Hollywood and Christianity often seem at odds-but are they really? Screenwriter and author Brian Bird shares about his role in the making of a new motion picture that hits theaters everywhere this weekend.
Hollywood and Christianity often seem at odds-but are they really? Screenwriter and author Brian Bird shares about his role in the making of a new motion picture that hits theaters everywhere this weekend.
Bob: Does it ever seem to you that Hollywood is against the values that your family embraces? Brian Bird, who’s been a Hollywood screenwriter for decades, says there’s not an anti-Christian agenda in Hollywood.
Brian: The only bias that exists against what we’re trying to do with these kinds of faith stories is they don’t get it—right?—what these stories mean to us. We just have to be really good. We have to seek to be excellent in our story-telling and put the resources into these projects that actually will make them as good as or better than what traditional Hollywood studios put out.
Bob: This is a special edition of FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 7th. Today, we’ll be live in front of a studio audience, talking about Hollywood and about one of their newest movies, The Case for Christ, opening in theaters this weekend.
Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. Today, in theaters all across the country, there is a movie that is opening up that tells a pretty remarkable story.
Most of the time, when we record our radio program, we don’t have a studio audience joining us; but today, we have some FamilyLife Today listeners who are here with us. [Applause and cheers]
Dennis: They are here on the Love Like You Mean It® cruise.
Bob: And they have just seen the movie that is opening in theaters. It’s called The Case for Christ, and what did you think? [Cheering and applause]
Dennis: It’s the story of Lee Strobel and his wife Leslie, and how her conversion to Christ and her love for her husband ultimately resulted in a man’s quest to find the truth about Jesus Christ and about the Scriptures, and ultimately found God through faith.
Bob: We have, as a guest with us today, the guy who got the assignment of telling that story. Of course, it’s told in a best-selling book, The Case for Christ; but Brian Bird adapted it for the screen—is the screenwriter for the film. He’s joining us today—Brian, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Brian: It’s an honor to be with you.
Dennis: Brian, you don’t know this, but I grew up in Missouri, which is the “Show Me” state.
Brian: It is.
Dennis: And I’m also of the tribe of the Doubting Thomas’s—not as dramatic as Lee Strobel and his quest, as an adult, married with children—but as a college student, I, too, was dealing with my doubts and my skepticism.
For my life, I found Jesus Christ as a junior in college. The answers from the Scripture to my doubts overwhelmed those things of unbelief. Just like Lee Strobel, I was placed at a pivotal point, having to decide: “Was I going to bet my life on my doubts or on the things I’d found to be true?” That’s really his story; isn’t it?
Brian: It is; it is. He actually graduated from the University of Missouri, the Medill School of Journalism. He was a “Show Me” state boy, at that time. [
Dennis: [Laughter] I didn’t realize I had that in common with him.
Bob: That’s a top journalism school—
Brian: It’s the best journalism school in the country.
Bob: You were a cub reporter for the San Gabriel Tribune.
Brian: You’ve done some homework! [Laughter]
Bob: So you have a little of that. Do you have any parallels here? Did you have a skeptical phase in your life?
Brian: You know, when I went to journalism school myself, out in California, I had a—one of my professors was a Dr. Ted Smythe, who was a believer. He was a great journalist himself. I went to him with some of these questions.
I was raised in a Christian home; but as we all know for our own children, they have to embrace their faith / they can’t inherit it. I went to him and I said, “What do I do with my faith as a secular journalist?” He said: “In the marketplace of ideas, truth always rises to the top. You can trust that, and your faith is true.”
Dennis: So how did you come about making a commitment to Jesus Christ?
Brian: Well, I actually received Jesus as my Savior as a young kid. Maybe some of you have had that experience, too; but I think I had to really discover it for myself. It all happened during my college time and I was really wrestling. Even though I had received Jesus, as a young person, it was during that time and with the mentorship of Dr. Smythe, and some loving parents, and a girlfriend who cared for me, who is now my wife of 36 years, Patty—
—I finally figured out a way to embrace my faith and embrace it, as an adult, and make it an intellectual and a heart pursuit.
Dennis: From a career standpoint, have you ended up using your talent for the glory of God all the way through, or was—
Brian: You know what? I have committed myself to just tell great stories my whole life. One way or another, God has brought stories, like Lee and Leslie Strobel’s story, into my opportunity. I’ve had opportunities to tell those kinds of stories my whole adult career.
I remember having a Bob Buford half-time experience—you know, maybe, 20 years ago. I had been working on a comedy / a sitcom, actually, called Step by Step—maybe some of you folks remember that show. I had this sort of moment of catharsis. I said: “God, I’m just writing jokes for Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers.
“What is that doing for folks?” I remember asking myself, “What do I want on my tombstone / on my epitaph?” This was what God impressed on me: “Let your words move men closer to Me.” So I recommitted myself to that pursuit; and ever since then, I have been working on stories like the one we just saw, The Case for Christ.
Bob: Getting stories like this, told from Hollywood studios, is not an easy venture. Even a company like Pure Flix—that has had success with God’s Not Dead / God’s Not
Dead 2—they’ve had other films that have come out—there’s still no golden ticket that just says, “Whatever you want to do, you can do.”
Brian: That’s right.
Bob: I can imagine dialogues with studio executives, where you said, “We want to tell the story of a skeptic, who goes from atheism to Christianity,”—I imagine there were some that that was a tough sell for.
Brian: It is—there’s no doubt about that. But since The Passion of the Christ came out a dozen years ago or so, there is more of an appetite for faith-based stories. We’re seeing faith-based movies and television shows emerge more now than ever before. But it’s still a challenge; because if the movies don’t make money, then they won’t do them anymore; right?
I really believe that we need to reward those studios who take those risks with those dollars. It’s business to them—many of them—not Pure Flix / Pure Flix wants to do these kinds of stories. The people that put the money up for these kinds of movies are deeply missional in what they want to do—the bigger studios, not so much—but if these films and television shows actually are successful, and we reward them for giving them to us, they will do more of them.
It’s a pretty easy equation. We need to reward the people that take the risks. I’m a big believer in sort of the law of patronage in that regard.
The only bias that exists against what we’re trying to do with these kinds of faith stories is they don’t get it. They don’t get why—right? —what these stories mean to us. We just have to be really good—we have to be better than them, actually. We have to seek to be excellent in our story-telling and put the resources into these projects that actually will make them as good as or better than what traditional Hollywood studios put out.
I hope we’ve accomplished that. That was our goal here—to tell an authentic story to earn the right to have Lee get on his knees, at the end of that movie, and ask Jesus into his life.
We had to earn that. Unfortunately, not all movies earn it; even secular movies don’t often earn the big moment like that—that’s our goal.
Bob: I want to ask you about the law of patronage, because I understand what you’re saying; but at the same time, I’ve been to movies where I spent my ten dollars to go see it, and I’m cheering for the mission, but the art I have just watched was substandard. Now, I have a lot of respect for what I just saw. I think the actors did a great job. This is not a film I would be embarrassed to take a non-Christian to go see with me, because I think the craft is well-done. You guys think that’s right for this? [Applause] In fact, I was a little surprised that Bonnie, from Bonnie and Clyde, is in this movie. Faye Dunaway—
Brian: Faye Dunaway.
Bob: —plays a role in this film.
How’d that happen?
Brian: You know what? Miss Dunaway, who is an Academy Award winner, multiple times, said to us, “I believe in what you guys want to accomplish here.” I can’t vouch for her personal faith—I don’t know what that is—but I do believe that with a lot of folks, who are seekers, are hungry. I want to bias our work and our efforts in favor of those folks and not just make movies for the choirs. It was an honor to have Faye Dunaway in this movie—it was huge to us to actually have that.
Bob: You touched on it just then, but I want to just ask you—all across the country, as it’s being released today, there are a lot of listeners, right now, wondering, “Who is the target of this movie?” Who did you have in mind, Brian, as you did this?
Dennis: Yes; I thought so.
Brian: And here’s why—obviously, the movie is a wonderful booster shot—right?—for us, as believers, so that we can reaffirm our faith / so we can know that there’s strong evidence. However, if this movie only reaches us, in the choir, I don’t know if that’s why we did this; right?
Dennis: I agree.
Brian: We wanted to tell the story excellently, because we want everybody to see this movie. We want for believers to be able to bring their friends, who maybe are skeptical, to the film. You know what? My prayer is that churches, all over the country, this weekend will rent buses and get their folks out to those movie theaters. But if those buses are filled only with believers, I don’t think that’s what God intends for us to do and for this film to do.
Dennis: Right; as I was sitting here, I thought, “This is going to be a safe film for me to bring someone outside the faith, who may be struggling with what they believe and maybe their experience with God.” Most of the film is spent with skepticism from a number of different angles.
Brian: Ninety-eight percent—he’s a skeptic.
Dennis: But he did come to faith in Christ. It does, in the end, represent a simple prayer of salvation—which, as we all know, God takes us in what we know or what we don’t know—if it’s the attitude of the heart to place our faith in Christ.
Bob: Well, and you showed his progress in the journey, taking him from one scholar to another scholar. You didn’t have time to unpack all of the evidence that he amasses in the book, but you took the critical moments and showed that the reality for the resurrection is a lot stronger than most people give it credit.
Brian: It absolutely is. It’s not by accident this is coming out the weekend before Easter, given that the resurrection is such a strong theme. Yes; you know, the power of this story—as you said, The Case for Christ book has 13 experts in it. The challenge for me, in trying to tell this story, was to get past the 13 experts in such a way that I could tell a very personal journey between a husband and wife. There were other pillars of story-telling in this. Lee’s father-wound—with his dad—that’s absolutely true / what happened to him. He was not able to reconcile with his father before his father passed away.
Bob: Given the story thread that you have, you had to leave some things out. You included the father-wound thread in. Why did you feel that was important to the overall story being told?
Brian: Well, as Faye Dunaway tells us in this movie—Dr. Waters—all the most famous atheists in history all had father-wounds.
There are books that have been written on this.
Brian: And for Lee to have had this seriously dysfunctional relationship with his own father, where they could not get on the same page, absolutely spoke into his skepticism. You know, if we can’t imagine a loving father on earth, how do we imagine that there’s a loving Father, in heaven, who cares for us, if our own father either hurt us, or abused us, or was just cold to us?
I knew, when I read through—and I read all of Lee’s books—because there are aspects of this story that you’re going to find in some of his other books. In fact, he and Leslie wrote a book that’s fantastic for family life—it’s called Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage—that’s literally what they went through. We tapped into some of the dynamics in that story as well.
Dennis: You know, I just want to comment back about the father-wound for a moment.
In a very simple way, it made a strong statement to any man, who bears the name of “father,” to wear it with dignity and nobility in loving his child; because, in a very real sense, we’re the first image that a baby—a young lad / a young lady—has of their heavenly Father. So it’s important that the snapshot and the picture they get from our faces and our countenance be a positive one.
Dennis: The other thing I took away from this was the theme you were just talking about—being spiritually mismatched. A number of our listeners are in marriages, where they are spiritually mismatched—and it’s a wife or a husband who is loving their spouse in the midst of not having a shared faith—and a lot of loss and, really, hurt occurring because it isn’t part of that marriage.
Brian: Yes; yes. That’s such an important thing, Dennis—especially, for your audience.
You have a lot of folks listening to you every week. I think that for those spouses, who are in a spiritual mismatch, they need to hold onto that Ezekiel [3:26] promise—that God will fulfill—hold onto it.
Bob: That was part of Leslie’s story as you debriefed with them.
Bob: God gave her that promise, “I will take out a heart of stone; give him a heart of flesh, put a new heart in him.” She prayed that over and over again during the months while she was praying for him; right?
Brian: She absolutely did. In fact, Patty and I had Lee and Leslie at our house in Colorado, in my basement, for four days. I was getting the data dump from them, and probing their personal journey. We put up a lot of these moments on a whiteboard, as I was first diving into this and trying to figure out, “How do I tell this story and make it personal enough?” That absolutely was important to them—that verse in Ezekiel was huge to them—that we included that.
Dennis: You know, as you went through and you had Lee building the evidence for a decision—and by the way, I’m a part of Cru®, which used to be Campus Crusade for Christ®—and I actually thought there’d be a guest appearance by Josh McDowell at some point in this movie. [Laughter]
But I’ll tell you—what I really appreciated how you did this—was you made it real clear that you can give all the evidence, but you don’t find your way to God through the mind and the intellect alone. It comes as an act of the will, by faith—clearly, through the grace of God, represented and poured out through Jesus Christ. I just appreciate the integrity that—in building a movie that was weighty in terms of the intellect—you made it clear that that isn’t the ultimate first step a person takes.
Bob: Well, and in fact, the movie ends with Lee saying, “I believe,” and his wife recognizing, “Okay; that’s step one, but we’re not done.” I don’t think I’m giving away too much to say she says—she takes him to John 1, verse12, which says, “To as many as received Him, to those He gives the right to be called children of God.” She says to him, “Believe plus receive equals become.” To Dennis’s point—you made clear in the screenplay that the fact that he had given intellectual assent was not the end of his spiritual journey.
Brian: Right; you know, there are some movies that would stop at, “I believe,” and a hug. The most dangerous scene in the movie is to go past that and to actually depict the climax of the ultimate love story in history—is Jesus’ love for us on that cross and the sacrifice.
It’s the cure for everything in the universe—it’s the best-loved story of all time. For us not to depict him getting his kiss, it’s like a romance movie, where you never get to kiss the girl. Lee gets his kiss from Jesus in that moment, if you followed my metaphor there. Had we not gone there, we would have robbed the audience of a kiss; but it’s very difficult to do well. Often, in other movies, it can turn into—forgive the term—“the cheese moment.”
Bob: Yes; it gets a little preachy at that point.
Brian: It does. We wanted this one to be authentic / we wanted it to be real. It was messy—it wasn’t the sinner’s prayer—but “Believe plus receive equals become,” is absolutely the golden ticket at that moment.
Dennis: As I was sitting here, watching the conclusion—and again, back to this idea that it’s not just a matter of intellectual assent—I did hearken back to what I talked about at the beginning of the broadcast—Thomas and his doubt. When Jesus encountered him, He said: “Here, Thomas, put your finger here and see My hands; put out your hand and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And Thomas answered and said, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus said to him—and to us, by the way—Jesus said to him: “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Dennis: That’s really what the movie is all about—those who haven’t seen Christ, but yet it’s time for them to believe.
Dennis: I just want to thank you for using your craft—your ability to tell a story—and I think you are pressing people against Almighty God, and His redemption, and the love of Christ poured out on the cross.
Thanks for being with us, and thanks for being God’s man. [Applause]
Brian: Thank you.
Bob: Well again, that’s Brian Bird, who is the screenwriter for the movie, The Case for Christ—that opens in theaters this weekend. You can check your local listings to find out if it’s playing in a theater near you. Think about who you’d like to invite to go with you this weekend to see the movie. It really is a well-done film that tells a compelling story, and I think you’ll enjoy seeing it. I think it’ll set up some healthy conversations that’ll take place at a coffee shop or at the ice cream parlor after you’ve been to see the movie.
If you don’t have a copy of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, that’s a book you can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. It goes into a lot more detail than the movie is able to go into about the number of issues that Lee Strobel, as an investigative journalist, tried to press into as he sought to repudiate the claims of the Bible that Jesus had, indeed, been raised from death.
Again, the title of the book is The Case for Christ. You can order at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” and request your copy of the book. We’ll make sure you get it sent to you.
Now, we always like to take a little bit of time to say, “Thank you,” to some very important people, who are regular listeners to FamilyLife Today. In addition to being listeners, they are people who have said to us that the mission of FamilyLife is important and they’d like to see it expanded. That’s what you’re telling us when you donate to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today—you’re saying: “I would like to make sure that what you guys are talking about online, what you’re talking about on the radio program, what you’re talking about at your conferences and events, what you’re talking about in your resources—
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And with that, we have to wrap things up for today.
Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend. In fact, I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we want to talk about thinking differently about money. We’re going to talk to the head of a Fortune 500 company, who thinks all of us need a new perspective on how we think about and handle our finances. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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