God’s Not Dead movie review
A ‘feel-good’ movie that sadly did not make us feel good at all!
Published: 20 February 2014 (GMT+10)
Today, Christianity is under attack more than ever. Christians with a biblical worldview seem to be the ‘underdogs’ in the university, culture, and media. So when a film affirms a Christian worldview in any sense, it’s hard not to be excited. When we viewed the trailer for God’s Not Dead, we hoped that it would be an example of how to argue for one’s faith in the university, as the stats show that this is one area where young Christians struggle and even lose their faith.
God’s Not Dead does not completely meet the stereotypes people assume about Christian movies being the lowest quality. Indeed, the production quality was good for a Christian themed movie, and we would have dearly liked to give this feature film our endorsement. Unfortunately, the content of the film has many problematic areas, so it is with a heavy heart that we feel we need to clearly report our concerns. Christians need to be aware of the problem areas, so if they do decide to view the movie, they can do so with discernment.
‘David vs. Goliath’
There are multiple subplots in the movie which are all introduced in its first few minutes, but not developed immediately, and it seems to take a while before the details emerge allowing the viewer a chance to catch up. However, the main story is that Josh, a college freshman, is taking an Introduction to Philosophy class from an infamously atheistic professor, Dr. Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo who is known for his role on the TV show Hercules, among other roles). The very first class, the professor stands up and gives a short discourse about the virtues and intellectual superiority of atheism. He then gives the class their first assignment. He passes out blank papers, and demands that each student write “God is dead” and sign their names in order to get a passing grade. Josh refuses, so the professor forces him to take an alternate assignment; Josh will be given time in the next three lectures to prove the existence of God. If the students in his class are convinced, he passes the assignment. If not, he fails the semester, and thus his chances at a prestigious law degree.
Weak apologetic arguments due to compromise
This is where we anticipated the movie could have made its major ‘equipping’ contribution, but unfortunately, each of the points Josh tries to put forward to prove God’s existence are arguments that atheists would easily refute. In the first session, Josh equates the big bang to what we would expect if God spoke the universe into existence. Of course, CMI has long demonstrated how the big problem with the big bang theory is that it is supposed to have happened billions of years ago. With the sun allegedly appearing millions of years before the earth, for example, it stands in complete opposition to the very creation passages in Genesis which Josh is supposed to be defending. He even affirms an age of the universe of billions of years, which clearly stands contrary to the biblical account. To be fair, he does give a good answer to “Who created God?”, which is perhaps the only solid apologetic in this section.
In the second section, Josh talks about the problems of life coming from non-life, but then implies that God could be behind the seemingly-random process of evolution. But an informed atheist could respond that evolution is a wasteful, cruel process; why would anyone worship God if He used a cruel wasteful evolutionary process? Perhaps the producers have not realized that most atheistic evolutionists don’t really respect Christians who believe in evolution. Just ask the ‘high priest’ of atheistic evolution, Professor Richard Dawkins, who once said that theological attempts to marry the Bible and evolution are “seriously deluded.” In this sense, who is the movie trying to win over?
In the third and final lecture, Josh tackles the problem of evil by saying that it is a necessary consequence of free will. But the very biblical creation account Josh claims to be defending is clear that evil is a consequence of sin, not a necessary companion to free will.
These weak arguments are presented as overtly intimidating to the ‘infamously stout’ atheist professor and predictably, the stereotypical triumph of Josh’s arguments over the confounded professor leads to what seems to be the dramatic conversion of the entire class. This is not a realistic scenario. Given these somewhat basic and flawed arguments, they would not be at all convincing to an informed opponent, and no atheist of Professor Radisson’s supposed caliber would be unfamiliar with them. The danger we fear is that hapless college students may take these weak arguments, try to use them, and get shot down. Instead of concluding that there is something wrong with the arguments, they could think that Christianity is false, and it would damage their faith.
There are countless sub-plots, and each takes every available chance to unfortunately stereotype, almost to the point of offensiveness, every people group represented.
First: the atheists are portrayed as being one-dimensional and evil. The journalist character is career-driven and rude; ambushing her Christian interview subjects (Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson and his wife Korie in one encounter, and the band Newsboys, in another) to ask them offensive questions. For example, she asks, “Why aren’t you barefoot and pregnant?” in the first interview.
A businessman is portrayed as the most self-centered and callous person imaginable. He does not visit his mother because she is suffering from dementia, and he breaks up with his girlfriend when she reveals she is suffering from a fatal cancer, accusing her of “changing our agreement … breaking our deal.”
But the journalist and the businessman are nothing compared to Professor Radisson, who is possibly the most self-centered narcissist you would ever meet. He is a tyrant in the classroom and in his personal life. He mocks and threatens his students, and publically humiliates his girlfriend. His militant atheism and hatred of God is driven by the death of his Christian mother from cancer, and perhaps the only moment when he seems like a plausible human being is when he is reading a loving letter from his mother, written shortly before her death.
The strict Muslim family is stereotypically portrayed as well, but with critical errors. First, the daughter is required to wear a scarf covering the lower half of her face, but inexplicably is allowed to wear a low-cut, short-sleeved shirt. And she is shown listening to music on an iPod, but strict Muslims also believe that music is ungodly, and they do not allow it. The father, when he finds out his daughter is no longer a Muslim, beats her and physically throws her out of the house and onto the streets weeping.
A Chinese student’s father shows no interest in his son’s life, and when he starts talking about God, his father’s angry reply is to be careful because ‘someone’ might be listening, and it could jeopardize his brother’s chances of studying at a foreign university.
These character portrayals of atheists and other religions will generally be found to be unbelievable by viewers, whether Christian or not. And worse still, for a professing Christian movie to portray them so unreasonably is very uncharitable. Weaker brethren may even find these portrayals believable and if so, it will do nothing to engender Christian love to those who are outside of Christ. We (Christians) do not like to be caricatured in this way, and certainly believers should apply the admonition to “do unto others”.
But the Christians are perhaps the most stereotyped of all. Josh’s girlfriend promptly breaks up with him the moment he shows some backbone (just after celebrating their 6-year anniversary, which means they would have been dating since the age of 12). The professor’s ‘Christian’ girlfriend, whom he started dating while she was a student in his class, stays with the most unlikable guy in the entire movie for some inexplicable reason until she has one shallow conversation with the pastor.
An American pastor and an African missionary are both caricatured. The pastor is lukewarm and dissatisfied (until called on to assist in the deathbed conversion of one of the major characters). And the African missionary is there to contrast by smiling in the face of minor inconveniences and exhibit faith that God will allow a car to start. Neither is developed enough to allow their faith to be more than one-dimensional. Most pastors would not be flattered by such a depiction.
There are cameo appearances of members of the now-popular Duck Dynasty cast, and ‘product placement’ for the Christian band Newsboys throughout the film. And all the major characters inexplicably converge at a Newsboys concert at the film’s climax.
A missed opportunity
Given the theme of this film, we began viewing with high anticipation for the potential that could have been, but as the film progressed, our expectations were doused. CMI has produced films, and are currently editing a new major documentary, so we empathize that filmmakers spend not only a lot of money to make a quality production, but it takes countless months of planning and development to make the final product as effective as possible. In this case, the filmmakers went out on a limb to address some of the most foundational questions that plague the minds of so many in our culture, but we are staggered at how poorly they answered them. It’s not as if there is not good information available, in fact, more than ever before. Yet they chose to not consult any good creation organizations for guidance on strong, up-to-date apologetic arguments. For example, CMI employs Ph.D. scientists around the world, from many different scientific disciplines, and we have focused on addressing these very issues for decades. In this arena, we, as well as other major creation organizations, have taken a firm stand on the Bible and how the scientific evidence supports the Bible’s historical account, so as you can imagine, we have constantly been challenged by the likes of opponents far more formidable than this film’s ‘Dr. Radisson’.
“When your faith is tested, can you explain what you believe?”
This phrase was taken directly from the film’s dedicated website, yet it aptly summarizes a major aspect of the mission of Creation Ministries International. You see, although Dr. Radisson’s blatant requirement to reject one’s faith in writing seems hard to believe in even today’s secular culture, the reality is that many Christian students are facing similar experiences to the one Josh faces in this film. In the case of a professor of biology at Texas Tech University (Lubbock, Texas, USA), the professor demonstrated his religious bigotry in public by denying his recommendation to any creationist student who would deny the ‘fact’ of evolution.
In another case, a college-aged CMI–US staff member told of her first biology class and that her professor told all the Christians to rethink taking his class because “It will destroy your faith.” Our speakers can also testify firsthand to the open hostility and rudeness of teachers on campuses all around the world.
Even outside of the university setting, whether it be TV programs, magazines, textbooks, documentaries, movies, etc., all everyone seems to hear is that evolution is a fact. So if so few believers are equipped with and boldly share a viable defense for the biblical worldview, is it any wonder that people might ultimately conclude that ‘science’ has proven that the Bible is just a bunch of stories, and thus, “God is dead”?
If anything, the plot of this film dramatizes the reality that our speakers are facing on the road. After one of our presentations in churches around the world, it is common for a parent to approach us with a pained look on their face, explaining how their children have abandoned the faith when they left their homes. However, while living under their parents roof, if children are equipped with a strong apologetic, specifically in the creation/evolution arena, the very area where the Bible is being attacked more than any other, then things are very different. Not only is their faith in God’s Word strengthened, but they become God’s vehicle, like the fictional Josh, boldly sharing their faith and truth with others—but with good solid information that can refute the skeptics.
Yup, God’s not dead!
1 Peter 3:15 commands all believers to “ … always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you … ”. Fulfilling the role of a ‘defender of the faith’ requires a little effort. So take action today and equip yourself and your family with the readily-available resources that will make a difference not only for your and your children’s future, but in their ability to confidently and boldly defend their faith and share the Gospel. The sidebar of this article links to our most foundational resources that will begin you and your family on the path to becoming a real, yet effective, ‘Josh’. While you are at it, find out how easy it is to invite a CMI speaker to your church so that believers in your community will be equipped to share the truth with their family, friends and coworkers.
Although we regrettably cannot recommend this movie, it highlighted to us that so much work needs to be done to equip believers and their families. To be blunt, if this were the best that Christians can come up with, we would be in serious trouble and it is likely we would not convince anyone of the truth. But the good news is you can get equipped with a biblical, scientific and effective apologetic that you can boldly use to impact your family, friends and community as you stand up for the truth and authority of God’s Word. Just don’t expect a ‘fictional’ movie to do it for you.
Rather than look at the movie as a missed opportunity to reach non-believers, maybe believers should look at it as an opportunity to reach out to them instead. Not every person that goes to see the movie is going to be a Christian, and hopefully it will make them question (or at the very least) want to argue their point with a Christian...what better forum for discussion than right there in a public place where others can be drawn in? Maybe the movie will plant a seed that will grow if a Christian makes the effort to water it!
Thank you Lita and Scott for this review. I probably will see it nevertheless as I am always interested in any media messages regarding our faith. All may not be lost though....hopefully the movie will generate dialouge especially from those without faith or a weak faith.
This review sounds a bit rough in places and perhaps a bit uninformed, for example "And all the major characters inexplicably converge at a Newsboys concert at the film’s climax." A lot of viewers would be aware that one of the Newsboys' hits was "God's not Dead" - even if using the association is a little bit twee. Real shame to hear that such weak arguments were used so this was an opportunity missed.
I am very glad that this review was written. The premise of the movie bothered me, that you could put God in the dock and present evidence so that the unbeliever, with his good heart and great wisdom, could decide that God exists. This is contrary to Scripture. We cannot "out evidence" people. For every evidence, there is an equal and opposite rescuing device. The problem is not about "proof", it is a spiritual matter because we are at enmity with God and our hearts are darkened. Evidence is vitally important, but we cannot divorce it from the truth of God's Word. Conviction and salvation are up to the Holy Spirit, not our cleverness in arguing. Especially when we have unrealistic expectations and assumptions about ourselves, and about stereotyped atheists/evolutionists. I refer people to Acts 17, 1 Cor. 2.1-5, Romans 1.18-22, 1 Cor. 3.19-20, Prov. 1.7 and Isaiah 40.8. For starters.
Thank you for the comment. Of course the 'evidence' used by both sides is the same. The difference is the interpretation of the evidence based on their presupposition. See the article It's not science. for more on this.
My immediate thoughts were based on the movie’s title. How can God be dead if the claim is that God never existed? Dead means something was alive once, but the definition of God is eternal so the title refutes itself. If the title is contradictory then the film will also suffer the same fate! A better title would have been “The world God wants to save”.
"These character portrayals of atheists and other religions will generally be found to be unbelievable by viewers, whether Christian or not" I can't speak for "other religion" (doesn't atheism qualify as 'a religion'?)....but the portrayal of atheists....whether actual or functional...would seem to be accurate... if you live a Christ-rejecting life or, even, a non-theistic/God-rejecting life with, inevitably, no moral compass at all.....then.....expect your life to reflect such a 'belief' system... "as a man thinks, so he is!"
This is a shame to read. I was looking forward to seeing it. Wonder if it were being made now, whether they'd be stronger on the elements Lita and Scott mentioned, based on the impact of the Ham v Nye debate bringing the Creation v Evolution 'debate' into the public eye? I guess we're left to wonder this.