In Theaters: The Case for Christ

I just took our eldest to see the movie, The Case for Christ, which is out now in select theaters.

The movie tells the true story of an atheist journalist, Lee Strobel, who sets out to disprove Christianity after his wife becomes a Christian. To his mind, she has joined a cult; he despises the  (perceived) religious kookiness so much that for him, his quest is really about saving his marriage.  The movie essentially relates the backstory to Strobel’s world-wide bestseller: The Case for Christ.

Now I am not, generally speaking, a fan of explicitly Christian cinema, as it is usually tainted by overacting and saccharine plots. Of course, Lee’s conversion is a foregone conclusion – this is after all a Christian film!  True to life, Strobel does indeed come to faith through his strange little piece of “investigative journalism,” in a most awkward scene in the final moments of the film.

Having said all that, my daughter and I both liked the movie.  Yes, there was a bit of over-drama.  The story itself, though was compelling. The film is essentially a series of love stories: it is the story of a husband’s and wife’s struggling love in a bad place in their marriage; of a son’s anger at his distant father; of a man’s resistance to the very notion of a loving God.

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Strobel and his wife, not seeing eye to eye

There’s nothing in the movie that will convict the viewer of the ‘truth’ of Christianity, but the movie doesn’t aim at laying out the material in The Case for Christ.  The movie simply offers depictions of different ways of coming to faith, with Strobel wrestling for a reasonable faith, and his wife having more a deep conversion of the heart.  I appreciate that it also tells the stories of the atheists and agnostics too – those who have landed, by faith, in a different space – and painting them as the reasonable and caring people.

The research literature talks about the importance of mentors for young people, as they begin sorting through what they believe and don’t believe, and what their religious identity will be.  This movie, in a modest way, gives space for teens to question and wonder, and perhaps find for themselves someone with whom they identify in the film.  The characters offer a comforting model of people – who unlike, perhaps other adults in the teen’s life – haven’t landed yet on the side of faith but are still figuring out what it all means.

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Strobel working late, investigating news stories and the Jesus story

The film offers a helpful assurances that questions and wondering and uncertainty are all a normal part of the journey of faith, which is critical for teens to hear at their stage of faith development.  It also gently reminds the viewer that the end goal is not doubt, but trusting relationship.

For the youth pastor and the parent, this movie may be a helpful resource, opening the door to conversations about the young person’s own faith questions and intellectual wrestlings, which conversations are so critical at this stage of development.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

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This book came recommended to me by my friend Tiffany Robinson, and it has in turn become one of my top suggestions to mums and dads looking for parenting books and for colleagues looking for resources for parenting small groups.

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The author, Dr. Wendy Mogel, is an American clinical psychologist and internationally renowned writer and speaker on parenting. She also has an interesting story of faith.

Although Mogel’s parents were Jewish, they did not raise her in the tradition. Mogel discovered Judaism later in adulthood, when a friend invited her to a children’s Rosh Hashanah service. She went to the service thinking of herself as a cultural anthropologist, but left with “something stirred inside me.” That brief outing marked the first step in a journey that eventually led to her embrace of the Jewish faith.

The book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, is the product of her experience as a clinical psychologist and her discovery of the wisdom of the Jewish tradition, with much of the content drawn from years of teaching a Jewish parenting class at her Temple.

Mogel believes that the Torah speaks powerfully into a milieu where parents wrestle against a consumeristic and individualistic culture,  and where children are reared in a performance-oriented and anxiety-producing environment. She writes:

Judaism provides a very different kind of perspective on parenting. By sanctifying the most mundane aspects of the here and now, it teaches us that there is greatness not just in grand and glorious achievements but in our small, everyday efforts and deeds. Judaism shows us that we don’t have to be swallowed up by our frenzied, materialistic world – we can take what is valuable from it without being wholly consumed.

Three cornerstone principles of Jewish living are moderation, celebration and sanctification Through these principles we can achieve a balanced life, no matter what culture we happen to inhabit…By applying them to our family life, my husband, my children, and I have found some mooring and meaning in an unsteady world. In my professional life, I’ve seen families transformed by this new perspective on their problem in living. (34)

That quote is from the opening chapter, and in the rest of the book she delivers on her promise of a parenting approach that is both liberating and commonsense.

The table of contents offers a good picture of the kind of topics she tackles:

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She touches on everything from picky-eaters to chores to discipline problems to the futility of pious lectures, to teaching children to manage boring or frightening conversations with adults, to helping your child manage their yetzer hara.  [I know.  I had never heard of yetzer hara, either. You’ll have to read the book to find out.]

As a parent, I loved this book. (I say this as the kind of person who reads a book every time she faces a parenting dilemma she has no idea how to handle. So, I’ve read a lot of parenting books.) This is one of the few parenting resources I’ve read that didn’t make me feel more inadequate or more burdened than when I started it. Hopeful, is how I would describe my mood when I finished the final chapter.

As a pastor, you can see the possibilities.  Mogel not only offers excellent clinical advice, she ties it with the Torah, modeling a way of applying the wisdom of holy scriptures to daily living. For pastors wanting a resource for a parenting small group, this book helps lay people connect their parenting with their faith.

The other bonus: the book comes with a parents’ discussion guide.  As a pastor, you don’t even have to build the questions.

My only caveat, as a pastor: not everyone loves to read.  In a large church, this is no big-deal, since if you advertise a book study, people will self select. But in a small or mid-size church, you may not have tons of families. Your small group may well be all the families in your church!  Odds are, not all those parents will love to read, or have time to read.

I have gotten around this in the past by going through a summary each week of the content of the chapter, so that people get the nuts and bolts of what Mogel discussed. The discussion questions are broad enough that everyone can still participate, but…it’s imperfect.

I had summary notes on my old laptop that died; sometime in the next year I will take time to dig around for them, and if I find them, I will post them here.