed to jump-start my stalled personal faith journey, and to spark my interest again in what is probably my favorite academic subject. Praise Zenithar, may I walk with the Prophets, thanks be to Pelor, and hallowed are the Ori.