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386 || How Atheist-Turned-Apologist Lee Strobel Found Faith in the Question Mark

The first word that went through my mind was DIVORCE.”

Lee Strobel considered his life with Leslie a pretty happy marriage—right up until they moved into a condo outside Chicago, and a neighbor brought over some cookies to introduce herself. Soon, Linda and Leslie became best friends.

Linda was a Christian.

A few months later, Leslie announced she had decided to follow Jesus. Divorce, he thought, was the only option.

“I did not want to be married to a Christian. I married one Leslie; I didn’t want her to change into something different.” Lee had been an atheist all his life and was in no way ready to cheer for Leslie.

They were childhood sweethearts, and when they married, Leslie was an agnostic—which worked out well for Lee, the spiritual skeptic. He was afraid he’d lose Leslie, not because she wouldn’t want to be married to him but because she might get boring. He liked their life together, and he would later write that he pictured a “sexually repressed prude who would trade our upwardly-mobile lifestyle for all-night prayer vigils and volunteer work in grimy soup kitchens.”

That didn’t jive with his lifestyle. Lee describes himself then as narcissistic, self-absorbed and drunken.

A spiritual skeptic, Lee didn’t particularly like Christians. He thought they were narrow-minded and shallow, and he accused Christians of believing something they knew couldn’t be true. Christianity and the idea of God weren’t even worth his consideration. And as a true confirmation bias ran its course, Lee found evidence that only supported his own beliefs: throughout high school and college, Lee read atheist literature. He even took a New Testament course from a skeptical professor. Lee was convinced the Bible  couldn’t be trusted.

“My atheism, my skepticism, had been buttressed over time in my reading and by my professor. But I never really looked at Christianity.”

Add all that to a life in newspaper journalism and crime reporting—a just-the-facts kind of career—and you have a bonafide atheist.

A New Leslie—But Still a Strobel

But Lee stuck around and didn’t divorce Leslie right away. He was right—in the months following Leslie’s decision, she did change. Actually, it pleasantly surprised him. He watched her character change, her values change and their family dynamics change. All for the better.

“It was winsome, and it was attractive,” Lee admits.

He was intrigued. Maybe he wouldn’t have to divorce her after all.

Finally, one Sunday morning, Leslie invited a sleepy, hung over Lee to go to church with her. He said yes, surprising even himself. He said yes because, not only was he [sort of] right about her changing, he was right about losing her. Though she wasn’t sexually repressed or praying non-stop, Lee felt he was losing Leslie to the Christian subculture, and in short, he was jealous.

“She had another man in her life, and that was Jesus.”

Sure, Lee was intrigued, but he really went to rescue her from what he considered a cult.

Lee and Leslie sat in a young Willow Creek Church, meeting in a movie theatre, listening to Bill Hybels preach a message called “Basic Christianity.” That was when Lee understood the Gospel for the very first time. And though Hybels hadn’t convinced Lee that it was true, the message did make him think.

“It shattered a lot of my misconceptions about Christianity…I walked out saying, ‘If that’s true, it had huge implications.’”

Still, Lee Strobel didn’t believe the Gospel; he wasn’t so sure. But if he was sure about anything, it was investigative journalism. He decided to take Christianity—Jesus—to task.

An Unexpected Adventure 

Lee might have been a drunken narcissist, but in his academics and his career, he was no slouch. With a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, a Master of Studies in Law from Yale Law School and fourteen years of bylines in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, investigation was his strong suit.

“I knew I could investigate Christianity. It invited investigation! Unlike other religions, it’s investigable.”

So, Lee Strobel began his investigation, expecting to knock it out in a weekend. He didn’t know he was beginning an adventure that would last almost two years.

Lee began studying ancient history, archaeology, philosophy and theology, even making calls to scholars on both sides of Christianity. He didn’t really tell them why, and they never really asked; he was “Lee Strobel from the Chicago Tribune, working on a project.” Turned out scholars are almost always happy to talk about their life’s work. Through it all, Lee asked tough questions about various aspects of Christianity—the reliability of the Bible, Jesus’ claims to deity and even the possibility of the resurrection.

One year and nine months later, Lee had the answers he needed. November 8, 1981, he sat in his room and reviewed the evidence he’d found and came to his final conclusion.

“It would take more faith to maintain my atheism than become a Christian. The scales had tipped in favor of Christianity.”

But Lee knew it was better than just belief in the facts of the Gospel. It was time for a relationship with Jesus.

“So I got on my knees and confessed a lifetime of immorality and received this free gift of eternal life.”

Finally, almost two years after he set out on his investigation, Lee believed the Gospel.  Now, Lee understood the Gospel and believed it was true.

Leslie’s Old Prayer, Lee’s New Passion

Lee walked out to the kitchen and found Leslie to tell her what had just happened.

“I feel like for two years, I’ve been reaching out, and reaching out, and I feel like I touched Jesus. He’s alive; He’s real; He’s resurrected; He’s the Son of God, and I just gave Him my life.”

Leslie looked at him a moment before bursting into tears and throwing her arms around his neck. She said she had almost given up on him, knowing how stubborn he was. But she had been praying a particular verse for him since she had become a Christian:

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT).

Lee Strobel, The Case For ChristGod had answered Leslie’s prayer, and for the first time, ever, Lee was okay with that.

The Case For Christ

As a journalist and legal reporter, Lee Strobel was trained to see the cold, hard facts. But what’s so interesting about Lee’s story is it wasn’t just the cold, hard facts that won him over. What really grabbed Lee was the dynamic of the objective facts of Jesus and the subjective stories from lives changed by Him.

More than fifteen years after Lee’s personal investigation of Christianity, he wrote about his own story in “The Case For Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus.” He describes the story dynamic in an interview with Dr. J.P. Moreland, a philosopher, theologian and apologist. Moreland’s first appeal for the truth of Christianity is the stories of the disciples.

Jesus’ twelve disciples lived with Him; they knew the real Jesus, and they were willing to die for Him. Their belief wasn’t just a doctrine or something they hoped was true. It was their life, and they were fully invested in it. They were all in with Jesus, and He changed their lives.

Lee experienced that change, too, just like the disciples and just like Leslie. Lee says his life, character, worldview, relationships and priorities all changed for the good. Lee’s life—his story—is now part of the evidence in the case for Christ.

“Stories that are rooted in truth are so much more powerful than a moral story made up just to make a point.”

And it’s because of the power of story Lee is now traveling around the country sharing his. He tells the facts alongside the familiar. He begins with the lede and ends with the Lord. Lee’s story appeals to both the head and the heart.

“We’re not just computers that process information. We have hearts, and I think a story touches both. A story that can touch both the head and the heart has special power.”

Lee Strobel discovered that power in the story of Jesus.

The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel

 

An updated and expanded edition of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus” (Zondervan, 2016) is now available, alongside several of Lee’s books including, “The Case for Faith,” “The Case for a Creator,” “The Case for Hope,” and “The Case for Grace.” Lee Strobel is a teaching pastor at Woodlands Church in Texas and Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University.

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