Bob's blog – A skeptical lawyer

Lee Strobel – Former atheist and fake newsman?

Posted on April 22, 2018

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Lee Strobel’s website describes him as follows: “Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel is the former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune.” These are the twin pillars of Strobel’s marketing: he was an atheist and a journalist. This background supposedly equips Strobel to ask “the questions a tough-minded skeptic would ask.” Strobel supposedly “probes with bulldog-like tenacity the evidence for the truth of biblical Christianity.”[1]

Was Strobel an atheist?

Strobel claims that he considered himself an atheist, but that he held only superficial beliefs about religion. He explains,

I had read just enough philosophy and history to find support for my skepticism — a fact here, a scientific theory there, a pithy quote, a clever argument. Sure, I could see some gaps and inconsistencies, but I had a strong motivation to ignore them: a self-serving and immoral lifestyle that I would be compelled to abandon if I were ever to change my views and become a follower of Jesus.”[2]

This description sounds suspiciously similar to an evangelical caricature of atheism, as if I would suddenly understand how Noah fit all those dinosaurs on the Ark if I would only give up my hookers and cocaine. To those of us who are actually atheists, Strobel does not sound like he ever understood our point of view.

Real reporters interview both sides of an issue

Critics have accused Strobel of sham journalism. Beginning with The Case for Christ, Strobel follows the same pattern of faux interviews in a series of “Case for” books. Like most apologetic books, Strobel’s books are one-sided assessments. He interviews evangelical scholars who spout the standard apologetic arguments, but he never interviews critics.

In The Case for the Real Jesus, Strobel wonders why “so many critics rely on flimsy evidence and feeble arguments.”[3] He muses, “It’s not always easy to discern people’s motives.” But, Mr. Strobel, think about this real hard: what would a reporter do if he wanted to understand the motives of critical scholars? Interview them? Perish the thought. Strobel chats with a few conservative Christians and calls it an objective investigation.

Strobel does not interview like a reporter.

Just as Strobel does not sound like he was ever an atheist, he does not ask questions like a reporter. Strobel’s books are more like infomercials than journalism. Strobel is the shill, asking easy questions so the pitchman/apologist can hawk the product.

Consider Strobel’s first interview in The Case for Christ.[4] He asked Craig L. Blomberg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Blomberg about gospel authorship. Most Christians simply assume that St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John wrote the Gospels now attributed to them. However, the earliest manuscripts did not identify any author, and later scribes or editors added titles like “The Gospel according to Matthew.”[5]

Blomberg acknowledged that the four Gospels were originally anonymous, but claimed that “the uniform testimony of the early church” was that Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote the synoptic Gospels. A reporter would follow up with questions on the five Ws – who, what, when, where, why. And what was Strobel’s probing question? He asked, “How uniform was the belief that they were the authors?” That is a question from a shill, not a reporter. Of course, Blomberg answered that the testimony was uniformly uniform.

A real reporter verifies information

Blomberg also claimed someone named John wrote the document we now call the Gospel of John, but, Blomberg said, there is a question about which John.

Blomberg:    “You see, the testimony of a Christian writer named Papias, dated about AD 125, refers to John the apostle and John the elder, and it’s not clear from the context whether he’s talking about one person from two perspectives or two different people. But granted that exception, the rest of the early testimony is unanimous that it was John the apostle— the son of Zebedee— who wrote the gospel.”

Strobel:        “And,” I said in an effort to pin him down further, “you’re convinced that he did?”

Of course, Blomberg said he was quite convinced. However, Strobel ignored a blatant ambiguity in Blomberg’s statement about Papias – Blomberg merely implies that Papias said something about John writing a gospel. Papias did no such thing, and Strobel would know that if he checked Papias, Blomberg’s primary source.

Papias’ books have all been lost, but Eusebius (The Church HistoryBook 3, Chapter 39) quotes Papias’ discussion of John. Papias discusses John, and Eusebius infers that Papias refers to two different Johns – John the Apostle and John the Elder (a.k.a. John the Presbyter). However, neither Papias nor Eusebius so much as hinted at the possibility that anyone named John ever wrote a Gospel. A real reporter would verify the facts, but Strobel is a shill who verifies nothing.

And yet, Strobel was a real reporter

I would say that Strobel is a fake newsman, but he isn’t. The Len H. Small Memorial Award for Community Service Journalism that Strobel earned while working for the Chicago Tribune may not be a Pulitzer Prize, but Strobel actually is, as he claims, an “award-winning journalist.” He knows that a real journalist interviews both sides of a controversy, asks probing questions and verifies information.

Strobel knows how to investigate a story, but he chooses not to do so. He chooses to be a shill. Strobel sincerely believes in his product, but his marketing is less than honest.

Which brings me back to whether Strobel was an atheist.

Strobel claims he converted from atheism to Christianity based on the “overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ.”[6] However, I find it difficult to believe he converted because of evidence, which, on close examination, is more like a house of cards than an overwhelming avalanche.

 The Case for Christ supposedly depicts Strobel’s journey as he interviewed a series of biblical scholars and the mounting evidence eventually convinced him to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Strobel claims that he was still a cynical atheist when he questioned Blomberg, the first scholar he interviewed. However, Strobel was already playing a shill during this first interview.

In sum, I cannot say when and why Strobel became an evangelical Christian, but his story in the case for The Case for Christ does not hold water. Just as Strobel chooses to play the shill, he chooses to obfuscate the real story of his conversion.


[1] http://www.amchristiancounseling.com/spiritual-questions/

[2] Lee; Strobel, Case for Christ Movie Edition: Solving the Biggest Mystery of All Time (Kindle Locations 487-488) Zondervan, Kindle Edition. He said something similar in this interview with the Friendly Atheist. Http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2009/01/02/lee-strobel-answers-your-questions-part-1/

[3] Lee Strobel, The Case For The Real Jesus 267 (Zondervan 2007).

[4] Lee Strobel, Case for Christ Movie Edition: Solving the Biggest Mystery of All Time (Kindle Locations 612-613) Zondervan, Kindle Edition.

[5] Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted 105-06 (HarperOne 2009).

[6] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ 265 (Zondervan 1998).


-rgmiller