“The only way to truth is through facts,” says Chicago Tribune legal affairs reporter Lee Strobel. “Facts are our greatest weapon against superstition, against ignorance and against tyranny.”
Facts—solid, substantial, incontrovertible—are the only currency the rising young reporter trades in. “We are atheists,” he tells his young daughter, Alison, before bed one night. “We believe in what’s real, what we can see and touch.”
Lee and his young wife, Leslie, once shared the same skeptical perspective on facts and superstition. But when Alison nearly chokes to death and is saved by a conscientious Christian nurse at a restaurant one night, it rocks Leslie’s belief system to the core. Alfie, the nurse, tells the couple that she had a sense that she needed to have dinner at that restaurant that night. It wasn’t luck or coincidence she was there, but Jesus’ plan so that Alison might be spared.
Lee laughs it off. But Leslie tracks down Alfie and begins going to church with her. Soon she tells her hard-charging, just-the-facts-ma’am husband, “I felt something. … I talked to Jesus. I told him that I want him in my life.”
Lee responds to Leslie’s new faith with a toxic mixture of contempt, anger and alcohol. Then he decides that the only way to “save” his wife from drifting further into what he considers a cult-like faith is to prove to her, once and for all, that Christianity cannot possibly be supported by the facts.
One of Lee’s mentors, fellow reporter and atheist Ray Nelson, is confident Lee’s efforts will yield the result he wants. “You present her with the facts,” Ray says, “and I’m sure she will find her way back to the truth.”
And so the award-winning investigative journalist launches into a passionate—and secret—crusade to disprove his wife’s nascent faith by proving, he hopes, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ never happened.
But the facts that Lee Strobel uncovers lead him toward an outcome altogether different than the one he expected to reach.
For much of the film, Lee Strobel is not a very nice man. He’s cocky and self-centered, and he treats people accordingly. Lee is the center of his own world with everyone else revolving around him and his arrogance—not a good thing, obviously. His wife, though, is a different matter. After she becomes a Christian, Leslie exhibits grace, patience and kindness toward her husband that he simply can’t deny.
As the story unfolds, it also becomes apparent that some of Lee’s drive and anger stem from his estrangement from his father, Walter. After his father’s death, his mother gives him a scrapbook his father kept of all Lee’s published pieces. She tells him, “He was proud of everything you ever accomplished. But he didn’t know how to say it very well. But he loved you, son. He really loved you.”
One of the articles Lee’s working on apart from his spiritual quest involves an alleged shooting between a gang informant and a police officer. Lee’s reporting leads to the man’s conviction and imprisonment, which Lee is quite proud of. Later, it becomes clear that the man, James Dixon, didn’t actually shoot the officer, and Lee tries to right the injustice and see that the truth is revealed. Lee humbly apologizes to James for botching the story.
What does it take for a fiercely committed, almost militant atheist to place his faith in Christ? The Case for Christ answers that question.
One of Lee’s peers at the Tribune, Kenny London, is a Christian with whom Lee has a very contentious relationship for much of the film. But Kenny is confident in his faith, and he suggests that if Lee wants to debunk Christianity, he should “go for the jugular” by focusing his investigative efforts on the question of Jesus’ resurrection. “The entire Christian faith hinges on the resurrection of Jesus,” Kenny tells him. “If it didn’t happen, it’s a house of cards.”
Lee actually accepts that advice, attending a debate between resurrection expert Gary Habermas and a noted atheist. That conversation gets the investigative ball rolling, leading to a long string of questions that Lee digs into. Who were the witnesses to Jesus resurrection? Could they all have been experiencing some kind of mass psychosis? Are the manuscripts documenting that event reliable? How many of those manuscripts exist compared to other ancient documents? Did Jesus really die, or might He just have been unconscious? And why would Jesus want to die for anyone anyway?
With each question, Lee travels to talk to experts who push back against his doubts. And with each bit of scientific and historical evidence for the resurrection he uncovers, Lee’s forced closer to the faith that he’s striving so hard to disprove.
I say forced because it’s a process that Lee resists almost to the very end of the movie. He has multiple tense conversations with Leslie. At one point, he tells his wife, “I get that you want this to be true. But what if it’s not? Wouldn’t you want to know that before you dedicate your entire life to it?” Leslie answers, “Of course. But if it is? What if it is true? Wouldn’t you want to know that?”
Lee has similar conversations with several other people. Even his fellow atheist friend, Ray, tells him, “At some point, young man, you’re going to have to plant your flag on a mountain of uncertainty where not every question is answered. The human mind will never get to the bottom of every mystery in the cosmos. Believing in God, not believing in God, either way still takes a leap of faith.”
Lee’s Christian coworker, Kenny, says something similar, quoting C.S. Lewis: “‘If Christianity is false, it’s of zero importance. But if it’s true, there’s nothing more important in the entire universe.'”
In the end, of course, Lee eventually surrenders to the reality that Jesus did rise from the dead. In a tearful conversation, he tells his longsuffering wife, “When you became a Christian, I freaked out. I was scared. … I just had to prove the whole thing wrong. But I couldn’t. The evidence for your faith is more overwhelming than I could have imagined.” Then Lee talks of the powerful witness of his wife’s own spiritual transformation after becoming a Christian: “But it wasn’t just the evidence, OK? It was you. You never stopped loving me. You never gave up on me.”
Throughout Lee’s journey, his anguished wife prays for his salvation, with her new friend, Alfie, encouraging her along the way. Alfie tells Leslie about Ezekiel 36:26, which says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” We repeatedly hear Leslie pray that verse for her husband, as well as see her reading her Bible and going to church. Leslie is also baptized in a lake in a public ceremony.
It should also be noted that a Catholic priest (who is also an archeologist) believes the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Jesus. We see a reproduction and photos of the Shroud’s ethereal image several times.
Lee and Leslie kiss a number of times. We see flashbacks to when the couple first fell in love in which they’re canoodling and embracing.
Lee angrily tells his father that he chose not to use the family name of John for his newborn son because that name is also synonymous with a toilet and “the client of a prostitute.”
We hear a graphic verbal description of the wounds Jesus’ would have endured in His flogging prior to the crucifixion, and a similarly detailed description of how someone who’s being crucified usually dies from asphyxiation. Several times we see artwork depicting Jesus on the cross.
Alison nearly chokes to death on a piece of gum before Alfie puts the girl over her knee and pounds the blockage out of her by whacking her back. Lee breaks a lamp during an intense argument with Leslie.
Lee’s claim to fame as the movie starts is as the author of the book Reckless Homocide: Ford’s Pinto Trial, the cover of which pictures a crumpled and burned up car.
Lee’s journalistic investigation of James Dixon’s alleged shooting of an officer involves pictures of the wounded man (we see blood on a uniform). Later, we hear that inmates attacked James in prison, and he ends up hospitalized in serious condition. Lee visits him in the hospital, and we see cuts, bruises and swelling on James’ face.
One use of “p-ssed” and one of “what the heck.”
Lee has a pronounced drinking habit. Multiple times he responds to stress in his marriage by drinking, usually alone. Several scenes picture him near empty bottles and cans. In one dramatic confrontation between Lee and his wife, he’s clearly drunk.
We see other people drinking and smoking as well.
Lee doesn’t tell his wife about his spiritual investigation for months, during which time he’s often gone from their family. Only when he reaches his conclusion and embraces faith does he confess how he spent all those hours and days and weekends that he’d been absent.
After his unlikely conversion in the early ’80s, Lee Strobel would go on to chronicle his spiritual journey in the bestselling book that bears the same title as this movie, The Case for Christ. He eventually left journalism to become a pastor at the influential suburban Chicago megachurch Willow Creek.
Strobel’s story is dramatic and persuasive, one that will encourage Christians in their faith. But what about others who, like Lee throughout much of this movie, don’t believe? Can The Case for Christ influence them, too? Strobel is optimistic about that possibility.
In an interview with the Christian Post, he said, “We are living in a post-truth era, where people are searching for solid ground, they’re looking for something to say this is true, I can rely on this. Christianity claims to be true. It says it’s not wishful thinking or make-believe or legends or mythology, but it’s based on actual historical evidence. And I think these days young people especially are looking for something solid like that to put their trust in.”
Strobel also added, “We really feel like this movie is going to capture people’s imagination and encourage them to take seriously the fact that there is good evidence to believe Jesus is who He claimed to be. … I do think that in this time of cultural relativism where truth is under attack it’s a perfect time for this movie.”
Case makes its case compellingly. And for viewers who find themselves on the same threshold between unbelief and faith, Lee Strobel’s story may very well be a catalyst that helps them embrace Christ, just as he does in this personal, powerful, at times gritty and but ultimately redemptive story.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.