Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. Don't read it unless you've already watched the movie or unless you don't care about being spoiled. I like to analyze movies, and I can't really do that unless I spoil the movie. You have been warned.
When I got out of high school, I went through a questioning phase. Is Christianity actually true? Are there actual non-Biblical reasons for believing in Christianity? I could easily have been another statistic of a believer who loses his faith in college if I hadn't stumbled upon the right books at my local Christian bookstore. The Case for Christ was the first apologetic book I ever read (C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity was the second). That made the anticipation for this film even greater for me, seeing as it was the first exposure I ever had to Christian apologetics.
I'll just say right up front that this movie is quite excellent. I'm always a bit reticent when a new faith-based film comes out, as so many are cheesy, poorly acted and poorly written, etc. But this film is quite the opposite: the acting was good, the writing was good, and no real "Christianese." You really got the sense of urgency between Lee's and Leslie's deteriorating marriage, and the conversations between Lee and the various experts felt authentic (not to mention, it was great fun seeing Lee's conversations, necessarily condensed for the film format, reenacted on the screen). There are good faith-based films out there (Time Changer has long been my favorite Christian film), but they are few and far between. This is a film that any believer can confidently hold up as an example of a faith-based film done right.
As one would expect, in the months leading up to the film's release, there was no shortage of angry diatribes written by atheists about Lee Strobel, and calling him all sorts of things like charlatan, etc. One thing you don't see, from these alleged "purveyors of reason and evidence," is any sort of evidence that Strobel is a charlatan or a faker. At best, they could argue that Strobel was convinced based on bad evidence, but they have absolutely no evidence that Strobel's journey did not happen as he says that it did. However, this is a movie review blog, not an apologetics blog, so I won't be responding to any of the claims by atheists here. You can find responses to their claims in scholarly works by Christian thinkers.
A great thing about this movie is how brutally honest it is about Lee's behavior after his wife converts to Christianity. As you get a lot with Christian films and songs, there are no vague struggles here. You really get the sense that the Strobels' marriage is on rocky ground based on Leslie's conversion. The actors in this film were excellent, which was crucial to really give you that sense of drama that the film needs. The film is based on Lee's book, in which he details his discussions with these experts. The elements of drama in the film tell the untold story, of sorts -- what went on behind-the-scenes that spurred Lee's determination to talk to these experts. I was legitimately moved to tears in at least two parts.
As I mentioned earlier, the conversations between experts were condensed for the film format because of everything else the story needed in order to be told well. Of course, one can draw comparisons to 2014's God's Not Dead, which told a different story but still grounded it in apologetics. The apologetics used in God's Not Dead weren't terrible -- in fact, the lead character in that film used good arguments. But the problem is the format of the film didn't allow the arguments he did use to be properly expounded. In this film, the apologetic arguments are presented much better, probably because rather than trying to prove Christianity with a cumulative case of arguments, Lee was setting out to disprove one specific element of Christianity -- the Resurrection -- because that's the event that the truth of Christianity hinges on. This more specific focus allowed a better case to be made than in God's Not Dead.
The atheists in this movie are also presented well. They are presented as actual people who are only trying to do what they believe is right (Lee doesn't hate Leslie after her conversion, but he does believe she's been taken in by a delusion and wants to set her straight to save their marriage), and his skeptical mentor was portrayed as intelligent and compassionate.
The Case for Christ is one of the best faith-based films ever made. The only real nitpick I have is that while Alfie was certain sincere, she took a verse of Scripture out of context (a promise made to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36 that God will replace his heart of stone with a heart of flesh) and told Leslie that the same promised applied to her and Lee. It is, of course, poor exegesis to take a promise made by God to an individual in Scripture and apply it universally. Lee could just as easily have not converted, as many people don't convert to Christianity. That's only a minor nitpick. There really wasn't much else I didn't like about the film. If you haven't seen it yet, go see it. We need more good faith-based films being made, and the only way to do that is to talk with your wallet.
So what do you think? Did you enjoy it? Hate it? Are ambivalent about it? Were you convinced by the arguments and evidence presented in the film? Let me know in the comments.
Reason for grade: The film is extremely well done. It's the best faith-based film ever made, which really isn't saying too much, but I'll add to that comment that this movie may end up being my favorite movie of the year. It's certainly my favorite movie I've seen so far. It will have stiff competition with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming out in a couple of weeks, so we'll see. But it's extremely well-acted and well-written, you feel everything, and the movie never feels like it drags at all. This is simply a great film.
The Case for Christ
Directed by: Jon Gunn
Screenplay by: Brian Bird, based on the novel The Case for Christ, written by Lee Strobel
Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel
Erika Christensen as Leslie Strobel
L. Scott Caldwell as Alfie Davis
Kevin Sizemore as Dr. Gary Habermas
Faye Dunaway as Dr. Roberta Waters
Tom Nowicki as Dr. Alexander Metherell
Rus Blackwell as Dr. William Lane Craig
Jordan Cox as Bill Hybels