Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel is the former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune and best-selling author of The Case for Christ. Lee and his wife Leslie share the struggles and joys of finding faith at different times in their marriage and discuss “The Case for Christ” movie, which released to theaters in April 2017.
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Lee and Leslie Strobel: “The Case for Christ” in Marriage – Jesus Calling Podcast #36
Narrator: Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel is the former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune and best-selling author of more than twenty books. His classic, The Case for Christ, is a perennial favorite which details his conversion to Christianity. Lee and his wife Leslie share the story of their journey to Christ and talk about “The Case for Christ” movie which released to theaters in 2017.
Lee Strobel: We actually met in high school: we were 14 years old. Fifty years ago, 1966, we were 14 years old. We never met. She was with a friend of mine; this guy, and they had gone downtown Chicago by the train to return some Christmas presents. I was with a friend of mine downtown. I’d taken the train downtown too. I saw my friend who was with Leslie, right outside the train station. So he introduced me to Leslie, and we looked at each other and it was love at first sight. Leslie went home and told her mom; “I met the boy I’m going to marry.” Sure enough, by the age of 19 for her and 20 for me, we got married.
So we were childhood sweethearts mostly through high school; we broke up a few times. I knew if I could just get a fuzzy steering wheel and a racing stripe on my Volkswagen Beetle I knew I could win her back.
Leslie Strobel: For myself growing up. Honestly all I wanted to do was be a mom when I grew up; the idea of having my own home someday always appealed to me. And so when Lee and I met, and it was clear that down the road that we’d be getting married, it was my single motivation in terms of how I wanted to live my life. I just wanted to be a mom and raise kids.
Lee: We had a church wedding because my parents and her parents thought it was appropriate. We didn’t care, because it didn’t matter to us, so we got married in the church but we didn’t have any faith component to our marriage.
Leslie: For me, my mom had been raised Presbyterian, my Dad didn’t have any church background.
Lee: My parents were Lutherans they went to a church and they took me as a youngster but gave me the freedom to be able to say when I got into high school, whether I wanted to go or not. They sort of left it up to me, and as soon as I was free not to go I decided not to go, because I didn’t find it interesting; I thought it was boring. I thought it was irrelevant.
Leslie: Church was not really part of our background.
God Is Not A Priority: The Early Life of the Strobel’s
Lee: I graduated from the University of Missouri journalism school and got an offer to be a reporter with The Chicago Tribune so Leslie and I moved to Chicago.
When I went to the University of Missouri, she was working at a bank and she was helping support me and her as we were going to college at the University of Missouri.
Then, I got a Ford Foundation fellowship to go to Yale Law School to get my Master of studies in law degree. So The Tribune continued to pay me, God bless them, and I went off to Yale and Leslie came with, and I got my master’s degree in legal studies. I came back to the Tribune and became legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. So the Tribune was really our focus.
Very busy, We had a great relationship and had two children after awhile. But God was really not important, not a factor. It wasn’t anything we were hostile toward, we just were disinterested and didn’t really understand the Gospel message. Nobody had ever really explained it to us in a way that we get it.
Leslie: As a child I can remember being curious about it. I’d ask my mom questions, but her faith, I still to this day believe that she was a believer, and she’s passed on now, but it was something that was very personal; very quiet. She just didn’t really have a strong understanding of scripture or theology. It wasn’t ‘til I was working at that bank that we mentioned, that my boss, who was a believer, started to ask me some questions and witness and that. That was the first that I really heard any kind of Gospel presentation.
I was a little uncomfortable with it. It was just so new to me, and so I just kept it in my hopper, more or less, I never pursued it. Then we moved and once we had our daughter Allison, we’d gone out to the suburbs to live. As soon as we moved there, we were in a condominium, a woman from from downstairs brought up a plate of cookies and her little girl was about the age of our Allison and she was a believer. We became good friends.
It was through Linda that I really got my questions answered. She led me, basically to the Lord and helped me understand and got me into a Bible study and she mentored me. That is where my growth started to happen.
“I Didn’t Have Any Interest In Being Married To A Christian”
Narrator: Lee & Leslie’s lives were rocked as God began to work on their hearts individually. As Lee determined to make a case against Christ, Leslie quietly sought guidance from God for their marriage.
Leslie: When I told him that I had become a believer and that I was going to church and Bible studies and that, his initial response was anger and just outrage, just hostility; he was very condescending.
Lee: I didn’t have any interest in being married to a Christian. I thought she was going to turn into some holy roller or something and that’s not part of the deal. It wasn’t part of the plan; and all of the sudden we were going to have all these conflicts about how to raise our children, how to spend our money, and what are we going to do on the weekends. Everything was going to be a conflict.
Leslie: That’s when we started a season of our marriage that was very difficult.
Lee: I remember once she was talking about going to church and our little daughter was there and I had so much rage I blew up and I reared back and I kicked a hole right through our living room wall. Just out of anger and rage.
I felt like she was being pulled away into this evangelical subculture; that she was cheating on me with this guy Jesus, you know? I thought I was the guy in your life, and now she’s talking about this Jesus character. There was that kind of anger, so I began to investigate Christianity. I thought if Christianity is true, there would be historical evidence and scientific evidence for it. I thought I could disprove it.
So I began to use my journalism training and legal training to investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity or any other world religion. That launched me on a nearly two-year investigation of the evidence and it was an accumulation over time of evidence and a variety of different areas, but focusing largely on the resurrection of Jesus. Because I realized that if the resurrection was false, it disproved Christianity. Even the Apostle Paul said, if Christianity isn’t true, I mean if the resurrection isn’t true, then your faith is worthless. You’re still in your sins. Christianity is based on the truth of the resurrection. I thought if I could disprove that and show that it’s based on legend, or make believe, or wishful thinking, then I could rescue Leslie, get her back, and have my life back.
Leslie: He was doing a lot of this on his own in his own time because I busy leaving Bible tracts in his socks and verses on the mirror, and it was just making him angrier. It was kind of behind the scenes that he was doing all of this investigation. I really wasn’t aware. Occasionally, he would ask a question on something, but I was never the one to answer that, because he was asking really technical questions. For me, I wasn’t looking at all these specialists in the field that he was. My faith was just based on how I received Christ and I could tell that Christ was in my life, and He was moving and answering my prayers in so many ways.
Collecting All The Evidence: Lee Investigates
Lee: My investigation was cumulative, in effect; so in other words, it wasn’t just one single fact. It was an accumulation of a lot of data; the evidence of science, of cosmology, and physics and biochemistry and genetics and human consciousness. I believe those things began to point me toward the existence of a Creator, who looked a lot like the God of the Bible. Then the investigation of Jesus. Did He live? Yes, clearly. Did he claim to be the Son of God? Yes, in a variety of ways implicitly and explicitly. Did He back up that claim by returning from the dead? That was really the issue. As I investigated the resurrection and looked into the accounts of the resurrection, and how early they are; we actually have a report of the resurrection that’s dated back by scholars to within months of the death of Jesus, which is revolutionary when you consider the first two biographies of Alexander the Great were written four hundred years after his life. They’re generally considered reliable. Here we have really fresh historical data. The evidence for the empty tomb. The evidence that we have for Him being seen and encountered after his death–we have nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament that confirm and corroborate the conviction of the disciples that they had encountered the resurrected Jesus. This case began to come into focus for me it was this is if you have the kind of the scales of justice, and they were they were slowly tipping in the direction of Christianity being true.
Leslie: It’s so funny for me to hear him talk like that because more than ever, when I hear him spew out all those facts about his journey, mine was so much more simple. I was feeling empty and hurting because he was never home; he was busy in his career and I would cry out to God and he’d be there. I’d feel His presence. Or I’d open the Bible and He would speak to me in what I was reading. For me, it was so relational. It was never a question of needing any kind of hard facts or proof. For me, it was proved by His presence in my life.
Considering All of the Evidence for Christ
Lee: Finally, on November the 8th of 1981, as I considered all of the evidence put together, I realized that in light of the avalanche of evidence that points so powerfully toward the truth of Christianity, it would have taken more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian. The most logical thing to do in light of the evidence is take a step of faith in the same direction the evidence is pointing.
Everything about my life began to change; my values, my character my morality, my attitudes, my relationships, our marriage. I mean every aspect.
Leslie: It still is amazing to me because all I wanted was someone to go to church with me. I just wanted him to come to church and keep his mind open, so for him to have gone as far as to become a pastor, it was just unbelievable.
Lee: God has really redeemed our whole family and rescued us from a bad path that we’ve been on. In terms of my my career, I really wanted to stay in journalism because I felt like we needed Christian perspectives in the newsrooms of our newspapers. But after a couple of years, God clearly called me out of that. I took a 60 percent cut in pay and went to work on the staff of Willow Creek Community church outside Chicago, which is the church Leslie first took me to when I was a spiritual doubter. In God’s great sense of humor, I was ordained and became a teaching pastor ultimately there. God took me on a different adventure, which is to be an evangelist, to use my experiences of having been a skeptic and an atheist to reach a new generation of people who are spiritually confused.
Leslie: Honestly it just fills me in awe of God’s grace and His sense of humor and His mercy and the plans that He has for us. I mean there’s no accounting for it, sometimes; what paths He’ll take us on.
Lee: I think it was like our entire life had been like a motion picture filmed in black and white, with 16 millimeter film with scratchy sound. Then after we both came to Christ, now our marriage is like Technicolor; Dolby Stereo and special effects.
“The Case For Christ” Movie
Narrator: Lee & Leslie have gone on to share their story to as many people as they can, their message has brought healing to those in marriages where faith is not shared, and to skeptics who doubt the message of Christ is real. They talk about what it was like to have their story come to life on film with the movie-version of “The Case For Christ.”
Lee: You know, it’s so funny, we got a copy of the film and we’ve seen it on our computer. Leslie told me the other day she’s seen it like five or six times.
The bad stuff is there. My bad attitude, my drinking, my skepticism, the way I shut her down when she would try to share Jesus with me. Some of the stuff is difficult for us to watch. But the beauty of God intersecting with our lives and reaching Leslie, and then me and the investigation and so forth. It’s wonderful to watch that played out on film.
Leslie: it’s been so humbling to have, first of all, your life story out there. That’s a little awkward, but on the other hand it’s out in a book form anyway. So, if God can use this for a new generation that maybe isn’t interested in reading, but will go to a movie, then we are more than happy to have our story out there so that God can use it.
It’s been such a privilege and honor to be used by God. To have our story touch hearts, the way it apparently has. I’ll go with Lee when he speaks and more often than not, while he is maybe doing a book signing or surrounded by people asking questions of him, there’ll be people that come over to me and quietly just want to ask what it was like and what they can do because they’re in the same position of having a relationship with Christ and their spouse doesn’t. Men and women will ask me. It has been just a blessing to be able to bless others with our experience.
The Strobel’s on Jesus Calling
Lee: We’ve got Jesus Calling sitting on Leslie’s..
Leslie: It’s in my office. My quiet time bench.
Leslie: I read it every morning. You know the thing that happened for me, was Jesus Calling was given to me a couple of years ago as a birthday present from a dear friend. I’ll never forget the first time I opened it up; she had given it to me for Christmas. It’s just so wonderful to have that little book and invariably it’ll relate that day’s scripture and the reading will relate to what’s going on in my life. It’s just fascinating to me how God’s used it that way.
Lee: It is a unique resource because, as Leslie says, pastors will often say “put your name in the Bible where it says ‘God so loved the world,’ imagine if it said…‘God so loved you’ or ‘Leslie’.” But you know, that’s what this book does. It puts it in a more relational first person context that helps Scripture come alive and helps the word of God go deep in your heart.
Narrator: For more information on “The Case For Christ” film, please visit LeeStrobel.com.
Narrator: Next time on The Experience Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Caz McCaslin, the founder of Upward Sports. With a vision to create the best sports experience possible for every child, Upward Sports has grown under McCaslin’s leadership and guidance from a few hundred children playing in seven church basketball leagues to more than half a million children playing in 2,500 multi-sport clinics, camps, academies and leagues in 47 states and 72 countries.
Caz: We stepped out with a desire and a fire and a passion to reach children and families for Christ all over this country through something as simple as a ball.
Our greatest desire would be; to be there to introduce them to Christ, to have the joy of seeing them to come to know Christ, and then disciple them in Christ. Then, when they leave us and our age group of sports, to watch them as they model Christ.
Narrator: Our featured passage for today comes from the August 7th entry of the Jesus Calling Audiobook:
Understanding will never bring you Peace. That’s why I have instructed you to trust in Me, not in your understanding. Human beings have a voracious appetite for trying to figure things out, in order to gain a sense of mastery over their lives. But the world presents you with an endless series of problems. As soon as you master one set, another pops up to challenge you. The relief you had anticipated is short-lived. Soon your mind is gearing up again: searching for understanding (mastery), instead of seeking Me (your Master).
The wisest of all men, Solomon, could never think his way through to Peace. His vast understanding resulted in feelings of futility, rather than in fulfillment. Finally, he lost his way and succumbed to the will of his wives by worshiping idols.
My Peace is not an elusive goal, hidden at the center of some complicated maze. Actually, you are always enveloped in Peace, which is inherent in My Presence. As you look to Me, you gain awareness of this precious Peace.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.