The Case For Christ

I just got done finished watching “The Case For Christ,” a film about a Chicago Tribune journalist who tries to disprove the validity of the Bible after his wife becomes a Christian. To put it mildly, this film is infuriating.

Throughout the nearly two hour long affair we are subjected to a guy named Lee, a person we know little about (except that he won a writing award for his investigative journalism dealing with crime) and that we care about even less. This is a supposedly biographical true story, and what is painted is that of a really unpleasant individual in the workplace, at home with his wife, with strangers who are impacted by his printed words and even with his own parents. I would say there’s nothing to like about him. Even at the end of the film (which we all know how it’s going to end), Lee as a person seems bizarre. His saving prayer — if we are to take the film as a genuine account of what happened — is also suspect. Why? He doesn’t even ask Jesus Christ for forgiveness of Lee’s sins against Jesus, nor does he say or imply that he’ll repent. For a man who spent months trying to “logically” disprove the Bible, did he even read the Gospels at all? Weird.

The whole story and people presented doesn’t sit well with me, and the fact he then went on to suddenly be a preacher after massive publishing success in the 80s … and then both of his kids went on to become Christian authors and theologians as well makes me feel like perhaps we’ve been played. Just because an average person comes to Christ doesn’t mean they are remotely qualified to be a pastor or Christian author. This all comes across as a family profession.

During my studies last fall I learned of Natural Theology, and even wrote a paper on it. Basically it boils down to this: Even if fact-based searching for evidence of God can be found out/verified, it will not make a person believe in Jesus Christ. Given what I saw on screen, nothing to me indicated Lee made that leap because all he did was research the evidence, and not the humanity or love of Christ. Sure, Lee’s “conversion” happened after he had a major failure at work, he was contemplating divorce and his father died … but none of that ties into him suddenly believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God. All he focused on in his hunt was whether Jesus died and rose as described. That’s … not enough.

Looking online for Lee Strobel after this movie, I found that in 2010 he was invited to and attended the “Break Forth” conference in Canada, which is apparently all about emergent church/new age pastors. Apparently Strobel’s church is also an endorser of “contemplative spirituality,” which focuses on regular Eastern religion-like meditation sessions where one empties their mind, instead of focusing solely on typical Bible reading, traditional prayer, etc.  Obviously I cannot be 100% sure, but my gut tells me Strobel found an angle to make lots of money long ago, and perhaps has been using his knack for writing as a means of sustaining a journalism career that likely would have ended anyways, when he literally got a man imprisoned and beat up for a false attempted murder of a cop, due to Lee’s poor investigative skills. I would stay away from this film, and more importantly, this Strobel character. Something just doesn’t add up.

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Captive Faith

Now this is a pretty unknown Christian film from 1991, and it tells the story of Christian prisoners in a Russian prison during the Cold War, and how they kept their faith alive and spread the message of Jesus Christ to other inmates.

The film itself clearly didn’t have a big budget, but it was convincing enough set-wise, with good actors as well, to tell the story in an effective and convincing manner.

There are touching parts of the film, such as one prisoner’s family visiting and then his wife and kids becoming sad as they were forced to leave. The immediate scene afterwards where a Bible smuggled in was almost discovered was interesting as well. And later in the film, when another prisoner explains how he shot his own son in a drunken state, is very moving also.

There’s only once scene in the film that makes little sense to the overall story (which involves a gambler who tries to murder the warden), but perhaps that was just added because it actually happened, and was done so for authenticity reasons.

Captive Faith is a pretty decent film to watch if it can be found inexpensively, but I can only see it being sold on the Harvest Productions website for approx. $14.99. For a middle of the road Christian film, that may be too high of price for some.

Time Changer

I had never heard of this early 2000s Christian film until I came across a mention of it in an online preacher’s video … and surprisingly, Time Changer turned out to be a very good movie.

The story revolves around two seminary professors in 1890 having a disagreement over whether or not the teachings of Jesus should be taught, even if Jesus Himself is omitted from the conversation. The disagreeing professor urges the other to visit him late one evening, to show him something. The other reluctantly visits him, only to find that the urging professor claims to have build a time machine. The reluctant professor initially thinks it is a prank, but nevertheless, he goes along with it, as a doubter, and soon finds himself in the year 2000, but only for a few days at the most.

However, in that time the professor (who wishes to teach the message of Jesus even if it means not mentioning Him) learns very quickly how corrupt the world has become.

The acting is pretty good throughout the film, and even though the main character is portrayed almost childish and naive at times, I suppose that is how someone might behave if propelled forward a century where so little makes sense. The message presented to the audience is good, and on the whole the film is satisfying (and warrants repeat viewings).

The thing that stuck out with me the most though was the final scene, in which the music, editing and content makes you go, “Wow.”

Bamboo In Winter

Recently I watched a film about Christianity in oppressive Communist China, and I felt like it didn’t do a very effective job of showing the transforming nature of belief in Jesus Christ, or have a strong narrative regarding ordeals normal Christians dealt with in that country.

Bamboo In Winter, released in 1990 (on an obvious low budget and mere 58 minute runtime), focuses on the everyday Chinese resident and is set in a rural community, but at a time when cars and televisions are known to citizens — so maybe late 80s, early 90s.

The plot begins with a girl who is home from studying at a university, and enjoying her brief time with her father, a farmer (her mother passed away years earlier). She enjoys the familiar, slower-paced lifestyle, but fully expects to return to college, where she can study modern things she enjoys, like science, logic and topics like Darwinism. When a traveling preacher comes through town though, she humors her elderly grandmother by attending the service, and becomes enthralled with the teachings of the Bible. She asks the preacher one question after another, in an attempt to not only trip him up, but understand why he genuinely believes it’s the word of God.

Ultimately she has to decide between following the teachings of Jesus Christ or going along with what atheist China demands of its citizens, and she makes the difficult, life-altering choice, with minutes to spare before the credits roll.

It may not have the biggest budget, camera quality or best production values, but it certainly has heart, and very good acting throughout. I would definitely recommend this … and even better, it’s free on Amazon Prime.

China Cry

While looking for older Christian films, I came across a reference to this early 90s film set in Communist-era China. I read it was the story of a young girl, telling her true story of how Christians were persecuted during regime changes after World War II.

Despite an odd 20-minute making of feature at the beginning you better skip to avoid plot reveals, China Cry starts off well, with good acting and writing and an intriguing/cute relationship between the main star and a boy she likes at school. Bizarrely though, the eventual-husband character is always portrayed as a constant mystery, even after they have multiple children. Does she even know him at all? Very odd.

Even stranger is the Christian aspect of the film, which feels made up. Sure, the main character goes to a Chinese church service (I will admit, the silent singing scene was pretty eye-opening), but beyond that we see nothing that she personally does in the name of Christ. The main character is supposedly saved from a firing squad by a miracle, but that seems highly suspect to me … mainly because in the film not only is this pregnant woman kicked in the stomach/beaten multiple times, she’s even forced to work in a labor camp, hauling giant rocks around (wouldn’t Communists just kill her at some point?). Oh, and her husband and children all leave China safely, and no one is ever hurt, except for her father, who the Communists punish repeatedly. Why?

It’s a very strange film, and feels too-inwardly-focused about “how God favored the protagonist.” I’m not saying she wasn’t a Christian, but modern-day heavy-miracle-filled stories always raise an eyebrow. There may be a tiny bit of truth in her story (like she escaped China), embellished immensely for dramatic effect.

Genesis: Paradise Lost

This two-night event, which was shown exclusively in 3D, was supposed to be a big-budget and eye-popping look at the story of Genesis. I knew very little about the movie beyond some promotional imagery, but the concept intrigued me. At $18/ticket, the film wasn’t cheap, but I figured if the movie was as good as it claimed, the experience would indeed be worth it (afterall, how many expensive, spectacle-based Biblical films appear in theaters?)…

The film starts off pretty well, with an interesting look at a 3D Earth, with text and certain shots truly appearing to “pop” off the screen, as if you can touch them.

Unfortunately, after a few minutes of this, the actual meat of the film appeared, and it was just a bunch of talking heads, consuming probably 75% of the entire film. Even worse, the 3D visuals, when they did finally appear, often played at a low, stuttering framerate. Other times, animation was silky smooth. My guess? The 3D film parts were finished and then “stretched” to be longer, but that created a lower framerate. Near the end the animation was tired, and the odd human sequences, models and animation of Adam and Eve looked very unimpressive.

The random people talking were the worst parts of the film, because they were preaching to the choir. Unbelievers wouldn’t plunk down $18 to watch this — so why bother explaining common arguments against the Bible? The worst part of all? Not ONCE is Satan mentioned, and only ONCE is Hell mentioned (by Ray Comfort, the lone Evangelist featured in the film). Oh, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned just ONCE also, as Genesis verses are read. The film also only covered the first seven days of creation and ended on “To Be Continued…” I would skip this.

The Printing

Another terrific Christian film came across my path recently, in the form of “The Printing.” Set in the mid-1980s in Soviet Russia (near the end of it), the film tells the story of persecuted Christians as they secretly print and distribute Bibles there.

Of course, to the outside world the USSR tried to claim that religious tolerance was being practiced, and that there were indeed Christian churches throughout the Communist nation. Sadly, those churches were unable to do basic things like teach the whole Bible, perform public Baptisms or even let believers hold services, if the State didn’t approve of the event or people. And the State promised more Bibles for years, but almost never delivered.

Basically, as a Christian in oppressive Russia, imprisonment, forfeiture of property, torture and even death were not out of the realm of possibility.

This film does a great job of showing real-life persons and how they interacted with one another, as they maneuvered in secret and in faithful believers’ homes to print out Bibles and tracts, in small quantities, as to not call attention to themselves. The acting in this is really good throughout, the visuals clearly show the dreary, backwards, depressing world of Soviet-rule and the music is effective as well. The entire film is well-paced and the story detailed enough to give viewers a clear idea of the settings and events presented.

I would recommend this film, and you should check it out if you get a chance.