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Case for Christ offers better questions than answers

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Lack of satisfactory facts encourages viewers to seek information themselves
by Alan Charlton

THE CASE FOR CHRIST
In cinemas throughout the Lower Mainland


Photo Caption: Actor Mike Vogel stars as a young Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ. The film describes how Strobel, an atheist and a journalist, comes to investigate Christianity. Alan Charlton says the narrative is engaging and interesting, even though it tries too hard at times to convince non-believers of the truth of Christianity. (Photo Courtesy of PureFlix)

 

 

 

At first sight, it would seem to be impossible to turn Lee Strobel’s best-selling book, THE CASE FOR CHRIST, into a movie.

After all, it largely consists of an account of the author’s research into the authenticity of the Gospels, and his consultation of specialists on matters such as the validity of the Gospel texts, the psychological implications of witnesses, the medical evidence of the crucifixion, and so on.

The obvious approach would be to turn the material into a series of talking head lectures, which would hardly make for a film with wide audience appeal.

Recognizing this, the film makers have decided to focus on the background story of the book, using indications scattered throughout it, and have opted to tell the story (with some twisting of facts) into the account of Strobel’s own spiritual journey.

As an avowed atheist, he is shown reacting negatively to his wife’s conversion to Evangelical Christianity. In a determined effort to show what he believes to be the baselessness of faith, he uses his journalistic skills to investigate the Gospels.

As he throws up objection after objection, he finds experts who are able to undermine his scornful rejection of the Gospel narratives. As a result, the arguments in favour of Christ are reduced to a few sketched-in conclusions which will do little to convert non-believers, yet it was clearly Strobel’s intention in writing the book to convert others as he himself had been converted. Strobel went from being a belligerent atheist to becoming an Evangelical minister.

It is true the narrative of the film as it is presented is engaging and interesting. The scenes between Strobel and his wife are certainly convincing as they attempt to deal with their religious differences, though at times the dialogue is so predictable that one can often complete a sentence before the character does. In order to show Strobel’s credentials as an investigative journalist, there is interspersed throughout the film an account of Strobel engaged in a journalistic investigation of a gang member charged with the murder of a police officer; just as Strobel finally realizes he must investigate facts and ignore his prejudice, he must do the same in his investigation of Christianity.

Underlying this is the clear intent to evangelize, to convince non-believers of the truth of Christianity, just as did the book. Here there is a great difficulty.

When Strobel engaged in his investigation of the Gospels, he turned to people who had been evangelized. In the book he presents their arguments and conclusions. This is all very well, but he does not present the arguments of people who question his witnesses’ beliefs and, indeed, some have rejected the credentials of his “experts.”

Too often he accepts what the latter say without adequately testing their conclusions by subjecting them to the criticism of others who are more skeptical and/or better informed. This is not good research.

Obviously there is a need for people to engage in thorough Biblical research. The Church has recognized this throughout its mission, most particularly ever since Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu. As a result, today the Church is able to demonstrate in far more convincing fashion than does Strobel the validity of the Gospel narratives. In centres such as the Jerusalem Biblical Institute, Biblical scholars have subjected the Bible to close scrutiny, always responding with impeccable research to those who reject it.

While Lee Strobel’s research does not reach this standard, one cannot reject the reality of his faith experience. The fact his book has sold millions of copies indicates there is today a real thirst for understanding the Bible as a whole and the Gospels in particular.

While it is true Strobel’s book can be (and has been) subjected to negative scholarly criticism, it does have the merit of raising the right questions and indicating ways by which they might be satisfactorily answered.

Few are likely to be converted from atheism to embracing Christianity, as was its author, by the book or the film, but the book’s investigative approach and the film’s humanly appealing narrative may well encourage others to attempt to find out for themselves the results of modern Biblical scholarship, a scholarship which answers the skeptics in a valid fashion.

While we may not entirely agree with the Evangelical Church to which Strobel was converted, The Case for Christ, whether in book or film form, is welcome in that, in an age of religious skepticism, it may well prompt others to undertake a similar journey that will lead to conversion – and that is certainly a good thing. 

 

Last Updated on Monday, 01 May 2017 08:14  

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