I heard someone remark recently that, in our secular age, the main struggle skeptics have with Christianity is not just that it is implausible, but that it is immoral. Indeed, as prevailing cultural ethics (in sexuality and gender particularly) continue to diverge from biblical Christianity, arguments for the logic of Christianity (“Is it true?”) will likely not be enough in apologetics. The morality of Christianity (“Is it good?”) will also need defense.
Still, there are multiple fronts in apologetics and no one-size-fits-all approach. Skepticism takes many forms, for many reasons. Each skeptic’s personal story informs questions and doubts, and Christians should engage them accordingly. Two new films underscore this point, illustrating how biography and tailored approaches matter in apologetics—and how God works in a variety of ways to meet individuals in their specific questions and doubts.
The Most Reluctant Convert skillfully narrates C. S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity in an engaging “one-man show” style format. Send Proof focuses on the supernatural as a stumbling block for many skeptics today, asking, “If miracles exist, where’s the proof?” Both films are worth watching and discussing.
The Most Reluctant Convert
The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C. S. Lewis will have a limited run in theaters starting Nov. 3. Based on a popular stage play of the same name and drawing largely from Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, the film stars Max McLean as middle-aged Lewis and Nicholas Ralph (star of the popular British series All Creatures Great and Small) as Lewis at the time of his conversion to Christianity.
The movie is helmed by British Christian filmmaker Norman Stone (BBC’s Shadowlands) and was shot on location in the United Kingdom, largely in Oxford. It will largely appeal to existing Lewis fans and evangelicals, though it’s certainly more enjoyable and interesting than most faith-based films.
In less than 80 minutes, the concise film charts the spiritual journey of Lewis from traumas in his childhood (losing his mother at 9, losing his faith at 14, fighting in World War I at 19) to the intellectual epiphanies that would send him back to theism: the “baptizing” of his imagination while reading George MacDonald’s Phantastes, conversations about faith with literary kindreds like Owen Barfield, and a fateful walk at Magdalen College with J. R. R. Tolkien about “true myth.”
Arguments for the logic of Christianity (‘Is it true?’) will likely not be enough in apologetics. The morality of Christianity (‘Is it good?’) will also need defense.
There’s lots to love here for Lewis junkies like me. Seeing Lewis scholar Michael Ward in a cameo role was fun, and McLean’s narration is delightful, witty, and well-delivered. The film’s script is its strongest point—threading an impressive number of Lewis quotables into a coherent and concise account of his conversion.
In one scene you hear a passage from Mere Christianity (“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world”) followed immediately by a sentence from The Weight of Glory (“At present we are on the outside of [that] world, the wrong side of the door”), seamlessly woven into a narrative that connects the dots. It never feels as preachy or didactic as other faith-based films often do, and it packs a lot of big ideas into a short space.
It’s a wordy film in the best sense, which is understandable given the source material (a one-man stage show). But this also leads to some of what I found disappointing in the film. Whenever a movie tries to show concepts originally captured in words—like Lewis’s Sehnsucht ideas about joy—the resulting images can be a letdown. This was my experience seeing the film’s rendering of Lewis’s boyhood biscuit tin toy garden—which Lewis describes (in Surprised by Joy) as a first awakening of joy, a sensation of being “stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased.” It’s not that the film rendered this image in a poor way, necessarily. I just wonder whether the image helped or hindered Lewis’s compelling words.
That quibble aside, the film is enjoyable and instructive. Lewis is an invaluable resource in apologetics, and his life has many lessons for how Christianity can be made plausible—and desirable—in the modern world. Randy Newman’s new book, Mere Evangelism, is a new resource that highlights this well.
This new documentary—available to stream on demand—is one of the more interesting faith-based documentaries I’ve seen in recent years. Elijah Stephens, who both directs and narrates the film, takes viewers on a fascinating journey into debates of Christianity’s supernatural elements, particularly miraculous healings.
Stephens assembles an impressively diverse roster of experts and commentators on all sides. On the Christian apologist side, theologians and scholars like J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and Craig Keener appear. Yet skeptical atheists are also featured prominently, including Michael Shermer and John Loftus (author of The Case Against Miracles). Stephens also interviews medical researches who investigate claims of healing, individuals with firsthand accounts of miraculous healing, and leaders of healing ministries like Bill Johnson of Bethel.
Stephens presents these views and voices without clearly leading the audience to believe or discredit any of their conclusions. He lets them speak for themselves. This is incredibly rare among documentaries today, faith-based or otherwise. They are almost always one-sided and manipulative arguments more than “documents” attempting to fairly portray complex debates.
Stephens is a Christian and no doubt has a particular point of view on the matter, but his film respects viewers enough to let them reach their own conclusions. This is not propagandistic polemic in which the atheist character is defeated and killed off at the end (I’m looking at you, God’s Not Dead). Nor is it a simplistic shrug, as if all answers are equally viable. It asks a straightforward question (Is there proof for miracles?) and wrestles with it fairly.
And even as the film is told from a Reformed continuationist perspective, charismatic abuses are strongly critiqued. We can believe the miraculous is possible as Christians and still approach testimonies of the miraculous with caution and logic. Send Proof seems to argue that scientific evidence and “proof” should be a friend, not a foe, to charismatic Christians.
Both Worth Watching
Are The Most Reluctant Convert and Send Proof masterpieces? No. But they’re both worth watching—especially if you have open-minded nonbelieving friends who will watch and discuss them with you. Neither film is likely to fully convince skeptics, but the journey from incredulous skeptic to convinced believer is long and winding, with many ideas and inputs along the way (as Lewis’s story illustrates). I pray these films are used by God to help point some viewers in the direction of faith.