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Quest for Truth: Lee Strobel on The Case for Christ Movie

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Long before Lee Strobel became a bestselling author, most notably for his watershed book, The Case for Christ, he was a nose-to-the-grindstone investigative reporter known for his relentless pursuit of the truth. But beyond the grit and grind of the hard-charging newspaper industry, he was also a husband and father who was struggling with his wife’s newfound faith.  Why? He was a hardened atheist.

Battling the personal demons of accepting his wife’s devotion to Christ, Lee set out to debunk every claim that Christianity ever made.  There was only one problem.  He couldn’t. 

This chapter of Lee’s life takes center stage in the screen adaptation of The Case for Christ, opening in theaters nationwide on April 7th.  Starring Mike Vogel (The Help), Erika Christensen (Parenthood), and Oscar-winner Faye Dunaway, the movie is a thought-provoking yet tender glimpse at coming face-to-face with the greatest time-tested truth.

I recently sat down with Lee to discuss the new movie, how writing The Case for Christ changed his faith, and why his book continues to strike a nerve with people nearly two decades after it was first published.

The Case for Christ is essentially an apologetics book. This is a movie about more than just apologetics; it’s about your life with your wife Leslie. Did either of you have any reservations about this movie being made?

You’re right to point out that it’s not a documentary. People think because of the book that maybe it’s just a bunch of facts or something, but it really is a love story. It’s a story between a dad and a son. It’s a story about a big city newspaper and a major crime story that I covered, as well as a spiritual investigation. We were enthused about the idea of putting it on the screen, because they were able to draw not just from The Case for Christ, but other books I’ve written.

I don’t think you ever expected to have the success that The Case for Christ (the book) has had.  You originally wrote it as the outcome of an investigative quest. Yet, there are 10 million plus copies in print and now a major motion picture is on the way.  What was your original hope for The Case for Christ when you first wrote it?

I had little hope when I first wrote the book, honestly, because the rap back then in the late 1990s was that books on apologetics or Christian evidence for the faith don’t sell. They took a flier and we did the book. I sort of likened it to Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs.  At Wrigley Field, if you hit the ball, it’s generally a pop-up and the outfielder catches it. But sometimes you don’t hit the ball any harder, but the wind takes it out onto Waveland Avenue.   I think that’s what God did with this book.  I wrote the book, but the Holy Spirit has taken it out of the park in a way I’d never anticipated. To have it in so many different languages now all around the planet has been a great example of how God takes our meager efforts to serve Him and multiplies them beyond what we could have imagined.

Why do you think The Case for Christ has struck such a nerve with people over the years?

Originally, as someone who wants to see people come to faith in Jesus, I wanted to write a book that directly addressed nonbelievers so that they would go to the bookstore and get it.  That’s just not realistic. A lot of people who are not Christians and not particularly attuned spiritually, they’re not going into a bookstore to buy a book with the title of The Case for Christ.  But what happened was Christians would read the book, and it brought great clarity on why we believe what we believe.  They would get engaged with the book.  Then they would think of three or four people to give the book away to.  That’s kind of been my approach to writing books.  Like The Case for Christ, Christians get motivated, inspired, and so excited by it that they give it away to someone who they know is spiritually confused. I believe the movie is going to be the same way. It will help them understand why they believe what they believe, but as they walk out (of the theater) they’re going to think of people they know who need to see the film.

The movie is all about your quest to find the Lord and the fact you treated your salvation story as a court case.  But a question that doesn’t get asked very much is how has your faith changed since first writing this book?

Good question. God used the evidence for the resurrection, especially, to convince me that Christianity is true, but if you asked me today, why do you believe Christianity is true, the evidence is still valid, the evidence still works, the evidence is still important, but the reason today that I’m a follower of Jesus is that I know Him. I’ve met Him. He’s changed my life. I’ve known him for 35 years now. You couldn’t convince me that He doesn’t exist. That doesn’t negate the importance of the evidence. That’s what God used to bring me into the faith.  But today, it’s really a personal experience with Jesus that has really changed my life and has convinced me all the more that this is not legend, it’s reality.

What is your general thought on the movie … a good representation, horrible representation, or somewhere in between?

Leslie and I are both so pleased with the integrity of PureFlix and the way they made this film. Of course it’s based on a true story, which means there’s always going to be some time shifting that has to happen, some composite characters are going to have to be there, but it is such an entertaining film. I think they’ve accomplished that, and the fidelity to the story, it represents us so very well. My wife, Leslie, has now seen the movie seven times.

Seven times?

Seven times. When I asked her, why do you keep watching it, she said, “I want to get cried out before I see it in public, because I don’t want to cry in public.” So it’s emotional for us to see our life on the screen. We’re willing to go through that in the hope that God might use this to prompt a whole bunch of other people to begin their own spiritual journeys.

As the movie depicts, you’re married now. You have children. Your wife finds the Lord. You find out and you’re not too pleased about it. So you go off on this crusade of sorts to get to the bottom of this faith in Jesus Christ business.  I’m sure you uncovered a lot in your research. What did you keep coming back to as the irrefutable proof that ultimately led you to salvation?

I think the key evidence that I found convincing involved the resurrection of Jesus. You know, I agreed with the Apostle Paul who said that if the resurrection is not true, then the whole thing collapses. So that really is the lynchpin of the faith, and I was stunned at the quality and the quantity of the historical evidence that Jesus, A) not only lived, B) not only died, but also C), was reliably encountered after that. We have nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament confirming and corroborating the claim of the disciples, that they encountered the resurrected Jesus, including a report that’s been dated back by scholars to within months of Jesus’ death. I mean that is a red-hot scoop. In the news business that’s a news flash. When you consider the first two biographies of Alexander the Great by Arrian and Plutarch written 400 years after his life and people generally consider them reliable, but here we have a report that goes back within months of Jesus’ life, too soon to be a mere legend, too soon to be just mythology, as well as these nine ancient sources that I mentioned, as well at the evidence for the empty tomb, that even the opponents implicitly conceded was empty. I mean there is so much historical data that I just couldn’t wish it away. I had to face it. I had to deal with it.

The book has certainly ministered to millions around the globe including myself, but this is a movie. What is your greatest hope for this movie?

My greatest hope is that people who won’t read a book and won’t go to church will take a risk and come to the movie. My hope is a light bulb will go on, and they’ll see the evidence for the resurrection. They’ll see my story and Leslie’s story, they’ll relate to that, and they’ll walk away saying to themselves, what about me? Where do I stand with God? Maybe I should do what Lee did and check it out. Maybe I should do what Lee did and not just believe, but receive this free gift of God’s grace. I hope people go on a spiritual journey. I hope a lot of atheists, skeptics, agnostics, members of another world religion; I hope they say, “You know, just like Lee did, I’m going to investigate this.
 

See a trailer for The Case for Christ:

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