CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Case for Christ

May 9, 2017

It was a key principle of Plato’s Socrates that one should follow the evidence wherever it leads. He also said that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living’. Thus those who claim to be seekers after truth need to carefully investigate the evidence, and be willing to change course if that is suggested by the evidence.

People on a religious quest, including agnostics and even atheists, need to do the same. Unless their minds are already made up, they need to be open to new evidence, to new data, which may result in them changing direction in terms of previously held beliefs.

strobelAdmittedly this can be a risky path to be on. For example, more than one atheist has dared to look into the evidence for Christianity – often with a view of proving how false the whole thing is – only to end up being roundly convinced by all the evidence, and becoming Christians – or at least theists – as a result.

Many such cases can be mentioned here. Frank Morrison for example was a lawyer and an engineer who wanted to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So he set about on a serious course of study, only to find that the resurrection was a historically verifiable fact. Thus he wrote his famous book Who Moved the Stone? in 1930.

One of atheism’s heaviest hitters, Antony Flew also examined the evidence, and as a result, in 2004 he renounced his atheism and became a theist. I tell his story here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/11/21/a-review-of-there-is-a-god-by-antony-flew/

Another noted atheist who set out to prove that Christianity was a bunch of hogwash is Lee Strobel. Most Christians would know of his story. He was an atheist and a rising star as an investigative journalist, writing for the Chicago Tribune. One of his news stories he turned into a book when he was just 28.

Much to his chagrin however, his wife became a Christian in 1979, and two years later after much prayer and love from his wife, and much research on his own, Lee too became a Christian. He wanted his newspaper to print his story of a real life sceptic who became a believer, but his editor refused.

His wife suggested that he write a book instead, and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1998 his book The Case for Christ came out and it has sold millions of copies since then. Strobel has gone on to write many more books, including: The Case for Faith (2000); The Case for a Creator (2004); and The Case for the Real Jesus (2007). I have already reviewed some of these volumes:

billmuehlenberg.com/2005/01/17/a-review-of-the-case-for-a-creator-by-lee-strobel/
billmuehlenberg.com/2008/02/21/798/

His first book has now been made into a full length feature film, which I have just returned from seeing. So let me speak a bit more to both the film and the book. After his wife’s conversion, Strobel was greatly troubled, wishing she would let go of this foolishness and go back to the woman he used to know.

But she clung to her newfound faith, despite the insults and nasty reactions of her husband. But he was really bugged by all this, and his journalist side was intrigued. Indeed, some of his Christian colleagues challenged him to do the same thing with Christianity as he would with any other news story: investigate things carefully and look at all the evidence.

So a lengthy process of exploring the evidence in detail and following it wherever it would lead resulted in Strobel not just reading heaps of Christian writers, but actually meeting and interviewing many key Christian thinkers, apologists and writers.

In the film some of the ones presented in the book are featured (played by actors of course). They include: Dr. Gary Habermas, Dr. Alexander Metherell, and Dr. William Lane Craig. As he spoke to these authorities he slowly found his many objections and criticisms melting away in the face of all the solid evidence.

A few personal dramas, including the death of his father, also helped to prepare Strobel for finally seeing his need of admitting that God exists, and that he needs to come to terms with him. So the film shows us all the struggles and turmoil he went through, and all the resistance he put up, until he finally realised that the evidence pointed only in one direction.

Thoughts about the film

I of course strongly urge all of you who have not yet done so to get the book. It is a terrific presentation and examination of the evidence for the Christian faith. But I also urge you to go see the film, which is only out on a brief and limited release.

I should mention that my wife was rightly cautious about going to see the film, knowing that many previous Christian films have been poorly done, overly preachy, not very well written or produced, poorly acted, with bad plots and stilted characters, and so on. But she was pleasantly surprised that this was indeed a very well done film.

And I quite enjoyed it too. It certainly was well done, and I think this sort of film a Christian could easily take a non-believing friend to see, and then discuss it afterwards over a cup of coffee – or a can of Dr Pepper. Of interest, Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a 79% review rating thus far, and an 84% positive audience score.

Since Strobel was a Chicago boy, I found it of interest to see some familiar places (I was from Wisconsin just to the north, and I lived in Chicago for some years. Thus I sometimes went to the same church Strobel did – back then the converted movie theatre that Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church used.

On a side note, one of the most interesting and ironic moments of my viewing happened just before the film actually started. As is usually the case, trailers for other films about to appear or are now showing were featured. One of them was for another popular religious film, The Shack.

I thought the contrast could not be greater. If The Case for Christ is all about evidence, facts, apologetics, good theology and the use of the mind, The Shack is all about emotions, feelings, and bad theology. But I have reviewed the book version of the film here:
billmuehlenberg.com/2008/04/11/a-review-of-the-shack-by-william-young-part-one/
billmuehlenberg.com/2008/04/11/a-review-of-the-shack-by-william-young-part-two/

And the author’s newest book I have reviewed here:
billmuehlenberg.com/2017/04/20/william-paul-young-heretic-part-one/
billmuehlenberg.com/2017/04/20/william-paul-young-heretic-part-two/

Suffice it to say that if Christians asked me which book to read and which film to see, it would be YES to Strobel and NO to Young. Sadly however I suspect that there may be more Christians going to see The Shack than The Case for Christ. That in good measure helps explain why the Christian church in the West is in such bad shape today.

A few believers who have already seen the film mentioned that it did not end with a call to repentance. My reply to them would be this: every Christian film does not need an altar call at the end to round it off. Even the Apostle Paul did not always do so – see his outreach at Athens for example. And the gospel message was certainly presented throughout the film nonetheless.

So please, if you can, go see the Strobel film. You will be glad you did, and your faith will be greatly strengthened along the way – mentally as well as emotionally.

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22 Responses to The Case for Christ

  • Hi Bill. We went to see the film with several people from our church and everyone enjoyed the film. It is good as Christians to support films such as this and to prebook tickets because it encourages the cinemas that there is a market for this sort of content. Originally I could only find 3 sessions on Thursday and 3 sessions on Friday at Penrith (in Sydney). By the time the Friday evening came they must have had plenty of interest because they had added a further 2 sessions on Friday evening and sessions on Saturday and Sunday as well. When I checked again on Saturday morning I discovered that 3 other Sydney cinemas had put on sessions too! Praise God for any “not yet Christians” who have gone and been challenged!

  • Spot on Bill

  • It was certainly most refreshing indeed to experience such a moving and touching conversion story. ..even shed a tear or two. But viewers and readers of Strobel’s works should be aware of his unfortunate compromise with evolution, not mentioned in the movie of course. I suspect that his first pastor may have led him down the theistic evolutionary path. Nevertheless the movie of the book, ‘The Case for Christ’ is definitely, in my opinion, well worth encouraging Christians and the unsaved alike to view and discuss.

  • Thanks Mark. It is not my intention here to enter into that particular debate. But in his defence, if you read The Case for a Creator, you will see many Christians who are part of the Intelligent Design movement featured. They may agree with an old earth creationism as opposed to early earth creationism, but most are soundly anti-evolution, so calling them – and him – theistic evolutionists is a bit misleading. But as I say, that is the not the topic here, so we will leave it at that thanks.

  • Hi Bill,
    I agree with you on the difference between the Case for Christ and the Shack.

    May I use this comment to ask you a question please? Our Christian Community Radio (Pulse 94.1) station in the Illawarra & Shoalhaven region of New South Wales is wanting to take published material such as yours and reference and or quote (with due acknowledgment to the source) and put them to air. What are your requirements, if any on such a treatment?
    We are talking to Warwick Marsh intending to work with him on Dads 4 Kids. Warwick is a local colleague and prayer partner.

    God Bless and thank you
    Ray

  • Thanks Ray. Yes feel free to use.

  • Great review of The Case for Christ, Bill! I am in total agreement with you concerning that film and also concerning The Shack. Thanks for mentioning that. I see so many people, and even good friends of mine, who are posting very positive comments about The Shack movie just as they did about the book. A lot of these people go to churches who for the most part teach solid doctrine….at least about the essentials of the Christian faith. It grieves me deeply to see this but it points out how low the level of discernment is in the Christian community today. Thanks for standing firm and for sharing your insights and observations on the culture today (outside and inside the church) with us. Blessings to you from Tennessee!

  • Some of you may, or may not be aware that there was another “The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel” film, a documentary done about ten years ago. You can view the whole documentary on Vimeo. (It is also open captioned for the hearing impaired) —

  • I thought the movie was a bit dry and not enough action to attract the young. However the evidence based movie was trying to get across the facts in a movie. I have not read the book but may do so now.

  • My companion and I went to a late morning session of the film last Friday. We were moved by the drama of Strobel’s conversion. It was also effective the way that the evidence that Strobel found during his investigation was incorporated into the script as dialogue.

  • Read the book.

  • Thanks for your review. I do plan to see the movie. I love all of Strobel’s books. I saw The Shack and loved it. So did everyone in our small group Bible Study (we saw the movie in lieu of Bible Study). We didn’t go into it expecting it to be theologically literal. It never made claims to being that. I thought it was an awesome discussion starter. I know a young woman who has been suffering through a divorce with a young child and she saw the movie too. She said her heart was changed toward her unfaithful ex, whom she has harbored bitterness toward since he got another woman pregnant when their own baby was only a few months old. I think God meets each of us in a different place. Who are we to say that He isn’t waiting beside someone sitting in a movie theater watching The Shack? Someone He knows will be touched, and even changed, by the story portrayed in The Shack.

  • Thanks Carol. I am glad you like Strobel! But I am not sure if you read the four links given in my piece above to the two 2-part articles I wrote on The Shack and Young’s brand new book. If not, I really prefer that you do, since I deal with your claims and objections in detail there. Please have a look at the four links thanks so I don’t have to repeat myself here!

    But let me deal with a few things you have said if I may. Unfortunately you are quite wrong to claim The Shack was never meant to be seen as a theological exercise. Young himself said it WAS a work of theology, not just a story! This is what he actually said: “Please don’t misunderstand me; The Shack is theology. But it is theology wrapped in story, the word becoming flesh and living inside the blood and bones of common human experience.” So who is right here on this matter – the author of the book, or you?

    That someone might be emotionally touched by the book or film is not surprising – both are extremely emotive in nature, and are specifically designed to appeal to emotions. But since when does a Christian run his or her life on mere feelings? I though the Word of God was meant to guide us in all truth, not how we happen to feel on a given day.

    And all heretical works and books of false teaching contain at least some truth. That is exactly how the cults and heretics flourish: they mix a bit of truth in with the lies, and hook millions of people, deceiving them along the way. Simply pick up any book which teaches real heresy – such as denying the deity of Christ or the resurrection – and you will surely find a few true and helpful bits therein. But new and immature believers especially will be dragged to the pits of hell thereby, not knowing enough to discern truth from error. That is a very serious matter indeed.

    The fact that some folks may be helped by the book (which I said in my book review could well happen) is not our only consideration however. If as many folks – or even far more – are led into clearly false teachings (universalism and the denial of hell are just some of them found here), then what good is being achieved here? The Bible is quite clear that believing false doctrine will send folks to a lost eternity (the very thing Young denies the existence of). How is that ever a good thing?

    Sorry, but we need far more discernment and biblical wisdom here. Being happy to sit by and get an emotional buzz out of a book and film which can be sending countless people away from God and not to him is not quite how any biblical Christian should operate, sorry.

    But as I say, for much more detail on the very real problems found in his books, please read the links I provide in my article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Hi Bill, based on your article, my wife & I attended the film this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it. I noticed in the credits that Fay Dunneway was one of the producers, is she a Christian ? Regards, Kel.

  • Thanks Kel. One site says this:

    “Academy Award-winning actress Faye Dunaway is a Catholic convert who embraced the religion in 1996.”

    http://www.christiancolleges.com/blog/2009/10-celebs-who-converted-to-christianity/

  • Thanks Bill, just what I was after.

  • Hi Bill,

    Great review. I haven’t seen the movie but plan to get a copy on DVD. I also haven’t yet read the book, but I have read ‘The Case for the Real Jesus’, which is a follow up work of his featuring interviews with Daniel Wallace among others. I purchased the book shortly after I was born again and it was a key book in my attitude to my faith now I think. I very impressed with Strobel’s brilliant and engrossing writing style, only to be outdone by the quality of the evidence presented in the book.

    It ignited my passion for apologetics and a faith firmly grounded in truth.

    I appreciated your point at the end about the movie not having an altar call. I would add that it really begs the question, why should someone need an altar call anyway? As if someone who has been moved the Holy Spirit and evidence of the truth needs someone to coax them over the line?

    Surely it is a greater expression of sincerity if someone doesn’t need to be prompted to give their life to Christ.

    Anyway, it no doubt has its uses, but I don’t think it should be considered ‘necessary’.

    Great post Bill.

  • Saw the film yesterday. One of the better faith/Christian based films I’ve yet seen.
    One small part of it though bothers me a bit. It is the inclusion of the controversial Shroud of Turin. Now the film rightly did not actually say this contestable item was a strong proof for Christianity itself but to see it featured was still a bit jarring for me.
    Having said that, I have not read Strobel’s book and I do not know how the real Strobel feels about it.

  • Watched it in local theatre (Penrith Hoyts), something I do once every few years. A great addition to the Christian movies available to us today. Certainly one of the best out there for evangelism. No weak plot turns, no cheesy acting, no fairy tale turnarounds where everything is suddenly perfect as soon as they turn to Jesus. And subject wise – great discussion starter I would think.
    Thanks for promoting it Bill.

  • So many of us missed the movie ‘Case for Christ ‘as it was screened in the outer suburbs of Melbourne for just a few sessions. For all those disappointed Melburnians like me, Oaktree Anglican Caulfield, has been able to book one special screening on Wednesday 21st June at the Classic Cinema Elsternwick at 7 pm. Book tickets through https:case-for-christ.eventbrite. com.au.
    Some friends have seen it and reported it as ‘excellent’. I found the book a valuable apologetic, providing a good source of facts and written in a reader-friendly style – so I bought three more!Thanks so much Bill for your helpful assessment on this and so many other topics.

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