“He is Risen!” Historical event or fraudulent delusion?
If you are the type of person who has had questions about the veracity of the Christian faith, then go see this movie. Better yet, take an open skeptic with you.
The Case for Christ is based on the true story of an atheistic journalist, whose life is turned upside down when his wife becomes a follower of Jesus. Lee Strobel, an accomplished reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a “just the facts, ma’am,” type of guy, is desperately afraid of losing his marriage and family, so he begins a long journey to try to disprove Christianity in order to “save” his wife from the error of her ways.
The Case for Christ is a major, major step up from movies like God’s Not Dead, that ambitiously relies on the composite characterizing of atheists, unnecessarily fueling the fires of culture war rhetoric. Furthermore, unlike other recent film offerings, The Case for Christ does not get distracted by the logic of false dichotomies either. Instead, The Case for Christ, focuses on two themes: (1) making the case for the Resurrection of Jesus, based on the minimal facts argument, built on the consensus of evidence found in secular, historical scholarship, and (2) exploring how human prejudices interplay with the tension between faith and reason.
The Case for Christ is not for everyone, and I can think of two, very different types of people who fit within this category. First, if you are a skeptic, and you are completely opposed to considering the evidence for the Resurrection, The Case for Christ will absolutely frustrate you. But you probably will not like any other Christian-themed movies either.
Secondly, The Case for Christ will underwhelm the Christian who feels like they already have all of the answers, and who never wrestles with doubts. The film simply leaves open the question of why the different Gospel accounts are not 100% agreed upon the discrete events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. Many a Christian evidentialist would reason that the existence of discrepancies between the Gospels enhances their historical credibility, instead of taking away from it, an argument that makes good sense to historians, but that will unsettle the most strict, biblical inerrantist. The evidence from textual criticism, that upholds the reliability of first century New Testament documents, will annoy the Christian who merely believes that the English Bible in their hand simply dropped straight down right out of heaven. But for believers and non-believers who are willing to ask penetrating questions, The Case for Christ is right for them.
The Case for Christ is not perfect, by any means. For example, as this Forbes magazine reviewer observes, the discussion about the Shroud of Turin was not very convincing. Plus, there is only so much you can do in a two-hour movie, as this review at The Gospel Coalition points out (check out these “The Case for Easter” resources). Because of the limitations of the medium, the events surrounding Lee Strobel’s journey towards faith and overcoming skepticism have been tightly compressed in the film, and this might confuse some. Strobel’s interviews with experts happened after his conversion to Christian faith, and not before, as depicted in the movie.
But overall, The Case for Christ does a very good job with making an apologetic argument for the Christian faith, based on evidences, within the context of a believable narrative, without getting too bogged down with the details. Get the book that the movie is based on, if you want to go to that level. If I had to recommend one movie that you can take a non-believing friend to see, without embarrassment, The Case for Christ would be it.
April 22nd, 2020 at 4:54 pm
Very interesting review of the Case for Christ movie here, by (at least in the woman’s case), oddly enough, a graduate from Wheaton College, Laura Robinson, a PhD candidate at Duke:
They make some very cogent points and criticisms about the Case for Christ movie. But some of the criticisms are not new. It is well known that Lee Strobel made these interviews years AFTER he became a Christian (as noted in my review, as well).
Strobel notes that in the book, he intended to “retrace and expand upon” his spiritual journey.
If that is indeed the case, that is a far cry from issuing some type of strict, documentary auto-biography. Perhaps the podcasters here were mistakenly led to believe that the Case for Christ was REALLY a type of documentary auto-biography. If that is true (and it sounds like it is), then sure, I would have a sour attitude towards the film as well.
I will grant that the film was not wholly clear about “retrace and expand upon” aspect of the movie, but to completely dismiss the film and book as deceit is a bit much. What other movies do not display some penchant for artistic license, when trying to convey a complex, multi-faceted story, in a 2-hour film medium? Based on the type of book the Case for Christ claimed to be, I’m not sure why she would have expected the Case for Christ to be a PhD brand of historical scholarship on display.
I have not read the book, so some of the nitty-gritty criticisms are things I can not comment on. But I do appreciate that the podcast does take historical scholarship seriously, and so it is worth the time to investigate a lot of this material, and dialogue on the substance… at least for those who are interested.
But here is the point: I typically do not read books like the Case for Christ, probably for the same reasons why Laura Robinson does not. Case for Christ is intended for a POPULAR audience, not a wholly SCHOLARLY one.
The fact is, most people simply do not have the time, nor the interest in reading Bruce Metzer’s scholarly work, Karen Jobe’s writings, and other credentialed scholars. That’s why Strobel sought to make some of the scholarly material presentable to a more popular audience.
Laura tends to dismiss all apologists, like Strobel, and draw this massive separation between apologists and “real” scholars. That’s not really honest. ALL SCHOLARS ARE APOLOGISTS. The question is whether you are willing to admit that you an apologist, and if you really know what you are talking about. Laura knows that everyone has a cognitive bias, including her. That must create some cognitive internal tension.
The YouTube agnostic/atheist Pinecreek picked up on this tension and analyzes it in one interview, called her the next “Bart Ehrman”, and he even interviews Laura Robinson later:
April 23rd, 2020 at 3:42 pm
So, I listened to second Pinecreek Youtube video, where Doug interviews Laura.
Well, I pretty much agreed with about 60% of what she said. She is a Christian, in that she affirms the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, and is quite open to much of the history, including miracles, as presented in the Bible. But she is also a Universalist, she rejects biblical inerrancy (probably even in its most nuanced form), and accepts that much of the Bible is pseudopigraphical, in terms of authorship. Very intelligent, and grounded in contemporary historical method.
But if she does consider herself an evangelical, it would be on the most progressive side of evangelical Christianity.
This is all very interesting, particularly since she went to Wheaton College, for graduate school, which is actually pretty conservative evangelical, in theological orientation. She does not sound mainline though.
I do not know how representative she is of those in her age group, but it would appear that the movement of “progressive Christianity” has a particular hold on her generation.
But I think Pinecreek is right: she could become the next Bart Ehrman…. and as an evangelical myself, that is not encouraging.
May 11th, 2020 at 11:18 pm
Laura appeared on ShannonQ’s YouTube channel. I think she did a better job here, as she is actually interacting with an atheist, as opposed to talking in the liberal Christian echo chamber, and lobbing intellectual grenades towards conservative evangelicals.
I was thrown off on her earlier statement about attending Wheaton College, for graduate school. But she’s definitely not identifying as an evangelical.
She raises some really good points here with Shannon Q, that need further exploration. But the bottom line again, is that she draws this sharp wedge between apologists (those biased fundies!!!) and scholars (purely objective), which is really a false dichotomy. Scholars can be just as biased as apologists.
UPDATE: September 2020
Found this interesting review of the book by a Christian turned atheist: