Apologetics on Film

The new movie about Lee Strobel’s conversion story — the result of his own discovery of an apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus — has been all but assailed in this review, by Josiah at Vice, who presses against some of the themes of the movie:

Attempting to prove the Bible’s legitimacy using science and history is nothing new. The tradition has been going on since the birth of the religion in the first century. The most well-known modern example is C.S. Lewis, creator of The Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis spent years writing books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, which have become the foundation for the Christian apologetics today. It’s authors like Lewis and Strobel whose books are given to teenage Christians when they start asking questions about why the Bible stories of their youth appear to contradict the science of evolution, archeology, or physics.

Like a lot of evangelical books, The Case for Christ has been expanded into a veritable library of study guides, lecture series, specialized bibles, and student and children’s versions of the book. This merchandising empire often becomes the primary source of historical information for people in evangelical culture (particularly for children who don’t attend public school), with little secular information to compare it against.

At work here is a very important feature of Christianity’s gospel: the claim is that a real man was really crucified and really died and was really raised from the dead. Therefore it will have to live up to its claims or be debunked.

The following response, however, totally misses the point: he dismisses the larger claim by diverting the conversation to a much lesser claim. Does anyone in apologetics argue about the authorship of the Gospels? And, who are these “historians”? The historians the author of the article considers his friends or on his side? Does Markus Bockmuehl count? N.T. Wright? Hoskyns and Davey? Really “never met anyone who met him”? He can’t be serious about that. How does he know what languages the authors of the Gospels knew? Since no one knows, by his own admission, how do we know the authors “most likely lived in another country”? We then hear the form criticism of 100 years in the making is working with nothing but “rumors”? Really?

The idea of putting the gospels to the test as a piece of journalism is one that makes most secular historians a little uneasy. After all, no one really knows who authored them (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not compose the books attributed to them), but historians do agree that the authors never met Jesus, never met anyone who met him, didn’t speak the language of Jesus’s land, most likely lived in another country, and wrote the gospels 40 to 70 years after Jesus’s death, based on rumors that had been going around.

He’s totally right about this:

In addition to Martin, the New Testament scholars I’d reached out to from Duke and Vanderbilt had never heard of The Case for Christ either, which illustrates the massive divide between evangelical education and those of secular universities. Often the academic world knows nothing of best-selling Christian educational texts, and vice versa, so the two realms of thought are rarely forced to contend with one another.

And those same evangelicals have never heard of Dale Martin. No offense, but this is not even an argument. Who cares who knows whom? Isn’t the issue a careful sifting of the evidence? With solid methods? And as much disinterestedness as possible?

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