DALLAS — Lee Strobel has been making his case for Christianity for decades, but he never thought in a million years he would have the chance to make that case in front of a man who many would consider to be the most famous “hedonist” in the world.
Strobel, 71, shared his story Sunday at First Baptist Dallas in front of a capacity crowd who had gathered to hear from one of Christianity’s most well-known apologists, along with worship sessions led by Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning band Newsboys, and Dove Award-winning artist Benjamin William Hastings.
“I found myself in the most unlikely place for any Evangelical Christian,” he told the crowd. “I was in the living room of the opulent Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, California, getting ready to interview Hugh Hefner, the notorious hedonist and founder of Playboy magazine.”
Admittedly, said Strobel, he “wasn’t a fan” of what he called Hefner’s “narcissistic” philosophy, but when their conversation eventually veered into spiritual things, Strobel said he was a bit surprised by Hefner’s views.
The late Playboy founder, Strobel said, professed a “minimal” belief of a god that “is kind of the beginning of it all, the great unknown, but certainly, he said, not in the God of Christianity.
“He’s a little too childlike for me,” Strobel recalled Hefner saying.
It wasn’t until Strobel asked Hefner about what he thought about the evidence of the resurrection of Christ that, said Strobel, Hefner’s “eyes lit up.”
“If one had any real evidence that Jesus did indeed return from the dead, then that is the beginning of the dropping of a series of dominoes that takes us to all kinds of wonderful places,” Strobel recalled him saying.
Hefner — whom he called a “doubter” — eventually admitted that he had never studied the case for the resurrection of Christ, one Strobel first famously made in his bestselling 1998 book The Case For Christ and most recently in his latest work, The Case For Christianity.
“I don’t think he is any more the Son of God than we are,” Hefner told Strobel.
While Strobel has made several public appearances in recent weeks to promote Case For Christianity, it was during a Q&A session with Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas, where Strobel shared how he believes the Lord Himself views the doubts and questions we all have.
Pointing to Matthew 11, where John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for someone else?” Strobel made the case that Jesus’ reaction to the question tells us everything about how he sees our doubts.
“Jesus didn't get angry when He received the question, but rather, pointed back to the evidence of His resurrection,” said Strobel. “… In other words, ‘Go back and tell him the evidence you've seen with your own eyes.’”
Having questions, Strobel added, did not disqualify John the Baptist from any role in the Kingdom of God, but rather his status was reaffirmed when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist … ” (Matthew 11:11).
Likewise, Strobel said those with "authentic questions" shouldn't be afraid to ask those questions.
"I find often that when people take the time to seriously look at the evidence unless they ratchet up their skepticism to unreasonable levels, they will often acknowledge the truth of the faith,” he added.
Jeffress shared some of the challenges he encountered in college at Baylor University, as he put it, a "so-called Christian university."
During his time at Baylor, Jeffress said he had a professor who spoke about "all the contradictions in the Bible" and that the Bible is "nothing more than a collection of man's ideas about God."
“It's not just Baylor, it's in many Christian universities," said Jeffress. "It did such damage to me spiritually that I considered giving up my call to ministry, and why would I want to spend the rest of my life teaching a book filled with errors?"
But with the help of Christian scholars, Jeffress said he gradually realized he didn't have to commit "spiritual suicide to become a Christian and believe in the Bible."
In fact, Jeffress added, that beyond the undeniable evidence for the resurrection of Christ or even His deity, the textual evidence — that the Scriptures say what their original authors intended — remains the bedrock of the Christian faith.
“There is really great evidence out there for the trustworthiness of the Bible," he said. "To me, the core foundational doctrine of Christianity is not the deity of Christ, even, it's the trustworthiness of the Bible."
"Everything we believe as Christians is found in the Bible," he said. "That's why Satan's first tactic to cause doubt in people's lives is the same strategy he used in the Garden when that serpent slithered up to Eve and said, 'Has God really said?'
"If God hasn't said it, why would I believe it?"