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story.lead_photo.caption Lee Strobel, author of The Case For Christ, will be the second guest to be interviewed for City Center Conversations by Steven Smith, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, on Feb. 20 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.

Author, professor, speaker and teaching pastor Lee Strobel will be the second featured guest Tuesday at "City Center Conversations: Conversations About God, Life, and Faith in the City" at Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center.

Strobel is a professor of Christian thought at Houston Baptist University and a teaching pastor at Texas' Woodlands Baptist Church. With more than 20 books to his name, Strobel is most known for his best-seller The Case for Christ, in which he documents his 21-month investigation into the New Testament's validity and reliability while still an affirmed atheist. His newest book, The Case for Miracles, will be released March 27.

The Case for Christ was made into a movie of the same name last year, grossing nearly $4 million at the box office its opening weekend and receiving an A+ rating on Cinemascope. It has since expanded to appear on movie screens in countries including Poland, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, and is available on Netflix.

Although Strobel's parents were part of a Lutheran church during his childhood, he said they "held a very private faith" and left their son on his own to decide what he believed.

Three elements solidified Strobel's belief in atheism.

"I would ask those embarrassing questions that junior high schoolers ask, like, 'How could it be a loving God if there's so much suffering in the world? How could a loving God send people to hell?' ... and there was no one to answer those questions," Strobel said. "I was basically told to shut up."

Next, a biology teacher in high school told Strobel's class that "neo-Darwinism explains the origin and diversity of life, and therefore God's out of a job," and a college course on the historical Jesus taught by a skeptic sealed Strobel's lack of belief in God.

It wouldn't be until his wife, Leslie, made the unwelcome announcement that she had come to believe in Christianity that Strobel would come face-to-face with a different set of beliefs and an alternative to the lifestyle he had chosen.

"I was living a very narcissistic, self-absorbed, drunken life," Strobel said. "I know what people saw publicly was me winning awards for investigative reporting. But they didn't see the other side, which was me literally drunk in the snow in an alley on Saturday night."

Hearing that his wife had chosen Christianity was the "worst news" of Strobel's life at the time.

"I thought she was going to turn into some holy roller or something and spend all her time serving the poor," he said. "I thought she would turn the kids against me, that I'd be 'poor Dad the atheist,' and if she brought the kids into the faith they would pity their poor father. I didn't want to be seen that way, and I saw conflict in our marriage all the way to the horizon."

It was the "winsome and attractive" changes in Leslie's values and character that Strobel said made him feel pulled toward Christianity and compelled to investigate.

Using his background in journalism -- Strobel was a legal editor at the Chicago Tribune at the time, with a law degree from Yale -- he interviewed 13 experts on everything from the reliability of eyewitness testimony through the Gospels to archaeological evidence that supports the New Testament, and the description of what happened to Jesus on a physiological level during his crucifixion.

What cemented Strobel's growing belief during his building of a "cumulative case" for Christianity was evidence supporting the resurrection.

"The resurrection was key because Jesus claimed to be divine," Strobel said. "He not only claimed transcended messianic and divine claims about himself, but ... backed up those claims by returning from the dead."

What was persuasive for Strobel in particular were the circumstances of the demise of Jesus' disciples.

"We do know for a fact based on seven sources inside and outside the New Testament ... that [the disciples] were willing and did live lives of deprivation and suffering as a result of their proclamation that Jesus had risen, and that taught me something about the veracity of their claims," Strobel said. "Of all human beings who have ever lived, they were in a unique position to know for a fact, 'Is this true, the resurrection, or is it a lie?'

"Knowing it was true, [the disciples] were willing to die for it. They were willing and did suffer a life of deprivation as a result of their proclamation. So how they died is not as relevant as their willingness to die ... but [that fact] wasn't in isolation. It really was a combination of many facts piled on top of each other that ultimately [had] the scales tipping decisively in the direction of Christianity being true."

Strobel converted to Christianity on Nov. 8, 1981, and hasn't looked back.

He admitted that it was embarrassing to see his "pre-Christian behavior" depicted on-screen, but the opportunity to be involved in its making and choosing Brian Bird, a friend, to write the screenplay convinced him to pursue it.

"I realize that a lot of people won't go to church, a lot of people won't read a 300-plus page book, but they'll go to a movie," Strobel said. "So I thought, 'You know, this is a way to expose new people to this message of Jesus.'"

SHARING HIS STORY

Inspired by author and radio host Eric Metaxas' event series Socrates in the City, Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock set out to create a series in a similar forum format to hold discussions about faith and life in the city. Metaxas was the first City Center Conversations guest, and after his sold-out appearance in December, the church changed venues to accommodate a larger audience, according to the Rev. Steven Smith of Immanuel.

Aware of how a sermon can be perceived by an audience when delivered from the pulpit, Smith said Immanuel wanted to create a conversation about faith.

"When I stand on a pulpit on Sunday mornings, I'm not having a conversation necessarily. It's a monologue," he said. "It's very heavy and weighty, and it needs to be. I bear the responsibility of a shepherd over sheep, and it needs to be all those things."

"City Center Conversations is different," he said.

"This is bringing someone [in] and saying ... 'Tell us about this,'" Smith said. "In fact, that's the advantage of having Strobel in this format. If you've heard him before, you may still enjoy this [event] because this is going to be different."

In keeping with the effort to set the stage for a variety of dialogues on faith, Immanuel has spread news of Strobel's appearance through word-of-mouth rather than advertising on Christian radio stations or similar outlets.

"I wanted this to be something that you could bring a friend to who maybe wasn't interested in God or had different views than you," he said. "We didn't just want all the churches to empty out to another venue."

"I think it's so healthy to have forums like this to discuss important matters of faith and have a dialogue about why and how faith can have an impact on individuals and families and communities around the world," Strobel said about the aim of City Center Conversations. "I just think it's a good development to have a forum where these matters can be discussed openly and candidly."

A fourth-generation minister with 20 clergy members in his family, including two of his brothers, Smith said he grew up accepting his faith.

"It makes for a boring story, but I'm grateful for it," he said. "So, that being said, I'm curious [about Strobel].

"When people say, 'Look, I didn't grow up in [the faith], I wasn't advantaged by someone who was leading me to faith, I came to this on my own,' that's absolutely fascinating. I'm really excited to sit down with [Strobel] and have the conversation."

The latest City Center Conversations will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Wally Allen Ballroom of the Statehouse Convention Center, 101 E. Markham St., in Little Rock. More information about City Center Conversations is available at citycenterconversationslr.org.

Religion on 02/17/2018

Print Headline: Ex-atheist who wrote Case for Christ to appear

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