Christian executives gather for lunch at the Chattanooga Convention Center to hear a speaker testify of what God has done to save him from eternal judgment and bring new life here, and eternal life beyond.
The speakers are usually businessmen, and it is hoped that capitalists in the audience (as well as others, such as Sheriff Jim Hammond) will have brought guests outside the faith willing to consider the claims of Jesus Christ on mankind. The talks are not an argument from the broader world, nor are they Bible studies. They are personal histories of one man.
At the end of a chat Nov. 14, businessman Charlton Lentz gives away copies of a book the writing of which converted an intellectually bunkered-up atheist. The Case for Christ is by Lee Strobel, a former Chicago Tribune legal editor who “cross-examines a dozen experts with doctorates from schools like Cambridge, Princeton, and Brandeis who are recognized authorities in their own fields,” as Amazon’s teaser for the book puts it. “Strobel challenges them with questions like: How reliable is the New Testament? Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible? Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event?”
God’s claims upon the individual
Personal witnessing of this sort is not enough to convince a nonbelieving invitee to the noon luncheon in downtown Chattanooga, perhaps. Mr. Strobel is Mr. Lentz’s heavy artillery. Mr. Lentz stands, as it were, upon the proofs The Case for Christ offers like steppingstones across a roaring stream.
As do many such conversion testimonials, Mr. Lentz’s story starts early — at age 3, when it is discovered that his father, a Christian minister, is committing adultery with a married church member. The uproar gave him a “father wound that I carried around with me.” The uproar over the covenant breach gave him a sense of loss. “Why does he not want me in his life?”
His mother does not share her emotions, and does not teach him how to “process emotions.” “I was a little bit of an emotional orphan,” Mr. Lentz says. He still struggles out to verbalize and to express emotional ideas. In high school his emotional detachment takes him into the byways of “the party lifestyle” — sex, drugs, booze, the usual thrilling vices. This slough of despond lasts through his early 20s.
By which time he finds himself a “chameleon. *** You could stick me into any of the cliques in high school, and I could fit in, because I would just adapt myself to who was around. That came in pretty handy later in life when I got into sales. But the reality is, you lose — I never really knew who I was as a young man. I didn’t have sense of identity. And therefore no one else really knew me *** because I held surface-level relationships.”
He and his intended, Lisa, get married. A man at a job interview asks a question famous in evangelical Christian circlres., “If you were to get into fatal car accident when you [leave] here today, do you know where you would go? D’you know where you’d spend eternity? If you met God face to face — if there is a God — do you know what you’d say to him? That was a pretty bizarre question for me at the time. God was nowhere on my radar.” The man invites Mr. Lentz to CBMC meetings similar to the one at which he speaks, and eventually he and Mrs. Lentz are converted.
Proofs and understanding
Mr. Lentz discusses an intellectual pursuit he made with the help of the the Strobel book. “He was looking to disprove Christianity and through that pursuit, as he looked at all the evidence, he came to faith. He came to realize that, ‘You know what, this is real, and I cannot deny it.’”
Mr. Lentz discusses a main argument of the book. “You cannot get around the fact that [Jesus] claimed to be God. He claimed to be the savior of mankind. You can’t get away from that. So, then, where does that leave you? It leaves you at the 3 Ls. He’s either a lunatic, he’s a liar or he’s the Lord.” He has his listeners discount the prospects of the first two Ls, pointing out that no lunatic has followers 20 years after death, much less any with adherents 2,000 years after his leaving this world. Mr. Lentz points out that if Christ had been lying, why would He die for a lie? And why would the disciples face martyrdom for pious fibbery? The only conclusion reason offers is that Christ is the Lord, and died on behalf of His people.
The scriptures work on him on the point of forgiveness, and he is drawn to forgive his father for his ruined boyhood. “He and I are in a good relationship. You can;t get back those years, but we are in a good relationship now.”
Positing the theory of the ‘carnal Christian’
Mr. Lentz accepts a popular idea that a person can be a Christian who claims Christ as his savior, but who rejects Him as his Lord. The concept allows church governments to tolerate sinful actions without treating the convert as a lost person. ‡ Mr. Lentz tells about a sinner’s prayer in which he wants to lead everyone and describes the temptation of hypocrisy.
I hope that you will pray that prayer. I also hope those of you who maybe have said it before but aren’t really living a surrendered life to Christ. You’ve accepted him as Savior — yeah, I like that part, I like that part, I’m saved, yes, who wouldn’t want that? — but then there’s that Lord’s thing, where you have to obey Him and surrender your life to Him. That one’s a little bit harder. So if you’re not there yet, you know there’s areas of your life you still have this tight grip on, there’s areas of your heart that are still chained to the old habits — a lot of times one of the other reasons we’re still a mess in the Christian church is a lot of what happens is people get into church and they have what I call behavior modification, right? It kinda goes back to that chameleon thing. They look around and they say, OK. Here’s my list of things that it is OK to do. There’s my list of things I shouldn’t do. So particularly when I’m with these people, I’m going to try to follow the list, right? What they’re really doing is putting on a mask. *** When Monday comes around, they are what we refer to as a Monday morning atheist. *** I lived that for a long time, almost like a dual life, where you act this way around these people, and you act this [other] way around this other group of people.
Mr. Lentz gives away at least four copies of The Case for Christ as the event breaks up. I am glad I heard his.
‡ Biblical doctrine insists that the state of salvation comprises two parts, that of justification and sanctification. You are justified by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection, and not by anything that you do, say or by who you are. Sanctification is inseparable from the state of justification, but distinct. It refers to God’s work through you in your life. Sanctification is the strengthening in all saving graces to the practice of true holiness, without which no man will see the Lord. The fruit of justification is service to God and unremitting warfare against sin and temptation. Sanctification is what Mr. Lentz refers to as “that Lord’s thing, where you have to obey Him and surrender your life to Him.” A rebel who professes to be saved but lives like hell, one might say, remains lost in his sin. He doesn’t need rededication of his life to God, as some people suggest, but the grace of saving faith.
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ[;] a Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids,Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998)