By Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Heading into Easter on last weekend’s box office top 10 list to secure an expanded release this weekend, the movie The Cast for Christ – which is based on the best-selling novel written by acclaimed Christian author Lee Strobel – received the highest reviews by moviegoers, who give it a rare “A+” CinemaScore rating … which is typically received by only two films per year.
After taking in nearly $4 million in receipts on its debut weekend, The Case for Christ will be viewed at hundreds of more theaters through Easter Sunday by audiences across the nation, according to the ex-atheist-turned-Christian author of the like-named book.
“Because of [a] strong opening weekend, Case for Christ movie now expanded to 500 more screens for Easter weekend!” Strobel tweeted last week. “Please spread the word.”
One of the nation’s leading movie sites announced last week that the Christian film held its own with Hollywood box office smashes – such as DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby ($26.3 million) in first, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast ($25 million) in second, Sony’s Smurfs: The Lost Village ($14 million) in third and New Line’s Going in Style ($12.5 million) in fourth – with The Case for Christ coming in 10th.
As anticipated below, the adapted film got a boost after its opening week once Palm Sunday receipts were registered, as the movie recorded a nearly $7 million box office total on Thursday going into its second weekend – with receipts expected to jump again with moviegoers flocking to the big screen on Easter Sunday.
“[The] weekend … featured a satisfactory opening for Pure Flix’s The Case for Christ, which could see its estimates receive a bump … as a result of it being Palm Sunday,” Box Office Mojo’s Brad Brevit reported before to total of last Sunday’s receipts were tallied.
According to critics at Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a “fresh” score, indicative of a 75-percent favorability rating, with audiences scoring it higher by nearly double digits to give it an 84-percent favorability rating.
Word to the skeptic
The movie – intended for believers and skeptics alike – challenges audiences on both intellectual and spiritual levels and takes moviegoers on the same journey Strobel took decades ago when he was an atheist playing devil’s advocate.
“The Case for Christ retells the story of how Strobel – a former investigative journalist – sets out to prove that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a sham, but after a journey of examining the evidence and wrestling with his inner self, comes to faith,” The Christian Post (CP) reports. “The plot follows Strobel, who is played by actor Mike Vogel, as he struggles to deal with his wife’s conversion to Christianity.”
It was tangible evidence that ignited Strobel’s skepticism in his own atheistic religious beliefs – an entrenched worldview that began taking its toll on his family.
“His wife, played by actress Erika Christensen, encourages her nonbelieving husband to turn to Christ – something he initially rejects – but is persuaded following his examination of the evidence, including the world-famous Shroud of Turin,” CP’s Stoyan Zaimov informed. “The movie presents a number of different struggles, including one between a father and a son, but focuses heavily on the stain on Strobel’s marriage.”
Soon, Strobel could no longer ignore the facts and buy into the lies that he was led to believe his entire life.
“Some of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus helped convince me – as an atheist journalist – that there is really truth behind the Christian claims,” Strobel told CP earlier this month. “We are living in a post truth era, where people are searching for solid ground – they’re looking for something to say, ‘This is true … I can rely on this.’”
He maintained that believing in Jesus Christ is not leap of faith at all – but an embracing of the facts – of trusting in tried and tested Truths that can only come from the one and only God of the universe.
“Christianity claims to be true – it says it’s not wishful thinking or make-believe or legends or mythology, but it’s based on actual historical evidence,” Strobel continued in the interview. “And I think these days young people especially are looking for something solid like that to put their trust in.”
Cure for the blind
Strobel shared the message of his book and the newly released movie in a piece he wrote this month titled “Why I am bullish on Christianity.”
“When atheists claim there is no evidence for Christianity, I disagree,” Strobel wrote on FoxNews.com on April 7. “When liberal theologians assert there are many paths to heaven, I object. When young people say God isn’t relevant in the 21st century, I beg to differ. When analysts predict the decline of the evangelical church, I roll my eyes.”
He recognizes today’s heavy opposition to his faith and biblical worldview, and invites the very skepticism he one dished out.
“Are my positions popular?” the former atheist posed. “Maybe not, but they flow out of convictions that have only grown stronger in the midst of the evolving religious landscape in America. I’ve seen the surveys. I’m aware of the rise of the so-called ‘nones,’ who profess no religious affiliation. And frankly, that doesn’t trouble me very much. Rather than claiming to be Christians, as many have done in years past, now these people are now willing to be more honest. Today it’s socially acceptable – in many places even desirable – to be a skeptic. ‘Atheist’ is no longer considered such a derogatory term.”
Strobel is actually glad that more people today are candid about their disbelief than they were in the past.
“The truth is that America was never as much of a ‘Christian nation’ as some historians wish it were,” he added. “There was a veneer of faith over the land. ‘Respectable’ people went to church. Now they don’t pretend anymore. That’s okay.”
He then visited the days of unbelief that once shrouded his life – and his wife’s.
“I was a scoffer once myself, before spiritual skepticism became trendy,” the Christian apologist recounted. “As a law-trained journalist at the Chicago Tribune, I didn’t have any patience for mythology, superstition or make-believe. ‘Just give me the facts’ was my motto. My wife was agnostic. Then one day, through the influence of a friend and a church, she met Jesus. The first word to come into my mind: divorce. As portrayed in The Case for Christ, the forthcoming movie based on our story, I set out to disprove her beliefs and rescue her from the cult of Christianity.”
The mounting evidence for Christ and his resurrection soon turned Strobel’s life upside-down.
“After nearly two years, the scales tipped,” he explained. “Having encountered the persuasive evidence for Christianity, I concluded it would have required more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a believer. I ended up taking a 60-percent pay cut to leave my journalism career and become a pastor. For 30 years now, I’ve watched the world from the vantage point of a pulpit…”
He says the days are becoming more desperate as humanity, which is finding that the pursuit and attainment of worldly ambitions and idols are empty and futile – and unable to find pure joy and fulfillment that only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“More and more people [are] growing weary of our materialistic and celebrity-saturated culture – and instead finding exhilaration in Jesus,” Strobel pointed out. “The proliferation of ministries that help the hurting, feed the hungry, and replace despair with hope. Addicts rescued. Broken families put back together. Racial reconciliation. Selflessness displacing self-interest. While some churches are closing, many of those with a relevant and biblically faithful message aren’t just growing – they’re burgeoning.”
He ended by predicting that the denial of right and wrong – good and evil – promoted by America’s schools, media and entertainment industry will soon lose its war against God, His Church and the Bible.
“Let me share a little secret – in our increasingly chaotic world, the Christian message of truth and grace continues to resonate among people who are tired of the shifting sands of post-modern relativism,” Strobel concluded. “No doubt about it: count me among those who are optimistic about the future of the Church in America.”
What an amazing weekend at the Greater Vancouver Festival of Hope.
Over the three nights, 34,406 people attended in person, with 1929 people going forward to make a commitment to Christ. On top of that, 65,429 people from seventy-six countries watched the Festival of Hope online, with 389 people making a commitment to Christ online. We are rejoicing for lives that have been touched for eternity. It was such a privilege to serve on the Festival of Hope Executive, led by Pastor Guilio Gabeli with the invaluable wisdom of the Festival Director David Ingram. The Billy Graham family and the Billy Graham team are such quality people. We are particularly grateful for Dion and Tammy Collins who served on the ground as Assistant Director and Office Manager. An unexpected treat was to have the grandson of Billy Graham, Will Graham, join his Dad Franklin Graham for the Festival. This was Will’s third time here, since he helped us kick off the Festival and then led 500 young people to Christ at Vancouver Missions Fest this January.
Here are some Facebook Live ( & other) Clips from the amazing weekend:
By Trevor Freeze • March 6, 2017
It was the culmination of two years of planning, praying, mobilizing, inviting and more praying—specifically in the final few weeks facing opposition and protestors.
Everything pointed to this singular event, happening on the first three weekend nights in March.
And more poignantly on three moments in time, where eternal destiny would hang in the balance for so many.
Karen Assimes, sitting in the top of the arena where the Vancouver Canucks call home, had seen many Billy Graham Crusades before on TV. But this was different. She could hardly believe what she was seeing. Especially in her home country.
“Tears were flowing down my face,” she said after watching hundreds respond to Franklin Graham’s invitation at the Greater Vancouver Festival of Hope. “I needed a package of Kleenex.
“For us, this is a historical event. I’ve never seen a crowd of people flooding the floor. Stuff like this just doesn’t happen in western Canada.”
Karen and her husband, Dave, drove 350 kilometers from their home in Kelowna—Canada’s wine country—braving treacherous British Columbia roads that are often closed for avalanche warnings.
But they made the trek for one particular reason—to support Franklin Graham and the cause of evangelism in western Canada.
“Jesus is alive,” Franklin Graham told the crowd of 11,000-plus on Sunday. “He’s not still hanging on a cross. He’s not still in a grave.
“Will you come to Him tonight?”
And did they ever come. Night after night.
After a weekend that saw more than 34,000 people flock to downtown Rogers Arena and 1,900 make decisions for Christ, the message of the timeless message is clear—evangelism is still alive. Even in Canada. Or maybe especially in Canada.
And that doesn’t include an online audience of over 65,000, which reported another 400-plus commitments to Jesus.
“My husband was right there beside me crying as well, tears rolling down his cheeks,” Karen said. “It’s an overwhelming sight.”
Especially in a place like Vancouver, where a small group of protestors gathered on the first two Festival nights, and a group of pastors signed a letter to remove Franklin Graham as the event’s speaker.
“We wanted to let people know there are people out there that support Franklin Graham,” Karen said of the headlines leading up to the event. “It may not be censorship, but it’s on the road to censorship. It’s a slippery slope.”And it’s also why Karen and Dave are selling their house and family business to go into full-time ministry in their mid-50s. Not the most popular move, but they feel a calling and appreciate those who feel the same.
“You know, Franklin Graham and his father are straight shooters,” she continued. “We’re not ashamed of Franklin Graham. And we’re not ashamed of the Gospel.
“He doesn’t say things that tickle your ears. I like that someone still says the truth.”
Throughout the weekend, the truth was apparent, from the musical guests—who all spent time relating their own life experience into a Gospel presentation—to the Vancouver choirs and Franklin’s message. On Sunday, both Ellie Holcomb and Michael W. Smith shared from their heart what Christ has done.
“You are more loved that you know,” Ellie Holcomb said. “[Jesus] didn’t come to make bad people good people. He came to make dead people alive.”
Franklin Graham talked about Zacchaeus, who climbed up in a tree to get a better view of Jesus walking past. But when Jesus saw him, He asked him directly to come down to talk to Him.
“Zacchaeus came, and he came quickly,” Franklin Graham told the crowd. “And that’s what I’m going to ask you to do. That same Jesus is passing by tonight.”
Many of the counselors at this weekend’s Festival were giving back after experiencing personal hope at a Billy Graham Crusade.
Some were at the 1984 Crusade in Vancouver; others saw him in Berlin, Germany.
Pastor Rick Burdett and his wife, Chris, were at the 1964 Phoenix Crusade well before moving to British Columbia, where Rick pastors a church in nearby Tsawwassen.
Both Chris and Rick counseled on Sunday night, helping a 42-year-old with chronic health issues, as well as leading an 18-year-old Russian exchange student to Christ.
“Can you tell me about Jesus?” said the exchange student, who came forward with her sponsoring family.
The experience of seeing people in his congregation step up as counselors and boldly share their faith warmed Rick’s heart as a pastor. He also felt the opposition helped galvanize the 400-plus churches who were committed to the Festival. And sent them to their knees.
“This is evidence of prayer. And the leading of the Holy Spirit,” Rick said. “[The Festival] was exactly what Canada needs.”
 Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham and Me (CSS, 2013), 203
 Billy Graham, Just As I Am (Harper & Collins Publishers, Toronto, Ontario, 1997), xix.
 Stephen Rankin, “Confessor-in-Chief”, Christian History Institute, Issue 111, https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/confessor-in-chief/ (Accessed February 15th 2017)
 Graham, Just As I Am, xxiv.
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