Lee and Leslie Strobel, 1972 wedding
Lee Strobel describing his marriage in 1979: “I remember Leslie was talking about going to church, and it made me so angry that I reared back and kicked a hole right through our living room wall.”
The Emailmeditation two days ago (#1637) briefly told the story of Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ. In this (edited) radio interview with Stephen Doherty (www. hope1032.com.au) Strobel talks about his ‘changed mind and changed life.’
Stephen Doherty: It’s 1980, and Lee Strobel is facing a crisis. He’s the Legal Affairs Editor of the prestigious Chicago Tribune newspaper. He’s an avowed atheist. His crisis? His wife has become a Christian. In his mind, she has fallen victim to a cult. So, this top-flight journalist set out to gather the evidence that would free his wife and save his marriage. He challenged experts in many fields with questions. The book that outlined that investigation became a bestseller, The Case for Christ. The story behind the book has been made into a movie of the same name. Unlike the book though, the movie tells the personal story of Lee and Leslie… Lee, you were a 20-year-old, 20-something-year-old journalist. What sort of a guy were you?
Lee Strobel: I was a narcissist, I was a hedonist, I was a heavy drinker, I was self-absorbed, self-destructive in many ways, and I was an atheist. I was successful in my career; I was Legal Editor of The Chicago Tribune, which is the biggest newspaper between the two coasts. I was highly functional in the sense that my drinking was restricted to weekends. I would be drunk in the snow in an alley on Saturday night, but I was able to manage it so that I was still successful in my career.
Stephen: And were you married at that time to Leslie?
Lee: Yes, we got married young, I was 20, she was 19.
Stephen: So, take me through the mind of a young legal affairs journalist with all of those characteristics you’ve spoken about when it comes to matters of faith. Now, you’ve already said you were an atheist, and it was an aggressive, assertive form of atheism, wasn’t it?
Lee: It was. I was hostile toward the faith, toward Christianity especially. I thought it was based on mythology, legend, make-believe, wishful thinking, and I thought that you would have to be fairly weak-minded to live that kind of life.
Stephen: Is it fair to say that’s typical in the journalism profession?
Lee: I think so. Studies have shown in the United States anyway, that among the media elite, the percentage of committed Christians is quite low, much lower than the population at large. So, it tends to be a self-selecting population of people who tend to be skeptics and tend to be a little bit cynical; people like me who are very oriented toward evidence and facts and logic and rationality and truth.
Stephen: Well, into that world and into that culture and your worldview, God broke through in a rather dramatic and personal way, through things that happened to your family. First, there was an incident that involved your daughter?
Lee: What really happened was similar to what happened in the film, and we were afraid that we were going to lose our daughter. In the movie, it’s a choking incident; in real life, she was lost at an amusement park. It was a Christian nurse– Alfie in the movie, and in real life a woman named Linda– that rescued the situation. Leslie and Linda became friends. Leslie went to church with her, and learned about Jesus from her.
Stephen: And that shook you up. I want to quote the preface to your book. “Leslie stunned me in the autumn of 1979 by announcing she’d become a Christian. I rolled my eyes and braced for the worst, feeling like the victim of a bait-and-switch scam. I’d married one Leslie, the fun Leslie, care-free Leslie, the risk-taking Leslie, and now I feared she was going to turn into some sexually repressed prude who would trade our upwardly mobile lifestyle for all-night prayer vigils and volunteer working grimy soup kitchens.” Is that how it was?
Lee: That was exactly how I felt. The scene in the movie was right out of our lives. When she told me that she had prayed and become a follower of Jesus, the first word that went through my mind was divorce. I didn’t want her to be pulled into this Christian subculture where I wasn’t welcome as an atheist. I saw conflict all the way to the horizon of our marriage regarding how we would raise our kids, and how we would spend our money, and how we would spend our weekends. And all of a sudden there would be another man in our marriage, Jesus, who she would be reaching out to for emotional support. I thought that was my role. So I felt a little bit jealous of Jesus. I know that sounds odd, but it’s like I thought I was the man in her life, and all of a sudden, now there’s someone else that she not only looks up to, but she worships.
Stephen: I think it’s a common experience. I’ve spoken to a lot of men who’ve been through that same sort of thing over the years. But that didn’t mean then that you went out and did anything out of care for Leslie. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the movie tells the story about you virtually prosecuting the case as to why her faith was based on a lie.
Lee: I wanted to rescue her from this cult of Christianity that she’d gotten involved in. I saw it as a cult, as something where they were obviously using some mind control, which she was certainly duped into thinking that there was some substance to these theological claims. And so my hope was that if I could disprove the resurrection, the whole Christian faith would collapse like a house of cards. I honestly thought I could do that in a weekend.
Stephen: What gave you the idea to do it as an investigative reporting piece?
Lee: I didn’t set out to write anything about it. My motive was to rescue Leslie from this cult. I figured that since I was trained in journalism and law I would investigate it. That’s what I did as a journalist, and I thought it would be easy. I’d just read books on both sides, study ancient history and archaeology, and interview the experts. As I did that I was writing things dow, but not with the intent of ever doing a book. Toward the end, I thought maybe an article would be a good idea. But that was secondary to my main goal, which was to rescue Leslie.
Stephen: What I found amazing about that is how being a journalist gave you access that most people don’t have.
Lee: You’re exactly right. I could pick up the phone and say, “Hi, this is Lee Strobel from The Chicago Tribune,” and get virtually anybody on the phone. I didn’t even say I was working on an article; I’d just say, “I’m Lee Strobel from The Chicago Tribune. Can I ask you a couple of questions?” And they would say, “Of course.” It is a privileged position. It opens a lot of doors and makes this kind of investigation easier than for the average person.
Stephen: And being a position of privilege then is a position of obligation, and God has used your search after truth to reveal the truth to many people.
Lee: In his love and grace, God meets people where they’re at. Leslie didn’t need a lot of historical data and scientific evidence to come to faith. It’s just not in her personality and nature. She had a personal experience with God, and that’s great. But God knew that with my skepticism, and my background in journalism and law, that it was going to take evidence for me. So He took me on a path to discover exactly what I needed to hear. (continued…)