An intriguing movie hits sixteen hundred theaters nationwide this month beginning on April 7. In order to save his marriage, an avowed atheist seeks to disprove the Resurrection with a rigorous detective-like investigation. But he is surprised by what his analysis uncovers.
The Case for Christ, the movie, is based on the true story of award-winning journalist Lee Strobel. He is a confident atheist who is determined to disprove his wife’s newfound Christian faith. He applies his well-honed investigative and legal skills to try to disprove the Resurrection of Jesus and thereby recover his wife. However, compelled by the hard evidence he finds and the reality of Christ in lives around him, he becomes a believer in Jesus Christ.
The movie stars Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel and Erika Christensen as his wife Leslie.
Lee Strobel was the hard-driving legal editor at the Chicago Tribune. The movie shows him using his journalistic skills and legal training in an attempt to debunk the keystone of Christianity, the Resurrection. When his determined atheism crashes against his wife’s growing Christian faith, he decides to save his strained marriage by showing the Resurrection was a hoax.
Commenting on the film, Strobel said, “The film gives the dramatic story behind the story of a man with personal animosity for Christianity who used journalistic and legal techniques to evaluate its claims. The Case for Christ takes audiences on an exciting journey from skepticism to belief.”
“It’s a little uncomfortable, to be honest, because it’s an honest film, and so the good, the bad, and the ugly are up there on the screen. I was not the most pleasant character around when I was a narcissistic, heavy-drinking, self-destructive, self-absorbed atheist, but that’s in the film, and that’s okay if it helps people. I hope that there’d be some skeptics out there who maybe start their own spiritual journey after seeing the movie.”
(Lee Strobel, Interview of Lee and Leslie Strobel by Warren Smith, April 7, 2017.)
The movie intertwines Strobel’s investigative work on the Resurrection with the story of his marriage struggles as told in the couple’s jointly-authored book Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage.
The movie is based on Strobel’s best-selling 1998 book The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus which has sold over 14 million copies worldwide. The book focuses on 13 scholarly authorities that Strobel interviewed about the historical evidence for the Resurrection.
Mike Vogel plays journalist Lee Strobel in the Chicago Tribune newsroom
A good bit of the action takes place in the Chicago Tribune newsroom where Strobel is the legal editor. Across an entire wall is a sign that appears in many scenes:
“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
This theme of scrupulously checking everything out — investigative journalist as consummate fact checker — undergirds the whole story and is a thread running through all of the concerns and actions.
“Check It Out” is a Biblical principle as well. The Apostle Paul instructed the believers at Thessalonica to check it out:
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good. (1 Thess 5:21 NASB)
Dr. Luke, the author of the third Gospel, begins his account by saying he checked it out:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NASB)
In the book of Acts, Dr. Luke praises the Bereans for checking out what Paul taught by comparing it with the Old Testament Scriptures:
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:10-12 NASB)
Strobel even runs his research like a detective investigator, setting up his own “situation room” with diagrams and interrelated notes and displays covering the walls and white boards.
Here is a trailer for The Case for Christ, the movie.
When the Strobel’s daughter Alison is choking to death at a restaurant, nearby nurse Alfie Davis (L. Scott Caldwell) helps save the child. Davis had intended to go to another restaurant that night but changed her plans at the last minute. When Lee calls her presence “lucky,” Alfie cheerfully responds, “It’s not luck, it’s Jesus.” (See No Luck At All.)
Regarding Alfie’s help in the crisis, Leslie asks, “What if you hadn’t been there?” Alfie’s reply is gripping: “There is no ‘what if’ with God.”
Later Leslie asks Alfie “How can you be so sure?” Alfie says “Do you really WANT an answer to that?”
We particularly appreciated Alfie’s Socratic approach throughout her interaction with Lee and Leslie as the nurse amiably turned questions back on the questioner. Leslie accepts Alfie’s church invitation, and shortly atheist Lee Strobel finds himself married to a Christian.
Lee begins an intense pursuit of the truth about the Resurrection, hoping to prove it false and restore his wife to atheism. He interviews world-renowned experts in archaeology, history, theology, philosophy, psychology, and medicine with doctorates from schools like Cambridge, Princeton, and Brandeis.
Strobel challenges the experts with perceptive questions:
Are the New Testament manuscripts reliable?
Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible?
Is there any reason to believe the Resurrection was a real event?
When Strobel tells one expert that the Resurrection account is more legend than history, the response is, “Nine ancient sources inside and outside Scripture testify to the historical nature of the Resurrection.”
Strobel experiences a parallel struggle on his paper’s crime beat that provides intriguing drama and suspense. Its outcome aids his analysis of his own position in the Resurrection investigation, as he realizes that his bias has led him to misinterpret evidence. When he apologized to a victim for misreporting a story and said, “I missed the truth,” the person answered, “You didn’t want to see it.” This changed Strobel’s view of the evidence for the Resurrection he had collected.
His mentor in the newsroom and fellow skeptic Ray Nelson (Brett Rice) said, “Even in disbelief you take a leap of faith.” This is a tremendously important point that most unbelievers completely overlook.
“Do you really want to know the truth,
or is your mind already made up,
regardless of the facts?”
-Philosopher William Lane Craig to Strobel
Strobel’s wife and daughter don’t know that he is digging into the Resurrection, but their love for him still impacts him. Leslie tells him, “I love you now more than I ever have. Ever since I accepted Jesus my love for you has only grown.” He replies that he doesn’t like “this version of us” and can’t see staying around forever with their different beliefs.
When Allison goes through a frightening experience and afterward tells her father, “We prayed and everything got better,” Lee is only annoyed by their expressions of faith.
Strobel can’t shake a particular note he made early in the case:
“500 witnesses saw Jesus after the resurrection.”
“Are the manuscripts reliable?” he wonders.
Regarding the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts, Strobel has an extended discussion with Father Marquez, an archaeologist-turned-priest. Marquez (a composite character played by Miguel Perez) says that we evaluate the NT manuscripts the same as any document. He briefly explains textual criticism: how many copies exist? And are the early copies generated close to the event?
He compares the New Testament to Homer’s Iliad which is the other best-evidenced manuscript in existence. The Iliad has an impressive 1565 copies, and yet the earliest copy we have is 1100 years after the original.
The archaeologist tells Strobel that the Greek NT has an astonishing 5893 copies; that number continues to haunt Strobel. He keeps flashing back to his sticky note: 5893 copies. Furthermore, the earliest copy of the Gospel of John came less than 30 years after the events it records. In contrast Sophocles–a document we have confidence in–has only 100 copies. Plato has seven copies. Aristotle has only five.
Strobel suggests to philosopher William Lane Craig (Rus Blackwell), “Maybe Jesus’ body was never there in the tomb?” Craig replies that the gospels specifically record that Jesus was properly buried.
Strobel points out that the witnesses were women and that was deemed unreliable in that day. Craig says that’s significant; it’s an element that someone would never make up. A manufactured story would never read that way. He says, “The disciples reported what happened and let the chips fall where they may.”
Strobel is concerned about contradictions, and he feels the Gospel accounts seem jumbled. For example, who exactly was at the tomb? Craig says these differences are not troubling, because the core of the story is the same. The police know if the details of witness accounts are too similar, then that’s suspect.
Craig asks Strobel gripping questions:
“Do you really want to know the truth, or is your mind already made up, regardless of the facts?”
“When is enough evidence ….enough evidence??”
Faye Dunaway plays psychology professor Dr. Roberta Waters who makes one of the most incisive points of the movie. Strobel asks her whether over 500 eyewitnesses could have jointly hallucinated in claiming to have seen the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Dunaway’s agnostic psychologist stuns Strobel with, “That would have been an even bigger miracle than the Resurrection.” She assures Strobel that mass psychosis is simply not possible: “500 people can’t have the same dream.” Strobel has no answer for this agnostic professor’s expert opinion.
Strobel wonders if perhaps Jesus was only injured, did not die, and later recovered? He interviews physician and research scientist Dr. Alexander Metherell (Tom Nowicki), a medical doctor who has extensively studied the medical evidence. Metherell explains the physiology of crucifixion and the medical details of Jesus’ death. Medically, the swoon theory is rubbish.
Do I Recommend the Movie?
Yes, without reservation. My wife and I watched it on opening weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s one of the best faith-genre movies I’ve ever seen. The tension of the marriage relationship of a new believer with an adamant atheist made for a gripping story. The fact that it’s a true story makes it even more engaging.
Production values are excellent. It’s visually very satisfying and the acting is superb. The characters feel genuine, and their interactions feel authentic.
The movie did a good job weaving key points into dialogue throughout the movie. Instead of long preachy segments, it was mostly brief conversations to bring out the important points. Excellent story-telling kept the viewer engaged throughout the movie.
How does one turn a nonfiction book about evidence for Christianity into an absorbing, compelling film? Somehow the movie crew pulled it off.
I recommend the movie for Christians and non-Christians alike. It can stir hearts and prompt people to look into the Resurrection more thoroughly. The movie comes down solidly on the side of an authentic resurrection.
Is There Real Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ?
Two key areas of evidence: the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses. Only the Bible explains both these two key facts: the missing body and the eyewitnesses who said they saw Him alive. The explanation is that Jesus actually physically rose from the dead.
Did the disciples steal the body while the guards slept? This is what the Roman guards claimed as urged by the Jewish leaders who promised protection and money (Matthew 28:11-15). But how would the guards know who stole the body if they were asleep? Besides, Roman soldiers didn’t fall asleep on the job. They had a strong incentive to keep each other awake, because the penalty for sleeping was death.
Why is the death of Christ essential to the Gospel? It is by Christ’s death that God’s wrath is turned away from sinners who trust Christ (Romans 3:21-26).
Why is the Resurrection essential to the Gospel? Because it vindicated Christ’s claim to be the Son of God. Because it validated the efficacy of His sacrifice for sin — if the Resurrection did not occur, then we are still in our sins and subject to God’s wrath and judgment. Because it displayed Christ’s victory over death. (Romans 1:4; 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:17-19,21-22)
Intriguingly, the Apostle Paul used Genesis to explain why Jesus died and the significance of His resurrection. Paul knew Genesis was a firm foundation for his theological explanation of the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22,45-49)
Paul’s “died…buried…raised” sequence of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 clearly teaches the Resurrection was literal and physical. The body that died by public execution was the same body that was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus. This same physical body that was buried is what Paul says was raised. This refutes the popular notion that the Resurrection was merely “spiritual” (whatever that means).
The significance of the burial is that it proved His actual death. Covered with 100 pounds of aromatic spices and bound head to toe in linen wrappings, Jesus was buried by two prominent members of the Jewish Sanhedrin: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, called “the teacher of Israel” by Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and other Galilean women witnessed the burial in Joseph’s own tomb. The tomb was closed with a massive stone, officially sealed, and guarded by soldiers.
Why didn’t the authorities just go to the tomb
and bring out the body? That’s all it would take
to disprove the Resurrection.
Jesus’ death was attested by both friends and enemies, including battle-hardened Roman soldiers who knew death when they saw it. In all history, these contemporaries are the people best qualified to evaluate whether Jesus actually died or not. At the time nobody had even the slightest doubt that He was dead. It was an accepted fact confirmed by the burial.
The significance of Jesus’ appearances to eyewitnesses is that they verified the Resurrection. In all, Scripture records at least 11 different appearances after the Resurrection, in at least 9 geographical locations spread over 150 miles. They began 3 days after the Crucifixion in Jerusalem, where He was crucified and buried. Jesus appeared to individuals, to groups, and even to a crowd of over 500. These were extended daylight interactions, not brief glimpses. Meals were shared, conversations developed, activities enjoyed. From personal encounters with the risen Christ, hundreds of people in all walks of life knew Jesus rose from the dead.
The tomb was empty. The disciples began preaching the Resurrection there in Jerusalem. Their message could not have been sustained for even an hour unless all parties accepted the empty tomb as fact. All it would take to extinguish Christianity at its inception would be for the Sanhedrin to look in the tomb and produce the body. How hard could it be to find the body from a public execution, buried by Jewish leaders before witnesses in a government-guarded tomb? This they could not do, because it was not there.
How hard could it be to find the body from a
public execution, buried by Jewish leaders before
witnesses in a government-guarded tomb?
The disciples changed from craven cowards evading authorities before the Resurrection to bold witnesses defying government suppression afterwards. Discouraged, dejected, despairing men were suddenly energized to ignite a revolution which encircled the globe; 2,000 years later it still impacts millions.
What so profoundly transformed them? These men, Jesus’ closest confidants, could not have been fooled about the Resurrection. They knew whether Jesus had been raised. Most died for their certainty that Jesus rose from the dead. Men do not die for what they think may be false. Remember how fast the Watergate conspiracy fell apart, everyone scrambling to save his skin.
Some object, “It’s scientifically impossible to rise from the dead!” Generally, yes, resurrection is highly unlikely. But Jesus was no ordinary man. Consider His words predicting death and resurrection. Consider His claims to be God and to be the Truth. Consider His faultless character and His miracles. Then the presumption switches from “unlikely” to “likely.” The real question is not, “Was it possible for Jesus to rise from the dead?” The real question is, “Was it possible for Jesus to remain dead?” Scripture says, “God raised Him up…since it was impossible for death to hold Him.” (Acts 2:24)
The reason many think “Impossible!” about the Resurrection instead of “Impossible!” about Non-Resurrection is that people evaluate evidence with sin-clouded minds. Worldview and personal morality determine explanations of Resurrection evidence, just as they determine interpretations of scientific evidence about origins. Resurrection was not what was impossible. Non-Resurrection was impossible. Christians should challenge skeptics to defend Non-Resurrection, instead of accepting the burden of proof to defend the Resurrection.
Grounded in History
The Christian faith is firmly grounded in history. The central events of the Christian faith, Christ’s Crucifixion and His bodily Resurrection, are well-attested facts of history that happened on this earth in the city of Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. This authenticity is crucial, for if either event did not happen, then Christianity is false and we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). The Gospel by which we are saved is bedrocked on actual historical events.
Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” (John 14:19) True hope for the future is grounded on the Resurrection.
The Wager Everyone Makes
Every single human being wagers his eternal destiny on what he decides about Jesus of Nazareth. Is there a God or not? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Your answers to these questions determine your eternity. Choose wisely.
If Jesus is dead, then where is the body?
Questions to Ponder
- Do you have a Lee Strobel in your life — an unbeliever willing to take an honest look at the evidence for the Resurrection?
- How well will The Case for Christ movie reach people who are skeptical of Christianity?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Read my other Movie Reviews:
The Genesis Code (with video)
Marilyn Monroe and the Age of the Earth
Mystery of Noah’s Flood (with videos)
God’s Not Dead, the Movie (with videos)
Noah, the Movie (with videos)
Exodus, the Movie (with video)
1. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – Did It Happen?
2. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – Facing the Facts (with video)
3. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – The Debate
4. Patterns of Evidence: What Did Jesus Think?
5. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – Does It Matter?
Risen, the Movie (with video)
Is Genesis History? The Movie (with video)
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday April 12, 2017 A.D.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:1-9 NASB)