Dan Wooding, who worked for two of London’s largest-circulation tabloids, interviews Lee Strobel, former Chicago Tribune legal editor, and his wife, Leslie, about Lee’s journey to try and disprove the claims of Christianity
By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
ORLANDO, FL (ANS – March 22, 2017) — In 1980, Lee Strobel’s award-winning, investigative reporting earned him a promotion to legal editor at the Chicago Tribune. However, things at home aren’t going nearly as well. His wife Leslie’s new-found faith in Christ compels Lee to utilize his journalistic and legal training to try and disprove the claims of Christianity, pitting his resolute atheism against her growing faith.
Now this compelling story has been made into a feature-length movie called “The Case for Christ” — to be released in 1,100 theaters in the US on April 7, 2017 — and ANS Founder, Dan Wooding, himself a former tabloid journalist, was able to talk with Lee and Leslie Strobel at Proclaim 17, the recent NRB Convention in Orlando, Florida.
Wooding brought a huge smile to Lee Strobel’s face when he started the interview, which was filmed by his son, Peter, for Dan’s TV show, “Inside Hollywood with Dan Wooding,” and the audio was used for his radio program, “Front Page Radio,” when Wooding said, “We are going to meet another journalist, but one who’s quite respectable, not like me, working in the tabloids.”
(Back in the 1970s, Dan was a senior reporter with two British tabloids, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror, as well as a London correspondent for the National Enquirer.) You can read all about his life there in his autobiography, From Tabloid to Truth (http://fromtabloidtotruth.com/).
Lee Strobel then countered by saying, “Dan, it sounds like you probably had more fun than I did!” Dan said that he had to agree.
Leslie Strobel got in on the joking between the two long-time journos when she quipped that, “No I haven’t (ever been a journalist) — I’m glad to say…it’s hard enough living with one — We don’t need two in a family!”
Lee said the movie is named after his book that he wrote in 1998, and has recently been updated and expanded, that tells his journey from atheism to Christianity, and the evidence that he found convincing that Jesus not only claimed to be the Son of God, but backed that up by returning from the dead.
Lee told Wooding that he was the legal editor of the newspaper he worked for, so would investigate a lot of issues involving the law.
At some point, Leslie became a believer. When they first got married neither of them were believers.
Was Lee driven by his work, Wooding asked Leslie?
“Oh, definitely, yeah! Work was his main focus. But eventually I became a believer and that’s when our troubles started…”
How is it that Leslie found the Lord? “We had just moved into a new condominium and a neighbor came by with a plate of cookies and we became good friends, and she was a believer. So over time, I’d go down to her apartment and she always had her Bible open and Bible study materials. She started asking me what our plans were for church, and I was telling her that we didn’t go. Eventually, she just started asking me questions that were very pointed about my beliefs and she showed me some of my erroneous ways and invited me to church. I eventually went; I kept putting her off, but finally I did go, and over time she answered a lot of my questions and I realized that I believed in God. So that’s when I told Lee that I believed in God, that we really had an issue.”
Lee said that he was not happy about this. “In the movie, there’s a very accurate scene where the character that plays Leslie tells me my character that she had become a Christian: it was a lot of hostility, a lot of anger. The first word that honestly went through my mind was divorce because I knew she was going to get pulled into the Christian subculture where I wasn’t welcome as an atheist.
“Over time I began to feel like she was cheating on me with Jesus because, all of a sudden, there was this other man in her life and she’s getting emotional support from him. What happened to me was that I used to be the man in her life. So I began to feel jealous, I began to feel that our world views were so different we would disagree to the horizon of our marriage on things like how to raise our children, how to spend our money , how to spend our weekends. We began to see life very differently, and it led to a lot of conflict.
“So I began to investigate Christianity, using my legal training and journalism training for two reasons. One was there were a lot of positive changes happening in her, and that was a bit winsome and intriguing. But on the other hand, my main motivation was to get her out of this cult of Christianity that she’d gotten involved in. So I figured Christianity is falsifiable — in other words if you can prove the resurrection didn’t happen, you’ve disproven Christianity. I figured this will be easy, I can do this in a weekend. But I was shocked to find out that actually there is good solid historical data that does I think prove sufficiently that Jesus not only claimed to be the Son of God, but backed it up by returning from the dead.”
Lee told Wooding that he was quite militant in his atheism and attitude toward Leslie, “but you know, my attitude was the mere idea of an all loving, all powerful, all knowing creator of the universe just seemed absurd on the surface of it. So I hadn’t really done a lot of research in that area — it was sort of a knee jerk reaction. So I was taken aback when I began to look at the evidence for Christianity and saw that wait a minute, if you put them on a scale the evidence for the faith really does outweigh the evidence against it.”
Lee said he studied ancient history and because he trained as a journalist, “as you know, you call people up and say ‘Hey, I’m Lee Strobel from the Chicago Tribune can I ask you a couple of questions?’ and I would do research. I would go to study archeology, study the ancient manuscripts, and so forth. So it was a cumulative case. The movie focuses on the evidence for the resurrection, which was key, but I also looked at scientific evidence of cosmology, and biophysics and biochemistry, and genetics and human consciousness that I think points toward the existence of a creator. So there were a lot of things involved. It was something I thought I could do in quick order, but ended up taking two years.”
Lee said Leslie knew he was up to something, but not totally aware of what he was doing. “I kept some of it from her, but she was aware I think that I was kind of checking things out a bit, (but) not aware of the extent to which I was doing it.”
Were they ever in danger of splitting up as a couple?
Leslie said: “Well, I don’t know that I realized it was as serious as it was. I mean I think that Lee was contemplating that a lot more than I realized, but you know what happened is as I was growing as a believer God was changing me and I wasn’t aware of those changes but Lee saw a difference.
“Even how I argued with him was nicer! So there were things about my changing that were causing him to be curious about what was going on, and how it was that I was changing.
“So God was growing me up and making me a better person, and that was attractive to Lee — and it caused him to hold back. I think if we’d fought tooth and nail the way I’d normally been wired up to do, we might not have made it!”
Eventually how long were you researching and how is it you came to the conclusion you did?
Lee said his investigation and research took about 2 years of checking things out, “and then one day, I just felt like a good jury reaches a verdict, so I felt like the evidence was in — I needed to reach a verdict.”
He said he reviewed all of the evidence that he’d seen, describing like putting it on a scale and, “all of a sudden, the scale just shifted and I realized that in light of all the evidence I’d seen it would have taken more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian. In other words the most logical thing I could do would be to take a step of faith in the same direction the evidence is pointing, which is logical and rational, and put my trust in Jesus.”
The last verse that he read was John 1: 12 that said, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those that believed in His name. And I looked at that verse and I realized that it forms an equation of what it means to become a child of God. ‘Believe + receive = become.’ So I believed based on the data that Jesus is the Son of God — he proved it by returning from the dead, but I realized that wasn’t enough — I had to receive this free gift of God’s grace, I had to receive his gift of forgiveness and eternal life that He purchased for me when He died on the cross as my substitute to pay for all of my sins. And when I would receive this as a gift from Him then I would become a child of God. So that’s when I repented of my sin, received this gift in prayer, and I remember I went out to tell Leslie and I told her she looked at me and just burst into tears…”
How did he phrase what had happened?
“Well, I told her, ‘You know I’ve been looking at this for a couple of years now and I’ve been reaching out and reaching out, and I just touched Jesus. He’s alive, he’s resurrected, He’s the Son of God, I feel like I just touched him.’ She burst into tears and hugged me and said ‘you know, I almost gave up on you a thousand times’ and she said she’d met a woman at church and she’d told some women at church, ‘I don’t have any hope for my husband, he’s a hard headed, hard hearted legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, he’s never going to bend his knee to Jesus.’
“And this one woman pulled her to the side and said ‘you know, no one’s beyond hope.’ And she gave her a verse Ezekiel 36:26 that says ‘moreover, I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ And so that whole two years that I’m on this investigative journey what I didn’t know is that behind the scenes Leslie was praying that verse every day for me. And I think (it) frankly made all the difference.”
Leslie recalled that she was a little bit skeptical, “but you could tell there was just something in his whole demeanor — his face, his countenance, that was just a little bit different. And his tone was different and so I wanted to believe it so badly that I did. And it ended up being that it was true, so thank God!”
The latest version of Lee’s book, “The Case for Christ” has just been published in a newly-updated and expanded edition. “We did a movie edition — it has a new chapter, new archeological evidence, that’s just come to light in the last few years, fascinating! In fact someone from the UK finding the house that proved that Nazareth did exist in the first century, as some skeptics had doubted from University of Reading actually made that discovery and it could very well have been Jesus’ house that they found. They’ll never know, but it was a Jewish house from Jesus’ era in Nazareth. They know it was a Jewish home because it had limestone pottery, and Jews believed that would not make the food unclean. So we’ll never know if that was Jesus’ house, but it could very well have been.”
Lee continued: “We have the information in the book, it’s all footnoted, it was published in peer review journals. There’s actually since then been another discovery just nearby of another house from Jesus’ era. But you know, atheists used to say Nazareth didn’t exist in Jesus’ time so the Gospels they don’t know what they’re talking about. And now we’ve shown no, no, that’s not true archaeology once again has pointed toward the truth of Christianity.”
Lee then described how the movie came to be made. “This is so odd, the book came out in 1998 about 18 months ago I got two phone calls the same week, one from another major motion picture company and one from Pure Flix, both saying we’d like to make a movie out of your book. Well I had done a movie with Pure Flix before in which I appeared (“God’s Not Dead 2,”) — I had a small role in that film, so I was familiar with them.”
Lee said he would sign the movie contract if it said that Brian Bird must write the script. “Brian is a friend of mine, he’s written 17 movies, and he’s a terrific script writer. So sure enough they got Brian to write the movie and then Leslie and I sat down with Brian over a period of many days and did kind of a mind dump and told him all about our lives, and Brian was a genius in weaving this into a three-act movie. So we had that kind of input. We didn’t have any input in the casting, but we’re so happy with the casting. I think Mike Vogel, who plays me, is a committed Christian (and) does a terrific job. Erica Christensen who plays Leslie — I can’t imagine anybody doing it better. So we’re very pleased and Faye Dunaway is in the movie — Hollywood legend, Oscar winner, Golden Globe winner. We have L. Scott Caldwell in the movie, she won get this she won the Tony Award for the best actress on Broadway how good do you have to be to be the best actress on Broadway. And we have Robert Forster who won the who was nominated for the Academy Award. So we’ve got a really, really good cast.”
Wooding asked what happened after he became a believer. Did he feel that he was compromised by working in the media?
“No, I wanted to stay in daily journalism because I looked around the newsroom at the Chicago Tribune, there were about a thousand people there at that time this was back in the heyday of newspapers in America, and I couldn’t identify too many who I knew were Christians. And so I thought I need to stay in the media in order to be an influence. But God, several years later, clearly called me out of that into the church. I took a 60 percent pay cut and went on the staff of Willow Creek Church and then I was mentored by Bill Hybels in communication and was mentored by Mark Heidelberg in theology, eventually was ordained, and many years later began to preach. And you know, I’m someone who loves to encourage people who are skeptics and who are on a journey to find Jesus, so I get to use the best hours of my day to do that. So you know I enjoy that.”
Why should people go and see the movie?
Lee said: “First of all it’s just great entertainment — I mean it’s a love story, it’s a marriage story, there’s a mystery involved, a case that I investigate at the Chicago Tribune. It’s a story about a father and son relationship. and it’s a story of a spiritual journey and a spiritual investigation. So I think people will be encouraged and motivated. I think they’ll enjoy it. I think Christians will walk away understanding a little better why they believe what they believe. And I think that non-Christians who go will be encouraged to perhaps do what I did and check out the evidence for themselves.”
What does he hope people will take away from it?
“What I envision is a lot of Christians are going to see the movie and they’re going to walk out and say to themselves ‘boy, I’ve got a friend who needs to see this. I have a neighbor that needs to see it. I’ve got a colleague who needs to see it or a fellow student,’ and they’re going to go see it a second time and bring their friend because now having seen it the first time they’re going to identify those people who are going to relate to the characters. And I think the most important moment of the evening is not going to be the movie it’s going to be the conversation afterward where you know you bring a friend and afterwards you sit down and have tea or coffee and you say ‘What character did you identify with? Where are you at spiritually? Have you ever thought about these things? What did you think of the evidence they talked about?’
“So I’m praying that God uses it to reach a lot of folks that maybe won’t pick up a 300-page book!”
The Case for Christ movie will be in 1,100 theaters starting on April 7. A special showing will be held on the evening of April 6 in a limited number of theaters which will have a live broadcast featuring Lee and Leslie and some of the cast. All the information about the movie is available at www.Thecaseforchristmovie.com.
You can hear the radio interview at http://frontpageradio.net/frontpageradiofiles/LeeLeslieStrobelFPR20170319Mono.mp3, and watch the TV show by going to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27uqqKnhAec&app=desktop. (Don’t forget to start the video at the beginning.)
Note: ANS would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Photo captions: 1) Dan Wooding interviews Lee and Leslie Strobel at the NRB. (Peter Wooding). 2) Book cover. 3) Poster for “The Case for Christ” movie. 4) Mike Vogel plays Lee Strobel in “The Case For Christ.” 5) Mike Vogel as Lee and award-winning actress, Erika Christensen, plays Leslie. 6) Happy at Last! Leslie and Lee Strobel today. 7) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael.
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