Reflecting on the profound significance of Easter, Christian apologist and best-selling author Lee Strobel discusses his background as a former atheist who became a follower of Jesus after examining the overwhelming evidence supporting Christ's death and resurrection. (Part 2 of 2)
Lee Strobel: Having been a journalist at, seen a lot of dead bodies and never seen any of them come back to life. I thought I could disprove this in a weekend. And that was kind of my - my hubris.
John Fuller: That was your goal?
Lee: That was my goal. You know, I’ll spend a long weekend, I can disprove the resurrection.
Jim Daly: Won’t take long, 24 hours.
Lee: Yeah. I mean, dead people don’t come back to life, come on. But after a year and nine months, I realized that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is clear and compelling. It’s powerful and persuasive.
End of Excerpt
John: Lee Strobel is back with us today after describing important facts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his skepticism of the whole story. He was going to disprove the resurrection. And you’ll hear his story and more about the resurrection of Jesus Christ today on Focus on the Family. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller. And our host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim: John, I get so excited about this topic. I mean, I’m...
John: I watched your energy level bubble up there.
Jim: ...I can’t even stay in my chair right now. I love explaining to people what I believe about Jesus because it is so evidence-based and it’s so rational. And I don’t care if it’s the homosexual community or the abortion community, I mean, we have nothing to lose. We can go in with a smile on our face because it is factual. It is true. And it’s a joy to be able to have this discussion with somebody as knowledgeable as Lee Strobel. And Lee has done a fantastic job living his life, I’m sure not perfectly. But he came from atheism. He was a journalist at. In my mind, that gives him credibility, that he set out to disprove that Jesus is who He said He was and then ended up believing because of the evidence! Um, that revelation rocked Lee’s world. It rocked his marriage. It set him on a two year pursuit to try to figure out is God who He said He was. And if you missed last time, get the copy of that conversation either through a CD, download, or the smartphone app so you can listen when you need to or when you can. Those are great ways to hear the broadcast.
John: And those are all available at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, where we also have a little booklet called,. And you can download that, read it and find out what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And we do have Lee’s excellent book, which is rich in detail and very persuasive. It’s called, .
Jim: Lee, welcome back to Focus.
Lee: Thank you. I love you guys.
Jim: You can tell, man, I’m, like, hardly able to sit in my seat.
Lee: You’ve got me pumped up. I’m excited.
Jim: Well, I just love it because this is it, reaching people for Christ. You know, for the person who believes that that sinner that they know is so far beyond possibility, you and I have talked - no one is beyond the reach of God, no matter what you’ve done!
Lee: Exactly. My wife...
Jim: Explain that.
Lee: ...My wife, uh, when she was a new Christian, I was still an atheist, told some friends at church that she had no hope for me, that I was the hardheaded, hardhearted legal editor of. I’d never bend my knee to Jesus. And this one elderly saint put her arm around Leslie and pulled her to the side and said, “Oh Leslie, no one is beyond hope.” And she gave her a verse, Ezekiel 36:26. It says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” And so my wife - this whole two years that I’m on this investigative journey trying to determine if Christianity is true - behind the scenes - and I never knew it at the time - every day was praying that prayer for me.
Lee: And if you ask me what really brought me to faith, “Was it my pursuit, two years of the evidence or was it a faithful wife who prayed for me every day?” I - you know what? I think she - God’s the hero of my story, I think she’s the heroine of my story.
Jim: Yeah. And they work hand in hand. I mean, it says, you know, prayer availeth much.
Jim: Speak to that person, though, that is maybe married or has, you know, brothers and sisters, a mom and dad that don’t know the Lord, and they’ve been praying for years. And it does feel - it seems like the closer we are to that individual, the more despair we have because we want it to happen today. We want them to feel the joy-filled life.
Lee: And sometimes that puts an undue pressure on us. You know, the truth is most of our loved ones, most of our immediate family are probably gonna come to faith from somebody else who shares Jesus with them. So what do we need to do? We need to do what God tells us to do, to be faithful, to love Him, to love our family and so and to love others, to live out our faith as authentically as we can, to be a source of answers and to help deal with questions that our loved ones might have, but don’t take on an undue burden. You know, God’s gonna do what God is gonna do. And you know, as we pray for people, as you say, I think it makes a difference. James says, “The prayers of righteous people,” they do make a difference. And so I believe in that. But also keep in mind that the average person in America who comes to faith in Christ hears the Gospel six times. So maybe you’re number three.
Jim: Or number one.
Lee: Or number one, exactly. And when they come to faith, all the six people that have shared with them can celebrate. But you know, it’s like in baseball, sometimes you just need a bunt, you know, to get somebody home. So maybe they’re on third base and you just need a bunt. You just need to tell them...
Jim: That’s a good analogy.
Lee: “...I love you, and you know what, Jesus does too, and, um, what are you going to do with this?” And I sometimes worry that we take too much pressure on ourselves. We’re called to love God, love people. And you know what? If we do that, we’ll be salt and light.
Jim: Well, and I love that, in terms of family members, live it well as best as you can because that’ll be the greatest witness.
Lee: Exactly. My brothers and sisters knew me when I was a drunken atheist. They knew me when I was living an immoral life. And you know, sometimes it’s hard for them to be convinced that, “Oh, my gosh, he’s had this 180 degree change.”
Jim: Did your change make a difference in their own spiritual journey?
Lee: Um, you know, my oldest brother Ray - and he wouldn’t mind saying this on the air - but my older brother Ray’s still an atheist.
Lee: And you know, I pray for Ray. And we have conversations from time to time about these matters. All my other siblings are believers - my three other siblings.
Jim: Think of that.
Lee: So I don’t know if I had a role in any of that, but, um...
Jim: Hey, Ray, we’re coming for you.
Lee: ...We’re coming for Ray. I love Ray. Ray’s a - Ray’s a...
John: Lots of people are going to start praying for Ray.
Lee: Yeah. Pray for Ray. Exactly. That’d be wonderful!
Jim: Let me ask you this, um, and coach me here along with the listeners. So recently I’ve thought about this a lot, when people I encounter say, “Well, I could never believe in Christianity because I knew this Christian,” and then fill in the blank. They were mistreated. It was the business guy that stole money from them. I knew somebody that had that experience, and that was exactly what they said to me.
Jim: And of course you’re on defense all of a sudden saying, “Well, you know, they weren’t living it well, they weren’t” - I’ve now begun saying, “Listen, with all respect, may I say something to you?” And they’ll nod yes. And I’ll say, “That’s really stupid.”
Jim: “Because if you’re going to let another human being’s imperfection, their inability to live the very faith they’re claiming to possess, if you’re going to let that get in between you and eternal life, you and a relationship with the Lord, it’s really sad. Don’t let another human being keep you from a relationship with God.” I mean, for eternal life. That’s what’s at stake. I wouldn’t let anybody get in my way of that prize, as Paul calls it.
Jim: Speak to that analogy. How would you handle the guy telling you that?
Lee: Yeah. You know, I want to help them understand that - first, I want to empathize with them and say you know, “That’s so unfortunate that happened, you know, the church is not full of perfect people. It’s full of sinners who were saved by God’s grace.”
Jim: And some bad people...
Jim: ...Really, that claim Christ.
Lee: And a lot of people claim Christ who are not really believers. And the Bible says that, that there will be people one day and God will reveal their true heart. But I try to help them understand that this doesn’t affect truth. It doesn’t affect truth. What is truth? Truth is that which corresponds to reality. That’s truth. So the fact that a Christian may fail and either be a hypocrite or maybe they weren’t a real believer in the first place but claimed Christ and so forth, that has no impact on the truth of whether Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and backed up that claim by returning from the dead.
So sometimes I want to say to people when they’ll tell me a story like that, I’ll say, “Well, wait a minute. Are you saying that Jesus wasn’t resurrected?” And they’ll say, “No, no, no. I’m not talking about that.” I say, “No, no, no. I know. But really, that’s the issue, isn’t it? Because if Jesus really was resurrected from the dead, that proves that He was indeed the son of God and, therefore, that changes everything.” So I like to bring it back to that.
Jim: Well, let’s pick up where we left off last time. We talked about the validity of Jesus. I want to get back to that. Let’s start today by looking at the Old Testament prophecies. A lot of people that aren’t deeply familiar with the Scripture don’t understand how all these things connect - the Old Testament written thousands of years before Jesus and how they point to a coming Messiah and how Jesus, hundreds of times, fulfilled those prophecies. Speak to that evidence.
Lee: Yeah. And I mean, the odds against any human being fulfilling just 48 of these prophecies is so astronomical that it would be - scientists would consider it impossible for any human being to fulfill these prophecies, except Jesus did it.
Jim: Right. And for the skeptic, what are some of those that really caught your attention as an atheist?
Lee: Well, I’ll tell you, the one that got me is if you read Isaiah 53, which was written - what? 700 years or more before Jesus lived on Earth. It is a picture of the death and ultimate resurrection of Jesus. Now some people call it the fifth Gospel because it is - even though it’s written before Jesus...
Jim: Seven hundred years.
Lee: ...Seven hundred years before. And yet, it talks about Him being pierced for our transgressions. I just challenge anyone, especially of a Jewish background, read Isaiah 53 and ask yourself this question: who is this describing? And as you read it, you will see at least a dozen references that point toward what we’re talking about here on Good Friday, especially, which is the death of Jesus on the cross. And it’s depicted - and here’s an interesting thing - it’s depicted before crucifixion was even implemented as a method of execution by...
Jim: Yeah, before the Roman Empire.
Lee: ...Yeah. It wasn’t even - there wasn’t - yeah, and yet, you know, and in Psalm 22, which Jesus applied to Himself on the cross when He said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” That’s the opening phrase of Psalm 22, which has messianic energy to it. He’s applying that to Himself, and in Psalm 22 it talks about hands and feet being pierced. This is before crucifixion was invented. And it talked about how His bones were out of joint, which is as they were as He was hanging on the cross and so forth. So we see all of these prophecies in the Old Testament that mathematically are impossible for any human being to all fulfill. And yet, Jesus did it.
Jim: In your book, you talk about a conversation that you had with a Jewish man.
Lee: That’s right.
Jim: And this really grabbed him. Describe that because that’s the evidence of a changed heart. So put it into play.
Lee: I’ve got so many Jewish friends who came to faith because they examined the prophecies. And Louis Lapide is his name. He came back from Vietnam as a disillusioned soldier. He was on the street in Los Angeles, and a street evangelist challenged him and said, “I challenge you to look for Jesus in your Jewish scriptures. Look for him in what we call the Old Testament.” And so Louis began to look. And in fact, he saw Jesus in so many of these ancient prophecies, he actually called a relative and said, “Could you send me your copy of the Jewish scriptures because this one has obviously been tinkered with,” because he couldn’t believe that this...
Jim: He thought it was lined up?
Lee: ...He thought it was - he thought some Christians had got in there and changed things. But he got - I think it was his aunt - send him her copy, and sure enough, it was the same. And so he ended up coming to faith in Christ. And I know so many of those who’ve done that. Stan Telchin, a Jewish businessman, whose daughter went away to college and became a Christian. He was so mad, he set out to disprove the Christian faith. He not only ended up becoming a Christian, but his wife did, too. And both Stan and Louis Lapides both ended up in the ministry as pastors.
Jim: These are great stories right before Easter here of people who were skeptics, nonbelievers, who were overwhelmed by the evidence.
Jim: And that’s what - you just have to have an open heart to, “What if it’s true?”
Lee: Exactly. I think that’s the question. That - and I asked that question when I was an atheist. The question is, “What if? What if it’s true?” The Book of Acts - which virtually every scholar concedes tells a story of the spread of the early church - it does not have in it a lot of things that it would’ve had in it if it had been written late. So in other words, the martyrdom of Paul is not in there. The martyrdom of Peter is not in there. James is not in there. The Greco-Roman War at 66 A.D. is not in there. The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 is not in there. So what does this tell us?
Jim: Evidence it was before.
Lee: It was before. Therefore, we can say that Acts was written before about 62 A.D. Well, we know that Acts is the second part of a two-part work. And the first part was the Gospel of Luke, written by Luke, who was a companion of Paul, the eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus. And um, so we can date Luke even earlier. And then we know that one of the sources Luke used was Mark, so we can date Mark even earlier. And also - and this is the most fascinating to me, this blew my mind: There are also ancient creeds and hymns and statements of conviction from the earliest Christians that are embedded elsewhere in the New Testament that even come before the Gospels were written. This is the earliest material we’ve got. And what does it show us? A miracle working Son of God. But the earliest report we have of the resurrection of Jesus is found in 1 Corinthians 15 starting at verse 3. And it says Jesus died for our sins. He was buried. He rose from the dead, and then mentions the specific names of eyewitnesses and groups of eyewitnesses to whom He appeared, including skeptics.
Uh, now that particular creed was written by Paul in the letter to Corinth about 22 years after the death of Jesus. But we can go back earlier than that because Paul used to be Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians. One to three years after the death of Jesus, he’s on the road to Damascus. He has this encounter with the resurrected Christ. He becomes the Apostle Paul. Immediately, goes into Damascus and he meets with some apostles. Many scholars believe this is when he was given the creed that he later reports in 1 Corinthians. But other scholars say it might have been three years later. Three years later, Paul went to Jerusalem, and he met for 15 days with two people who are specifically named as eyewitnesses to the resurrection in the creed, Peter and James.
And the Greek word the Paul used to describe this 15 day meeting suggests that this was an investigative inquiry. They’re checking each other out. “Peter, what did you see? What do you know? James, what do you know?” They’re checking each other out. Other scholars say this is when he was given the creed that he later includes in 1 Corinthians. But either way, this means within one to six years after the death of Jesus, this creed is already in existence. Therefore, the beliefs that make up that creed go back even earlier, virtually to the cross itself. So there is no huge time gap between the death of Jesus and the later development of a legend that He rose from the dead. We got a news flash that goes right back to the beginning. That is historical gold.
John: Well we’re talking to Lee Strobel today, on Focus on the Family. And we want you to get a copy of his book,, and we’ve got that available for you at our website. We also have a download of a little booklet that we’ve created. Tens of thousands of people have read this. It’s been life-changing for them because it describes what salvation in Christ is. It’s called, . Look for Lee’s book, and that booklet, and a CD or download of this conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Lee, I want to come back to the crucifixion. We touched on it last time. We celebrate Christmas in a, you know, big way, and we do Easter as well. But in ancient times, Easter is the difference. Christmas was not as big a ceremony in the early church, certainly. It was all about Easter. Easter is the Christian message.
Lee: That’s right.
Jim: Because that’s where we all tap into eternal life, through the death, resurrection of Christ. Um, describe that crucifixion approach. We’ve mentioned the Romans and how they would do that. What made it so excruciating? And then describe for us the very word, “excruciating,” and where that comes from - the root word.
Lee: Exactly. The root word in Latin, excruciating means out of the cross. They had to invent a new word to describe the pain of a crucifixion - excruciating. And it was. I mean, Jesus - first of all, He was flogged possibly twice. One interpretation of the Gospels indicates two floggings. A flogging was a horrendous beating where the victim is stripped, they’re tied to a post, they’re beaten with whips that had jagged bits of sheep bone and balls of lead embedded in them. Let me quote to you an actual eyewitness account of a Roman flogging. Quote: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare and the very muscles and tendons and bowels of the victim were laid open to exposure.”
Lee: So when we look at the historical evidence, we see the evidence that Jesus was in hypovolemic shock from a great loss of blood after He was flogged, which is why He couldn’t carry the horizontal beam of the cross all the way, uh, which is also why He was so thirsty on the cross because His body was trying to - it was craving fluids to replace...
Lee: ...The lost blood. Right. And then you’re - you have spikes driven through your wrists and through your feet. You’re hoisted on the cross. And the cause of death in crucifixion - there’re many things to contribute, including the loss of blood - but is essentially, you die of asphyxiation. And the reason is when you’re hanging in that position on the cross, it puts incredible stresses on your chest muscles, and it locks your lungs into the inhale position. So in order to continue to breathe, you have to lessen the stress on your chest muscles. The only way you can do that is to push up with your feet, which of course, there’s a spike through them, and their bloody back is then scraping against the coarse wood of the cross. You have to push up, exhale, inhale, settle down and then you keep going through that motion until exhaustion takes over and your - the acidity level of your blood increases, your heart rate becomes erratic. Jesus knew at that point that the end was near, which as he said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” And He died of heart failure caused by asphyxiation.
So there is no question that Jesus was dead. Um, you can go to an atheist New Testament scholar, like Gerd Lüdemann, formerly of Vanderbilt University, and he will tell you this quote, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” So for anybody to claim that Jesus somehow survived the crucifixion, it’s just - the evidence is so much to the contrary, besides which, let’s say, hypothetically, He did survive. Somehow, against all odds, He’s the only guy of the thousands of people who were crucified, whoever survived a full crucifixion, He survived, what kind of condition would He have been in? He would have been bloodied. He was beaten to a pulp. The disciples would not have said, “Oh, praise God. We’re someday going to have these wonderful resurrection bodies. We’re going to come back to life.” And they weren’t going to start a movement based on the idea that He is the Lord of life when He would be on the verge of death.
Jim: And Lee, I - we’re running out of time, oh, but the resurrection itself, the evidence for that.
Lee: Right. Yeah. I mean, we have nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament that confirm and corroborate the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus. So that is an avalanche of historical evidence.
Jim: Let me ask you this as well. The description of the resurrected Christ is observed first by women.
Jim: And if people understood the culture of the time, if you’re wanting to put out a false story, women were not respected in the same way men’s testimony would be. So you wouldn’t do that.
Lee: Exactly. It’s called the “criterion of embarrassment.” When historians try to determine if an ancient writing is telling the truth, if that ancient writing says something that’s embarrassing to themselves or hurts their own case, they’re probably telling the truth. Because if you’re going to make it up, you’re not going to make up something that’s going to hurt your case.
Jim: Because at that time, it’s not strengthening your case, it’s weakening your case.
Lee: It’s weakening your case. Women were generally not considered to be reliable purveyors of information in those days. They weren’t considered credible. They were generally not allowed to testify in a court of law. And that’s both in Jewish culture at the time, as well as Roman culture.
Jim: So think of that, for those that sometimes feel Christianity is setting women back. Christianity set women free in so many ways. And this is one way God, the Father, said, “Listen, I’m gonna use women to testify to My Son’s resurrection.”
Lee: Yep. And you know, in the second century, critics of Christianity attacked Christianity by saying, “Well, you can’t trust that. Women discovered the tomb empty.” And yet, for Christians, that’s what happened. And you’re right. Isn’t it in God’s sovereignty that He chose it would be women who would discover that tomb empty, to honor them in that way? Isn’t that great?
Jim: It’s amazing. Think about this everybody. I mean, at every turn, God is choosing the weakest vessels known to the culture to say, “I am God.” I mean, whether it’s the fisherman recruited to be the disciple, the shepherd, the women encountering the empty tomb. I mean, the Lord’s saying, “I’m going to give you so much evidence, I’m going to have the weakest people in the culture testify to Me.”
Lee: Yeah. Exactly true. And the case, I think, is not just strong. I think it’s persuasive. I think it’s powerful. It changed my life when I realized this is not make-believe. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not legend. It’s not mythology. It is based on a solid foundation of historical truth. And I couldn’t - as someone committed to truth, I could not turn my back. I had to respond by receiving Jesus as my Forgiver and Leader.
Jim: And that takes us right into the final real question, that key verse in John 1:12 that helped you finally accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Share that verse for the person listening to you right now who may be on the verge of saying, “I believe you, Lee. You convinced me.” Describe the unique way God confirmed His presence in your heart.
Lee: Yeah. I read John 1:12. And it says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name.” And that verse forms an equation of what it means to become a child of God - believe plus receive equals become. So believing is a great first step, that believe what? Believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be. He claimed to be the son of God. He backed up that claim by returning from the dead. I believe that based on the historical data. But that wasn’t enough. I had to receive. Receive what? Receive this free gift of God’s grace, to receive this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased on the cross when He died for our sins as our substitute, paid for all of the sins that we’ve committed so that we could be given this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. And then when we receive that gift in a prayer of repentance and faith, then we become a child of God.
And I think there’s a lot of people out there who would agree with the resurrection evidence, would say, “Yep, I believe Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I believe He rose from the dead and proved that He is the Son of God.” But their life hasn’t changed. And their values haven’t changed. And their character hasn’t changed. And their morality hasn’t changed. Why? Because they haven’t taken that next step - to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior in a prayer of repentance and faith. And when they do that, then they become a child of God.
Jim: Yeah. We’ve got to do it, Lee. I’ve got to ask you to pray for those who might be right there. I feel it. And let’s pray for them.
Jim: Let’s do it right now.
Lee: Absolutely. If you want to pray this prayer, if you believe as best you can, we all have questions, but that’s okay. You don’t have to know everything to know something. What you can know with confidence right now, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, He backed it up by returning from the dead. That’s all you need right now. So if you want to take that next step, receive this free gift of His grace, become a child of God, then just say - you can say it out loud or just say it into your spirit, God will hear you - just say, “Lord Jesus, as best I can, I do believe that You are the Son of God. And I confess the obvious, which is that I am a sinner. And I want to turn from that. And in an attitude of repentance and faith, I want to receive Your free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being willing to endure the torture of Good Friday, the torture of the crucifixion, so that we can be reconciled forever. Help me, Jesus, to live the kind of life that You want me to live because from this moment on, I am Yours.”
John: Well it’s our sincere hope that you’ve prayed that prayer of salvation right along with our guest, Lee Strobel. And if you did, we’d like to make available to you some follow-up information about what it means to become a Christian. We have a free download for you called,. And you’ll find that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or you can call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: John, I mentioned last time how much I appreciate Lee’s amazing testimony and the great resource he has provided for us in his book,. I have given so many of those out, and it’s a wonderful book to help someone better understand and wrestle through whether Christ is who He said He was or not. It’s a wonderful tool. To our listeners, I want to recommend that you get a copy for someone you know who has a lot of questions. Or even get a copy just to have it ready for that person that the Lord may bring across your path to give it to. And we would love to send you that complimentary copy of when you send a financial gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. It’s our way of saying thank you for helping us get this good news out to individuals and families who really need to hear it. So join us in ministering to others.
John: Go to focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to donate and get Lee’s book, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
We hope you have a great weekend with your family and a really special Easter Sunday. Plan to join us on Monday, when you’ll hear heartfelt encouragement for moms.
Jeannie Cunnion: It’s a humbling of, “Okay, I don’t have to be perfect for my kids. I don’t have to be their savior. God called me to be their parent.” And the opportunity for me is to point them to Jesus.
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Lee StrobelView Bio
A former atheist, Lee Strobel is now a well-known apologist for the Christian faith. He is also a popular public speaker and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of more than 20 books including The Case for Christ,The Case for Faith and his newest release, The Case for Miracles. Educated at the University of Missouri and Yale Law School, Lee worked as a professional journalist for several newspapers including The Chicago Tribune. He now serves as Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. Lee's book The Case for Christ, recounting his investigative journey from atheism to faith, was released as a major motion picture in April, 2017. He and his wife, Leslie, have two grown children. Learn more about Lee by visiting his website, www.leestrobel.com.