‘The Case for Christ’ — Finally, HOPE For The ‘Christian’ Film Genre

Written by Steve Pauwels on April 9, 2017

Confession time: I’ve long suffered from a nagging case of TCMS — Trauma from Christian Movies Syndrome.

Shocking, but true …

Initially I might’ve been exposed to the virus more than three decades ago, upon viewing one of the famous (infamous?) Thief in the Night flicks; an “end-times” celluloid franchise which had been popular with church groups throughout the 1970s. My recollection is that as that screening closed, the crowd around me cheered, while I was contrarily stirred with a fidgety, that-was-rather-awful vibe. Not wanting to be insensitive, however, (or sacrilegious — this was a “Christian” film, after all) I don’t think I piped up with my unflattering, film-critic opinion.

Since that far-removed cinematic experience, I’ve observed any number of nobly motivated Evangelical organizations taking their shots at Gospel-promoting, inspirational movie-making; all to varying degrees of success or failure. Quality-wise? These efforts have overwhelmingly ranged from hideous to tapwater unimpressive; occasionally, just barely adequate. Many a time, as my Jesus-loving brethren have ooohed-and-ahhed over the latest, minimally acceptable, big-screen “Christian” exercise, inwardly I’ve winced, embarrassed at what seemed to be the church’s low aesthetic standards. Indeed, these outings have reliably supplied a praiseworthy “message”. The truth of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, extending salvation to all willing to receive it? You flatly can’t beat that. But the cinematic packaging? Usually: tacky, second rate, corny, distractingly amateurish.

Once more, the good folks behind so many of these Jesus-exalting works? Undeniably well-meaning — and big props to them for that. Moreover, somebody had to take the halting, baby-steps in this “religious” movie-making business. Concerning the aforementioned Thief/Night series, for instance, Wikipedia puts it concisely: “a pioneer in the genre of Christian film, bringing rock music and elements of horror films to a genre then dominated by family-friendly evangelism.” These early efforts have likely — prayerfully — paved the way for the outbreak of better product in the category; perhaps, even artistically superior pieces of work.

Speaking of which, I give you: The Case for Christ (CfC),

Its admittedly clunky title notwithstanding, this just-released, unapologetically evangelistic film also happens to be an engrossing, thoroughly entertaining and intellectually stimulating based-on-a-true-story drama.

First off, that professional actors are at work in Case is both directly transparent and delightfully effective. A couple of immediately recognizable, much celebrated stars make surprising appearances — the prolific Faye Dunaway and much-lauded character actor Robert Forrester. An assortment of familiar, second-tier thespians turn in fine contributions, as well. The performances are consistently persuasive, never telegraphing (as this kind of fare regularly has in the past): Hey, I’m an actor trying to propagandize you with a biblical message!

Mike Vogel, in the lead as real-life, award-winning journalist Lee Strobel, conveys a sympathetic portrait of a self-confessed atheist searching for the metaphysical facts while harassed by stubborn doubts, legitimate questions and his own ornery, emotional hang-ups.

Also top-lining is Erika Christensen, who affectingly showcases the conflict between a wife’s devotion to her new-found Savior and her commitment to an aggressively — occasionally antagonistically — skeptical spouse.

The Case for Christ‘s script is intelligent, thoughtful — not merely preachy. Its trio of intersecting sub-plots support one another and hold the attention. The players interact with one another like actual human beings; there’s very little of the trademark, stilted dialogue or labored chit-chat which, again, has been a regrettable commonplace of the Christian film brand, heretofore. And not every story-point wraps up cheerily (or cheesily!). I found one unexpected twist, in fact, to be particularly heart-wrenching.

CfC’s attention to production values is pleasingly evident, too: handsome cinematography! (No suggestion it was filmed in the church secretary’s basement using dad’s camcorder.)

Oh, yeah: along the way, Case supplies the audience member with a winsome presentation not only of the Gospel’s hope but, additionally, of the cognitively respectable foundations for approaching the New Testament as reliable history; not some superstition-saturated myth, but a persuasive record of actual, on-the-ground, space-time events.

If the ticket-buying, DVD-renting community can anticipate more films like The Case for Christ within the “Christian apologetic”/”Christian biography”/”Christian Entertainment” market, there’s reason for “people of faith” to be greatly encouraged. Possibly, a “case” of another kind will soon be able to be built: that films produced by enthusiastic followers of God’s Son don’t have to come off as bargain-basement dreck.

Perhaps a cure for sufferers of TCMS is in sight.

Go see The Case for Christ.

Image: By Source, Fair use; Modified from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52873592

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Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.