Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been poring over Lee Strobel’s 1993 book Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary. In it, he offers all kinds of strategies and tricks soulwinners can use to manipulate and recruit non-believers. And a big part of those strategies involve overcoming what he calls sticking points. Today, let me show you what ‘sticking points’ are in Strobel-Land, his laughably ineffective and offensive tips for ferreting them out, and finally how they actually function in his paradigm as an excuse for evangelism failure.
(Previous Lee Strobel posts: The Mystery Atheist; The Semi-Sales; Lee Strobel’s Best Friends; The Coin He Offers; Lee Strobel’s Friendship Evangelism; Friendship Evangelism; This Action Plan Doesn’t Work; Tickling Evangelical Ears; This Book’s Revealing Endorsements; The Many Lies Lee Strobel Tells About Unchurched Harry and Mary; A Non-Portrait of the Captain (1-4); Indoctrinating Evangelicals More (5-8); Seeker-Sensitive Churches (9-12); Martyrbation Ahoy (13-15); The Original Listicle. Page numbers come from the 1993 paperback edition of the book.)
Another Lee Strobel Lie.
In the last post, I described Lee Strobel’s masturbatory-sounding lunch date with “a well-known atheist.” (We dubbed this fellow M.A. (Mystery Atheist)). Strobel tried to hard-sell M.A. but crashed in flames. Seriously, M.A. shut him down completely and immediately out of the gate.
Frustrated, Strobel retreated to pout about it. In Chapter 7, he gets his revenge by declaring that this mean ole atheist literally jus’ didn’ WANNA believe the cosmic truth Strobel had tried to sell him (p. 103):
[M.A.] was at a spiritual sticking point. As I’ve talked to people through the years about their spiritual journeys, often I’ve found they’ve reached an impasse that’s blocking their path. In this man’s case, it was his stubborn refusal, for whatever reason, to even consider the evidence for Christianity.
This assessment, of course, is a complete lie. Unless a lot more happened at this lunch that he didn’t describe, Strobel never actually presented anything to M.A. In the actual story as told, M.A. doesn’t allow him even to launch into an unwanted sales pitch.
All Lee Strobel’s anecdote reveals is that M.A. thought Christianity was “just a silly superstition” and didn’t engage in a discussion about it when King Lee unilaterally decided he needed to get himself some Jesus Jollies by inconveniencing and annoying a tribal enemy. (By the way: my ex Biff called this exact behavior “yanking chains.” He loved it and did it whenever he could get away with it.)
So this anecdote doesn’t match Strobel’s faux-diagnosis at all. However, his notion of “sticking points” isn’t based in reality. Using this anecdote to illustrate “sticking points” just highlights how wackadoodle the whole idea is.
Another Day, Another Cold-Reading Attempt.
Sometimes, a product simply sells poorly. Perhaps it suffers from poor quality, waning popularity, way too high of a price, or some other dealbreaker. In Christians’ case, their product, active membership in their respective churches, suffers from all three of those flaws and more besides. Christianity’s credibility and reputation has deteriorated so much that we can consider the entire brand tainted.
And that new reality puts Christian soulwinners in quite a bind. Every part of their culture tells them nonstop that they must be selling 24/7, that their faith is worthless if it’s not generative, and that Jesus will be extra-angry with them if they refuse to do it.
So the flocks have a few ways to respond to their leaders’ demands that they hawk a tainted brand.
- They can slow down on trying to sell the product. In the past few years, more and more Christians have been slowly migrating away from sales.
- They can switch branches of their businesses in hopes of finding a product that’s more palatable to prospective new customers (and themselves, of course). Indeed, church-hopping seems like it’s on the rise, much to pastors’ ire and dread.
- Or they can resort to increasingly sketchy, predatory, and manipulative tactics to try to sell their product.
Guess where Lee Strobel landed in that list?
Oh, but he didn’t land at Door #3 reluctantly. He sailed right through it like a Broadway dancer on a stage. He’s downright giddy about the idea of forcing himself and his opinions on others.
The NOBODY ASKED YOU Club.
In this chapter, Strobel describes exactly how he rationalizes his mistreatment of other people (p. 104):
They’re stalled in their progress toward a spiritual breakthrough. When I talk to Unchurched Harrys and Marys, I try to diagnose what’s causing the blockage so I can recommend a way to get them back on track toward God.
What I’ll do in this chapter is discuss five categories of spiritual sticking points that I commonly encounter in order to help you detect and deal with them as you talk with irreligious people. [. . .] Since I’m more of a “thinker” than a “feeler,” I especially enjoy helping people get past intellectual roadblocks.
This quote caught my eye because Lee Strobel himself initiates his sales pitches. Very seldom does anybody come to him for help figuring out why they can’t believe in his imaginary friend.
Instead, like he did with M.A. in the lunch anecdote, Strobel generally takes it upon himself to begin these discussions in places where he knows they’re not welcome with people who didn’t indicate any interest in his opinion.
Then, he confidently “diagnoses” what he insists is The Big Problem Here so he can “recommend” a course of action. And again, nobody asks for his diagnoses and nobody cares what he recommends.
When his victim of the moment rejects his diagnosis and recommendation, he pouts, retreats, and whines that they jus’ didn’t WANNA accept his cosmic wisdom.
An Odious Control-Grab.
In the next few pages, he outlines exactly what he thinks these “sticking points” are and why they happen. It’s a truly nauseating display of gaslighting.
Like all apologists must, he begins with various ludicrous assumptions:
- Christianity’s claims are true; its message is always perfect.
- All the pseudoscience and junk-history that apologists have created over the years supports Christianity’s claims.
- Arguments are totally as good as real evidence and also support Christianity’s claims.
- The answer is always going to be “needs more apologetics.”
To someone operating on these assumptions, nobody ever has a valid reason to reject Christianity. Therefore, if someone rejects Christianity then obviously that’s an invalid rejection. That person either doesn’t understand those points or doesn’t want to understand them.
That’s where King Lee comes in. He seeks to find the perfect sales pitch to sway people who’ve rejected his product. Since he thinks no valid reason exists to reject his product, that opens the door for him to force his “diagnoses” and “recommendations” on untold millions of people!
Gosh, y’all! Isn’t it great that Lee Strobel’s god put him in a position where his natural desire to trample and manipulate others became a divine virtue?
When “Sincere and Honest” Gets Weaponized.
There’s a lot of hair-splitting in Unchurched over people who won’t believe vs. who can’t believe. None of it makes sense, and worse still, it makes Strobel’s god look downright incompetent. If someone goes to Hell (in his cosmology) because they can’t believe, like it’s just not in them, that’s a really awful god who’d allow that. But Strobel cheerfully plunges ahead, digging himself ever-deeper (p. 108):
So some people say, “I can’t believe” based on intellectual issues [ie: it makes no frickin SENSE], and we should encourage them to pursue the truth about God with sincerity and honesty. But others say “I can’t believe” because there’s some kind of emotional barrier between them and God.
I’ve covered this dishonest two-step around “sincerity and honesty” before. Many ex-Christians attest to having done exactly that, including me! And then to our utter surprise, we chased the truth right out of Christianity. However, I suppose none of us were “sincere and honest” enough for King Lee.
A Popular Sales Game in Strobel-Land.
By selling “sincere and honest” truth-pursuit, of course, Strobel also sells the flipside of that coin: accusing ex-Christians of not having been honest and sincere.
They use this idea, as well, to grant themselves permission to judge us and try to force us to perform for their amusement — jumping through hoop after hoop to demonstrate that YES, our deconversion was valid. For a hard-selling Christian, there’ll never be a valid deconversion. Try to catch that game early and shut it down — like M.A. did!
The problem for Strobel and his acolytes, of course, is that it’s not up to them to decide how valid anyone’s reasons are. Nobody’s obligated to humor a salesperson by demonstrating just how hard they worked to figure out that this product doesn’t work at all and isn’t worth buying, nor to do more work on that salesperson’s behalf.
But these salespeople hate knowing they’re salespeople. Salespeople labor in the supplicant’s position. Strobel’s entire approach to evangelism puts him in control, in the dominant position, the driver’s seat. I don’t think he’s ever suffered from a surfeit of humility.
DADDY ISSUES AHOY.
By “emotional barrier,” of course, Lee Strobel largely means Daddy issues. He quotes a bunch of stuff from Paul Vitz, who was apparently already oozing around that end of Christianity even in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2013, Vitz published another of these offensive books. Every time he shows his face, the skept-o-sphere erupts with confused atheists who have/had great relationships with their fathers.
For that matter, I’m pretty sure my abusive, nominally-Christian father all but groomed me to later join really authoritarian Christian groups. I bet I’m not an isolated case there either.
But Lee Strobel needs some strawman stuffing. Daddy issues make a great one.
He also blames fear of intimacy in general, which is hilarious coming from an evangelical man. Evangelicals in general simply aren’t authentic people capable of achieving true intimacy. Their fear, anger, and control-lust tend to get in the way of all of that. Those hangups reduce all of their relationships to shallow, tenuous, transactional mockeries of the real things. Exposing one’s weaknesses in that tribe will get someone bitten or ridden — without fail.
(Another excellent rationalization for Strobel — and one we still hear today as well — is jus’ wantin’ ta SIN. That’s usually Christian code for wanting to have unapproved sex. He extensively discusses it in this chapter as well. It’s like he has no idea that his own tribe does this all the time.)
Hard Sales for Jesus.
Lee Strobel just can’t believe that atheists reject his product because it’s not a good product and it doesn’t do what he claims it can do. So he’s got to negate what atheists really say about the matter. To do that, he tries to burrow into his enemies’ minds to psychoanalyze them without permission, “diagnoses” The Big Problem Here, and then finally offers them a turnkey solution that of course requires the purchase of his product.
Sir, I say Sir, what’ll it take to get you to drive this shiny new church membership off the lot today?
Get them to sign on the line that is dotted.
One day, this chapter of Unchurched needs to be cited in a footnote in the big grand writeup of Christianity’s decline. Lee Strobel makes no secret at all of how he tries hard to talk his victims into circles, gets them to draw diagrams for his amusement, interrupts them at parties and “lunches” to pitch his product and psychoanalyze them, and tries to ferret out their deepest neuroses to explain why oh why they just can’t accept his wackadoodle, wingnut view of reality.
And just think, if Christianity did even half what its salespeople claimed he wouldn’t need to do any of this stuff to get the few semi-sales he manages.
Lee Strobel’s Projection.
Ultimately, Lee Strobel can’t accept that his victims have rejected his product for perfectly valid reasons that aren’t his to question or take upon himself to change.
Gosh, maybe a bad relationship with his daddy caused him to grow up thinking it was okay to control other people and abuse them for his amusement.
Gee, maybe Strobel’s inability to form authentic, intimate relationships with others has led him to the ideas he expresses in Unchurched.
Or, maybe he can’t accept the real truth about atheists’ rejection because if he did, he’d have to stop “sinning” by trampling others, speaking over them, and abusing their goodwill.
Worse still, maybe if he accepted that people reject his product for perfectly valid reasons of their own, it might shake his own faith.
Huh. Ain’t that an interesting game of reversi.
Maybe before King Lee worries about other people’s “sticking points,” he should attend to his own first. But that’s a him problem, not a me or a you problem.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then: An overview of why I rejected and still Christianity, since we’re at about the 30th anniversary of my deconversion!
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