The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
I have finally read something, outside of the Gospels themselves, which does a damn good, balanced job of presenting Christianity; what it is, why it is, and good evidence for its claims, are presented in a why accessible to most. If someone of another faith or an agnostic expressed curiosity about Christianity, along with encouraging him/her to read the Gospels, I would recommend The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. To me, C.S. Lewis' great Christian works are for the initiate, for those of us who already believe (or are on the very cusp) and want a deeper exploration of the Christian soul.
These books will not convince the fundamentalist atheists. The average atheist has committed to his/her viewpoint (which is not something I'm putting down, btw, eventually you do have to make your choice) and it would take something on the order of a personal appearance by God, and one that other people saw at the same time, to change it. And I doubt even that would put them completely in the "believe" column. They do so badly want to not believe. The evil and pain in the world just don't reconcile with their conception of what God would be, or they have some other objection that, to them, is insurmountable. However, the more balanced atheist would probably agree that these books present the case well, and if you are going to believe, these provide one of the better arguments for that.
So, for the rest of us, both "Cases" are just the ticket. They tackle the thorny questions on the authenticity of the Bible, the problem of pain and injustice, the straw men of science (because true science does not inherently contradict the concept of God), and most importantly who Jesus claimed He was and how it could possibly be the truth. The case is laid out in a way all orthodox Christian denominations can embrace (with perhaps the sole exception of the Protestant view that Jesus had brothers and sisters, which contradicts the Roman Catholic view that Mary remained a virgin). Politics are thankfully absent (see paragraph below). The presentation and the writing itself are pleasant and straightforward so that anyone literate should be able to read them with ease, while at the same time the more sophisticated reader will not be bored or put off due to overweening simplicity. Anyone giving Christianity a fair shake will find these books convincing and compelling. Those looking for a respectful and non-strident evangelism tool should put these wonderful books in their arsenal. That and a good Bible should reach anyone reachable.
The same can't be said for another recent publication whose title I love: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler. (I think the title/phrase nails one of the problems I have with virulent atheism - it takes as much of a leap of faith to deny God as it does to accept Him, given the evidence.) Sadly, this book, which presents a lot of the same information as the "Case" books, immediately goes political and has a rather consistent "so THERE!" tone to it all; there appears to be no respect for the reader. One of the great mistakes of our age is Christian fundamentalists getting into bed with the far right of Republican party and implying strongly that if you're one, you're the other. Many Christians - in fact the majority - do not feel this way, yet we are all painted with that same broad brush. Books like this merely foment this false impression, and serve mainly to alienate those casually inquiring into Christianity. The words "liberal" and "conservative" are bandied about - painting the prior group as "lukewarm" Christians and the latter as the fire-breathing type (sigh). Rush Limbaugh's brother wrote the freakin' intro (heavy sigh). And one story about a fundie who tells a Unitarian-type pastor who preaches "all paths lead up the mountain," which is inimical to the orthodox Christian view, "You're going to hell!" is told with glee, rather than with the requisite sorrow that such an encounter should hold for anyone who belongs to Christ. Yes, "all paths lead up the mountain" is not a valid Christian outlook, but telling a "fun story" about someone telling the other they're doomed isn't either. Were I not a Christian, this book would merely annoy me and would probably bolster some of my worst stereotypical opinions I might have about (some kinds) of Christians. As a Christian, I'm ashamed that someone would write this kind of a book which so willingly disdains and mocks anyone who doesn't hold a particular political or theological point of view. Only the title of this book is worth the effort to read.
But now that you've done that, go read The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, if you're interested. And it's OK to skip the parts where he describes how each of his interview subjects is dressed (I began to wonder if he'd solicited writing advice from Danielle Steel). And in case you didn't know this, you can read the Bible for free, here: http://www.biblestudytools.net/