"The Case for Christ" Movie: Compelling Evidence for the Truth Claims of Christianity
I was recently perusing the newly added movies to Netflix, and amidst the usual collection of never-heard-of films was a title that caught my attention, The Case for Christ. I knew of the book, written by Lee Strobel, but was unaware that there was a movie. The film was released in the summer of 2017 and is now available on Netflix as well as on DVD, Blu Ray, and other digital streaming services. I was aware of the basic story behind the book: Lee Strobel was an atheist journalist who, on the heels of his wife’s conversion to Christianity, sought to disprove Christianity.
The book is an international bestseller, which is part of a series of books that have sold over 14 million copies worldwide. The movie’s appearance on Netflix piqued my interest, so my wife and I sat down one night to watch it. I wasn’t sure what to expect given that many so-called “Christian films” are plagued by mediocre acting and stilted writing. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised.
There are a number of well-known character actors in the movie as well as several mainstream actors including Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, and even Grant Goodeve from “Eight is Enough” fame makes an appearance (I fear I have just dated myself by invoking the name of this popular ‘70s TV show). I found the acting was good and the writing decent. I was taken aback by the hairstyles (particularly Strobel’s) and the clothing. As a child of the ‘80s, I suddenly wondered whether my fashion choices were that embarrassing.
Aside from acting, writing, and fashion, the film recounts Strobel’s journey as an atheist who is desperate to rescue his wife from Christ. She was converted after her daughter nearly died choking on a gumball. In his effort to disprove Christianity, one of Strobel’s Christian coworkers tells him that the resurrection of Christ is a key linchpin—if he can disprove this teaching, then the whole Christian faith crumbles (this echoes the apostle Paul’s similar statement in 1 Cor. 15:16-19).
The movie then proceeds as Strobel examines the various lines of evidence: the historicity and reliability of the New Testament accounts of Christ’s resurrection, the methods of verifying its textual accuracy, the possibility of mass psychosis or hallucination regarding the 500 people who witnessed Christ after his resurrection, the empty tomb, Roman execution methods, and the medical and anatomical evidence concerning the scriptural account of Christ’s death on the cross.
Along the way Strobel interacts with actors portraying the real-life pastors and theologians with whom he spoke during his investigation: Bill Hybels, Dr. Gary Habermas, and Dr. William Lane Craig. The way that the movie covers the historical and scriptural evidence for the resurrection of Christ captures its compelling nature quite well.
One of the movie’s weaknesses, which is perhaps endemic to the medium of film, is that it doesn’t sufficiently draw the boundaries between faith and reason. That is, to borrow a line from the Westminster Confession of Faith when it speaks of the many ways that the Scriptures demonstrate their authenticity, “Yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (I.v). In other words, at times the movie gives the impression that the evidence alone was so compelling that Strobel unintentionally argued himself into believing in Christ. To be sure, the movie cuts back and forth between Strobel’s wrestling with the evidence and his wife praying that God would give him a new heart and enable him to believe. But at key points, I felt as if the emphasis on the prerequisite work of the Spirit in regeneration was weak. In other words, no amount of evidence will convince a sinner to believe in Jesus unless the Spirit opens his eyes and grants him faith to believe in Christ.
That being said, I believe that watching this movie is well worth the time. Relatively few Christians are aware of the historical evidence. And while our efforts to defend the gospel must always rest on the presupposition of the authority of Scripture, at the same time we should not diminish the historical reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Case for Christ presents the historical evidence in an easily understandable and persuasive manner. While such evidence is certainly useful for apologetics and evangelism, as Calvin once said, it is also useful to bolster the faith of Christians.
In this vein I watched the movie a second time with my two young boys, ages 8 and 10. Along the way I paused the movie and explained the significance of the presented evidence. My younger son was struggling with some doubts about the historicity of the Bible and this was an excellent tonic. My boys even expressed the desire to watch the movie again. Another benefit of the movie, I believe, is that young people can see the consequences of what happens when a husband and wife do not believe the same things. True, Strobel was married to his wife before she became a Christian, but the movie captures the theological battle when people are unequally yoked. This is a wonderfully useful cinematic illustration to show our covenant youth the importance of marrying a Christian.
All in all, The Case for Christ is a terrific movie for families to watch. Church leaders would also do well to show the movie to their covenant youth and then follow it with Q & A, discussion, and the necessary theological supplemental instruction (such as the role of evidence and the necessary work of the Spirit in regeneration). Reviewing the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ can greatly encourage young people in their faith and even arm them with important truth as they encounter doubters and skeptics. So much of the content on Netflix is mediocre, immoral, or a waste of time, but this movie is certainly a noteworthy exception.
J. V. Fesko is Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He has written numerous books on the Christian faith, including Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, and The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights.
This article by J. V. Fesko was originally published under the title "A Pastor’s Reflections: The Case for Christ (the Movie)" on Westminster Seminary California's Valiant For Truth blog. For more helpful content by Dr. Fesko, please visit jvfesko.com.
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