The Case for Faith (2008) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Case for Faith (2008)

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Danny DISLIKEI love documentaries, but usually I don't really like watching them. That sounds contradictory, so let me explain: moreso than watching fiction films, documentary movies have very concise points that they want to make. You, the viewer, has to pay close attention and decide what elements of the film you are willing to believe and which parts smell like poorly reasoned crap. I end up spending most documentaries thinking about the filmmakers than the subject.

Since these films often cover political and ethical issues that are horribly unprofitable for fiction films to tackle, the source of the documentary has to be carefully considered as well.

Religious films in general also often have an obvious and straightforward agenda. I'm not saying that other films don't have agendas, obviously, but that religious cinema dictate certain overt ways of living that are both rigorous and not subtle by nature.

All that being said, any person who knows going into a documentary that they will disagree with the claims made by said movie will have their review threaten to be a refutation rather than a review of the film. So I'll tread as lightly as I can, but forgive me if I point out a few flaws along the way.

The Case for Faith is a documentary based on the similarly titled best selling novel by Lee Strobel. Lee is kind of enough to lead this documentary as well, making the movie feel like a DVD included in the back of his book in order to appease the people who want to have the book on their shelf but don't have time to read it.

Lee is a portly and enthusiastic man who quickly explains that he'd been an atheist up until 1980 when he'd done some research and was able to easily conclude that Jesus was real and that Christianity was the right way. He offers only a few details on this, but gets back into it near the middle of the film. And while I want to make fun of that, give me a minute, I have to keep setting up the story.

Lee sets up the premise for the film by talking about his fascination with former evangelical minister Charles Templeton who'd spent much of the 40's traveling with famed minister Billy Graham (NAME DROP). Eventually, unable to reconcile his faith with the troubles he found in the world, Templeton left this highly successful career and became a politician and a writer, ending his career with a book called Farewell to God: My Reasons For Rejecting the Christian Faith.

Most of this story is told with Lee narrating, but soon we also have Templeton talking on the screen. Or at least an actor doing so since Templeton died half a decade before this film was made. The actor looks like he's talking over a teleprompter, and the film deviously tries to hide that this is not the real Templeton by only mentioning that it's a reenactment once (and barely in the corner of the screen), showing scenes of the actor walking around and looking frail, and even adding fake scan lines to his scenes to give it a video feel.

Frustrated with his own questions with his faith and Templeton's (and, I'd imagine, the idea of a lucrative book deal), Strobel sets out to prove the two questions that affect most people's faith. Those two questions are: 1) Why is Jesus the only way to God? and 2) How could a loving God create a world with evil in it?

And that's our premise! We now travel across the country and talk to noted Christian writers and professors at Christian universities and have them sit in front of bad green screens to explain away these notions.

Why is Jesus the only way to God?

If you're looking for a solid thoughtful reason, I won't say that the movie really gives you one. Arguments are made along the lines such as "Jesus is more profound" and that Christianity "offers a solution to genuine problems" and "identifies our spiritual need better than any of the other [religions]."

Besides those opinion based responses, a lot of the arguments in this section are made along the lines of how only Jesus can can help humanity overcome the rift between God and humans because of sin. Mind you, they don't pretend you don't buy into this idea, and since this line of reasoning comes directly from the Bible, it really doesn't work for the solid non-believer.

The silliest point made, though, is one researcher explaining how monumental Jesus was: "Before Jesus came along, no one else was making the claim that he was the exclusive son of God." Yes, because this is the sort of thing they have detailed records on from 2,000 years ago.

On a related note, at this point in the film Strobel actually graces us with his conclusive evidence that Christ lived, and that all the miracles that are in the Bible occurred. We see this portrayed in the same way you used to see with those correspondence school commercials with Sally Struthers-- I'm not even kidding-- as Strobel narrates while lines of white text-- bullet points proving the absolute definitive proof of Jesus's divinity-- scroll up, super imposed over a drawing of Jesus's empty tomb.

And all of these reasons are just sentences; saying things like "Ancient documents and biographies that contain the proof that it occurred" is all well and good, but I don't suppose you could name a few. Most of the rest of the claims seem just as shaky, but since Strobel expects you to buy into his vague bullet points without much thought, he doesn't linger. That leads us into...

How could a loving God create a world of evil?

Even as a non-Christian, I don't have much trouble understanding this, or so I thought. Man disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, unleashed knowledge, had to deal with evil, right?

Well, I guess that's too Old Testament for these guys. We instead find the last three quarters of the movie debating God's power set ("We don't know what "all-good, all-powerful" really mean!" and "God can't violate the laws of logic and do something contradictory!"), some brisk declarations ("Did God create evil? Evil is not a thing. Everything God creates is good.") and much, much overwrought imagery.

Take for example when one scholar solemnly intones that, "God creates humans with free choice... evil entered the world when people stopped doing the right thing, started doing the wrong thing."

Then it cuts to-- I shit you not-- 9/11. I guess the wrong thing is... hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings? Drat, there goes my plans for the weekend.

Okay, okay. I've stopped reviewing the movie and started arguing with it, and I apologize. Before I get back to the cinematic merits, allow me one last dig; this entire documentary was almost worth watching for this one line, delivered with complete sincerity:

"And when Jesus stretched his hands out on the cross, what he was saying was, 'I love you this much'."

Well, I found it hilarious anyway.

The movie moves onto the stories of a pair of people who'd been affected by tragedy. A woman who'd been paralyzed beneath the shoulders and a man who lost his daughter both talk about how the experiences they've gone through have brought them closer to God. The scenes with the woman are actually fairly moving, as you can tell that she wrestles with some deep and understandable demons.

But those are only small portions of the movie. We spend the rest with the Christian scholars and Lee who has the presence and charisma of a used car salesman. The movie ends with the usual threats and references to God coming back and cleaning the table, and then Strobel sending the rough draft of his Case for Faith book off to Templeton. We get a shot of the actor playing Templeton holding the material Strobel sent and smiling thoughtfully. Well, even if the real Templeton didn't find God, at least the actor playing him did.

As a documentary, it's full of holes and assumed beliefs. It really looks like it was made for next to nothing, and will pretty much only preach to the already converted, using double talk and rash assumptions in reassuring them not to lose faith.

For the rest of us, I'm afraid that I have to declare this case a mistrial. Now case closed, court dismissed, let's get to the bar for happy hour.

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The Case for Faith (2008)

This film is available on Netflix Instant.
Directed by Lad Allen
Starring Lee Strobel

Posted by Danny

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