Lee Strobel was an award-winning journalist and a hardened atheist, but his wife, Leslie, turned his world upside down when she told him she had become a Christian.
Strobel went on a quest to disprove his wife’s newfound faith. This journey led him to follow Christ as well and retrace his journey in the book The Case for Christ. Now a film based on the book and the personal story of Lee and Leslie is coming to theaters on April 7, 2017.
Facts & Trends spoke with Lee, Leslie, and screenwriter Brian Bird about the making of the movie, what surprised them, and what they hope it accomplishes.
Why make The Case for Christ right now?
Brian: As a book, The Case for Christ doesn’t scream, “Make me a movie!” With the interviews and experts, it would be more like a PBS series. But I’ve always thought Lee and Leslie’s personal story combined with the evidence presented in the book would make a fantastic movie.
I talked with Lee after he spoke at a church near where I live. He told me PureFlix had approached him about trying to make his story into a movie. Then Lee asked me if I’d be interested, which of course I was.
But on a macro level, just look at the newspaper. Have you seen where we are as a culture, as a nation, as a world? It’s a mess. And we, as believers, have the cure. What are we doing sitting on our hands while the rest of the world is burning up? Let’s share the story.
No one had to ask me twice about being involved in telling Lee and Leslie’s powerful story, which is part of the greatest story ever told.
How accurate is the film to your lives during that time?
Lee: Whenever you try to compress a longer period of time into 90 minutes, you have to use flashbacks and some composite characters. Some things are time-shifted, but the movie is a very accurate representation.
Some scenes are almost ripped verbatim from our lives, so we were pleased with the way it reflects our story.
Was there anything from your lives you learned or understand differently now that you’ve seen it depicted on the screen?
Leslie: One scene, which didn’t make the movie, involved a fight between Lee and his dad on the night of his high school graduation. I wasn’t there when that happened, so seeing it happen on set made my heart melt. I knew the struggling relationship Lee had with his dad.
Lee: Robert Forster, who plays my dad in the film, came up to me in character and put his head on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry.” It was passing a blessing that I think my dad wanted to have later, but he died before we really reconciled. Those were poignant moments.
What were some of the most difficult parts of making The Case for Christ a cinematic story?
Brian: I knew not all of the great evidence could translate because of the detail involved. But there were some big headlines and streams of thought that could. We just had to figure out how to make them cinematic.
It would be boring to just have professors in an office doing a data dump of information on the audience. But we could present someone as a participant in a debate and Lee is chasing them down afterward to get some information. We could have a manuscript expert who is like Indiana Jones in a big cathedral. Now it becomes more dynamic.
In the goal of making it more cinematic, we tried to give it a sense of a mystery. For Lee, it was a mystery he was working to solve.
What’s your hope for the film?
Brian: With every movie or television show I’ve made, the goal is to get as many eyeballs on it as possible. Sometimes it’s for commercial reasons, but this film has something else with it.
Of course, we want a big box office because we want a million people to see it because that would be a million people exposed to the good news. This is about getting a message out. As a Christian screenwriter, my passionate prayer is that God takes these loaves and fishes we’ve offered up and multiplies them to the nth degree.
My hope is that the greatest love story of all time gets communicated to as many people as possible because it’s going to transform people. It can’t help but have an impact—even if it does nothing more than stir up cravings in people so they want to have a conversation with a Christian friend.
Leslie: Personally, I want a person in my position—someone married to an unbeliever—to have hope. When I was in there, I felt very alone. Lee and I had been happily married until I became a Christian; then everything changed. It was like I lost my best friend, so I needed someone.
In the movie the character’s name is Alfie, but in real life her name was Linda. She’s the woman who led me to the Lord and also mentored me. She was a sounding board and a shoulder to cry on, but not everyone has that. I want this movie to help people know they’re not alone.
Lee: In this film, we talk about the spiritual equation of John 1:12—believe + receive = become. I think some people who come to this film think they are Christians because they go to church.
They may have no issues with the evidence we talk about in the film, but they have never prayed to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I pray that a light bulb will go off for these people.
And I hope others who come as skeptics will commit themselves to doing an honest spiritual investigation like I did. I hope the film launches a million people on a spiritual journey. If someone authentically and honestly investigates Christianity like I did, I have no fear of the results.
The Case for Christ opens nationwide on April 7, 2017.
For those wanting an early look, there’s an exclusive one-night only Fathom event on Thursday, April 6 featuring an advancing showing of the film and a live Q&A with Leslie and Lee Strobel, hosted by Kirk Cousins. Get your tickets here: http://bit.ly/CFCpremiere
Read The Case for Christ book that traces Lee Strobel’s journey through the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.