The Case For Christ Movie Review: Book Vs. Movie and Why Both Are Good


The Case for Christ debuted in theaters back in April. Immediately, it received an A+ Cinema score that first weekend, a title that Cinema gives to only two exceptional movies per year. That critically acclaimed movie releases to DVD this week (August 15). I read the blockbuster book The Case for Christ for the first time about 10 years ago – my first introduction to the field of apologetics, the defense of the Christian faith – and it left me wanting more. I am so happy to see that book translated into a movie! Here are my thoughts.

Based on a true story, the film begins with atheist Lee Strobel’s (Mike Vogel) investigative reporting earning him a promotion as the legal editor at the Chicago Tribune in the ‘80s. Soaring on that success, it seemed everything in Lee’s life was going perfectly… that is, until his wife, Leslie (Erika Christensen) became a Christian due to a traumatic event in her life. This was completely against everything Lee believed as an atheist. Thinking that he is losing his wife, Lee sets out on a journey to “save” Leslie from this “cult.” What follows is an intense journey that takes Lee to many scholars who have some pretty persuasive evidence for Christianity – and specifically, evidence for The Case for Christ. The movie follows four of the main evidences Lee encountered: The reliability of the New Testament, the Crucifixion (Did Jesus really die on the cross?), the Resurrection, and the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection (including the women at the tomb and over 500 eyewitnesses at once). Being a journalist who always follows “just the facts,” Lee must now use this same approach to determine whether or not he wants to believe the evidence for Christianity.


In the book, Lee begins with the story of an investigation he covered in the The Chicago Tribune in which an African American, James Dixon, allegedly shoots a cop. The movie  depicts this story as happening at the same time as Leslie’s conversion so that Lee is suppose to be covering this story, but is getting a little distracted with his investigation of Christianity. Reading the book, however, we see that Lee recounts this case merely to demonstrate two points: The first is that “Evidence can be aligned to point in more than one direction…. But when I changed those lenses – trading my biases for an attempt at objectivity – I saw the case in a whole new light.” Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Lee says, “…my spiritual journey has been a lot like my experience with James Dixon.” It is not surprising, then, that the movie utilizes the Dixon case (although his name is changed to Hicks in the movie) to help tell the story of Lee’s journey to faith. And it does a very good job of it, while also utilizing apologetics effectively.


The film gives a lot of back story to the Strobel’s life, which helps the audience to understand both Leslie’s and Lee’s personal struggles. For example, Lee makes no qualms about how he used to be a “hedonistic, drunk, narcissist” before he came to Christ, and the movie definitely portrays that well. In one scene, he comes home very drunk because he can’t handle the changes in Leslie’s life. A lot of arguing is depicted, too, which is very realistic. It was also interesting to see Leslie’s side of the story portrayed, although some of it was changed for the movie – for example, Leslie’s neighbor in real life is named Linda, not Alfie; and she pestered Leslie to attend church, which is why Leslie originally went, although the movie depicts it as her own choice. I really liked how her conversion led to a deeper love for not only God, but also her husband – even though he couldn’t see it at the time. I also appreciated the fact that L. Scott Caldwell, who plays the role of Alfie, did a terrific job of portraying a Christian who genuinely cared about Leslie.

L. Scott Caldwell

It is not surprising that The Case for Christ uses phenomenal actors and actresses to portray real people and events in the Strobel’s lives. These include Faye Dunaway as Dr. Roberta Waters (the psychiatrist), Robert Forester as Walter Strobel (Lee’s father), L. Scott Caldwell as Alfie Davis (Leslie’s mentor), Kevin Sizemore as Dr. Gary Habermas, and Russ Blackwell as Dr. William Lane Craig. It was interesting that the actors actually looked like the two apologists back in the ‘80s, and Mike Vogeldoes look similar to Lee back in the day (minus the mustache, of course!).

Keving Sizemore

Dr. Craig shares his thoughts about “his” scene here. (I personally thought the scene was a little too short, but he explains why in his podcast.) Also, in an interview with Frank Turek, Lee has some interesting things to say about the actors in the movie. Both podcasts are really good commentaries on the film. In fact, Lee was actually involved in the making of the film, as he and Leslie gave insight into various personal aspects of their lives so that the actors would know how to accurately portray it. And each actor did an exceptional job!

In his book, Lee writes in his acknowledgements that he interviewed thirteen different scholars “for this book.” (Dr. Habermas and Dr. Craig where two of the thirteen interviewed, and are portrayed in the movie.) Dr. Craig points out that Lee actually came to him after he became a Christian to interview him for the book; in other words, the interviews with scholars did not happen at the time of Leslie’s conversion as the movie portrays. He sums up the point of the above-mentioned differences by stating, “This is all part of the artistic recreation. So although it is based on a true story, viewers should be careful not to think that this all literally happened.” In answering the question, “Is the movie accurate?” Lee says, “I’d say 80, 85 percent of the film comes right out of our lives… In fact, there are some scenes that we get emotional about because this is ripped out of our lives. This is like a transcript.”
“Lee does acknowledge that the film had to be condensed in certain areas since the real investigation took a year and nine months. He also says that certain characters where composites.”
One might argue, “If Lee didn’t interview these scholars, how did he investigate the claims of Christianity after Leslie’s conversion?” Lee writes in his book, “Setting aside my self-interest and prejudices as best I could, I read books, interviewed experts, asked questions, analyzed history, explored archaeology, studied ancient literature, and for the first time in my life picked apart the Bible verse by verse.” He read a lot of his atheist hero’s books – authors such as Anthony Flew – back then (which is subtly depicted in the movie), since there weren’t that many apologetics books with the evidences for Christianity. Lee states, at the end of his book, “My investigation into Jesus was similar to what you’ve just read, except that I primarily studied books and other historical research instead of personally interacting with scholars” (page 259). Then he took his legal pad and listed all the pros and cons of Christianity based on what he’d learned. He says that his aim in his book is “to retrace and expand upon the spiritual journey I took for nearly two years….” Keeping in mind that the movie covers a two-year period as happening in a matter of months (and that it follows the format of the book with Lee traveling across the states to interview the foremost scholars), Lee’s journey is beautifully depicted, interlaced with a crime-scene subplot while it focuses on Lee’s struggle to save his marriage by investigating Christianity.


Even though the film uses artistic license to tell the story, lovers of the book need not worry that the movie will be a letdown because Lee’s journey is portrayed excellently. The apologetics sprinkled throughout the movie was very concise, but just enough to leave you wondering, “What will Lee do with this information? Will he be able to save his marriage?” Alfie gave great advice to Leslie concerning this, and I loved how she took it to the next level in treating Lee with kindness, especially near the end of the film. Of course the ending, where Lee comes to faith in Jesus Christ (as expected!), was one of my favorite parts. J I think it’s great to have a film that has apologetics in it, but isn’t too hard-hitting, and is also very straightforward. (Some argue that leaving the apologetics aspect out of it would be better, but it would be impossible to tell Lee’s story without it.) This film would be great for unbelievers, or even doubting believers, since it isn’t too “preachy” as it represents the basic historical tenets of the Christian faith and asks the question, “If it were true, would you believe it?” It actually demonstrates how, as an atheist, Lee didn’t want to follow the evidence where it led, but he couldn’t find a single point to disprove it when faced with the facts.

To summarize, the movie gives you a brief taste of what Lee investigated – what scholars he talked to and what evidence he found – while it focuses more on his relationship with his wife; the book “expands upon” the research as well as what each scholar brought to the table. Get the DVD for an introduction to the evidence for Christianity; get the book for a more in-depth look at the historical evidence for it. Overall, The Case for Christ was a very well done movie, which is part romance, part crime, part faith, and part apologetics; this movie does a stellar job of weaving these elements together while staying true to Lee’s original journey as described in his book! I highly recommend it!

To learn how you can utilize The Case for Christ in your sermons or outreach, visit outreach.com/campaigns/thecaseforchrist where you can purchase study kits, study guides, church kits, merchandise based on the movie, and The Case for Christ Answer booklet with a Q&A format. You can also visit Thecaseforchristmovie.com/blog.

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