Review: The Case for Christ
My wife and I were planning on going to see a movie Saturday evening. Beauty and the Beast, to be exact. But she had a medical school test on Monday and decided her time was better spent studying.
Unfortunately, when I have a plan to do something, I have a hard time redirecting my desires elsewhere. I was planning to see a movie, so I’m going to see a movie.
Nothing my wife would want to see, though. I can’t watch a good movie without her.
So what did I do? I went to see a Christian movie.
I know that sounds terrible. But the Christian movies we’ve gotten over the past few years have been sub-par, to say the least. (Silence, which is about Christians, would be an exception.) But given the fact that I run, and write for, a website that attempts to help Christians engage culture more Biblically and effectively, I still like to see what other Christians are doing, even if I disagree with their approach.
So I opened up my Fandango app and purchased a ticket for an afternoon showing of The Case for Christ.
The film is from the makers of God’s Not Dead. A movie that had some serious success, especially given its meager budget. (Last I heard, it made $60 million, with a production cost of $2 million.) But ultimately, the monetary success does not mean it was a good film.
It not only had serious issues cinematically, but also theologically. It fueled the concept of a war with unbelievers. (An atheist was literally the villain of the movie.) It built caricatures of non-Christians, and treated them the way we complain of being treated in secular films. It was cheesy, poorly written, and kind of offensive.
I hate to be that harsh, but that’s what it was. And cliché as it is, I say those things because I care. I love Christians and I love Christ. And I want the people around me to love him too.
With that in mind, I made my way to the theater. Because this was made by the same people, I was expecting more of the same problems.
But, I had a tiny bit of hope.
One of the most significant times in my life was my junior year in high school. I started getting into the subject of Christian apologetics. The study was exactly what my analytical mind needed. I had doubts about Christianity and the answers I found helped me build a faith that was more deep and flourishing than ever before.
And coincidentally, the first apologetics book I read was The Christ for Christ.
I absolutely loved it. The writing was engaging, the story interesting, the arguments convincing. It was a fun read. And I learned a lot.
Since I loved the book so much, and greatly respect Lee Strobel, I really wanted to like this movie, even though I didn't expect to.
I was seriously surprised.
The movie is far short of perfect, and movies like this one will never be blockbusters, but it was good.
The cinematography and soundtrack were very well done. I particularly liked the style. It was a great move to a more realistic look, and they definitely pulled off the late 70s early 80s vibe. The dialogue, for the most part, was great. The acting was far better than their previous attempts. Mike Vogel, who played Strobel, was especially good. And the story was engaging — I actually found myself really caring about the characters. (My eyes even got a little watery at one point — which, trust me, is not a common thing.)
When it comes to the dialogue, I do need to stress the "for the most part." There were several scenes where it was obvious that the writer wanted to make a few theological points, and tried to squeeze them in where they didn't really fit. A couple of the interview scenes were especially cringe-worthy. (Namely, the psychoanalysts discussion about father problems and the Shroud of Turin moment.)
Aside from a few blunders, I appreciated the approach the writers took. I've written, and talked, a lot before about the need for Christians to make art that isn't explicitly Christian. We tend to have this feeling that if we're going to write a piece of fiction, someone has to get saved.
But if we're going to have an impact on culture, we need to take a more tactful approach. Our culture has heard some version of Christianity, and they don't really like it. If we show our cards too quickly, we're going to push them away. But if we can make great art, with our Christianity latent within it, we can push past their presuppositions to show them the true beauty of Christ.
And then, and only then, will they be open to hearing it's truth.
While I stress the need for Christians to make art like that (a great example being The Chronicles of Narnia), I do recognize the place for explicitly Christian art. We need both.
We need worship songs and hymns, but we also need music the world would want to hear that has Christianity at its foundation.
The Case for Christ is most definitely more like the former. (I mean, Christ is in the name of the movie.) It's the story of Lee Strobel's conversion, I wouldn't expect it to be anything else.
So while we do need more of the latter, I'm not going to fault this movie for that. It did what it was trying to do, and it did it well.
Someone did get saved (obviously), but it wasn't forced. It featured atheists who weren't caricatures. And beautifully told a story of redemption and love.
It's a movie that will be fun and encouraging for Christians to see, while building their confidence in the truth of the resurrection — a worthy endeavor.
I just wouldn't expect any non-Christians to be racing to get tickets.
P.S. If you want to read a little more on the topic, Christ and Pop Culture had a great interview with Lee Strobel about the movie. And while finishing up my thoughts, I discovered this review on Christianity Today which said what I was trying to say, but far better.