The Case for Christ is a movie currently screening in cinemas and based on a multi-million-selling book of the same name. It tells the story of a former journalist from a large Chicago daily newspaper, Lee Strobel, who attempts to apply his professional skills to discrediting the newfound faith of his wife. Instead, he discovers that the evidence he examines is compelling proof of the Biblical account of Jesus. The ending is about as inevitable as the sinking of the boat in Titanic, so why is this dubbed by some as the best Christian film ever made?
Big call? Maybe the mega-budget Narnia films or the blockbuster epics of yesteryear could rival this more modest production. As contemporary films go, though, this one provides a more responsible and less sensationalised examination of faith than has sometimes been the case. For that reason, it is worth noting its three essentials for other recipes that also seek to craft an appetising recount of a personal testimony of conversion to Christ.
1. Not too ‘cheesy.’
Rather than ridicule atheists, over-analyse the evidence, or pour on the sugar syrup of preachy clichés, this film largely chronicles a personal story with all the conviction of the protagonist’s own encounter. This provides a story in itself quite difficult to refute, irrespective of one’s personal beliefs.
Many oral testimonies of personal faith are often too cheesy, revelling in the fact and need of change with a predictable pattern rather than a riveting story.
Credibility is essential, as is the rational basis for an encounter. The Jesus of life-change, though, is the Jesus of lordship and not of logic alone. Many churchgoers still miss relationship amidst ritual.
Telling a more personable tale not only allows raw emotion to become compelling listening, but it better highlights the personal realism of the change agent.
If the message of change is worth hearing, then the Jesus of change is worth showcasing.
2. Not too heavy.
So, does it provide a great case? A spoiler alert is hardly necessary when the evidence itself is not the whole story, but some might prefer to let the film speak for itself.
Nevertheless, this movie doesn’t overwhelm. “The lady doth protest too much,” we are told in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. So, too, does the over-intense Christian whose bombardment of atheists with facts and evidences is seldom sufficient as to be compelling.
The Case for Christ provides enough ‘meat’ to give substance to Strobel’s conversion without boring those already firmly convinced but uninterested in the detail.
A significant piece of internal biblical evidence used is the 1 Corinthians 15:6 claim to the existence of five hundred witnesses to the Resurrection. This is too great a number to allow any fraud to be perpetrated because it would also enable one to be easily discredited.
Also, medical testimony as to the believability of the Resurrection account and the thoroughness of the Romans’ killing of Jesus dismiss any notion of Him swooning on the cross and therefore not truly dying.
The points of comparability of the essence of the four Gospel accounts are without the collusion that would be suspected in the event of precise fact-matching on all details.
Expert evidence on the existence of thousands of documentary fragments of New Testament texts shows them to be more numerous and closer in time to the events they describe than for any other ancient writing.
Substantiation is also provided from non-Christian contemporaries and by the logic of refusing to believe so many Christ followers would die for a lie. The evidence collectively points to the reliability of the Resurrection as the provable cornerstone of Christian faith requiring human accountability for its implications.
3. Baked just right.
The crafting of the story is timed to perfection. Just like a sermon that builds its case toward a well punched-out climax, this film holds the viewer in sufficient tension by basting each element to honour the Christ of conversion whose realism and reality is all the more enhanced as a result.
The academic search for the historical Jesus has been an enduring quest of too scholarly an emphasis for many that it often misses the fact that its purpose is for ‘finding the historical Christ’ (as observed by Australian theologian, Paul Barnett.) Some people want evidence beyond all doubt that they stumble over sufficient evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt.
This movie doesn’t allow that mistake to be made and doesn’t deify intellect over experience. Rather, it offers a balance of its constituent elements to allow the familiar story to marinate with intrigue, the outcome to hatch self-evidently, and the film to then play to a wider audience than many previous Christian movie offerings.
What many personal stories lack in their retelling is sufficient emotional packaging of the substance which cannot remain absent but cannot remain dry, either. Why, for example, did I need and find Christ? It was certainly not only because the evidence for faith was mounted, but because the need for faith was clear. It was because the case for the passion of the Christ evinced a passion for the Christ who was then on my case.
If it is not too late to catch The Case for Christ in a cinema, it creates that same conviction on the silver screen. It offers an ideal opportunity to bring along the sceptic with whom a great discussion will surely ensue. It will undoubtedly provoke a response of sorts!
Of course, if the rival movie option of Churchill is offered (not that I minded watching some wartime history), most will surely and happily opt for a delicious serving of Strobel as the best option on the current movie menu.