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story.lead_photo.caption Scott McLean (center) shakes hands with Lee Strobel (left) as he accepts a signed copy of Strobel’s The Case for Christ. Proceeds from the ticket sales for the second City Center Conversations event hosted by Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock will be donated to the prison ministry and re-entry program Pathway to Freedom, which McLean heads. - Photo by Francisca Jones

It's hard to see your life played out on a movie screen, Lee Strobel told an audience Tuesday at the Statehouse Convention Center.

The author, teaching pastor and professor walked into the house one day to find his wife, Leslie, watching the movie The Case for Christ -- which was made last year based on Strobel's best-selling book of the same name -- for the 12th time.

"I said, 'Why do you keep watching [the movie]?' and she said, 'I'm trying to get cried out, so when I see it in public I don't cry and embarrass myself,'" Strobel said. "Of course, we saw it in public and she cried, and I cried too. It's tough to see your life on screen, especially before I was Christian, which I'm not proud of."

Strobel, a former atheist, appeared as the second guest of the series "City Center Conversations: Conversations About God, Life and Faith in the City," an event hosted by Steven Smith and Little Rock's Immanuel Baptist Church, where Smith is senior pastor.

City Center Conversations was inspired by Eric Metaxas' event series "Socrates in the City: Conversations on Life, God and Other Small Topics," and the series strives to foster dialogues about faith in a city setting.

Strobel said he had found a common denominator among notable atheists.

"When you study the famous atheists in history -- and I was an atheist the first 30 years of my life -- Camus, Sarte, Nietzsche, Freud, Voltaire ... just go down the line and [you find that] every single one of them had a father who died when they were young or abandoned them and their family when they were young, or had a terrible relationship with their father," Strobel said. "And the implication is that if your earthly father has disappointed you or hurt you in some way, you're not interested in your heavenly father. He's just going to be worse."

For Strobel, the issues he had with his father were just one factor in his decision to embrace atheism early on.

"I would like in my pride to think it was all intellectual," Strobel said. "In my prior life I would say I was too smart, but the reality is I think there are lots of reasons why I went down that road."

There was an intellectual component in the questions and doubts he'd had about Christianity, and issues with his father lent a psychological factor, he said.

"And frankly, I enjoyed my sin," Strobel said.

According to Strobel, his wife is the hero of the movie and of his life. They married when they were 20 and 19, respectively, and faith hadn't been an issue. The couple had never talked about faith or religion until Leslie Strobel befriended a neighbor, a Christian nurse, whose daughter was the same age as theirs, and the two became best friends.

"Every time I see it, I start to sweat," Strobel said of the scene in which Leslie tells him that she has decided to become a follower of Jesus. "The first word that went through my mind [when she told me] was divorce."

The changes Strobel saw in his wife led him to undertake a 21-month investigation into Christianity that would build an ironclad case with archaeological evidence and eyewitness testimony that Christ had been born, crucified and resurrected -- retracing his steps and expanding on his arguments a couple of years after he was convinced and formed the book that would become The Case for Christ.

"Anyone can claim to be the son of God," Strobel said. "But if he made that claim, died, and three days later rose from the dead, it's pretty good evidence he's telling the truth."

Strobel admitted that he hadn't told Leslie that he was undertaking the investigation into Christianity, and learned only later that she had been praying for him during those two years with a verse her friend had shared with her.

It was Ezekiel 36:26: "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

"She was praying every day behind the scenes, 'God, Lee's got a heart like granite and I don't know how to crack it open. Only you can do that.' And she prayed every day for [those] two years," Strobel said. "I say other than God, she's the hero of the story, because I think that had more influence on the outcome than my investigative journey and the outcome."

TEACH BY EXAMPLE

With regard to faith in the city, Strobel said he was reminded of chapter five of Matthew, which speaks about letting others see one's good deeds.

"I think what Jesus was saying there was that if we're a follower of his, we need to serve people in a winsome and attractive way that causes their eyes to drift heavenward toward our heavenly father, who motivates us against the grain of this me-first world to put other people first," Strobel said. "I think that is the key to ministry that not only gives a cup of cold water to someone who's thirsty, but brings them a message of hope and grace and love and forgiveness and eternal life that is transformative for them and for their family also."

As an example, Strobel pointed to the relief efforts in Houston after Hurricane Harvey last year.

"Seventy-five percent of the relief efforts in Houston were from the faith-based community," Strobel said. "Churches just serve in such a selfless and loving way. And that goes much further than just trying to get someone to agree to some sterile doctrine."

Smith announced that particle physicist Michael Strauss -- who Strobel interviewed for his new book The Case for Miracles, which will be released next month -- would be the guest at the next City Center Conversations on May 8.

Proceeds for Tuesday's event went to Pathway to Freedom, a faith-based prison ministry that facilitates re-entry into society.

More information about City Center Conversations is available at citycenterconversationslr.org.

Religion on 02/24/2018

Print Headline: Author shares path from atheism to strong faith

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