With the UK release of The Case For Christ on September 15th, we chatted with Lee Strobel, whose conversion story the film is based on. We chatted about the film, his conversion to Christianity and about the evidence for Christ.
Please tell us a bit about yourself for those who don’t know who you are.
My background is in journalism and law, I was the legal editor of the Chicago Tribune newspaper and an atheist for much of my life. My wife was agnostic, confused spiritually and through a neighbour who was a nurse, she ended up becoming a Christian, which I thought was the worst possible news I could get as an atheist. So I embarked on an investigation to try and disprove the resurrection to rescue her from this cult and ended up spending two years of my life doing that. Ultimately coming to conclude that the evidence is strong and persuasive that the resurrection took place and thats what promoted me to yield my life to Jesus on November 8th 1981.
Right now I’m a teaching pastor at Woodlands Church in Houston, Texas and also a professor of Christian thought at Houston Baptist University.
As you said, you were an atheist for most of your life and the film explores your conversion based on your book. What was it like watching your story on the big screen? and watching the film come together?
It was a little embarrassing because I’m not proud of my life before I was a Christian, I was a heavy drinker, I was narcissistic, self-absorbed and really self-destructive in a lot of ways. So it’s a little embarrassing to have that put on the big screen and some of the arguments I instigated in our marriage as a result of Leslie’s conversion.
But we thought there’s a lot of people who wont read a 300 page book and a lot of people that wont go to Church but will come to the cinema. So we thought if we could reach more people, it’s worth that level of embarrassment.
It is sometimes quite difficult to turn a life story into a film, how well did the film makers do to make a film that is relevant, exciting and not overly preachy?
They really did a great job of balancing the head and the heart. So the heart is really the story, it’s a love story, a marriage story. Leslie and I met when we were 14 years old, we got married pretty young, it’s a story of a marriage and a father/son relationship. So it’s got a lot of heart in it but we wanted to balance that off with some of the head stuff, some of the evidence I found convincing.
Of course a film can’t really delve very deeply into the evidence but at least we got a representative sampling of the kind of evidence I found convincing.
So I think it’s that balance which really makes it a great film.
It also takes the viewer not only your personal journey but you wife’s as well and shows what happens in your relationship.
Exactly, it’s really about relationships and I think that’s what makes a great movie, is a story of a relationship. We have a story here of a relationship with God; a new relationship that Leslie was embarking on, a relationship with her spiritual mentor, Alfie in the movie, in real life her name was Linda and of course our marriage relationship as well.
A lot of people may be able to relate to lots of different parts of the film in different ways
I think so, I think that Christians who are married to someone who maybe skeptical will certainly relate to it, I think the skeptics will relate to it.
We’ve had excellent reception from skeptics here in the States who watched the film.
So I think anybody regardless of where they’re at spiritually, I think they’re going to find something in the movie to relate to.
So how have you seen God use the film already?
For instance in Australia, one church rented the movie theatre and showed the film and 22 people came to faith that night right there in the theatre.
We’re also seeing a lot of people who are starting a spiritual investigation, who are saying “I’m intrigued enough to go the next step”, maybe get the book or do some research on their own and do what I did.
We’re encouraged by any step people take towards God.
The film is a great way to build discussions on the evidence, how would you encourage churches to reach out?
I hope churches will encourage Christians to take a risk to invite someone to see it with them who maybe spiritually confused.
Then go out later for coffee or whatever and talk about: what did you experience? What did you think? And so forth.
I think the most important moment of the film is really what happens after the film, in a conversation that people have with their friends about what they saw.
What would you say to someone who says there is no evidence or who haven’t looked into it?
I think like I was, I was an atheist and if you asked me had I throughly investigated the evidence and come to an informed decision that God exists, no I didn’t, I was an atheist because I had a knee-jerk reaction that miracles are not possible and things like that.
But for people to say there is no evidence I want to say have you really taken the time to look because if Jesus really lived then we’re talking about historical issues, did He live? Did He die? And was He seen reliably afterwards. Those are issues of history that can be checked out and investigated.
Those are evidentiary issues worth exploring.
Was there one particular thing for you when researching the resurrection that stood out to you and made you realise that you couldn’t debunk Christianity?
I was kind of a cumulative case, it took in real life two years to do this investigation, the scales were kinda tipping as I went along and found more evidence.
One of the facts I found particularly persuasive was that we have a report of the resurrection that is preserved for us in 1 Corinthians 15 starting at verse 3 thats actually been dated back by scholars to within months of the death of Jesus. So that is so immediate after the event that you can’t just write it off being a legend.
It took time for legend to develop in the ancient world and wipe out a solid core of historical truth and here we have a report thats like a newsflash from ancient history. I found that as a journalist trained in law very persuasive and then the fact that we have nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament confirming and corroborating the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus. Nine sources thats a proliferation of ancient data.
I think those are two of the key facts; the immediacy of the evidence and the depth of the evidence I found to be persuasive.
Did it surprise you going to into investigating this, how much evidence there actually was?
Absolutely, I was stunned. I honestly and this is embarrassing but I honestly thought that I could disprove the resurrection in a weekend.
I though this was going to take a weekend because dead people don’t come back to life. I thought I could easily disprove this and yet ultimately it took almost two years of my life and coming to the opposite conclusion.
I was constantly being surprised and challenged by the evidence.
Going back to the film, do you have a favourite scene?
There’s so many good scenes, I think obviously the scene where I come to faith to me is a powerful scene. I remember when we were filming that, I was outside with Leslie and we were watching on video while they filmed that scene. It seemed that God just showed up in that scene, I was literally holding my breath because I was afraid something would ruin the scene because it was so authentic.
After the scene was over I went up to Mike Vogal, who plays me and I was just going to say thank you for being honest and authentic, I just burst into tears and I threw my arms round his neck and whispered in his ear and said “Thank you Mike for being authentic in that scene.” Because showing a conversion can be ‘cheesy’ or contrived or embarrassing and I thought he did it in such an authentic way that it honoured the moment and our story so profoundly.
To me thats the most important scene.
I think the actors have done such a great job bringing the story to life with raw emotion.
I agree. Mike of course who plays me, Mike Vogal, is a strong Christian. In fact he was influenced by the book The Case For Christ when he was a teenager, he was having some faith questions and the book really helped him.
So it was great to have him portray me and Erika Christensen did a great job as Leslie, we couldn’t have chose two better people I think to portray us, we’re just so gratified by their performances.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
I hope people take away different things. I hope Christians walk away encouraged and feeling like their faith has been deepened. I hope that people who aren’t Christians walk away challenged and encouraged to take the next step, whether that’s to come to faith or pursue God in a more vigorous way.
So I hope everybody takes a step of faith in the direction of God, whatever that step is for them.
The Case For Christ is released in UK cinemas on Friday 15th September.