Many Evangelicals think of Lee Strobel as the man who can cure your doubts about their religion. His 1998 book, The Case for Christ, has sold millions of copies, was made into a 2017 movie by the same name, and was recently re-issued in a “new and updated” edition.
The story that Evangelicals find so convincing and delicious is this: Strobel, a tough-as-nails atheist journalist and his atheist family are out to dinner when his daughter is saved from choking to death by an evangelical nurse who felt called by God to go to the restaurant that night. Strobel’s wife converts, and Strobel sets out to prove her wrong, using the same strategy that made him a fearsome investigative journalist. He lines up scholars and theologians and confronts them with the hardest possible questions about their faith—and comes away convinced that the Evangelical view of the Bible and Jesus is true. He accepts Jesus as his savior and proceeds to lay out those persuasive interviews in his book, which goes on, as I said, to become a religion best-seller.
The problem, according to author and religion critic David Fitzgerald (and others), is that key parts of this story are distorted at best and fabricated at worst. Fitzgerald is the author of Nailed and Jesus: Mything in Action, part of The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion series. In this interview, he discusses how Strobel stretches the truth to the breaking point, and why.
Tarico: Several books point out flaws in the Biblical research and archeology cited by Strobel, including The Case Against the Case for Christ, by New Testament scholar Robert Price, and Challenging the Verdict by Earl Doherty. True believers may be persuaded, but few serious antiquities scholars or educated skeptics take Strobel’s work seriously. Even so, one might argue that Strobel assembled bad evidence in good conscience. You’re not so sure. Why not?
Fitzgerald: I can’t give him the benefit of that particular doubt anymore. Strobel has cultivated a thoroughly bogus image that he happily encourages readers to embrace. His fan base is led to believe he was a diehard atheist who was converted by these interviews. In reality, he was a lapsed Lutheran who became a pastor at a mega-church. It wasn’t until over a decade later—and after writing three books in defense of evangelical Christianity—he had the idea to select a line-up of Evangelical academics who support his view and lob softball questions at them, all under the guise of a “tough skeptic.”
He is careful about what he claims explicitly, but the popularity of his franchise rests on this pivot, the idea of a hard-headed skeptic who set out to prove Christianity wrong but was just blown away by the evidence and had to surrender to Christ. Strobel doesn’t set the record straight. Instead, he has milked it to the tune of millions of dollars, writing book after book with the same formula: He positions himself as the skeptic, and then lo and behold, the evidence for the resurrection or against evolution (or whatever new evangelical theme-of-the week he’s advocating) is just overwhelming.
Even today, he keeps up his “tough skeptic” schtick. This quote from a recent book is typical of Strobel’s rhetoric:
I was determined to reach whatever verdict was warranted by the hard evidence of history and the cool demands of reason.
Yes, I was looking for opinions, but they had to be backed up with convincing data and airtight logic—no rank speculation, no flights of faith. Like the investigations I undertook at the Chicago Tribune, I would have no patience for half-baked claims or unsupported assertions. There was too much hanging in the balance. As the Jonestown victims had chillingly reminded me, my faith is only as good as the one in whom it’s invested.
So why don’t you come along with me on this investigative adventure? After all, as Jesus himself cautioned, what you believe about Him has very real consequences. Let’s resolve to keep an open mind and follow the facts wherever they take us—even if it’s to a conclusion that challenges us on the very deepest levels…
Tarico: The problem with Strobel’s books is pretty easy to spot: It’s confirmatory thinking. Yes, he uses hard questions about Christianity as outlines, but then he searches for any evidence or line of reasoning that might, in any way, allow his version of Christianity to be right. It’s fascinating how he speaks the language of skepticism—and then somehow does the opposite. The skeptical stance is merely a literary device, because he fails to ask the questions or consult the experts who could show him wrong.
But, jumping back, what about this story about him setting out as an investigator to dissuade his newly religious wife?
Fitzgerald: Strobel tells a very different version of events in one of the less-known books he wrote before his blockbuster, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary: How to Reach Friends and Family Who Avoid God and the Church. It goes like this:
His parents encouraged him to believe in God, and brought the children to Lutheran church regularly. He hated it and was relieved after going through confirmation that he was done with “the religion thing.” As an adult, Strobel didn’t look into the evidence for God—he simply thought the idea of a God, angels and demons were absurd to begin with.
A few years after high school, he married Leslie, his childhood sweetheart. As a child, she and her family attended a Methodist church and later a Presbyterian church with her mother, who would sing hymns to her as a bedtime lullaby. But religion was largely a curiosity for her.
After college, he landed a reporter job at the Chicago Tribune, where he tells us: “I thrived in the cutthroat environment, the adrenaline rush of deadlines, and the get-the-story-at-any-cost mentality. I was known as an aggressive and accurate reporter. There were times, however, when I went over the ethical edge. …like using ploys to mislead crime victims and witnesses . . . “My attitude was ethics were fine to discuss in journalism school, but they shouldn’t get in the way of getting a good story.”
Meanwhile, while Strobel was being a huge a-hole, his wife Leslie became close friends with a neighbor, who one day invited her to come to a new kind of church meeting in a movie theater. She soon rededicated her life to Jesus, and months later, in January 1980, Lee joined her.
Incidentally, the preacher at that church? Mega-church superstar, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek. In 2018, his assistant accused him of sexually harassing her during this same period, and he quickly retired, which prompted ten additional women to come forward and accuse him of sexual harassment. Then, both the pastor who succeeded him and the church board also resigned, admitting they mishandled the sexual misconduct allegations.
Tarico: Gross. Wasn’t Strobel working as a pastor under Hybels when he wrote The Case for Christ? Not that he was necessarily privy to Hybels’ bad behavior. But there is a broad, ugly pattern of Christian leaders with thinly veiled secrets and people looking the other way because they don’t want to interfere with God’s work. There’s also a broad, ugly pattern of stretching the truth—or breaking with truth—to advance the cause of Christ.
When people frame things in terms of eternity, heaven and hell, then all manner of bad behaviors can be construed as a lesser evil in the service of a greater good. Chris Rodda wrote a book called Liars for Jesus in which she takes down David Barton, an Evangelical who has literally rewritten American history to suit the Religious Right. Recently, you have been on the speaking circuit talking about Strobel, and you mention another infamous case, Antony Flew.
Fitzgerald: Oh, don’t get me started on David Barton—his book was so rife with false statements, his own publisher pulled his book off the shelves! As for Antony Flew, he was a respected British philosopher and atheist who ostensibly flipped in his later years—at least according to a book published in his name in 2007: There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. It’s this same beloved Evangelical trope: the “hard-core atheist” who succumbs to the evidence. But the book was almost immediately exposed as a hoax.
The book’s actual author(s) turned out to be its “co-author,” evangelical promoter and businessman Roy Abraham Varghese, and evangelical preacher Bob Hostetler (who has also written several books with another popular evangelical apologist, Josh McDowell). The pair had taken advantage of Flew, who didn’t write a word of it and was by then suffering from progressive dementia. (At the end of his life, as it advanced, he did begin espouse a rather incoherent Deism, so it’s easy to see what made him an attractive target. But even in his dementia, Flew rejected any belief in a personal god, let alone Christianity.)
Other “tells” were that the book was full of Americanisms; and that the confused Flew himself later couldn’t recognize the arguments attributed to him. Yet despite the hoax being exposed in 2007, almost upon arrival, the film version of Case for Christ goes out of its way to name-drop Flew, and Christians are still repeating the bogus story. In fact, more Christians seem to know “the world’s most notorious atheist” than atheists ever did.
Tarico: You call these easily-debunked defenses of Evangelicalism “comfort food for a desperately grateful Christian readership.” Do you think that’s the whole point? I’ve written about why good Christians do bad things to win converts—things like preying on grade school children (a la Child Evangelism Fellowship) or preying on foreign students via “friendship missions.” I say preying, because the students are lonely, far from parents and far from home, and don’t know American culture well enough to realize they are marks. Is the Strobel/Flew thing the same?
Fitzgerald: It certainly shows the same kind of dubious ethics (if not outright predatory behavior) that we’ve seen in plenty of other religious cases.
Tarico: I guess Strobel’s dubious story wouldn’t matter so much, but you say that he took the same liberties with his defense of Christianity as with his personal narrative.
Fitzgerald: Absolutely. What Christians need to realize is that regardless of whether Christianity is true or not, what Strobel and his team of “experts” are peddling to them so successfully is not. It’s a constant stream of distortions and misinformation.
For example, Strobel’s very first interview is with Dr. Craig Blomberg, a Baptist seminary professor (not a historian).* Dr. Craig Blomberg has since said that Strobel’s write-up of the interview was not verbatim but rather heavily paraphrased and full of what were, in Blomberg’s view, “oversimplifications.” He said his initial impulse when he saw Strobel’s draft was to edit for accuracy, but in the end decided to correct only the worst problems(!). So right out of the gate, we have some serious credibility problems. And the rest of the book is just as full of inaccuracies.
*[Note: Only two out of the 13 experts clearly have history degrees. Dr. Blomberg has published on the historicity of the New Testament, but through his career has held an a priori theological commitment to the idea that the gospels are history. Denver Seminary, where he teaches, requires alignment with this statement of faith: “We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, inerrant in the original writings, complete as the revelation of God’s will for salvation, and the supreme and final authority in all matters to which they speak.”]
Tarico: How does the film version of Case for Christ compare with the book?
Fitzgerald: Strobel has claimed that the film is about “80% accurate,” which is completely ludicrous. And I’m not talking about it getting the movie treatment. Of course, like all biopics, they change things around, simplify storylines, blend characters, I get that. That’s not special. But there’s Hollywood bullshit, and then there is a deeper, more insidious kind of bullshit. The film version of Lee Strobel’s spiritual journey bears almost zero relationship to his real life story, but it presents the Lee Strobel Myth™ in every loving detail. It’s the imaginary life he desperately wishes had been the case.
For example, two of the “experts” he “interviewed” and purported to be so impressed with, don’t even exist. “Father Jose Maria Marquez” and agnostic “Purdue professor Roberta Waters” are completely fictitious characters. In reality, all of Strobel’s hand-chosen stable of house experts are evangelical protestant apologists, and only 2 (possibly 3) out of 13 of them even have historical credentials to begin with.
Tarico: What about the points raised by these experts?
Fitzgerald: Strobel doesn’t act like a reporter, and his “historians” don’t act like historians—because he isn’t, and they aren’t. Either they are misquoted by Strobel, as one of them has admitted—or they are acting as flat-out propagandists. Because it’s not just that they are misrepresenting the evidence. It’s the way they do so—deliberate, calculated and shameless. Here’s a prime example:
One of the craziest parts of Case for Christ was Strobel’s citation of “micrographic letters”—handwritten inscriptions on ancient coins too small to be seen by the naked eye—proclaiming Rex Jesus and Messiah and King of the Jews. This idea comes to Strobel second-hand from Baptist preacher and disgraced Mississippi State University archeologist, E. Jerry Vardaman, who claimed to have uncovered a secret history of the ancient world, completely unknown to mainstream academia, in these tiny inscriptions.
Needless to say, this bizarre theory didn’t pan out, and Vardaman was removed from his academic position. Real historians were never fooled—just folks like Strobel and his expert Dr. John McRay, who cites Vardaman’s nonsense with a straight face. What’s more, in Strobel’s “new and updated” edition of Case for Christ, its clear that Strobel has since gotten the memo, since he oh-so-carefully rewrites this section to retroactively distance himself from the ridiculous claim—as if he was skeptical about it all along—but without removing it, or admitting that he knows it has since been completely debunked.
Tarico: You’ve taken some heat for your writings too—especially your argument that the New Testament stories about Jesus are historicized mythology instead of mythologized history.
Fitzgerald: Absolutely, Jesus mythicism is a minority position, and I suspect it always will be. For many reasons, I don’t think there ever was a “Real Jesus”—but whether there was a genuine historical figure or not, our evidence for him is not great, and none of it appears connected to anyone who ever actually existed in the first century. And in any case, the “Jesus of Faith” is a product of theological wishful thinking, every bit as fabricated as Strobel’s Hollywood conversion story—and for the same reason.
Tarico: It makes me think of fan fic.
Fitzgerald: (laughs) Yes! All scripture is fanfic!
Tarico: What do you most wish that Strobel’s readers knew about him or about his books?
Fitzgerald: That he is selling them spiritual junk food, just as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. And maybe they should be the ones calling out the David Bartons, the William Lane Craigs and the Lee Strobels, and not leave it to the atheists to do their fact-checking for them. Because if there is a god that’s anything like what Christians preach, he doesn’t need their sleight of hand to prop him up—does he?
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
Great piece. Thank you! I remember being so impressed with Strobel back in my evangelical days. So glad I’m out of that delusion. Love your work!
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Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
Reblogging for future reference:
I’m shocked another famous Christian is a liar and con artist for mammon.
Keep up the good work Valerie!
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I guess I am not surprised, but I am disgusted at the behavior of people who tell us constantly that we cannot be moral without their god. Apparently they cannot with it. I was given a copy of The Case for Christ and read about six pages before realizing that it was a bogus effort, a sham. If one knows anything about the Bible, it is easy to see where Mr. Strobel drifted away from the truth.
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Wonderful interview, Valerie.
Back in my Bible college days, the chancellor of the college said in a sermon: I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth. 😀 40+ years later, I totally understand his statement (even though he was being funny).
Preachers, by design, massage and rewrite the stories they tell. They don’t let facts get in the way of telling a good story. Stories of supernatural conversions sound doubtful or unbelievable, yet congregants holler AMEN! And church members do the same during testimony times.
“Lying for Jesus” is very much a part of Evangelical church life. Strobel, based on David’s observations, is just another “liar for Jesus.” I always doubted his “atheist” story. Goes right along with other testimonies I have heard from preachers about their atheist/mobster/satanist/drug dealer lives before Jesus saved them. An Amish-Mennonite man came up to me years ago and said, “Bruce, I feel bad about not having a dramatic conversion testimony. I was raised in a Christian home and never did anything real bad.” He believed these “liars for Jesus” were telling the truth and their stories made him feel inferior. Many of the wild stories Evangelicals tell are just one person wanting to be viewed as “badder” 😀 than someone else so , to quote the Bible, the grace of God may abound. “Look at how bad I was before Jesus saved me!”
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I really did lead a bad life before The Lord accepted me. And if i was given the choice, I wish i had never done the things i did. Instead i wish i was raised in a home where there was Jesus Christ at the heart of that home. That way there would be much less sin on my behalf. And it wouldn’t be as easy for me to be a wicked man. Christian walk seems tough at times, but easy route leads to nothing good. Maybe y’all should have told that man how blessed he is?
I’ve seen just the opposite. People raised in a christian home, yet bad. Also people raised in a secular home, and a pillar of the community. So, there never was a guarantee of being good because christ was preached, but being raised to be moral with a sense of responsibility and having empathy. Without those, it doesn’t matter how you were raised.
The “christian walk” is tough because all failures are your, all successes are god’s. It erodes your self-image. But it can also become a form of justification. “I committed this evil, but jesus forgives me.” Robert Deer, the Planned Parenthood, shooter justified exactly this way, the thing is he’s not wrong.
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An acquaintance pushed this book on me in her attempts to help me find my way, and though I couldn’t stomach it, let alone finish it, I kept the book for an appropriate amount of time before returning it. Now I chuckle at how shame and guilt worked their wiggly religious fingers into my psyche around the whole thing. I’ve had the thought to push this article on said acquaintance, but I won’t. She will come to the truth on her own eventually. I can’t help but feeling a tad vindicated. Thank you.
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Reblogged this on Thesseli.
I am so very glad I am not Christian.
Sadly, I saw too many examples of Christian leaders stretching the truth to the breaking point for “the cause of Christ.” Too many preacher stories told from the pulpit that I knew weren’t true, for example. It’s one of the things that prompted me to look more objectively for truth. The closing point of the article is right on: why would a supreme being need any extra help to make himself and his will evident? Shading, bending or augmenting the truth is your admission that the truth doesn’t support your views.
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Have seen his name thrown around but knew nothing of the guy. This was a great read. Thanks. Often thought, if i didn’t have any morals I’d pen an Atheist-to-Believer book and sell it to evangelicals. I know ALL the arguments and what lights their fire, and what they *want* to hear. Pushing those buttopns would be the easiest thing imaginable…. and lucrative, as you’ve pointed out.
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Excellent read. I appreciate your work so much Valerie.
I can prove Christianity is false just using the New Testament itself. Here is one of my essays. I’ve never had any of my essay printed, as they were during my own studies which led me and my wife out of the Christian faith.
CONCEPTION OF JESUS.
Do you think that Mary and Joseph should have remembered the miraculous events surrounding the birth of Jesus? You would naturally think that when a woman goes through a unique conception, that she would remember it, and that the man who’s wife became pregnant while they were engaged, without any effort on his part, that he would remember it also. It is not something he would easily forget. Yet the gospel writers seem to have strange memory lapses.
According to Luke 2: 42-50, Mary finds Jesus in the temple, she chastises him for causing so much trouble, whereby he replied “Why is it that you are looking for me? Did you not know that I must be concerned with the affairs of my father”. Luke’s gospel adds, “and they (Mary and Joseph) did not understand the saying that he (Jesus) spoke to them.” Mary does not understand, Joseph does not understand, If Mary and Joseph were both visited by angels before the birth of Jesus, how is it that they don’t understand, some twelve years later. Has Mary forgotten that Jesus was supernaturally conceived in such a way as was never experienced by any other person? Is it unlikely that Mary would forget Elizabeth saying to her? “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” “And why is this (granted) to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me.” Luke 1:42-43, and especially Mary’s own words. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my saviour. For he has looked upon the humble state of his slave girl, for, behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed, because the mighty one has done great things to me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49,
After all of this Mary does not know what Jesus meant when he said that he must be concerned about the affairs of his father. How could Mary and Joseph forget that the wise men Magi worshipped Jesus as a baby and presented him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Matthew 2:11, They also seemed to forget how an angel appeared to Joseph telling him to go to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Matthew 2: 13, and that Herod slew all of the children two years of age or under in Bethlehem. Matthew 2: 16. How could they forget that, (apart from the fact that it fulfilled scripture,
Hosea 11:1) Why did they have to flee to Egypt ? Did they go to Egypt? According to Luke 2: 39, they went to Nazareth and were not in the dangerous area of Bethlehem, where it is alleged that Herod had the children slain. This creates another problem Herod died four years prior to when the church originally stated that Jesus was born.
Perhaps Matthew’s placing them in Egypt to fulfill scripture was too quick for Joseph and Mary to remember, for Luke 2: 22, has them in Jerusalem for forty days after the birth to fulfill Leviticus 12:1-8, and then in Luke 2:39, they return to Nazareth. They also seemed to forget how the shepherds, made known the saying which had been told to them about this child, Luke 2: 17. Mary and Joseph even forgot, how they marveled ten months after the angelic visitations, that is, one month after the event surrounding Jesus birth.
At that time they were already surprised when Simeon and Anna, the daughter of Phanvel, spoke of Jesus future while he was yet still an infant. Luke 2:25-38.
If these events are historical, why is it that later, during Jesus active period, no one, not even his family, seem to know of his marvelous origins, Matt.13: 54-55, If a conception took place would not Mary have some idea just as to who Jesus was? Would not she reveal this information to her family? Yet we find that Jesus relatives, who came to seize him, Mark 3:21,31, are not told by Mary his mother, who comes and joins them, that contrary to what they think, Jesus is not crazy.
The gospel of John states “For neither did his brothers believe in him” John 7: 5, Did Mary not inform the rest of her children of Jesus divine origins. It is hard to understand that Mary would not inform them that Jesus was the “messiah” so that they might believe in him and thereby enjoy salvation, and what of Mary’s own reaction towards Jesus. In the few appearances that Mary herself makes in the gospels, during the lifetime of Jesus, there is no indication that she showed any understanding that her son Jesus, was the “son of God.” by means of a unique conception. Mark 3:31-35, John 2:3-4. She, Mary revealed no such understanding to his followers.
Jesus earlier followers said that Jesus became the “Son of God” through the resurrection and they never mentioned a unique conception. Paul declared Jesus to be “Son of God” with power, by the resurrection from the dead. Romans 1: 4, see also Acts 13: 33, Where Psalm 2: 7 is applied to the resurrection.
The doctrine of a unique conception seems to have no effect upon Christian teaching prior to its mention in the last part of the first century.
On the basis of New Testament records it is doubtful that Jesus family, or the early believers, and most of all, even Mary herself did not know about the unique conception she is alleged to have undergone.” Did you not know that I must be concerned with the affairs of my Father?” Strange as it may seem, Mary and Joseph did not know it. They did not know it because they had never heard of their son’s “miraculous conception”. It appears that the unique miraculous conception came into circulation long after the deaths of the people in this story.
Jim. Lee. 9/99.
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@Jim Lee: Are your essays available on the web? Please, give us a link to them, if that’s the case. The essay here above is just super! I really like your skillful reasoning.
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excellent argument, Jim
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Valerie, a theoretical physicist says your non-believer position is ‘irrational’.
The 2019 Templeton prize winner, Marcelo Gleiser, flatly supports the god is real claim. See the latest issue of the Scientific American magazine.
I contend that his claim ofscience based proof of God is so.much hokum.
Hmm. Did you read that article. They of course pulled his most controversial statement for the title, but from the context it appeared that he was talking about only positive atheism, meaning an affirmative stance that there is no god, as opposed to simply a lack of belief in the absence of evidence. Also, if I remember correctly, he was pretty clear that all he thinks the scientific method allows for is some prime mover–not the humanoid gods of religions.
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Just a quick scan of the article. Thanks, Valerie. I will revisit it.
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Do you know anything about the Templeton Foundation? It’s a Christian research org which Sean Carroll noted: “the entire purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to blur the line between straightforward science and explicitly religious activity, making it seem like the two enterprises are part of one big undertaking.” The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was renamed in 2001 the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities.
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Jerry Coyne keeps us apprised of the shady practices of the Templeton frauds on his blog:
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I’ll have to go back and double check it too.
Dr Craig Blomberg (not Bloomberg) has a PhD in New Testament History from a leading, secular British University. Yet look at how Fitzgerald describes him: Christians need to realize is that regardless of whether Christianity is true or not, what Strobel and his team of “experts” are peddling to them so successfully is not. It’s a constant stream of distortions and misinformation. For example, Strobel’s very first “expert,” Baptist preacher (and non-historian) Dr. Craig Bloomberg’
I also find it amusing that Fitzgerald is chiding Strobel for offering fluff, misinformation and noting his works in need of fact checking given the level to which these traits afflict his own handling of these topics in his book Nailed.
Thank you for the correction. He is indeed ordained as a Baptist minister, and is indeed not a historian. His credentials appear more substantial than implied by Fitzgerald’s description, but hardly more objective.
From Denver seminary: “Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. He received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a BA from Augustana College. Before joining the faculty of Denver Seminary, he taught at Palm Beach Atlantic College and was a research fellow in Cambridge, England with Tyndale House.”
From Aberdeen University: “Aberdeen has trained Christian Ministers since Bishop William Elphinstone founded Kings College in 1495. The medieval campus is centred around the beautiful Kings College Campus and Chapel. It is the 5th oldest university in the UK. Bishop Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen and Chancellor of Scotland wanted to train clergy for communities in the North of Scotland and research and teaching has continued from 1495 to the current day. The University is dedicated to the ‘pursuit of truth and in the service of others.’
. . . The department’s strong links to both church and clinical settings, along with the University’s extensive library holdings, make Aberdeen a dynamic and rich context in which to study theology’s capacity to contribute to the transformation of individual lives and Contemporary society.”
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I received my PhD from Aberdeen. Like all ancient universities in the UK (Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews etc) it was set up by church leaders. One famous incident from the University was taken to be at the forefront of signaling the closing of a predominant Christian Britain https://academic.oup.com/ehr/article/CXXVII/525/345/395412 The Divinity department is a leading center for secular Biblical research in the world. Well known secular New Testament scholars such as Professor Steve Mason have recently taught there. It was also one of the first universities to teach courses on secularism (run by Dr Anja Finger), and gave Richard Dawkins an honorary doctorate. It was the first University in the UK to list Carriers’ books on Jesus mythicism in its curriculum. The University is routinely ranked as one of the most prestigious places to study New Testament history in, and recently was honored in this regard by the NTS.
People coming to read your article are told by Fitzgerald that Strobel is interviewing preachers, who have no expertise in New Testament history, and he provides the example of a person who has a PhD in the topic and who publishes in peer-reviewed New Testament journals! That is misleading. Utterly and objectively. But then this is Fitzgerald, the guy who routinely massacres classical history in his polemical books. He has a pretty long and substantiated record of playing loose with the facts in order to score an ideological point (e.g. his use and appeal to Seneca, Philo, Aramaic etc is just as troublesome). The phrase people in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks rather springs to mind.
Unless you are suggesting all theology departments in secular universities the Anglophone world are not objective, e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, Yale (etc) your comments above are entirely without merit.
Thank you for the Ms. Knight link. That was fascinating history that I knew nothing about. As to your question above, please see “Rational Human’s” comment below about Hinduism.
Although this grossly oversimplifies, a theologian studies the history within a story, typically within some assumption of the veracity of the story. A historian analyzes the context in which it was written including prior literary/cultural/philosophical influences that shaped the author and story. To my mind it’s the difference between studying the intricate landscape of Middle Earth, the characters and their alliances and the author’s meaning–vs studying Tolkien, WWII, other contemporary and prior influences or the writing and publishing timeline and process.
That said, I claim no expertise in either. I myself am more interested in the psychology and sociology of religion, rather than either of these.
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You said, “(when he has a PhD in the *very topic* that is being discussed- the historical Jesus- from a secular university and has peer-reviewed publications on it).” I’ve tried hard to find Blomberg’s exact degree and/or his dissertation topic and can’t seem to find either. All of the sites I’ve seen simply say he has a Ph.D. in New Testament, which could mean either history or theology. I’m not arguing here–just looking for accurate information since I’m not actually interested in hosting information that is inaccurate. Might you be able to point to one of these?
Fitzgerald is mistaken. e. g. well known evangelicals critique the secular approach of Aberdeen and other British universities https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gk2PCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA182&dq=geisler+inerrancy+aberdeen+secular&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiCzfW-j5fhAhVTXhUIHQtdAxUQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=geisler%20inerrancy%20aberdeen%20secular&f=false
Mistaken? He made no claims about Aberdeen, and his statements about Blomberg’s credentials were that he is a Baptist preacher (which implies a literalist theological commitment), and that he is not a historian. Although they don’t reflect the theological credentials that Blomberg has, both appear to be true.
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Valerie. He is critiquing Strobel for talking to preachers instead of scholars and experts in the field. Fitzgerald is referring to the New Testament, Bloomberg does not have a theology degree, he has a PhD in * New Testament history* from a secular university (check the ethos database, his PhD, it was on the historicity of the gospels) and from one of the most respected universities in the world for NewTestanent scholarship. Aside From Blomberg’s doctorate in the very subject Strobel is asking him about, Bloomberg publishes widely in secular, prestigious, peer-reviewed journals again *in the very field * Fitzgerald is saying Stobel is not talking to experts but “preachers”. Fitzgerald is by any objective standard (again) misleading people and your readers. He is hardly giving a fair or accurate description.
I myself might have called him an ordained Baptist seminary professor and preacher.
That said, here is part of the statement of faith that Denver Seminary requires professors to ascribe to:
“We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, inerrant in the original writings, complete as the revelation of God’s will for salvation, and the supreme and final authority in all matters to which they speak.” This kind of a priori faith commitment is fundamentally incompatible with the work of a historian.
As to his credentials. “Ph.D. University of Aberdeen, Scotland (New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts)
MA Trinity Evangelical Divinity School;
B.A. from Augustana College with a triple major in mathematics, Spanish, and religion”
Perhaps also to the point, or more to the point, is that Blomberg had concerns about how Strobel represented his views.
Might I ask why your emotional concerns center on Fitzgerald misleading thousands than on Strobel misleading millions?
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This really doesn’t need all this level of wearying explication. Fitzgerald claims that Blomberg is not an expert on this topic (when he has a PhD in the *very topic* that is being discussed- the historical Jesus- from a secular university and has peer-reviewed publications on it). If Fitzgerald wants to say that Strobel only talks to religious, and biased experts fine. He did *not* say that, however. He said Strobel is talking to preachers, and not people who are trained in the topic. A transparent error, and one that is made to make Strobel, and Blomberg, look bad. This has been brought to your attention, yet you seem to not wish to address this in any substantive way (first you did by grant merit to this objection when you had a misinformed view of Aberdeen- one of the most respected secular institutions to study New Testament history in.)
We have a transparent mistake, in an article that is revelling in chastising Christians for producing material wherein ” fact-checking” has to be undertaken for the whole picture to emerge, and that which displays righteous indignation throughout about their “sleight of hand” techniques. Do you see the irony?
“Might I ask why your emotional concerns center on Fitzgerald misleading thousands than on Strobel misleading millions?”
I have only a passing awareness of Strobel’s work, but I assure you I have no qualms in calling out apologists for either side. Judging from looking at the table of contents of Strobel’s book it is, barring one exception, a who’s-who of late 1990’s evangelical thinkers who considered the historical Jesus and it is transparently obvious that Strobel has self-selected them to reach a predetermined conclusion of the accuracy of the Biblical Jesus. I have no doubt at all that Strobel is misleading his readers. I have no hesitation about pointing out both sides’ (the Christian and atheist) compulsion to fall for amateur, biased “scholarship”. For years I ran a first year tutorial to history students where I had them go through Fitzgerald’s terrible book Nailed chapter two, and Josh McDowell’s equally misinformed “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” chapter 10, in a class that was devoted on how to properly use secondary literature and spot fraudulent scholarship.
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The key question for those racing to Blombergs defense – would you accept that a Hindu priest, educated in Hindu theology and history, employed as a teacher of Hinduism, is an “historian”?
Look at it as an outsider. If we are not sure that the New Testament represents actual history, then even the title “NT historian” makes a mockery of real historians.
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Enjoyable read. Being a provisional skeptic, I have serious doubts that jesus ever existed. If evidence is found, then I’ll update my beliefs, until then current academia relies on a massive amount of speculation. While investigating this, and reading Erhman’s “The Quest for the Historical Jesus of Nazareth,” as well as Zindler’s conter, “Bart Erhman and the Quest…”, I also came to the conclusion that the gospels (canonical and apocryphal) were probably fan fiction. I like the ending, “if there is a god that’s anything like what Christians preach, he doesn’t need their sleight of hand to prop him up—does he?”
But what’s a little bit of lingual prestidigitation amongst apologists?
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Excellent as usual.
Reblogged this on Apetivist.
I would not accept a random Hindu clergy member’s views of the historicity of Hinduism as being worthy of mention in a book on their creeds’ historicity. I would however be of the opinion that someone who has a doctorate in Hindu history from one of the leading secular institutions that studies Hindu history, and who publishes in the leading academic outlets on the history of Hinduism to have a legitimate voice, and not childishly try to claim “ah they are just a Hindu clergy member”.
” If we are not sure that the New Testament represents actual history, then even the title “NT historian” makes a mockery of real historians.”
You can conclude the New Testament is entirely fictitious and still be a historian who is an expert in it- e.g. a Homeric historian, or a historian of Platonic mythology, or Quranic historian (of whom many are atheists.)
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Is there someplace where David Fitzgerald responds to Strobel’s actual arguments? I’m just curious.
Whole books have been written responding to Strobel’s arguments. E.g. https://www.amazon.com/Case-Against-Christ-Testament-Reverend/dp/1578840058
Also: https://infidels.org/library/modern/paul_doland/creator.html; https://celsus.blog/2013/08/24/another-case-of-apologetic-dishonesty-in-lee-strobels-the-case-for-christ/
I managed to gag through the first four chapters of The Case for Christ but could go no further because I dislike having my intelligence insulted and know that there were so many willful dupes.
How do I know that Fitzgerald’s claim that the two people “Father Jose Maria Marquez” and agnostic “Purdue professor Roberta Waters” don’t exist? I’m looking and can find nothing about this other than your interview with Fitzgerald. I trust Fitzgerald and have some of his books but I like to check sources. So how can this be verified? Thanks.
Thanks for the question! Remember, the movie, like Strobel’s book, is supposedly an autobiographical account of an investigation he claims to have conducted as an atheist and “tough skeptic” in order to decide if Christianity was true.
But The Case for Christ was published in 1998, 17 years after his conversion in 1981. The truth is, Strobel had been a pastor for over a decade (and had already written three other less-successful books on Christianity!) when he decided to go on his “investigation” – and that series of interviews only included his fellow evangelicals.
In the movie, the character of “Lee Strobel” claims that he was “particularly intrigued with the archeological work” and “stellar reputation” of “Father Jose Maria Marquez” but it’s not even clear if this fictional character is even supposed to be based on any real person – archeologist, Catholic or otherwise – since no such interview takes place in the book.
The same is true for the token agnostic character “Dr. Roberta Waters,” who in the film is “President of the American Association of Psychoanalysts,” and “a leading authority of human behavior at Perdue University.”
There is no such “American Association of Psychoanalysts,” but there is the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), and a quick look through their records confirms that a “Roberta Waters” has never been a President, nor does she appear in any listing I’ve been able to find of past or present Perdue faculty.
So both these characters in the film not only appear to be invented, but solely for the reason of giving the impression that Strobel spoke to a wider range of experts than just his fellow evangelical pastors.
Like others above, I too have been given a copy of Strobel’s book by a colleague. It’s good to have some context before attempting to read the bloody thing.