The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives. By Lee Strobel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. 230 pp. Hardcover, $22.99.
Lee Strobel is a former pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. He is today known as a New York Times best-selling author and an apologist for the Christian faith.
The emphasis of this book is about how God’s grace reaches the most sinful of people. In each chapter of the book Strobel discusses how that grace transforms the lives of people. Grace changes people (p. 9).
Strobel tells of his own spiritual journey from being an atheist, to becoming a Christian, and then serving the Lord. His own story is interspersed with the other people he discusses. He learned the same lessons as the others, which is that he is dependent upon the grace of God.
The best parts of the book are the human-interest stories. The book is very easy to read and I found myself wondering what would happen to each person he discusses. The stories are compelling.
In chapter two he tells of an orphaned girl in South Korea after the war that ravaged that country. She experienced extreme poverty, sexual abuse, and the ridicule of the citizens of her country because her father had been an American soldier. When she was around nine years old a Christian missionary couple adopted her from the orphanage where she worked. Her life is a beautiful illustration of God adopting the believer into His family.
Another story recounts the life of a drug addict that was at death’s door. He became a Christian but then did not live by grace. He was judgmental towards those who did not appear to work as hard as he did. This is another strength of the book. It teaches that Christians are to live lives of grace as well. We need to avoid the dangers of legalism (p. 54). This ex-addict now pastors a church in Las Vegas where everyone is welcomed. Grace is extended to prostitutes, strippers, and anybody else who comes.
In chapter four, Strobel tells of an interview with a Christian world religions professor. It contains a good discussion on how the concept of God’s grace is unique in Christianity. The other religions of the world do not have that concept.
Another heart-wrenching tale deals with a Cambodian who was an executioner under the Khmer Rouge of the 1970s. This man ordered the torture and death of many people, including babies. He later becomes a Christian and is befriended and even baptized by another Cambodian who had lived through the horrors of that regime. The man who befriended him did not know the other man’s past, or that as an executioner he had even killed members of his family.
When he finds out who the other man is he forgives him. The book makes the point that Christ’s death paid even for this ex-executioners sins. It clearly holds to an unlimited view of Christ’s atonement and that God’s grace can reach anybody (p. 103), which is another good point about the book.
Others discussed in the book include a former drug dealer and addict, a well-known Christian pastor that has a long-term adulterous affair, and the wayward son of an internationally known Christian evangelist. In each of these stories we are told of others who intervene and minister to those involved. They display grace towards them. We learn that God’s grace, as well as God’s grace working through us, can pierce whatever sin and darkness one encounters.
While the book has these positive attributes, there are some weaknesses. Some readers will feel uncomfortable with the idea that angels come and speak to these people on certain occasions. An angel appears to Strobel in a dream, and the orphaned girl is saved because an angel speaks to a visiting nurse to rescue the little girl.
The biggest drawback to the book is its presentation of the gospel. It is confusing to say the least. At various places people are spiritually saved when they realize that God loves them, when they surrender their lives to Jesus, after counting the cost of following Jesus and repenting, deciding to follow Jesus, and praying and committing oneself to God. We are told that a “simple prayer” is not enough, but faith, repentance and confession are necessary (pp. 42, 78, 94, 119).
In chapter eight, we find the story of a prodigal son who says a prayer to be saved, but it didn’t mean anything because he didn’t turn from sin and allow God to take over his life. We are told that one cannot be saved by “cheap grace.” He was only saved when he spent “two or three hours” confessing all of his sins and repenting. This was accompanied by an appropriate amount of tears. It was obvious that he was not saved before this long session of confession because even though he had prayed for salvation, he soon slipped back into living a life full of sinful activities.
In other places, however, believers know they will go to heaven when they die (p. 39). Eternal life is given as a “pure gift” (p. 65). The pastor who commits adultery is still said to be saved, even though he does not live like it. The former executioner is also said to be a true believer even though he does not reveal his true identity for years to fellow believers. Strobel himself recounts how he had failed often and miserably after becoming a Christian. In none of these cases could somebody say they had committed their lives to Christ. How could they know, then, that they had eternal life?
The reader of this book will not find a clear presentation of the gospel. Different requirements and inconsistencies are found throughout. This is not a book for an unbeliever to find how to receive eternal life. It is not, in my opinion, a book for an immature believer. However, there are some good sermon illustrations and reminders for believers. These illustrations show how we all are completely unworthy of God’s grace. For those looking for these things, I recommend the book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society