Greatest fact check in journalism history now a movie

by Dan Curry

We talk a lot about truth these days. A battalion of self-appointed experts ascend to their mesh chairs every morning to point out what is true and what isn’t. Most of these efforts are derailed by sloppiness, ideology and a lack of humility. They ultimately lack authority and further muddy the definition of that elusive truth.

There once was a “fact check” that truly mattered and ended with timeless authority. One that took two years to complete. Done by one of the most outstanding journalists in the country — a hard charging investigator with a Yale law degree.

By 1981, Chicago Tribune Legal Affairs Editor Lee Strobel came to a horrifying conclusion. At least horrifying in the sense he wanted his verdict to come out exactly the opposite. The then-atheist originally thought it would take only a weekend to prove that the central story of Christianity — that Jesus rose from the dead — was a fraud. He undertook the project because he wanted to convince his wife Leslie that her new conversion to Christianity was folly, believing that would restore their lives back to normal. His long weekend turned into a two-year whirlwind of intense research. He ultimately came to the following four core conclusions, based on concrete historical evidence:

  • Jesus was a real person — FACT.

  • Jesus was crucified and died on the cross — FACT.

  • Jesus’ tomb was found empty three days later — FACT.

  • Jesus rose from the dead and was seen afterwards by more than 500 people — FACT.

When the evidence became overwhelming to him, Strobel realized it would take more faith to remain an atheist. He confessed his sins and accepted God’s grace, becoming a newly minted Christian. Strobel didn’t stop there. He drifted away from journalism into the ministry, becoming a teacher, author of more than 20 books and one of the world’s most important evangelists. His most influential book, “The Case for Christ,” tells the story above in compelling detail. The book has been converted into a major motion picture debuting Friday across the United States.

I mention this story for several reasons. Strobel is a person I aspired to work for many years ago. I was an ambitious investigative reporter at the same newspaper as Lee for a brief time and hoped to one day do great things together as a team. That dream faded when Lee left journalism and I did as well several years later.

But Strobel’s work inspired me and was a factor in my own conversion from fallen Christian to committed follower of Jesus more than two years ago. Nearly every Christian I talk to mentions “The Case for Christ” as a book that either helped establish or maintain their faith. I got a chance to thank Lee in person this weekend when he appeared at the same Chicago area mega-church that forms the central locale for his real-life story and movie. We barely knew each other back then, but we are brothers now and forever.

The most important reason I write this is as an invitation to Christians and non-Christians to see the movie. I particularly hope that my journalist and ex-journalist friends will check it out. From the trailers you can see it is a well-produced, intriguing story that is both a taut tale of investigation and journalism and a personal tale of a family in turmoil. Lee told me that ex-journalists will particularly like the authentic re-creation of newsrooms, circa 1980, with clunky typewriters, cigarette smoking and snarly old-school editors. Strobel said that focus groups reveal that non-Christians like the movie as much as Christians.

No one as talented as Lee Strobel has undertaken a more vigorous “fact check.” We all say we want to follow the facts wherever they might lead. That’s what he did — for two years. It would be difficult to find a more credible truth seeker. Our culture is yearning for what can be found at a movie theater near you this weekend.