The Bill O’Reilly of religious debate

Journalist-minister’s new TV show gets high-profile guests to tackle tough questions

Would Jesus be a vegan? Are Christianity and Islam compatible? Is there any evidence of God? Does Hugh Hefner believe in miracles?

In a program that its creator describes as “O’Reilly meets religion,” Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists and even animal rights activists verbally duke it out over who is right about God and God’s intentions. The new Pax TV show is Faith Under Fire, created by Lee Strobel. It airs at 10 p.m. Saturdays.

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In one segment, two religious scholars clash over whether hell exists. In a different segment, Madonna’s Kabbalah teacher squares off against another rabbi, with Strobel acting as the referee. Strobel also discusses issues of faith one on one with such unlikely celebrities as Hefner and the singer Moby.

Strobel said he came up with the idea two years ago “for an O’Reilly- or Hardball-style” format devoted to questions of morality and spirituality.

He found few TV executives willing to take the chance on a show with possibly controversial religious debates.

“We spent the last year trying to sell it in Hollywood. We tried the networks, cable television, syndication, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC,” he said. “One executive told me it sounded interesting, but ‘We can’t do God.'”

Finally, Pax TV, which is expanding its programming this season, decided to take the show.

“No topic is off-limits,” said Strobel, who has produced 13 episodes. “We do abortion, gay rights, stem-cell research, all the hot-button issues.”

Once a reporter and editor at the Chicago Tribune, Strobel, 52, left journalism after 14 years and entered the ministry, becoming ordained in 1990. He served as assistant pastor of Willow Creek Church near Chicago and later at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Valley Community Church in California.

Strobel has become a popular speaker in Christian apologetics, an effort to provide scientific proof of the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus Christ and other tenets of the Christian faith. His most recent book, The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God (Zondervan, $29.99), seeks to debunk Darwinism and evolutionary theory of the universe.

“The point is to really look at the evidence and where it points,” Strobel said of the show. “For example, Islam and Christianity can’t both be right — they are either both wrong, or one of them is right. We wanted to talk to people about why they believe what they believe and examine what evidence they have for it.”

In his books, Strobel discusses his journey from atheist to Christian believer.

“To me, the evidence of science points to an intelligent creator, and I’m willing to put that belief to the test in the marketplace of ideas,” he said. “We want to stimulate debate. … I think we will have a lot of people shouting back at their televisions.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Hartford Courant, via The Lexington Herald-Leader, USA
Oct. 9, 2004
Frances Grandy Taylor

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