The Case for Christ: a Review

Having seen a number of movies produced by Pure Flix, I was a little skeptical in my expectations for The Case for Christ. However, before I had a chance to see it, I saw a number of posts on social media by people whom I respect that suggested this would be worth seeing. As a fan of Lee Strobel, I would have seen it anyway, but I am happy to say that this was an excellent movie. (I suppose it helps that it was grounded in a real life story.)

For those who may not know, Strobel is a graduate of Yale Law School and is currently a Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. He is also the author of a book by the same name as the movie, as well as eight other books.

The movie covers the story of Strobel’s (SPOILER ALERT) conversion to Christianity. He had been an atheist who was employed as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was married, and up to this point in his life, his wife share his atheistic beliefs. A crisis caused her to reexamine her beliefs, leading her to become a Christian.

Strobel finds this unacceptable and embarks on a research project to debunk Christianity. He interviews scholars theology, history, archaeology, psychology, and medicine. On the advice of a Christian, he hopes to prove the resurrection never happened.

Knowing Strobel had to have had some input into the making of the movie, I appreciate his honesty in the portrayal. He was not an easy man for his wife to live with. I was also deeply moved by the scenes related to his father’s death.

As the film ended, I said, (as an apologist) “This is why I do what I do.” It also occurred to me that if he hadn’t become famous, those scholars who took so much time to talk to him might never have known how their efforts bore fruit. It can be hard to work at something if you don’t see the outcome, but that is what we are often called to do.

Kudos to Pure Flix for making a good movie.

The Shack: The Good, the Bad, and the Moinks

The Shack, by William Paul Young has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide since its publication in 2007. It has now been made into a major motion picture. Having heard and read many fine reviews of each, I thought I would see the movie for myself and get a sense of it.

Synopsis

The story surrounds the life of a man named MacKenzie Philips, (not toe be confused with the actress by the same name) who grows up with an abusive father who is an elder in his church. He later marries and has three kids. His youngest, his baby, is kidnapped and murdered. In the midst of his grief he meets God. After spending a weekend with the three Persons, he finally comes to some closure on the death of his daughter, as well as the abusive father. He returns home where he begins helping his family heal.

The Good

The way the Problem of Evil is addressed is well done, pointing out that the creation of free creatures entails the possibility for evil and suffering. Moreover, Mac is forced to admit that when he is the judge he cannot pass his own standards. Additionally, he is presented with a situation in which he must choose for one of his children to be saved and another to be damned. His response is to offer himself, and in so doing he comes to better understand the heart of God for the lost.

The love of God is portrayed in a moving way that can inspire the viewer to love God more. (More on this in the Moinks) The whole story is powerful in its emotional appeal. It is so easy to identify with Mac, to feel his pain, and to celebrate the resolution in the lives of sympathetic characters. Who doesn’t love a story where brokenness is healed and reconciliation is attained. I sure do. I won’t say too much about my own emotional reactions lest I be required to surrender my man card.

The Bad

While I understand that the book on which the movie is based is a novel, make no mistake, the author intends to persuade with the book and the movie. In fact, he has since published a nonfiction book, Lies We Believe About God. Unfortunately, what Young wants to persuade you of is that God does not judge, is not in control, and that hell does not exist, that Jesus’ death on the cross had nothing to do with sin. In fact, sin is not even a thing on Young’s view. Young would also have us believe that all are going to be reconciled to God. No need for faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  (While some have objected to portraying God as a woman, I don’t think that is such a big deal, especially considering the more serious problems.)

The Moinks

“Okay, wait a minute. What’s a moink?” I’m glad you asked. A moink is a bacon-wrapped meatball coated with a glaze. (Ok, I just had to stop typing to clean the drool off the keyboard.) What have moinks got to do with The Shack? Another great question. In the movie, Mac puts strychnine poison in his father’s booze. (The implication is that he killed him, but that wasn’t 100% clear to me unless I missed an important scene.) The point is that Mac at least tried to poison his father by mixing a toxic substance with something his father liked. Likewise, the dangerously bad theology (any theology that suggests that you have no need to be reconciled to God is dangerously bad) wrapped in such a wonderful story is like putting strychnine in moinks. You would die smiling, but you would die.

Really, the danger of The Shack is an illustration of the danger of taking any form of entertainment in uncritically. We must always think through what we consume with our minds fully engaged. The risk of well-made movies is that the viewer is invited to lose herself in the story. When you do that, ideas are presented in a way that can bypass your reasoning faculties, appealing to your emotions in a powerful way. Emotions are wonderful servants, but terrible masters. If you read the book or watch the movie, do NOT turn your mind off. Remember, we are to love God with all our minds.

 

Hacksaw Ridge: A review

THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

 Before watching this movie, I listened to a great discussion my friends at A Clear Lens had with Brian Godawa, a Christian who is a filmmaker (not to be confused with a Christian Film maker) about the film. It is unavoidable to me that my views and comments will be colored by that discussion. There are important details of the film I might have missed if I hadn’t heard the conversation ahead of time. Some of my views will echo theirs. It might be said that this will be a review of the film and a review of a review. (Wow, meta review!) 

 Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who grew up in rural Virginia. Although he was a conscientious objector, he believed he ought to serve in the Army during WWII as a combat medic. Hacksaw Ridge is his story.

 Seventh Day Adventism includes a principle of pacifism. While Doss did not oppose the war, he was convinced that killing was “the worst possible sin.” It is easy to think of such things in abstract terms that have little relevance, but for Doss, it was real. Moreover, there were two key events in Doss’ life portrayed in the film that had a major impact on his conviction. This is one place where I am indebted to the Clear Lens discussion because I may have missed the connection had I not been watching for it. In a scene early in the movie, Doss is fighting with his brother when he hits his brother in the head with a brick, knocking him out. At first, he thinks he has killed him. Later as a young adult, he intervenes in a fight between his mother and father, removing a gun from his father’s hand and pointing it at him. When he describes this incident to an Army buddy, his buddy says, “But, you didn’t kill him,” to which Doss responds, “In my heart I did.” Not only has Doss been taught to believe killing is wrong, but is keenly aware of his own capacity to do so.

 With this background in mind, Doss grows up, meets and falls in love with a nurse, and begins to learn medicine. He joins the army over the objections of both his parents. His mother objects for religious reasons and, well, she’s his mom. His father is especially concerned because he is a WWI veteran.

 Doss trains at Fort Jackson. At this point, I find myself in disagreement with Godawa. Vince Vaughn plays the part of the drill sergeant. Because of his comedic roles, Godawa found it very difficult to accept Vaughn in this role. I don’t know if Godawa is a veteran, and if he is not, I don’t mean to be critical of that fact, but it is not at all unusual for drill sergeants and/or drill instructors to say funny things in the course of their interactions. However, God help you if you laugh. Even as a veteran who has seen Vaughn act (perhaps not as much as Godawa,) I had no problem with his performance. It is during this training that Doss’ convictions are put to the test by peer pressure, physical abuse by his platoon mates, and even a court martial. Obviously he makes it through these, since he goes on to the theater of combat.

 Mel Gibson, who directed this film, received mixed reviews about the level of graphic violence. However, given the nature of war, as well as the fanaticism of the Japanese on Okinawa, it seemed realistic without being exploitative.

 Doss proved his mettle in an action in which his regiment had to scale a cliff about 200 feet high to attack fortified positions. The regiment seized the objective with heavy casualties, and then was forced to retreat by a counter-attack. In the course of these two actions, the regiment was decimated. Doss stayed behind when the survivors who could do so retreated. While naval gunfire bombarded the area, Doss explored the battlefield looking for wounded survivors. As he found each one, he dragged them, one at a time, to the top of the cliff and lowered them by rope. By morning he had done this with 75 men. This feat is amazing in itself even without the risk of death or injury by the shelling or from the Japanese, who were also looking for survivors and killing them.

 Hacksaw Ridge is a moving portrayal of courage of convictions, as well as courage in the face of great danger. It is a moving story, but not for the squeamish.

Mining For God: a Review and Response

Last July, I was contacted by Brandon McGuire telling me about his new film. I ordered a copy and watched it to see how good a resource it would be for my Ratio Christi chapter or any other apologetics classes I teach. The problem I had when I watched it is that having recently completed a Masters Degree in Christian Apologetics, the material in the movie was too familiar. I wasn’t sure if it was too technical for a lay audience, or interesting enough. (Even your favorite song gets old after a while.) So I asked one of my Sunday School students to watch it with her family and let me know if it was helpful. She and her husband have several unbelieving children and relatives whom they invited to see it as well. Her nephew, an atheist, wrote the following review. I thought it was so even-handed and well written that I would share it here, with a few comments at the end.

 

“MINING FOR GOD” Documentary Review by John Regina

 

While being the first documentary of this sort that I have watched (at least in recent years), I found myself quite familiar with a good portion of the information and opinions presented, in particular the apologetics that were interspersed throughout. I rather enjoyed the seemingly random interviews conducted in public with (“non-expert”) Americans mainly during the first ten minutes of the film, and in relatively short order was under the impression that one of the film’s primary objectives is an attempt to clarify what it means to be a practicing Christian, as opposed to the many Americans that select their religious and/or spiritual beliefs a la carte (the term “cafeteria style” is used in the film) or have a misapprehension or otherwise vague interpretation of Christianity. I would have liked to see more of these interviews, or at least a more thorough investigation of the “70%” of Americans cited by the film that identify as being Christian.

Directly following the interviews the film’s narrative veers sharply into apologetics, sometimes for the better and other times not. I would consider the information presented in the film to be an entry-level, beginners’ introduction to Christian apologetics, because it covers much ground, including a cursory (although not detailed nor expansive) examination of most of the core claims that I am aware of. I felt that some arguments, as with some of the commentators, were more convincing than others. For instance, I felt that the ‘cosmological, “first cause” argument’ (for God) was summarized brilliantly, mainly by William Lane Craig- although he failed to address the opposing problem of  “infinite regression” often cited by skeptics. However, I did not like the manner in which the “teleological argument (or hypothesis of intelligent design)” was presented, due to the Creationist/anti-evolution viewpoint that was briefly expounded upon (by the commentator Donald Williams). I feel that the “argument from morality” was perhaps the strongest, most persuasive argument for the existence of God that was presented, but am also of the opinion that too much time was devoted to the sub-topic of personal sin. Lastly, I found the viewpoints expressed within a couple parts of the film relating to pluralism to be intolerant and at odds with American culture. After all, our country was primarily founded on secular values, and however Christian our nation may be, we should hold firm to our established right to religious freedom, even in rhetoric.  Overall I found the film to be informative, well put together and great as an introduction to apologetics.

 

Response

I really appreciate the tone of this review. I would just like to respond to a few things the author says. In response to the cosmological argument, Regina says “… he failed to address the opposing problem of  “infinite regression” often cited by skeptics.” Note that in the argument from first cause, the first premise is “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.” God, by definition, never “begins” to exist. For God to begin to exist, he would have to have a cause, which is greater than him. However, if there were anything greater than God, than IT would be God. As Regina noted, the film is a beginners introduction to apologetics. The discussion on the impossibility of actual infinites can be technical, and making it accessible would be lengthy. I discussion of this can be found here.

Regina thought too much of the discussion of the moral argument focused on personal sin. But the whole point of noting the existence of objective morality is that personal sin is a real problem, for which Christ is a real solution.

Finally, Regina seems to conflate the ideas of religious pluralism with civic pluralism. Religious pluralism is the claim that all religions are equally true and valid. However, logically the only way this could be true is if they are all false, since they make contradictory truth claims. Christianity claims to accurately describe reality. If it does, then religions that contradict Christianity are necessarily false inasmuch as they contradict it. Likewise, if any religion that contradicts Christianity accurately describes reality, then Christianity is false. Civic pluralism, on the other hand, is the view that each citizen has the right to believe what he wants without fear of government interference. Christianity is only “intolerant” in the way the word has been redefined to mean disagreement. That it is at odds with American culture, well so what? As for religious freedom, that too is a Christian idea. We share the Gospel with people. We do not try to force it on them. As to the “secular” values that America was founded on, even letting the claim pass, the values America was founded upon result from the impact Christianity has had on Western Civilization. More on that can be found in Glenn Sunshine’s fine book Why You Think the Way You Do, a review of which can be found here.

Once again I want to say how much I appreciate the thought Regina put into his review. Too often reviews of films like this from an opposing view tend to come from trolls. (I know, we have our share too.)