Questions from Readers
• Did you convert because of your wife?
• Did the disciples lie about the resurrection?
Q. A recent blog by a skeptic talks about how religious conversions can happen because of people’s personal relationships – and you were used as an example. The writer said: “Christian apologist Lee Strobel, for example, has made a career out of pretending he converted because of a journalistic investigation he did into the truth of Christianity. But one of his first books, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary, makes it completely obvious that he converted to Christianity because his wife did.” What do you say to that?
A. Thanks for alerting me to this. Of course, he’s entirely wrong, as any honest reading of my book will reveal. As I made clear, it was my wife’s conversion to Christianity and the subsequent positive changes in her character and values that intrigued me enough to conduct my journalistic investigation into Christianity. In other words, I didn’t convert because she did; rather, it was her conversion and transformation that spawned my investigation into whether Christianity – or any other faith – was supported by the evidence of science and history.
On page 27 of Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary, I describe how the “subtle changes in Leslie’s character…convinced me in January, 1980 to venture inside Willow Creek (Community Church) for the first time.” At that service, Pastor Bill Hybels spelled out the Gospel in a way I could understand it. I said on page 28: “For the first time, the connection between the Cross and my own life became clear.”
I added: “I was intrigued by both the message and his concession that some people needed to go through a discovery process before they could make an informed decision about Christ. While I didn’t believe the Gospel was true, he had convinced me that if it were the truth, it had tremendous implications for my life…. I made a decision. I vowed to check out the Christian faith. I’d separate mythology from reality and see what remained. After all, that’s what I did every day as a journalist – I’d take a nugget of information and investigate to see whether it’s true. Why not put Christianity to the same test?”
I then devote the entire next chapter to highlighting some of the evidence I encountered during my investigation. I concluded on paged 40: “…It seemed as if everywhere I turned was more confirmation of the reliability of the biblical account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Ultimately, on November 8, 1981, I reached my verdict – based on the evidence – that Jesus is who he claimed to be: the one-and-only Son of God. Because of that truth, I confessed my sins and received forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life through Christ. Had I not found convincing evidence, I wouldn’t have converted, regardless of what my wife did.
In fact, this blogger’s claim doesn’t even make logical sense. Think about it – if my secret agenda was to “pretend” I became converted to Christianity through my investigation, then why would I make it “completely obvious” in one of my books that I merely converted because Leslie did? That would make no sense at all.
So to answer your question, this blogger’s claim is an unsupported distortion. And even if it were true – which it isn’t – it would in no way negate all of the affirmative scientific and historical evidence that God does, indeed, exist and that Jesus is his unique Son.
Q. Concerning the resurrection, could the disciples have been lying about seeing the risen Jesus?
A. That’s a good question that many have asked. As my books The Case for Christ and The Case for the Real Jesus point out, we have solid historical evidence that the disciples believed that the risen Christ had appeared to them. Among the scholars I interviewed were Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, who point out in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus: “This conclusion can be reached from nine early and independent sources that fall into three categories: (1) the testimony of Paul about the disciples; (2) the oral tradition that passed through the early church; and (3) the written works of the early church.”
But could the disciples have been lying? “The data we have strongly suggest that this was not what happened,” Habermas and Licona write.
They point out that shortly after Jesus was put to death, the disciples “were radically transformed to the point that they were willing to endure imprisonment, sufferings, and even martyrdom. This indicates that their claim of seeing the risen Jesus was the result of a strong and sincere belief that they truly had seen him.”
Skeptics sometimes respond that people often convert to other religions and die for their faith, so the willingness of the disciples to suffer and die means nothing. “But this misses the point,” said Habermas and Licona. “It is not being argued that the sincerity of the disciples proves that Jesus rose from the dead. The point is that their sincerity to the point of martyrdom indicates that they were not intentionally lying. No one holds that the Muslims enlisted for the horrific suicide missions of September 11, 2001, sat in front of their recruiters and thought, ‘Okay, Muhammad is a false prophet and Islam is a false religion. If I do this, I’m going straight to hell when the plane crashes. Sounds good! Where do I sign?’ They really believed their cause. Deceived? Yes. Liars? No.”
Remember, your question is about whether the disciples were lying about seeing the risen Christ. “Their willingness to suffer continuously and die for the gospel points to their sincerity,” Habermas and Licona write.
In addition, they point out that “a mere story propagated by the disciples would not have convinced Paul, who was an enemy of the church. Fraud on their part would have been the first thing he would have suspected…Paul was convinced by what he described as the risen Jesus appearing to him.”
Moreover, it’s doubtful that fraud by the disciples would have convinced James, the half-brother of Jesus, who was a skeptic about Jesus until the resurrection. Instead, James appears to have become a believer because he encountered the risen Jesus as well.
“In summary,” they wrote, “the strong and abiding conviction of the disciples that the risen Jesus had appeared to them, shown in their willingness to suffer continuously and even die for these beliefs, speaks strongly against lies and theft of Jesus’ body on their part. Moreover, the skeptics Paul and James would have been looking for fraud on the part of the disciples. For these reasons and others, only a small number of critical scholars have opted for this view during the last 200 years.”
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