Reporter on the trail of God

by
15 September 2017

Domestic tensions: Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen as Lee and Leslie Strobel in The Case for Christ

Domestic tensions: Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen as Lee and Leslie Strobel in The Case for Christ

A FILM like The Case for Christ (Cert. PG), whose title blatantly signals the ending, needs plenty of twists and turns along the way if it is to retain the audience’s attention.

In this dramatisation of a true story (and a book that sold 14 million copies), Mike Vogel (Cloverfield, The Help) plays Lee Strobel, an investigative legal journalist at the Chicago Tribune.

It is 1980. He is happily married to Leslie (Erika Christensen). When their daughter starts choking in a restaurant, Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell), a nurse, saves her. “That was lucky,” a grateful Leslie says. “It’s not luck. It’s Jesus,” Alfie replies. She had planned to eat elsewhere, but something had told her to be here.

It is enough to prompt Leslie to follow this up, eventually joining the huge non-denominational Evangelical Willow Creek Community Church. Lee is not merely sceptical, but avidly atheistic. He believes in what he can see or touch, and it is on this notion that he begins his quest to disprove Christianity’s claims.

More specifically, he disputes the resurrection. Given his forensic approach to faith, one may wonder why he didn’t just read Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison, a fellow lawyer: it was still a popular read at that time, and might have saved him heartache. Even the scientists whom Lee interviews are more open-minded than he is.

He is nothing if not thorough. Lee consults various theologians. In the book, they all hail from an Evangelical background, whereas the film leaves matters hazier, except for a Roman Catholic priest who presents him with details of more than 5000 extant documents attesting to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Lee is determined to undermine Leslie’s new-found faith. “You’re cheating on me with Jesus,” he yells. Ah, that’s it, then. . . He fears losing his wife. Things get rather nasty domestically. The other clue that is offered is Lee’s bad relationship with his father. When he meets the psychiatrist Dr Waters (Faye Dunaway), she tells him that several of Lee’s atheist heroes — Freud, Nietzsche, Sartre — all had father problems, which may help to explain their (and his) rejection of God.

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The Case for Christ, from the same makers as God’s Not Dead, is clearly a film designed to promote faith, and will probably succeed in doing so, especially once it has been released on DVD. The director, John Gun, makes it interesting and entertaining enough, so long as one doesn’t demand too much of it. For instance, it is much concerned with whether the resurrection happened, but never explores what the risen life means, or modern theologians’ often far more radical views on biblical study than Lee’s.

An investigative journalist, he nevertheless appears to remain unaware of books in the vein of Honest to God or The Myth of God Incarnate, although a quotation from C. S. Lewis gives him food for thought. Away from his religious pursuits, he apologises to a subject he has maligned in one of his articles. “I missed the truth,” he says. “You didn’t want to see it” is the retort. The same could be said for Lee’s religious inquiries.

 

On release from today. Available on DVD from 18 December.

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