Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/04/22

The Case for Heaven hits theaters tonight as a three-night-only Fathom Event (Monday, April 4-Wednesday, April 6). Start times for all three nights will be 7:00 PM local time. The documentary is based on the book of the same name written by New York Times best-selling author Lee Strobel (who I worked for on his 2004-2005 Pax TV series Faith Under Fire). The investigative journalist and former atheist became a Christian after applying his investigative skills to issues of faith and coming to the conclusion that God is real. The documentary probes questions regarding what awaits us after death as well as the phenomena known as Near-Death Experiences. Our conversation follows the trailer below.

JWK: I understand the film is inspired by your own brush with death. Tell me about that.

Lee Strobel:
Yeah. About ten years ago my wife found me unconscious on the bedroom floor. She called an ambulance and when I woke up in the emergency room the doctor looked down at me and said “You’re one step away from a coma and two steps away from dying.” And then I fell unconscious again. So, I was on the verge of dying.

I had a rare medical condition called hyponatremia which is a severe drop in the blood sodium level – and you can’t live that way. They had to slowly raise my blood sodium level. They have to do it very carefully or you’ll become mentally or physically disabled. So, they were able to save my life but it’s a very clarifying experience. For anybody to go through a brush with death, it really does open your eyes to what is really important.

Even though I’m a Christian (and) I believe what The Bible teaches about the afterlife, I’ve also got this skeptical streak. You know, I’ve banged around in journalism and law and so I thought it would be worth my time to try to determine with confidence what does happen when we close our eyes for the last time in this world. And that’s what launched me on the adventure of writing The Case for Heaven book and then the production of the movie.

JWK: Did you yourself have a Near-Death Experience?

LS: No, I didn’t. In fact, I was big skeptic about Near-Death Experiences. I thought they were just hallucinations. I thought it was oxygen deprivation.

I actually had hallucinations when I had hyponatremia – which is very common because your brain expands inside your head and causes mental confusion and so forth. I didn’t have a classic Near-Death Experience but it prompted me to begin to research those. I found there were over 900 scholarly articles written about Near-Death Experiences in scientific and medical journals over the last forty years. It’s a very well-researched area. I was fascinated that The Lancet, a famous medical journal in England, concluded in an article that no alternative explanations account for all the dimensions of a Near-Death Experience. So, there’s something more to it than I gave it  credit for.

So, I looked at cases where we have corroboration – where it’s not just someone saying “Oh, yeah, I died, I went to Heaven and I met Jesus. He’s five-foot ten, a really nice guy.” I don’t know if that’s true. I can’t confirm that – but when you have corroboration that this person saw things or experienced things it would be impossible (to know) if they didn’t have an authentic out-of-body experience that gives some credibility, I think, to Near-Death Experiences. As John Burke – a Christian pastor and a friend of mine who researched thousand near-death experiences over thirty years – concluded, if you look at the common elements of Near-Death Experiences – and you don’t look at how people interpret it but at what actually takes place – they’re consistent with Christian theology. That was a powerful breakthrough, I think, to come to that conclusion.

JWK: Is that true even regarding non-Christians?

LS: Yeah. What’s shocking is there was one study done of 500 cases of Near-Death Experiences in India – and people didn’t encounter Shiva when they died. They didn’t go through a reincarnation when they died. These experiences are pretty standard around the world.

Now, about 24% of them are bad experiences, horrific experiences. In our movie we interview Howard Storm who was an atheist who had a near-death experience that was horrifying. He was being ripped apart by demons in this experience and called out to God to save him – and God did. This was so impactful to him that he when he recovered he not only renounces atheism, not only did he resign his tenured position at at a secular university, he not only became a Christian but he became an ordained pastor and is now pastor of a little church. This transformed his life.

So, these are powerful experiences and I think they point toward when the apostle Paul said  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” – that our spirit, our soul, our consciousness survives our physical demise.

JWK: So, what’s the primary evidence for Heaven?

LS: Several things. I think Number One, that we do have a consciousness, a spirit, a soul that is distinct from our physical brain. I interviewed in the movie and for the book Dr. Sharon Dirckx who is a PhD from Cambridge University, a neuroscientist who is convincing in saying that there are no discoveries of modern neuroscience that have disproven the existence of the soul. In fact, she believes in – and I think makes a strong case in my book for – the existence of a distinct consciousness or soul that can survive our physical death.

Then you look at Near-Death Experiences that show us corroborated cases where people who are clinically dead nevertheless experienced and saw things that were later confirmed – that they could not have seen had they not had an authentic out-of-body experience. For instance, there was one study done of 21 blind people, many of them blind since birth, and yet they were able to see during their near-death experience – many of them for the first time! How do you explain that? There’s some credible corroboration that I was able to unearth.

Then, I think, the strongest evidence is the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, that we have an account of His Resurrection that dates back to within months of His death which, I think, is too early to be legendary. We have nine ancient sources inside and outside The New Testament confirming the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the Risen Jesus. We’ve got a tomb that’s empty. Even the opponents of Jesus conceded that implicitly. So, we have good historical data that Jesus not only claimed to be the Son of God, he backed it up by returning from the dead and, therefore, He’s not only an eyewitness to the afterlife but it confirms that He was the Creator of the afterlife because it confirms His divine identity. We can trust, I believe, what Jesus tells us about the afterlife. So, those are some of the elements that I looked at in the book and in the movie.

I also interviewed Dr. Chad Meister who is a philosopher with a PhD from Marquette who looked at what he calls The Heaven Pyramid. This is a way of just analyzing the credibility of different world views – theism, atheism and pantheism to try to determine what is most credible. In the book I go through an analysis of these various alternatives and conclude that theism – and Christianity specifically – has the most credibility because of the historical data backing (it) up.

JWK: Do you have any evidence in the book or in the film about what Heaven is like?

LS: It’s interesting. The Bible uses a lot figurative language for Heaven and Hell – metaphors and so forth. The reason, I believe, is because The Bible says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has even conceived of what God has in store for those who love Him.”

I’ll give you an example. In our world we see a certain color spectrum and it’s based on the light from the sun. In the world to come the light is based upon the Light of God. So, we will see colors that we’ve never experienced. How do you explain something like that to someone who’s never seen it before? We’ve had this experience with people who had Near-Death Experiences who have seen things that they can’t articulate in a way that other people can understand it. So, you know, I think we get glimpses of Heaven. We get metaphors.

My favorite one is from Jesus when He talks about Heaven being a home…I remember going to India and sleeping on the ground and living out of a knapsack and backpack for a period of time. It was very difficult eating strange foods. You begin to long for home. You have this homesickness and when you eventually come home…you just have this overwhelming sense of love, grace, security, comfort and familiarity. So, then you get into your own bed and it just envelops you with warmth and so forth and Jesus is saying “That’s the metaphor I want you to remember.” It’s like home. This is not our home. This world is a place that we transit for a while but our ultimate home (is) in Heaven. Those experiences – that homesickness we feel – the joy, the love, the acceptance, the grace that we experience in the warmth of a home, those are the kind of things that point toward the experience we’ll have in Heaven.

JWK: I’ve been catching up on you a little bit read that a few years ago you founded The Lee Strobel Center for Evangelism and Applied Apologetics at Colorado Christian University. Tell me a little about that.

LS: This is sort of my legacy project. I gathered 40 PhDs and we created 91 courses – all online, all accredited on a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree level – for people who want to learn about Innovative Evangelism, Church-based Evangelism or Personal Evangelism as well as Apologetics, Science and Faith, History, Philosophy and so forth…We even have certificate courses for people that don’t want to pursue a degree. They want to learn. They want to take a course on The Resurrection – how do I know it really happened? – or on Science and Faith or on Islam, World Religions, Innovative Evangelism, Small-group Evangelism or whatever.

It’s all through StrobelCenter.com. See all the course offerings and so forth. We’re thrilled because I really believe that the Church needs to be awakened to more effective evangelism into the future. We live in an increasingly skeptical culture. Apologetics is increasingly important to give evidence or reasons for why we believe what we believe. So, I’m hoping that this kinda fuels the next generation in both sharing what we believe and  why we believe it.
___

Fox Nation celebrates the Easter season. As noted here Friday, the faith-friendly streamer has acquired the classic Michael Landon series Highway to Heaven just in time for the Easter season but that’s not all. Here are some other programs currently available on the channel that may be of interest to you.

Jesus: His Life – Each episode eight-part series explores the story of Jesus Christ through the perspectives of the people in his life who were closest to him.

Bible Battles – The six-episode series looks at the military exploits of the ancient Israelis as recounted in The Bible.

Crucifixion – A historical look at perhaps the cruelest and most excruciating ways to die.

Bible Secrets Revealed – Scholars, archaeologists, and religious leaders investigate lingering questions about the world’s all-time bestselling book. Who wrote it? How old is it? And is it accurate?

God Code – An antiquities expert believes he has found an intricate code hidden within the world’s oldest complete text of the Hebrew Bible. Is his theory true?

The Jesus Strand: A Search for DNA – A man of faith and a man of science team up to search for Jesus’ DNA.

The Ten Commandments – What’s the real story behind history’s most famous written document?

Holy Grail in America – In 1898, a Minnesota farmer clearing trees from his field uproots a large stone covered with mysterious runes. Now known as the Kensington Rune Stone, it details a journey of land acquisition and murder.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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