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This unevenness mars the film as a whole. On one hand, it wants to be a modest drama about one man’s spiritual odyssey; on the other hand, it wants to use that drama as a tool. The latter goal has a way of throttling the former. Good narrative art situates the audience within another person’s perspective, and what we see in that headspace is both gratifyingly strange and strangely familiar. When The Case for Christ gets out of its own way long enough to simply show us Strobel’s struggle with the changes around him and within him, it compels our interest. When it presses “pause” in order to explain why the evidence that convinces Strobel should be universally convincing, it falls inert.

Every writer encounters a certain maxim at some point while learning his or her craft: “Show, don’t tell.” The underlying principle is that a story is always stronger when it can make its audience feel something rather than simply instructing them how to feel. It’s no surprise, then, that The Case for Christ is strongest when it remains content to thoughtfully explore Strobel’s story. When it sets exploration to the side and wields that story like a sermon anecdote, the failure of imagination infects the filmmaking.

I hope that The Case for Christ’s successes, rather than its flaws, will nonetheless serve as a model for future faith-based films. In its climactic conversion scene, Lee Strobel attempts to pray, but stumbles over his inexperience: “God, I don’t know what I’m doing,” he laughs. That moment—honest, plain, and shot through with joy and humility—serves the film’s purposes better than all of its Bible experts combined. That’s what we really came to see.

Kevin McLenithan is a writer for Christ and Pop Culture who has also contributed to ThinkChristian and to the Chicago International Film Festival, and he currently co-hosts the film and television podcast Seeing and Believing. He works as a writer and editor in the Chicago area.

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In ‘The Case for Christ,’ Experience, not ...