This review is from Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, a major conservative news and commentary web site.
[T]he pursuit of evidence forms the core of the film’s narrative. In 1980, Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) finds his marriage and professional life turned upside-down when his wife Leslie (Erika Christiansen) converts from their shared atheism to Christianity. Convinced that his wife has been brainwashed by a cult — being just a couple of years removed from the Jonestown massacre — Strobel decides to apply his journalistic expertise to debunk the central core of the Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can Strobel find an evidence-based argument to refute Christianity, or will he be forced to face his own biases and assumptions?
Given that this is explicitly a conversion story (and that Strobel’s book sold 14 million copies over the last two decades), that outcome isn’t exactly a mystery, but the film isn’t intended to be a mystery anyway. At its core, The Case for Christ is a love story on multiple levels rather than an exposition about evidentiary support for the Resurrection. The love Lee and Leslie have for each other becomes redemptive, but so too the terribly strained relationship that Lee has with his father, and that Lee also has with The Father.
I think the love story is fine, because it is an winsome invitation for people watching who are not yet Christians to take a look at the evidence. People today are really struggling in their relationships because they have kicked God out of their partner-selection and how they relate to their partners. Most people today conduct their relationships as functional atheists, including Christians. Atheism is the denial of objective purpose in the universe, and a denial that there is any design for human behavior, and human relationships like love and marriage. Everyone is floundering about in a sea of relativism, trying to use each other like commodities in order to scrape out some happiness without having to love anyone else self-sacrificially. The idea that loving others self-sacrificially could actually be what we were designed to do (as revealed in the example of Jesus) is intriguing. But since it goes against our natural self-centeredness, something other than desire and emotion is going to have to drive the search for a better way forward. That something is God himself, revealing his existence and his character to us through evidence in nature, and through the historical evidence around the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus. Evidence has the power to drive us against our own selfishness and hedonism, making us capable of loving others, and helping us to choose those who will love us like Jesus, because they love God first and foremost.
The production values match those of higher-level independent films. The casting of Vogel and Christiansen is especially successful, as they present a very realistic depiction of a young married couple in serious trouble. Faye Dunaway and Frankie Faison have smaller but notable roles, and the ever-estimable Robert Forster portrays Lee’s estranged father. Eight is Enough’s Grant Goodeve has a cameo, but veteran character actor Mike Pniewski’s turn as the Chicago Tribune’s religion editor might be the most memorable outside of the featured cast. The direction and cinematography are straightforward and not at all overdone, with no “shaky cam” usage to generate a false sense of style. The film does an excellent job of recalling the 1980-81 period without making the mistake of falling back into kitsch, opting instead for a look as realistic and nuanced as the film itself.
It all adds up to a compelling and very human story about love, redemption, faith, reason, and finding peace with all of them. With the emergence of Risen and The Case for Christ, the faith-based segment of the film market has come into its own. On the Hot Air scale, I’d give it a five:
- 5 – Full price ticket
- 4 – Matinee only
- 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
- 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
- 1 – Avoid at all costs
If Christianity is anything, Christianity needs to be a worldview – a picture of reality. It’s not a set of stories designed to make us feel good about our attempts to eek out pleasure by doing whatever we want. It’s not a community, nor even worship songs that make us have feelings. There has to be something objective that is incumbent on us whether we like it or not. The call of Christianity is to turn around and go in a different direction, re-prioritizing goals in our lives according to someone else’s leadership and example. That’s not going to be possible unless we really believe that this behavior is in line with the way the world really is. For those born and raised in a society infused with secularism, we are already confronted with widespread beliefs that challenge the existence of God and miracles like the resurrection. We have to do something to break out of those background beliefs that we just absorbed uncritically. We have to pursue truth and conform our worldview to the evidence so that the behaviors of a Christian become natural and normal, against our natural self-centered desires and feelings.
My hope is that a large number and people will watch this movie and understand the factual foundations of Christianity for the first time. Maybe they will finally see themselves as guilty or refusing to take a look at the evidence. The problem with unbelief is that it really is a willful closing of one’s eyes against reality, so that one can continue to be in control. To search for the evidence is to be open to changing our deepest desires to match reality. Something that no non-Christian in the history of the world has ever done.
Consider John 18:37:
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Exactly right. Jesus came to demonstrate the reality of God’s existence and his power as Creator by giving us a historical resurrection that we could investigate using the ordinary methods of doing history.
And we know that miracles like the resurrection are possible from the scientific evidence for a cosmic beginning, and for cosmic fine-tuning, as Romans 1 explains.
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,so that people are without excuse.
This is the way the world really is, and we have to adjust to reality, because of the evidence.
Let’s hope that God uses this movie to get a lot of people to re-think whether they have been pursuing truth the way they should be. It’s very tempting to forget evidence and just pursue pleasure, but we were not intended to do that by the God who made us and everything else.