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Free Advertising Isn’t the Point

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 “The Rest of the Story” (2002) by Jeffery Jay Lowder

Lowder’s review of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

On July 13, 2000, I happened to be flipping through radio stations when I stumbled upon a talk radio show with a voice familiar to me. As luck would have it, it was Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ, a book which I recently reviewed in Philo, the Journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers. Strobel was a guest on Hank Hanegraaff’s “Bible Answer Man” radio show promoting Strobel’s book. Eventually, Hanegraaff took calls from the listening audience. The second caller, “Josh,” was a Christian from St. Louis, Missouri who apparently had corresponded with James Lippard. “Josh” mentioned Strobel’s book to Lippard. In return, Lippard sent “Josh” a copy of my Philo review. “Josh” asked Strobel if he had ever heard of me. Strobel said that he was familiar with my work, that I run an Internet site, and that I have spent “inordinate amounts of time trying to tear apart page-by-page” Josh McDowell’s books. (One wonders if Strobel would portray William Lane Craig as someone who spends “inordinate amounts of time trying to refute atheists point-by-point in debates.”) Strobel then wondered if the Secular Web publishes rebuttals by Christian apologists. (For the record, the Secular Web does publish rebuttals to our material; we would be happy to publish rebuttals by Strobel or any other Christian apologist. I don’t know, though, if Strobel is willing to give me the chance to offer a rebuttal to his work in any of his forums!) Strobel professed ignorance of my review and asked “Josh” if he would be willing to mail Strobel a copy of my review.

“Josh” then read the following excerpt of my review of Strobel’s book:

Strobel visited the Secular Web for he quotes a section of my essay on the Resurrection on p. 295 (but he does not give the URL for that essay or mention my name). Yet Strobel never acknowledges the existence of New Testament scholar Robert Price’s rebuttal to Craig’s apologetic for the Resurrection, available on the Secular Web!

Strobel then responded by saying that if I was “miffed” because he “didn’t give a commercial” for the Secular Web, that’s not much of an objection to his book. However, that was not my point in the passage quoted by “Josh.” Nor have I ever suggested that Strobel passed off one of my ideas as his own. Rather, given that Strobel’s book is promoted as the work of a professional journalist, I expected Strobel to identify his sources. Furthermore — and this was my point in mentioning Price’s critique of Craig — I also expected a professional journalist to interact with New Testament scholars (like Price) who reject the empty tomb story. (Witness the backlash of the Evangelical community against a recent ABC News special by Peter Jennings on the historical Jesus, a television program which had a decidedly liberal slant. Yet whereas Strobel did not interview a single critic of Evangelical apologetics, Jennings interviewed, among others, conservative N.T. Wright. Thus, Jennings is more balanced than Strobel.) Finally, I did “deal with the issues” in my review, and anyone who takes the time to read my review will see that.

Unfortunately, Hanegraaff then abruptly ended the call, denying Strobel the opportunity to comment on Price’s objections to the empty tomb story. More importantly, the theme of my review of Strobel’s book was lost in Hanegraaff’s radio interview. As I concluded:

Strobel did not interview any critics of Evangelical apologetics. He sometimes refutes at great length objections not made by the critics (e.g., the claim that Jesus was mentally insane); more often, he doesn’t address objections the critics do make (e.g., the unreliability of human memory, that non-Christian historians do not provide any independent confirmation for the deity of Jesus, etc.) Perhaps this will be a welcome feature to people who already believe Christianity but have no idea why they believe it. For those of us who are primarily interested in the truth, however, we want to hear both sides of the story.

I might add that since I wrote my review, I have learned (by listening to the second part of Hanegraaff’s interview of Strobel) that a Canadian Evangelical journal (unavailable to me) also criticized Strobel for not interviewing non-Evangelicals (e.g., members of the Jesus Seminar, Michael Martin, etc.).

Finally, after I heard the interview, I tried contacting Strobel via email, but I have not received a reply and I do not know if I have his correct email address. Should Strobel decide that he wishes to respond to my review, the Secular Web would be happy to publish his rebuttal.

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