You see, the problem with most faith-based films is that they are either preachy, low-budget but well-intentioned less-than-stellar productions, or they just trust ‘evangelism’ alone to supplant tightly-written and poignant scripts. With these opinions in mind I went to see The Case for Christ, all the time weighing my options—through the previews of coming attractions—as to how I’d slide out to another movie if this one didn’t hold my attention. I didn’t. It did.
Unlike a majority of previous Christian films, this one is professionally made, top-notch in every performance, suspensefully written (no easy task when one knows how it concludes), and refuses to end before a seriously hardcore atheist reluctantly drops to his knees the last ten minutes of a two-hour film.
I have owned numerous Lee Strobel books, and appreciated them for their convincing apologetics in the defense of Christ. I had not, however, been at all familiar with their author, and his non-relenting resistance against conversion from atheism to Christianity. The essence of the latter is the theme of this film.
In a memorable trip back to the 70's and 80's, as the film unfolded, I was brought to remember Christ’s question of Saul (the Apostle Paul) as the Pharisee who persecuted believers from Jerusalem to Antioch. “How long will you continue to kick against the goads?” he is asked. Paul was a ‘chosen vessel’, we are told, but a vessel who was so adamant in his non-Christian ideology that he had to be virtually brought ‘kicking and screaming’ into the Kingdom of God. So too was Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel).
I had never realized that the author of so many books I have enjoyed so much came to his faith based upon—to quote Dragnet’s Joe Friday ‘the facts, ma’am—just the facts’. Strobel was a highly intelligent, highly motivated and award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, who earned a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale, and eventually won four Gold Medallions for publishing excellence. He was no ‘needy lamb’ looking for a Shepherd, but a man with insight, influence, and enough connections that he could interview the best medical doctors, theologians, psychologists (Faye Dunaway is terrific), and archeologists in the world in his search for truth.
His search concluded with the counsel from a friend that ultimate truth eventually comes down to finding the facts, synthesizing the evidence, and, by faith, accepting what all those conclude. This was the advice, believe it or not, from an atheist—who reasoned that even atheism is a leap of faith. “When the chili meets the cheese", he is told by another, "let the facts form your proof".
Parts of the film are a bit disconcerting, especially the graphic analysis of crucifixion. Others are poignant, as when Strobel’s small daughter tells her father “I guess I’m an atheist too.” But the plot is superbly unfolded in the parallelism of an award-winning editor’s search for truth in a gang-related police cover-up, as well as his eventual search for Christ.
The characters are not only believable, their performances are superb. Strobel’s longsuffering and faithful—“you only” —Christian wife (Erika Christensen—a Scientologist by the way) is a paradigm of what an unbeliever’s wife should be. In the end however, a man who lives and dies by facts alone is not won to the faith by those facts—they are only a validation. He is won, reluctantly, by the loves in his life which he saw, and did not see, the understanding that the best-researched conclusions could prove to be invalid—“you didn’t want to see it” —and events in daily life which coincidence cannot explain.
As an apologetic against unbelief, this film checks all the boxes, examines all the evidence thoroughly, and leaves but one conclusion…no matter how ardently a skeptic might fight to the end to deny it.