Rotten Tomatoes is generally known as one of the most thorough go-to sites for movie reviews. It is an amalgamation of the thoughts of different film critics as well as viewer input resulting in a percentage score that determines if a movie is "fresh" or "rotten." It's a secular site so most Christian films don't fare too well in its rating system. This is part of the reason I was surprised to find Purefilx's new film The Case for Christ, based on Lee Strobel's book by the same name, currently rated fresh at 79%. That's higher than the much talked about redo of Beauty and the Beast. For a Christian film, this is a pretty big deal. One of the highest grossing faith-based films of all time, The Passion of the Christ, only came in at a 49%.
To be honest, I wasn't planning on seeing the film at first. I watched the documentary Lee Strobel made back in 2007 so it seemed a bit redundant for me to see the same story again only dramatized. But the good score intrigued me. Why is this film, in particular, doing well with Christians as well as secular reviewers? Perhaps it is the film's portrayal of skepticism and the power of evidence. A good investigation/detective story resonates with everyone, saved and unsaved alike. And perhaps there is a thing or two we can learn about the reality of doubt and how it applies to the Christian faith.
The story centers around Lee Strobel and his wife Leslie, staunch atheists who are living a pretty good life. Yet one evening at a restaurant their daughter begins choking and a random nurse who happens to be nearby is able to save their daughter's life. Thankful for what she did, Leslie becomes friends with the nurse who also happens to be a Christian and, through their friendship, Leslie comes to know the Lord, much to the chagrin of her atheist husband. Lee is adamant that Leslie has been brainwashed and after much argument, he decides to try to prove that what she believes is wrong. Going after the resurrection of Christ specifically, he travels around the country talking to several people about the validity of Scripture, eyewitness testimony, and medical science. He takes an investigative approach, seeking out evidence and verifying it like he would in any of his past journalistic endeavors.
Honest skepticism and honest evidence
Lee's primary goal in his investigation is to prove that Jesus either never rose from the dead or never died at all. Along the way, he consults with learned people, both Christian and secular. His conversations with these scholars, professors, and doctors are polite and never belligerent. Even those who don't agree with him do so in a kind, yet perceptive, way. At the same time Lee, who is an atheist to the core, is not portrayed in an entirely negative light. He is a smart man who knows how important the truth is and his skepticism is in many ways fueled by a desire to know the truth.
I heard a sermon recently on "Doubting Thomas." Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, was also a skeptic and was very honest about it. He couldn't believe that Jesus rose from the dead until he saw the evidence (much like Lee Strobel). In Christian circles, the term "doubting Thomas" is often negative. We act like Thomas was wrong to have doubts and that he stood in the corner with his arms crossed like a pouting child, refusing to believe. But was that what Thomas was really like?
We can determine this by Jesus' reaction in John 20:26-27. When Jesus appears to Thomas after the resurrection, He doesn't reprimand Thomas' doubt but rather shows him the evidence he asks for. "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe," Jesus says as He invites the disciple to see and feel how real He is.
God isn't anti-evidence. His very creation speaks of His work and glory (Psalm 19:1-3). One only has to look at the complexity of our world and see the intelligent and purposeful design behind it. God revealed Himself to people in the Bible all the time and while it may not be as in our faces as it was in those times, God still speaks to people all around the world today. That is one of the key differences between Christianity and other religions: God is not silent or distant. He is personal and close (Jeremiah 23:23, Psalm 145:18) and He want's to show His power.
Doubting isn't always a bad thing
We as Christians sometimes find looking for evidence concerning religious things scary. Searching for evidence means we doubt and that's a bad thing, right? “We are saved by faith alone and we don't need evidence” is a statement I’ve heard in the past. However, while we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), seeking answers to the questions we have isn't a bad thing. I would submit that doubt can, in fact, be used for our good.
There's an old adage: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.” In our Christian walk, we will have questions. Sometimes there is someone like a pastor or a mentor who may have the quick and easy answer (they give us a fish), but this is not always the case. Doubt can be a good thing when it drives us to seek after truth and seeking after truth helps us grow.
If someone were to ask you why you believe in God and your answer was something like, "Well, because my parents do," then you would lose the argument pretty fast. However if you have asked hard questions yourself, dug into the Word, sought after Jesus, and pursued the truth (you have learned how to fish), you can more effectively give an answer for the hope that is within you. Doubt can be the training ground for our faith. It pushes us to ask questions and grow. If we fear asking questions because of doubt we have already fallen victim to the thing that we fear. The truth is not our enemy, but rather our freedom (John 8:32).
Let me clarify that all of this is not to advocate doubt in all circumstances. There are some things in this life that cannot be searched out completely and must be taken on faith. And not all those things concern religion either (I’ve never seen a $10,000 bill, but I know such a thing exists). The point of this article is to emphasize that doubt can be constructive, yet like most things in life, it takes discernment to know when that is true.
Seek and you will find
At the end of The Case for Christ, Lee has gathered all the evidence together and finally realizes all his suppositions and doubts just don't hold water. After his journey of seeking knowledge, he realizes that the truth is right in front of him; he just has to be willing to accept it. The funny thing about truth is that no matter how scared we are of what it may be or how unreachable it may seem, it never changes. Lee fought to prove the resurrection wrong, but he couldn't because it is true, and that truth became his freedom. Is there anything in your life you are afraid to ask God? Is there anything in your walk that you are unsure of? All you have to do is ask and seek (Matt. 7:7-8), no journalism skills required.