Local Boy Makes God Lee Strobel Went from Atheist Newsman to Best-Selling Christian Author; Now He's Testing His Faith on TV

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer

In the beginning, God created religion and politics, and your parents told you to never discuss them in mixed company.

Now, strangers are quick to debate what they think of the presidential election or the war in Iraq. That leaves religion as the social leper: few people will volunteer how they feel about God.

Lee Strobel, 52, a successful author originally from Arlington Heights, is out to change that. He wants to drag religion out from the solemnity of churches into the noisy arena of public debate. To serve the sacred, he's employing that most profane modern invention: the television talk show.

"Faith Under Fire," which premiered this weekend on PAX-TV, is billed as the first show on network television to regularly fight out basic religious beliefs. It airs at 9 p.m. Saturdays on WCPX, Channel 38.

Hosted by Strobel, the show intends to stir up hot button issues like: Is the war in Iraq moral? Is God a Republican or a Democrat? Is God pro-choice?

Strobel hopes its controversial nature will attract even those who've already made up their minds, while being respectful enough not to drive them away.

"Most faith-based TV to me is boring," Strobel said. "What if we took the hottest issues and debated them from a spiritual perspective, and let the viewer decide what makes the most sense?"

Born again skeptic

Strobel's new role as the Jerry Springer of the spiritual world is part of a lifelong evolution.

He was raised a Christian, became an atheist and a newspaper reporter, but then went through a conversion that ultimately led to him becoming a best-selling Christian author.

Now, living in southern Orange County, Calif., he's trying to tap into the same interest in spiritual investigation. He's got his work cut out for him, especially since he's doing it on a television network that draws just half of one percent of households in the United States.

If he can get non-Christians to watch the show - and change anyone's beliefs - it may be a minor miracle. Already, skeptics are debating whether the show is a good idea - but Strobel's own experience tells him it's worthwhile.

Strobel remembers exactly where he was sitting in biology class at Prospect High School in 1966, when a teacher told students how scientists had created amino acids, the building blocks of life.

At the time, Strobel thought, "God's out of a job."

He remained a skeptic of religion as he grew up and became a newspaper reporter, and got a master's in the study of law at Yale.

After working as an award-winning legal editor at the Chicago Tribune, Strobel edited the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri, then became assistant managing editor of the Daily Herald.

When his wife, Leslie, impressed him with her conversion to Christianity, he began to investigate religious belief in the same way he did a news story.

As they say in the business, if your mother tells you she loves you - check it out.

So Strobel began talking to experts in science, religion and philosophy. Over two years, the more he looked into it, the closer he came to the conviction that God did indeed create the universe, and Jesus was his son.

He converted in 1981, and eventually gave up his newspaper career to become a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington.

He began writing Christian books, three of which -"The Case for Christ," "The Case for Faith" and "The Case for Easter," have sold more than five million copies combined.

His newest book, "The Case for a Creator," debuted this spring among the top 30 best-selling books on The New York Times nonfiction list.

To build on his success, Strobel set his sights on bringing a Christian viewpoint to television.

This is your life

A couple of years ago, Jim Berger, the president of Rocket Pictures, who was impressed by Strobel's writings, called him to propose making a movie of his life. …