Lee Strobel is a New York Times best-selling author of more than twenty books and serves as Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. His best-known books are the “Case” series – The Case for Christ, The Case for the Resurrection, and The Case for a Creator, all of which have been made into documentaries. He also holds a Master of Studies in Law degree. With this expertise, Strobel was asked to “testify” as himself in God’s Not Dead 2.
In the movie, a teacher is about to lose her job and is even on trial for mentioning Jesus in her classroom. We’re grateful to our apologetics colleague for taking the time to answer our questions about his role, and why the fictional case is a cause for real-life concern.
RC: What part did being a journalist play, if any, in your moving from atheist to Christian – were you already writing on the topic of whether the Bible and Jesus were real?
LS: I was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and not really engaged with biblical issues until my wife became a Christian through a neighbor. The changes in my wife’s life and values are what made me begin looking into biblical issues.
RC: As an investigative journalist you probably spent some time in courtrooms. Is it plausible that such issues as the historicity of Jesus are addressed in court?
LS: In God’s Not Dead 2, it becomes an issue whether Jesus really lived and what He did. Conceivably, these questions could be relevant because if He’s a historical figure, which He is, why can’t He be referenced in school like other historical figures? The name of Jesus shouldn’t be outlawed in the public square.
RC: How much of your “witness stand testimony” in the movie came from personal experience – were the “attorney” character’s questions pretty much the same you actually get out in public?
LS: With me, the questions focus in real life as to whether Jesus lived, was He executed, and did people really see Him alive afterward? These are the three main questions open to investigation and which make people question Christianity. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile.” So when they asked me to testify in the film the material was familiar to me, but I think actual court testimony might be a little different than portrayed.
RC: Did you and J. Warner Wallace get to chat at all about the strategy you would use in the roles you played? (see our interview with Wallace about his role.)
LS: Jim’s an old friend. I wrote the foreword to Cold Case Christianity. When I was asked to be in the film, I knew he’d been in it – I asked if it was a good idea, we discussed strategy, and I was able to write part of my script and contribute ideas with the director and writers. My part wasn’t filmed until the rest of the movie was made.
RC: What would you say to today’s journalists and blogging critics who are against the Bible as truth?
LS: I would say do what I did and do what Jim did, like so many other nonbelievers who’ve ended up coming to Christ. Investigate the Bible and see if it has historical viability and a firm underpinning of truth.
My experience is that when you apply the same tests as you would with any other historical document, the Bible emerges very well. My confidence has only increased since writing The Case for Christ – that these testimonies are true.
RC: And what would you say to critics’ claims that movies like this over-exaggerate today’s discrimination against Christianity in academia and other places?
LS: Peter Kirsanow, an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, has said, “Over the last few decades there’s been a creeping erosion of religious freedom in our country.” I taught law at Roosevelt University (Chicago). The First Amendment is something I take very seriously. At the end of the film is listed the real-life cases that have happened. A case exactly like the one in God’s Not Dead 2 hasn’t happened, but is not out of the realm of possibility.
We’ve had students who weren’t allowed to use the Bible as a historic reference of Roman history, students suspended for just wearing a rosary, students being censored from mentioning Jesus in speeches, all kinds of examples of this erosion. Critics can say that case, the movie case, hasn’t happened, but we’re inching toward it in this country.
Some of our politicians say we have freedom of “worship.” Well, we can do “worship” in church…but that’s not freedom of “religion.” Freedom of religion is when we can take it out to the public square.
RC: There’s already a buzz, even within the apologetics and Christian communities, about these movies not being factual or realistic enough. It seems they’re not giving it a chance to help our case. What’s your take on this?
LS: A film is a story. Film is not often the best way to deliver apologetic material. Documentaries are designed to present it, but this is a fictional story which can only convey so much biblical truth. You can always be criticized for not doing enough or too much – I would tell these critics, go make your own movie and wrestle with how artistically you present the evidence in a compelling story! I think this movie does a good job of telling a compelling story and presenting some solid evidence. Our books are mentioned in the film, and people should use these resources.
My book The Case for Christ was over 300 pages long, but people still said “what about this, what about that?” You can never cover everything.
RC: Why do you believe religious freedom is so important?
LS: Each generation must make sure religious freedom is protected. This is going to get more serious in the schools and other issues with religious conscience. If I were teaching law today I’d be a very busy man trying to keep abreast of all the developments.
RC: What advice would you give to Christians who might experience their free speech being challenged?
LS: We’re told in scripture to be gentle and respectful, but that doesn’t rule out using legal means to enforce our rights. There are organizations that specialize in this. They will intervene so that it doesn’t even go to court. It can be resolved. Some require leverage from attorneys, often just a letter, and some will work pro bono. I encourage people to pursue these remedies.
RC: Ratio Christi believes we not only need to defend our faith, but to defend the right to defend the faith today. Would you agree, and why?
LS: I totally agree. Our right under the free exercise clause and free speech are both in the First Amendment. We should have an opportunity in the public square to express and defend our beliefs. There are people who would certainly like to close our mouths, but we must keep going.
RC: So, is God dead? Why or why not?!
LS: I’d like to actually write a book and call it “God’s Still Not Dead”!
Agreeing with Strobel about the possibilities of this fictional case becoming real is attorney Erik Stanley with Alliance Defending Freedom. See our interview with Stanley.