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The Case Against Lee Strobel

By June 18, 2009

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One of the more popular Christian apologists that you'll see referenced is Lee Strobel. He's a little bit better than Josh McDowell, but not much and nowhere nearly as good as some others that might be cited. Strobel has at least a modicum of superficial credibility because of his claims to being a journalist who adheres to journalistic standards. That's all these claims really are, though — superficial. A closer look at what Lee Strobel actually writes, though, reveals deep flaws and errors.

Andrew argues that Lee Strobel is little more than a liar for Jesus. His first argument involves Strobel's attempt to reconcile Luke 2:1-2, which claims that Jesus was born while Quirinus was governor of Syria, Matthew 2:1-3, which claims that Jesus was born when Herod the Great was still alive, and the historical evidence that Quirinius was not governor until 6 CE, and Herod died in 4 BCE.

Here’s how Strobel attempts to resolve the problem. He posits that there was either a second Quirinius, who was proconsul in Syria from 11 BCE to the death of Herod, or that Quirinius was governor on two subsequent occasions, one of which coincided with the rule of Herod the Great.

So far, that’s pretty reasonable. But what’s Strobel’s evidence? Again, let’s quote him directly, from the bottom of page 101: “An eminent archaeologist named Jerry Vardaman has done a great deal of work in this regard. He has found a coin with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing, or what we call ‘micrographic’ letters. This places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. until after the death of Herod.”

Vardaman, though, isn't exactly a credible source or authority:

1. Vardaman has never published any of his accounts in any peer-reviewed journal, or ever subjected his work on ‘microletters’ to any critical review of any kind by any other party.

2. Vardaman has never produced any of the coins that he claims contain micrographic letters! Nor has he produced, say, photo enlargements of the coins. Instead, he’s produced hand-written drawings of what he says the coins look like!

3. Comically, those drawings of coins dating back to the first century CE contain the letter ‘J’ — even though the ‘J’ was not invented for another nine centuries! This is like finding a painting said to be a Rembrandt but noticing that the subject is wearing a digital watch and eating a bag of Doritos!

Does Lee Strobel know just how unreliable Jerry Vardaman is? Yes, it appears so — he was confronted with the criticisms of Vardaman and he promised to look into the matter, but today Strobel continues to repeat the same Vardaman claims as if nothing had happened. If he had learned that Vardaman were actually more credible than he appears to be, he would have to say so — a credible journalist would mention the charges and make it clear that they are unfounded.

Strobel does nothing like this, though. He seems to be just continuing as if nothing had happened and no troublesome information had been brought up. Since the Vardaman claims are the only thing he has to justify his position on the New Testament, it looks like Lee Strobel is choosing a dishonest way of putting ideology over scholarship or journalism.

The Vardaman example shows exactly the kind of approach Strobel takes to these “interviews.” They are not the “critical” “hard-hitting” questions of a “cynical” journalist — they are the exact opposite; they’re uncritical, unquestioning, sycophantic suck-ups to people who share only the very narrow ideological point Strobel wants to advance in the first place.

Now, I guess people enjoy Strobel’s one-sided “journalism” — where he asks the easiest, most leading questions of cherry-picked experts who support (but do not oppose) his narrow view of the supposed “evidence.” Strobel is certainly a very wealthy man; he’s sold millions of books and has his own TV show. But I find him to be thoroughly disingenuous.

Lee Strobel is appealing, I think, because he gives a veneer of respectability, scholarship, and reasonableness to completely unreasonable religious beliefs. Strobel makes it easier to rationalize the irrational and gives believers hope that it may be possible to justify their religion on the basis of solid arguments, evidence, and reasoning. This is ultimately why any apologists are popular, but Lee Strobel is a good and engaging writer so he's risen to the top in a crowd not know for it's quality scholarship.

June 18, 2009 at 2:46 pm
(1) MrMarkAZ says:

Maybe we need a new fallacy in the Christian apologetics dictionary: the Argumentum Strobellum.

It’s been my experience that those who play the Lee Strobel card don’t or can’t achieve even that superficial level of discourse. It’s more of the “Look, here’s a self-admitted atheist who became a Christian, therefore atheism is false!”

June 18, 2009 at 2:55 pm
(2) ChuckA says:

On that note…here’s a recent “Atheist Experience” [from Austin, TX] YouTube titled:
“Lee Strobel & Josh McDowell: Personal Experience vs Evidence – The Atheist Experience #609″:

June 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm
(3) Seth351 says:

Not that anyone with half a brain couldn’t do so in his sleep, but forum member Douglas of California has taken the time and does a fine job of decimating Strobels “arguments”.

June 18, 2009 at 7:31 pm
(4) Seth351 says:
June 19, 2009 at 3:58 am
(5) Mark Barratt says:
June 19, 2009 at 6:46 pm
(6) Buddyboy says:

yes, Lee Stroble is a liar –

when he attempted to ‘debunk’ the DaVinci Code (a completely unnecessary task, as it is fiction,)
it was obvious that the so-called “experts” he called on weren’t knowledgeable in their supposed fields

June 21, 2009 at 8:14 pm
(7) Robert Morane says:

Why am I not surprised that when Mr. Strobel became a god believer, he automatically assumed that the one true god and the one true faith were those of his culture…

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