Christian Storytellers: Learn from “The Case for Christ”
By Logan Judy
It’s finally happened. Despite all of the odds, a Christian film is being regarded as a good film.
And not just by Christian audiences, either. The Case for Christ, based on Lee Strobel’s internationally best-selling apologetics book, is currently sitting at 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. Among the outlets to give it positive reviews are Variety, Forbes, and, of all places, The Huffington Post. So why this film? We’re used to Christian films being universally panned by critics, so why are all of these outlets, many of them traditionally left-leaning, giving a Christian film so much praise? And what can that teach us about engaging with secular culture as Christians?
The key, I think, comes from another secular review, this one in The Hollywood Reporter. Frank Sheck writes, “this religious-themed drama earns points for proselytizing in more narratively compelling form than usual.” It’s hard to deny that there is an idea of “proselytizing” in the film. Whereas Strobel’s book focuses on the facts that led him as an atheist to convert to Christianity, the film also present the facts that led to his conversion. And yet, this time it’s in a more “narratively compelling form.” Why? The answer is quite simple. It’s because Jon Gunn, a professional filmmaker rather than a pastor, understands the difference in medium.
Too often, Christian storytellers have approached art like another method of preaching. But that’s not the purpose of the medium. The Case for Christ understands this. Whereas the book is interested primarily in the sharing of information, the film is interested primarily in the sharing of a story. That story is the relationship between Lee and his wife Leslie, which reaches unprecedented heights of tension when Leslie becomes a Christian. The narrative, however, does not mostly focus on why Lee is wrong in his atheism. That comes later. For the majority of the story, we’re focusing on these two characters, their relationship, and how Leslie’s conversion is radically changing both of them.
Therein lies the lesson for Christian artists who delve into story…
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