The Case for Christmas | Lee Strobel
I was ten years old when I first read Lee Strobel’s investigative memoir A Case for Christ. In the book, Strobel detailed his own journalistic journey to faith and laid out, via interviews with Christianity’s most respected scholars, the evidence that convinced him that Jesus Christ was who he said he was.
In the twenty years since, Lee Strobel has parlayed his initial book’s success into an entire ministry, using his journalistic known-how and an ask-the-experts format to explore the factual credibility of Christianity from a number of perspectives. Every one of his major books has been developed into a small group study and all of them have enjoyed incredible success.
Outside this core curriculum, Lee Strobel and the team at Zondervan have also developed two separate four-week series that cover the Christmas and Easter seasons. With so many other things going on in our churches at those busy times—special services, extra services, children’s programs, dinners, volunteer ministries, preparing for an influx of visitors, etc.—it is great to have an easily-prepared, solid and reliable resource for your small group.
The Case for Christmas is a four-week series, perfect to fill the month of December, and is set up to cover a sixty-minute class: twenty minutes for the video and forty for discussion.
Session 1: Setting the Record Straight
The introductory session spends the first few minutes introducing Lee Strobel, his journey to Christ, and his emphasis on understanding the truth of Christianity. As the title indicates, this session is devoting to setting the record straight—getting away from the contemporary culture and traditional trappings of the nativity story and reading the story within its ancient historical context.
Myth #1: Mary and Joseph were refused shelter. Because of the dictates of Middle Eastern hospitality, it would have been unthinkable that Mary and Joseph would have been turned away from shelter. Mary is pregnant and Joseph is of the lineage of David!
Myth #2: They were turned away from an inn by an innkeeper. While there were commercial lodgings in those days, the Greek word Luke uses to describe the “inn” (as translated by the KJV), is more typically translated “guest room” (as translated by many modern translations). Thus, the picture is of Jesus being born—not in the guest room—but in the main family room of the house in which they are staying.
Lee Strobel goes on to bust a few other common beliefs before piecing the story back together within its historical context. The last half of the video takes a bigger picture look and pans out from the Christmas story to talk in general about the validity and reliability of the New Testament manuscripts.
While this is an important point to make, it doesn’t quite fit with the Christmas theme. It deserves a mention, of course, but more time is spent outside the Christmas story than within it. I would have preferred a longer look at the Christmas story and more abbreviated look at the foundation behind it.
Session 2: Beneath the Fake News
Having corrected the contemporary cultural myths of Christmas in session one, Lee Strobel turns to correcting what he calls the “fake news” surrounding the Christmas story in session two. (As an aside, let me say that I think this is a poor term for Strobel to use. Rather than holding any real weight, it’s become an inherently political term used to immediately discredit a troubling source rather than actually dealing with it. As this was published in 2018, it’s difficult to see Strobel not understanding that.)
Chief among his “fake news” is the assertion that the Christmas story relies on earlier myths surrounding messiahs and virgin births and demigods and the incarnation of the gods and so forth. Lee spends a few minutes detailing these legends, such as Mithras, the virgin-born deity of a Roman mystery religion, or the Greek legends that the “messiah” Alexander the Great was the son of Zeus.
From here, Lee spends some time fact-checking the alleged similarities. My favorite quote?
He wasn’t born of a virgin. Such a claim was never made. Instead, the myth says that Mithras emerged fully grown out of a rock, and he was wearing a hat.
One by one, the comparisons to Christ fade away or fall short—either as misrepresentations of the myth or as blatant lies to try to discredit Christianity. Some of these legends are more well-known than others. For many in your study, all of these “fake news” stories may be brand new information.
The Case for Christmas also makes the important distinction that all other similar legends present the virgin birth as the beginning of life for the individual. Only Christianity sees the birth narrative as an incarnation of an eternally existent God. Further, some of these virgin birth stories actually come after the time of Jesus—meaning that if any borrowing is happening, it is actually in the opposite direction. Overall, this session sees the Christmas narrative and the virgin birth vindicated by its uniqueness and historical credibility.
Session 3: A Mind Boggling Proposition
This session turns from the historical to the scientific, focusing on the reality of the virgin birth. The first quarter of the session is spent on developing the conflict between Scripture’s clear and unequivocal testimony about the virgin birth with modern, scientific scoffing surrounding it. To the skeptic’s credit, the virgin birth is one of the more unbelievable parts of the Christmas story because it doesn’t align with what we know to typically be true. Therefore, the onus is on Christianity to explain it.
The Case for Christmas begins by explaining the theological importance of the virgin birth. First, it is what allows him to be both fully God and fully man, an integral part in his ability to save us from sin. Second, it allows him to be born without original sin, as he does not inherit the sin nature of Adam. Luke’s gospel directly links the virgin birth to the holiness and sinlessness of the human Jesus.
From here, Lee Strobel takes off on a tangent to discuss the Catholic doctrine of Immaculate Conception, which is how Catholic theologians have explained the sinlessness of Jesus. This doctrine states that Mary herself was immaculately conceived and so did not have a sin nature either. It’s probably an important point to bring up, but I wouldn’t have spent as much time on it as he did.
The second half of the video pans out to the larger view regarding the perspectives of the Gospel narratives—Luke’s emphasis on Mary’s perspective, Matthew’s emphasis on Joseph’s—and then hits strictly on the scientific aspect of the virgin birth. Strobel again takes a wide view by discussing the Kalam Cosmological Argument (everything that began to exist has a cause à the universe began to exist à ergo, the universe has a cause) and then applies that to the virgin birth, saying that the power that could create the universe could also create a Y chromosome to contribute to the virgin birth.
Session 4: The Prophetic Fingerprint
The concluding session in The Case for Christmas looks back to the Old Testament to determine if the Christmas story is consistent with what the prophets had said it would be. In other words, does Jesus actually fit into the mold of the Old Testament’s prophetic predictions of Messiah?
Birthplace in Bethlehem. This is the first prophecy that Lee Strobel talks about, using the context of Herod’s inquiry to determine the birthplace of the alleged Messiah. Herod knew where to tell the Magi to go because they were looking for Messiah and the prophet Micah had pinpointed the small town of Bethlehem as the location of his birth.
Strobel argues that while aspects of the prophecy were fulfilled within the Old Testament, there remained a core messianic element that was unfulfilled. Many prophecies, particularly Messianic prophecies have an immediate fulfillment that prefigures Christ and an ultimate fulfillment in him.
The Case for Christmas concludes with Strobel listing a litany of Messianic prophecy and their fulfillments in Jesus, focusing particularly on the beautiful passage in Isaiah 53, and the absurd probability that Jesus could have fulfilled all of these things by accident. Strobel makes a strong Gospel push, firmly setting into place that the Christmas story transcends mere myth and legend and is, in fact, actual history—and as such worthy of following.
The Case for Christmas Study Guide
Rather than opt for a leader’s guide, The Case for Christmas is written so that it is best for each individual to have their own study guide book. The upside is that individuals can remain more connected to the study throughout the week, as the book contains a personal study meant to be worked out between sessions. The downside is that, for the budget-conscious, one book per individual might get a bit pricey.
Despite being well-written, the study guide is fairly sparse for the length of time it is supposed to cover. The pre-video questions are meant as relational icebreakers. Individuals pair up and ask questions about their favorite Christmas movies, family traditions, and so forth. There’s usually some sort of thematic tie with the lesson to come.
Each session has four post-video discussion questions, which really doesn’t seem very robust. Group leaders will need to be prepared with a couple of their own discussion points to bring up. When my group went through this series, I actually took some of the between sessions activities and modified them for group use. This gave a full-group activity before the video that also directly tied to studying Scripture rather than just studying the video.
The between sessions lessons are very well done and are the highlight of the study guide. Each session contains some sort of Bible study activity to get individuals to really think deeper about the Biblical narrative.
The video presentation of this series is top notch. The Case for Christmas avoids lingering on any one scene for too long, transitioning between homey Christmas images of Strobel in an oversized chair by a Christmas tree with artistic representations of the Christmas story. Unlike some of the other studies in The Case For… series, there are no guest experts or interviews. Strobel instead quotes from these experts, either from his books or their own. Overall, it’s well presented and engaging, sure to keep people drawn in.
This has been one of my favorite Christmas themed small group studies to go through. Of course, my love of apologetics likely has something to do with this. It’s a wonderful addition to Lee’s ever-growing compendium of small group curriculum and one that is sure to engage, challenge, and grow your church.