Bashing religion -- Christianity in particular -- has become an increasingly popular sport. At least it seems that way to folks like Lee Strobel.
Two of the top 30 nonfiction books on this week's New York Times best sellers list are "God is Not Great" and "The God Delusion," scathing critiques of religion penned by atheists. A Discovery Channel documentary earlier this year claimed to record the discovery of Jesus' bones, calling into question Christian belief that he rose from the dead.
Strobel, a 55-year-old Arlington Heights native and award-winning journalist, can relate to the criticism. The former atheist -- who was an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald in the mid-1980s -- spent two years skeptically investigating Christianity's claims after his wife turned to the faith.
But what he said he discovered upon interviewing experts in science, religion and philosophy was that God was real and Jesus was his son, the Messiah that Old Testament prophesies promised would come to redeem God's people.
Strobel became a Christian, left journalism to become a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, and wrote about his faith-finding journey in "The Case for Christ," which uses arguments based on logic to present his belief that Christianity is true.
That book and his follow-ups, "The Case for Faith," "The Case for Easter" and "The Case for a Creator," have sold a combined 4 million copies.
Now he's promoting "The Case for the Real Jesus," which takes apart what Strobel identifies as six major challenges to contemporary Christianity. His book tour includes stops in Wheaton and St. Charles this weekend.
"I traveled 24,000 miles to cross-examine leading experts on ancient history in order to try to get responses to the current attacks in the popular culture," said Strobel, who now lives with his family in southern California. "This book brings up to date my work by offering, I believe, reasonable answers to a lot of tough objections raised by popular authors and TV documentaries in recent years."
Those objections include attacks on the credibility of the Bible and the validity of Jesus' resurrection. Strobel also addresses claims that Christian beliefs were copied from pagan religions -- a theory espoused in the wildly popular novel "The Da Vinci Code" -- and the postmodern idea that people should be free to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus.
"Truth has become very squishy in the 21st century," Strobel said. "In America you can believe whatever you want. But that doesn't mean everybody's opinion is equally valid if it's inconsistent with the evidence."
His intended audience is not only Christians who feel the need to defend their faith against recent attacks but also a group Strobel calls "spiritual seekers," people who are open to investigating Christianity's claims.
The Rev. Jim Nicodem, senior pastor of Christ Community Church in St. Charles Township, is scheduled to interview Strobel during the church's regular services Saturday and Sunday.
"Lee's got a great story," said Brian Beatty, Christ Community's communications director. "He was a known atheist who took it upon himself as an investigative journalist to do his homework. The rest is history."
Church leaders are encouraging members of the congregation to invite their friends, neighbors and co-workers to Strobel's appearance. After the appearance Nicodem will begin a four-part series called "Q: The God Questions" that addresses issues about the Bible's trustworthiness and whether all roads lead to heaven.
"It's an opportunity for a number of people who perhaps don't believe in the message of Christ," Beatty said. "Maybe they'll have more questions after Lee leaves. We're going to do a series of messages and creative pieces that help to solve those nagging questions about God that people might have lingering."
Strobel's appearance coincides with the launch of additional services to accommodate Christ Community's growing congregation. A Saturday evening service was added at the DeKalb campus Sept. 8 and at the St. Charles Township campus starting with Strobel's visit Saturday.
The church's Blackberry Creek campus in Aurora -- which opened in February -- moves from one to two Sunday services Sept. 23.
When the three campuses are combined, some 4,000 worshippers gather at Christ Community on a weekly basis, Beatty said.
See the author
Atheist-turned-Christian author Lee Strobel is scheduled to stop in the suburbs to promote his new book, "The Case for the Real Jesus."
Book signing: 11 a.m. to noon Saturday at Borders Books & Music, 101 Rice Lake Square, Wheaton.
Interview: 6:15 p.m. Saturday, 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday with Christ Community Church senior pastor the Rev. Jim Nicodem during regular services at the church, 37W100 Bolcum Road, St. Charles Township.
Video: The interview will be shown on video Sept. 22 and 23 during regular services at the church's DeKalb and Blackberry Creek campuses. For more information, visit www.ccclife.org.