Book Review

Christ on Trial


The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.  Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1998, 297 pages. ISBN 0-310-20930-7 (paperback).  Cost: US$12.99 or package of 6 for $24.95.

Chinese edition: Chong Shen Ye Su by Lee Strobel, translated by Li BoMing. The Rock House Publishers Ltd., Hong Kong,  240 pages.  ISBN 962-399-096-0.

Reviewed by John Peace

Veteran criminal reporter Lee Strobel provides the church with a powerful case for theV claims of Christ in this fascinating and hard-hitting book. Strobel, previously an atheist, committed himself to Jesus after an exhaustive examination of evidence that persuaded him of the truth of the New Testament. He takes the reader on a similar tour in this book.

With a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale law School, the author covered criminal trials with a trained legal mind for the Chicago Tribune. He learned how to assess evidence to determine the truth in hard cases. He applies these skills to a rigorous investigation of the claims of Jesus to be the long-awaited Savior of the world.

His method is at once simple and comprehensive. Interviews with thirteen prominent scholars focus on thirteen different types of evidence used by trial lawyers in the courtroom to prove innocence or guilt. As he applies this methodology, he divides his books into three parts: “Examining the Record;” “Analyzing Jesus;” “Researching the Resurrection.”

Strobel begins with “The Eyewitness Evidence: Can the Biographies of Jesus be Trusted?” He ruthlessly assesses the reliability of the gospel accounts, the letters of Paul and the testimony of the other apostles in the New Testament. He concludes with a resounding “Yes”—we can believe the reports of the eyewitnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Next, he asks a more fundamental question: “Were Jesus’ Biographies Reliably Preserved for Us?” Modern textual criticism demonstrates that we have an overwhelming number of trustworthy manuscript evidence for the New Testament from very early times. We can be 99.9 % sure that we are reading what the authors wrote. But they were biased? Is there no “corroborating” evidence from non-Christian sources outside the New Testament?  Yes, there is ample testimony from Jewish and Roman sources to support the New Testament accounts of Christ.

Can we be sure that what the New Testament says happened really did? Are there any objective signs that the authors wrote careful history, or were they just sharing their personal faith? The chapter on “scientific” evidence calls the work of archaeologists to the witness stand. The result: We discover that external evidence from stones and documents not only does not call into question what we read in the Bible, but confirms the biblical accounts.

Strobel then proceeds to analyze Jesus himself.  Was he really convinced that he was the Son of God, or did the early Christians come up with this theory later? From his actions—such as forgiving sins and accepting worship—and from his explicit statements, we can see that Jesus considered himself to be the divine savior.

 Finally, “Did Jesus—and Jesus Alone—Match the Identity of the Messiah?” A careful look at Old Testament prophecies considered messianic in Jesus’ day proves he fulfilled so many that no one could say it was coincidental.

All Christians acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus as the foundation of their faith in him. Strobel concludes with four chapters showing “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Jesus actually died; that the body was missing from his tomb; that he appeared to many people at many times over a period of more than a month; and that an impressive array of “circumstantial evidence” makes his resurrection credible.

All along the way, Stroble grills his “witnesses” with hard questions.  He had done his homework before each interview and was armed with quotations from those who reject the claims of the New Testament. The most difficult challenges to the apostolic records were met with courteous but convincing rebuttals from his experts as well as from his own reading.

One major value of this book, then, is the hard-nosed, rigorous treatment it gives to Christian assertions about Jesus. Strobel knows the mind of the unbeliever and he feels the weight of the objections thoughtful people have brought against the idea that Jesus is the divine savior.  In the end, he concludes that the evidence for the claims of Christ is simply overpowering— enough, in fact, to convince anyone with an open mind. I highly recommend The Case for Christ to anyone seeking a firmer basis for faith as well as for any serious seeker of the truth. It addresses many of the questions I have heard from intellectuals from the PRC and Taiwan, and I believe that educated Chinese will find it useful in answering common questions about the reliability of the New Testament accounts of Christ.

With the assistance of a non-Christian, high school student from Beijing, I checked portions of the Chinese edition. The translation seems to be accurate, faithful to the original but sufficiently idiomatic to be accessible to Chinese readers.

 Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict is much longer and covers more territory. Strobel has taken aim at one target—the claim that Jesus is the Son of God—and has hit a bull’s eye. His reportorial style makes for much easier reading than does McDowell’s encyclopedic treatment.

I’m Glad You Asked by Ken Boa and Larry Moody (Wende Hao in Chinese) seeks to lead Christians step-by-step to effective responses to questions from non-believers.  It deals with more basic questions, such as the problem of evil.

Finally, there is Carl Henry’s massive God, Revelation, & Authority, Volumes 14.  For those with the time and background to appreciate his argument, Henry first addresses the fundamental presuppositions of unbelievers, then marshals the evidence for the truth of the Bible. He answers all the questions which I have heard Chinese intellectuals raise.

Both for Christians needing more information and argumentation points, and for non-believers eager to know the truth but bothered by tough questions, The Case for Christ would be a good book with which to begin.

John Peace

John Peace, Ph.D., is a pen name for a scholar who has worked among Chinese in Asia and America for 25 years. View Full Bio