How an Atheist Fabricated a Phony Story About Me

I feel silly taking the time to respond to the failed fabrications of an atheist who posted a hit job about me online. Those who know me will instantly dismiss his misleading rant. However, my concern is for the spiritually curious people who might be deterred from considering the evidence for Christianity because of his well-orchestrated campaign to try – unsuccessfully – to discredit my ministry.

For the record, this self-published atheist and “religion critic” doesn’t even try to challenge the story of my conversion. The truth is absolutely as I have always reported it: I was an atheist and Yale-educated legal editor of the Chicago Tribune when my wife’s conversion to Christianity prompted me to investigate the faith for nearly two years. Ultimately, I decided the evidence was too strong to ignore, and I put my trust in Christ on November 8, 1981. Six years later, I left daily journalism to become a pastor.

I conducted my original investigation out of my own curiosity, never intending to write about it. Several years later, when I decided to write a book, I specifically wrote that I was going to “retrace and expand upon” my original journey through on-the-record interviews with scholars and experts (p. 15). This would allow me to gather the latest research, get answers to the remaining objections and questions that I still harbored, achieve clarity on issues that were still confusing to me, take copious notes, and ensure I was being accurate. To bring even greater clarity, I emphasized at the conclusion of the book: “My investigation into Jesus was similar to what you’ve just read, except that I primarily studied books and other historical research instead of personally interacting with scholars” (Page 279).

Why did I choose these scholars to interview for the book after having thoroughly studied literature from atheists, skeptics, left-wing professors, and others? Because after assessing the wide range of scholarship, I concluded that the views of these scholars most closely cohered to the historical record. The experts I interviewed have PhDs from Cambridge, Brandeis, Princeton, Durham, USC, Purdue and other major institutions. Incidentally, in his online post the atheist sought to disparage one interviewee by saying he was merely a “Baptist pastor,” neglecting to mention that he has a doctorate in New Testament from the University of Aberdeen and is a widely published and respected professor at a major seminary.

My books report extensively on the evidence for Christianity. I conducted each interview as reported, tape recorded them, edited them to fit the space (as my books disclose), and even allowed each interviewee, whether skeptic or Christian, to review the finished chapter before publication to ensure I hadn’t accidentally introduced any errors in the editing process. I gave each of them free rein to correct anything that was not accurate.

Now, twenty years after The Case for Christ came out, along comes this Internet post with the provocative headline that I somehow “fabricated” my story. That is false, plain and simple. In fact, if you read the post carefully, you’ll see he never really disputes that I was a spiritual skeptic who came to faith through an investigation of the evidence. Rather, he uses innuendo, half-truths, inaccuracies and twisted facts in an unsuccessful attempt to cast doubt on the credibility of my books.

Here’s the big irony: this atheist contends I was too credulous in my investigation of the evidence – all while he promotes the absurd and repeatedly discredited claim that Jesus was a myth who never really lived! The “publisher” of his 2010 book on this topic is listed as – a self-publishing website that helps aspiring writers to “create, publish and sell your book.” The atheist says he has “a degree in history,” but I can’t find any details online about the source or nature of that degree. Regardless, even the agnostic scholar and Christianity critic Dr. Bart Ehrman has penned a scathing critique of the so-called “Jesus myth” theory, concluding: “Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.”

This atheist’s big revelation seems to be that I attended a Lutheran church as a youngster. Because of this, he said I was really a “lapsed Lutheran.” How did he find out this devastating news? Because I wrote all about it in my first Christian book! I’ve been upfront from the beginning about how my parents forced me to attend church as a child, how I went through religious training and gave the answers they were seeking in order to placate my father, and how I walked away from the faith shortly after I was given my independence as a teenager. I became an atheist, as any of my friends can attest. In fact, the same book this atheist relies on for the scoop that I went to church as a kid opens up with a story about my atheism while I attended college!

He also reports that my wife Leslie’s parents brought her to church a few times and that her mother sang her hymns as she was going to sleep as a child. Where did the atheist dig up such incriminating dirt? Well, again, it’s in my writings – and even in the movie The Case for Christ!

As for the movie, here’s a news flash: it’s not a documentary. As I have repeatedly said, it’s a based-on-true-story feature film that uses standard cinematic techniques such as time shifting, composite characters, etc., to fit my story into a 113-minute movie. The atheist is forced to concede as much – but then he gasps in horror as he reveals that two characters in the film don’t even exist in real life. True enough! Who claimed they did? What he fails to disclose is that they are based on actual real-life scholars, Dr. Bruce Metzger and Dr. Gary Collins, and the essential information they convey in the film is accurate.

The atheist complains that my book quoted a respected college professor, Dr. John McRay (PhD, University of Chicago) who authored the textbook Archaeology and the New Testament, about a then-recent archaeological discovery that turned out to be ill-founded. In my book, I specifically expressed skepticism about the discovery at the outset, saying it “sounded a bit speculative to me.” After my book was published, people publicly raised more doubts about the discovery. Consequently, in my updated and expanded edition I explicitly report that experts have now dismissed this claim. (By the way, the discovery had no impact on the conclusions of the book anyway.)

The atheist complains that The Case for Christ movie “goes out of its way to name-drop Flew,” referring to Dr. Antony Flew, the famous 20th century philosophical atheist who later recanted his atheism and came to believe in a creator before his death. This critic then recounts a controversy over a 2007 book co-authored by Flew, intimating that this is where I got my information about Flew. Once again, wrong! Unlike this “atheist activist,” I actually went to the source himself and personally interviewed Flew about his renouncing of atheism. Though advanced in age at the time, Flew was articulate, clear-headed, and quite firm in his multiple reasons for rejecting his lifetime of atheism. This linking of the controversy over Flew’s book to my movie is another example of the innuendo employed by this posting.

What’s more, the posting doesn’t shrink back from a little guilt by association when it commits an underhanded move that lawyers call “throwing a skunk into the jury box.” This technique involves making an incendiary implication and then conceding there’s no evidence for it. Once the “skunk” of the allegation has been thrown into the jury box, the jury is then instructed by the judge to ignore the smell. Of course, that’s not really possible, because the opinion of the jury has already been tainted. Similarly, the atheist and the atheist psychologist interviewing him bring up that I served at Willow Creek Community Church at a time when its senior pastor was later accused of sexual misconduct. While the interviewer admits that I was “not necessarily privy to Hybels’ bad behavior,” the skunk has already been thrown into the jury box and has done its intended work of guilt by association. Here’s the truth: it’s an incontrovertible fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that I ever knew about or committed any such misconduct – which I didn’t.

Most significantly, this atheist doesn’t even attempt to refute the overall evidence in my books. Instead, his interviewer – who, by the way, calls religion a “mind virus” – merely cites critiques by Dr. Robert Price and Earl Doherty – both of whom are Jesus mythers themselves. This speaks volumes about their credibility. Ehrman points out that Doherty lacks any advanced degrees in any relevant field; in fact, Doherty considers himself an amateur. Concerning Price, the highly regarded scholar Dr. Craig A. Evans declared: “No major historian or New Testament scholar follows Price.” One of the most eminent scholars today, Dr. James D. G. Dunn of the University of Durham, has excoriated Price’s Jesus myth theories with such words and phrases as “Sad, really,” “disappointing,” “ludicrous,” “smacks of some desperation,” “scraping the barrel,” and “really quite unbalanced.”

In fact, here’s a list of prominent scholars, compiled by Dr. Michael Licona, who have studied the historical Jesus and forcefully rejected “mythicist” theories:

Bultmann (1958): “Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community.”

Bornkamm (I960): “To doubt the historical existence of Jesus at all…was reserved for an unrestrained, tendentious criticism of modern times into which it is not worthwhile to enter here.”

Marxsen (1970): “I am of the opinion (and it is an opinion shared by every serious historian) that the theory that Jesus never lived, that he was a purely mythical figure, is historically untenable.”

Grant (1977): “To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.’ In recent years ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus’ – or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.”

Van Voorst (2000): “Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their [i.e., Jesus mythers] arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely.”

Burridge and Could (2004):  “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.”

Maier (2005): “The total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”

Allison (2005): “No responsible scholar can find any truth in it.”

R. J. Miller (2008): “We can be certain that Jesus really existed (despite a few hyper-historical skeptics who refuse to be convinced).”

Vermes (2008): “Let me state plainly that I accept that Jesus was a real historical person. In my opinion, the difficulties arising from the denial of his existence, still vociferously maintained in small circles of rationalist ‘dogmatists,’ far exceed those deriving from its acceptance.”

C. A. Evans (2009): “No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century....”

Well, enough. I could continue pointing out the flaws in this latest attempt to undermine the compelling evidence for the truth of Christianity, but I’ve already wasted enough time with this. I decline to get into a fruitless back-and-forth. However, I will continue to pray for this atheist and his psychologist enabler. Seriously. After all, I was once an atheist myself.


Lee Strobel