An Honest Review of God’s Not Dead

First of all, I ask that you don’t read this review unless you are going to read the whole thing, word-for-word until the end. Of course this is all just my opinion, but if you care to know what I think, I want to be sure you don’t think I think something I don’t think. Got it?

If you’re unfamiliar the plot of God’s Not Dead revolves around a Christian student defending the existence of God against his atheist philosophy professor. There are also several sub plots including a vegan, atheist blogger who gets cancer, a young Christian woman who is cast out of her Muslim family, a breakup and another young Christian woman who is dating non other than the God-hating professor.

To be blunt, I have mixed feelings about this movie, so to help me sort through these issues I’m going to fall back on that reliable old tool known as the “Pros and Cons List.”

Pros

  • As an apologist, I am glad that the fact that our faith is intellectually attacked in Universities is being put in the spotlight. I don’t say this because I think we ought to feel sorry for ourselves; I say this because as Christians we ought to want to learn to defend our faith intellectually as it is a most reasonable faith. Research 1 Peter 3:15 for more on that idea.
  • At one point in the movie, Josh has to choose between doing what he believes God wants him to do and his girlfriend. This is actually one of my favorite subplots in the movie for many reasons. Josh’s girlfriend tells him in no uncertain terms that she wants a life of material security and that he is risking that future by risking his grades for God. There are several sermons just waiting to be made out of that idea. Namely, that God is ultimately more important than anyone or any thing.
  • The basic arguments that Josh uses in class are pretty legit. They aren’t carried into much detail, but they are still pretty legit. You would find similar conversations going on at the highest levels of academia. The counter points the professor makes are also pretty good. So in a purely intellectual sense, it’s pretty fair. Don’t believe me? Youtube a debate between John Lennox and Richard Dawkins (both of whom are referenced in the film).
  • There is a scene where the young woman who is a Christian in a Muslim home is found out. She is somewhat violently thrown out. Now, why would I have this in the Pros? Well, the father in the family is not made out to be a monster. In fact, it is very clear that he is completely heartbroken and is only following out what he believes his faith requires. He completely breaks down in sobs as he does what he believes is right. Call it what you want, but this is consistent with the realities of Muslim conversion. It is a BIG deal. Parents hurt greatly and take no joy in rejecting a child who converts. Muslims love their families and family is extremely important. And in that culture of honor, a conversion away from Islam brings shame on the family. Conversion for most means literally giving up everything you know. Nabeel Qureshi has a testimony that is completely consistent with this.
  • Science is our friend. Ken Ham might disagree, but I think it is great how science and faith relate in this movie. Big Bang science is not the Christian’s enemy when it is properly framed as a “how” and not a “why.” God uses means and created a world that we can use science to understand. The big bang theory also means that the universe had a beginning and is not eternal, which is completely consistent with the clear message of Genesis 1.
  • The Gospel is presented.
  • If you like Newsboys (the band), then you’ll LOVE this movie.

Cons

  • Non-believers are given horrible, deplorable treatment in this movie. The atheists in this movie are caricatured and I don’t think they are given a fair shake. Kevin Sorbos’ character is unlike any professor I’ve ever encountered. He is so hostile toward religion that it is kind of ridiculous.  Even Richard Dawkins is more cordial.  Not only that, but he along with the rest of the Philosophy department sit around like they are in Dr. Evil’s lair and talk about how dumb the theists are.  These are unlike any professors I’ve ever met.  Sure, Christianity generally isn’t popular among secular university staffs, but this is way, way over-the-top.
  • Not only are the professors extreme, but the atheist who gets cancer (don’t worry, the Newsboys lead her to Christ) also sports a “vegan” and an “I (heart) Evolution” bumper sticker on her car. And what’s worse, she tries to get the better of none other than Willie and Korrie Robertson of Duck Dynasty as they are about to go into church! She accuses them of duck murder and the name of her blog is something like “The New Leftist” (I’m really not sure, I just know it has the word “left” in it.)

So, in recap, we’ve got malicious atheists, vegans, Duck Dynasty haters and leftist bloggers as our antagonists. Loving Jesus has nothing to do with loving to shoot birds or with identifying as being politically right-leaning.

  • Have you ever watched a TV show or movie that portrayed Christians in a way that made you shout, “That is so unrealistic! We aren’t like that! These people probably don’t even know a Christian!”? Well, I feel like that’s what the atheists are going to be thinking if they see this movie. And if you feel like that’s just them “getting theirs,” that is not a Christ-like attitude.
  • If you don’t like advertising, you probably won’t dig all the Newsboys and Duck Dynasty stuff. This isn’t a big knock to the movie, but it kind of feels like a lot of the references in this movie might have come from a “stuff Christians like” blog.
  • Everything just works out just like you want it to. By the end of three class sessions, Josh has convinced the entire class — 100% of the students — that God exists. You’d be hard pressed to find that at a Christian school.  Even the professor converts… (It could be said here that the producers were obviously not Baptists or they would have used a MACK Truck in the process…)
  • Josh, after learning that his professor suffered deep pain and loss as a child, still presses his professor in front of the whole class, demanding that he explain why he “hates God.” There wasn’t a whole lot of love in speaking that truth. He is trying to humiliate his professor and win the argument.  Sadly, the theater I was in erupted in cheers after the professor admitted he hated God and Josh nails him with the “gotcha” line of, “How can you hate someone you don’t believe in?”

THAT IS NOT GOOD. C.S. Lewis also learned this lesson the hard way.  Winning intellectually can drive people farther from the kingdom than ever.

  • I am afraid that the light the non-believers are painted in encourages an us-verses-them mentality. This movie literally causes Christians to cheer, but mainly at the point where Josh kind of tells-off his professor.

We shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed when the world rejects the Gospel message. It is to be expected. And we should not use apologetics as a way to “beat” non believers as if it is an intellectual competition.

Summary

I really, really hope this movie will be a springboard for more people to dive into the wonderfully deep world of apologetics. I’ve been told that this film has had a good impact on youth group kids who don’t realize that the Christian faith makes sense intellectually. That’s a good thing, but I really, REALLY hope this movie is only the beginning of many, many more lessons on philosophy, science, morality etc. for pastors and youth pastors. This stuff matters if you want your students to be prepared for college, but watching this movie is not nearly enough preparation.

I also don’t recommend using this movie as an evangelistic tool for your atheist friends. Like I said, it’s pretty unfair to most of them.

Ultimately, this is a movie for the church-goer in the same vein as Fireproof and Courageous. There are a lot of good things, but it is kind of made-to-order for a Christian audience, and we need to remember that. Don’t let this movie influence your opinion of atheist professors. University can be tough on a Christian, but this is extreme.

Unlike Fireproof and Courageous, this movie doesn’t really have a convicting or challenging message for those who already believe. It is more like cheerleading. It’s a great movie for a believer who is interested in what the intellectual arguments for God’s existence. I think Christians ought to see it, but just know that the situation Josh faces with his professor isn’t super realistic. However, the intellectual challenges he, and thousands of other Christians face in universities are realistic.

To end on a positive note, the thing I liked most about this movie is that it places a Christian directly in the world, but not a part of it. As Christians, we need to have light in dark places and sometimes a classroom is darker than any night club//Kansas Jayhawks game can be.

Lies the Church Believes Part 3: My Christian Service Always Pleases God

At my local church, it is made clear that every member of the body is expected to serve the Lord in some way.  I agree with that 100%. So, what’s the problem?

The problem occurs at the individual level when a person believes that their service is primary, and that God is always pleased when someone tries to serve Him.

Pick almost any book in the Bible, and I’m sure I can show you an example where people were serving God flawlessly — at least according to the law — and God was displeased. An easy example of this idea comes by way of the Pharisees.
I can also show you plenty of examples where people were breaking “the rules,” and God was very pleased. For example, under the leadership of King Hezekiah  (II Chronicles 29 – 30) the Passover was restored to Israel. But it was at the wrong time, the people weren’t consecrated correctly, they entered the temple without purifying themselves first, they broke a whole bunch of ceremonial laws and God blessed them as they continued to serve Him after this great revival.
Does serving God ever seem burdensome to you? Are you a pastor who is frustrated with a congregation that just doesn’t want to serve or does so begrudgingly? May I submit that a problem we might have is that we are continually admonishing people to serve a God whom they do not worship.

Service to God cannot be the number one priority of the Christian life, and I would submit that those who try to make it the number one priority often serve less and with less joy than those for whom service simply flows out of their worship.  Our Christian walk must flow out of this order:

1. Repentance and Restoration
2. Worship
3. Service.

One cannot truly worship God unless they have been redeemed, and one cannot truly serve God in a pleasing way unless they worship Him first.

When I say “worship,” I am not merely talking about attending a service or singing a song. Those might be methods of worship, but one can do the physical acts of “worship” with absolutely zero worship taking place.
Worship begins in the heart.  It comes from adoration and love of who God is and what He has done. Do you really adore God? Do thoughts of Him ever consume you in a way that rivals how you felt about a romantic interest or even a newborn child? Are you infatuated with God? Are you truly grateful to Him not only for salvation but for all the good things in your life? Are you grateful to Him that He loves you in the bad times of your life. Do you have a general attitude of awe toward God? Or are you only likely to “worship” if the choir happens to sing a song you like?

We all go through periods where we do not truly worship, and it is in those times that service becomes a burden. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, God isn’t impressed with our time or giving when it is simply part of a routine. Let me repeat: your tithe does not matter to God when it is given begrudgingly. That’s no relationship at all, that’s a tax.
Jesus told a group of people who were going to suffer greatly for His sake that His “yoke is light.” How does that make any sense? If you’ve ever had to take care of a sick loved-one or change a dirty diaper, you might be able to understand.  It isn’t that the Christian life is void of trials and troubles; but when you give of yourself completely for someone you truly love and adore — not just in theory but in your heart — then any inconvenience or pain you go through for their sake becomes a privilege and an honor and you delight in that service. The physical burdens might be real, but the true fulfillment you have in serving a God you truly worship is worth more than any amount of physical comfort and affluence.

If your walk seems dull… If going to church is boring… If serving the Lord is a burden, don’t convince yourself that merely carrying on will eventually lead to you becoming a better disciple. You need to check your heart to see if you are a true worshiper first. You might need to remember what God has done for you on the cross, or you might need to surrender your life to Christ in the first place.

If you will truly fall in love with God simply because of who God is, then you won’t be able to help but worship with your whole life. After that, giving of your time, talents and money will become a desire and a delight.

Insecure, I Think

God has been stretching me — pushing me to my limits spiritually, emotionally and mentally.  It’s crazy.  If I’m honest, the push should inspire, strengthen and grow me.  However, more often than not I’ve been struggling with insecurities.  I always thought I’d be most confident and secure in my thirties! Not so.  I feel the Lord expanding my territory, increasing responsibility and requiring more than I ever imagined.  Of course, nothing is possible without Him. That much is clear.

What else is clear is that I’m not going to make it.  I need Him.  I need the Holy Spirit to correct me and make me into the person He needs to live out His purposes.  Over and over again, the Lord is reminding me of the influence of my mind.  Our minds are so uniquely powerful.  How and what we think transforms us.  Romans says, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Philippians gives us criteria for what kinds of things to think about. The list includes things that are:

  • TRUE
  • HONORABLE (NOBLE)
  • JUST (PURE)
  • LOVELY
  • COMMENDABLE (GOOD REPORT)
  • EXCELLENT (VIRTUOUS)
  • PRAISEWORTHY

Seems I might consider changing the way I think!  A fellow speaker and friend, Brooks Harper, always says “the most important conversation you have everyday is the one you have with yourself.” I need to speak TRUTH — not just to an audience — but to myself.  I need to be more intentional about filling my mind with God’s word, His truth, and allow it to transform the rest.

So,  along that line, over a year ago I read a book called “Self Talk, Soul Talk” by Jennifer Rothschild.  It was great.  Through my recent struggles, many of her ideas have resurfaced.

Thought you might enjoy this interview about the book.  There’s great insight here. Take a few minutes to think about what she says…

Q&A with Jennifer Rothschild

Author of Self Talk, Soul Talk

What is soul talk?

Over the years, I have gradually learned what to say when I talk to myself, and that has truly made all the difference in my life. After years of struggling beneath the weight of my own slander and lies, I have learned to speak truth into my soul. It’s what I call soul talk.

How does soul talk work?

Everybody practices self talk, but few of us actually take time to think about the things we say to ourselves. The process is so natural we don’t even notice it. Amazingly, much of our self talk is false. The words we say shape the way we think about ourselves. They influence our emotions, our thoughts, and our decisions. They resurface in our conversations with other people. They can spur us on to live meaningful, productive lives, or they can drag us down to lethargy and despair. Soul talk is about replacing the lies you may have been telling yourself with the truth.

What kinds of struggles with self talk have you had personally?

My steady flow of disapproving thoughts and self talk once formed a constant stream. I badgered, nagged, devalued, and said cutting words to myself. At times, all those dark, negative put-downs have felt like a raging river, tossing me mercilessly until I thought I might drown in my own self-condemnation.

What was the physical setback that you faced in your teens?

At the age of 15, I became legally blind due to a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Even though I received that difficulty with grace and resolve, the extra challenges of the disability and the knowledge that blindness was inevitable brought even more opportunities for me to struggle with negative thoughts and destructive self talk. For me, blindness is a circumstance that opens the door to a host of other bewildering issues. One of the biggest daily realities I face is the stress of not being able to drive, read, or enjoy independence. 

What is the paradox of emotions?

If you try to think with your feelings, you’ll fall into all manner of false conclusions. Emotions are supposed to serve and strengthen us. Left to themselves, however, they enslave and deplete us. We need a thought closet well stocked with timeless truth, or we will clothe ourselves with the feelings of the moment.

How important is physical well-being including exercise and healthy eating?

Living a healthy lifestyle is so important to our mental well-being. Never discount the impact of physical wellness on our souls’ wellness. Feelings of despair might really be our bodies’ signal that we need to meet some basic needs. Your body needs adequate rest, healthy food, and moderate exercise.

How important is mental well-being? How can we stimulate this?

Brains like to be challenged. Your mind needs to have something to do, or it will create something to do—something that might not be so constructive. If you don’t fully strengthen your brain, it will wiggle and jiggle itself just to alleviate the dullness and find a channel for all its energy. Spend a few minutes each day reading something that interests and challenges you. Pick up a journal and record your thoughts and questions.  Join a book club or audit a class from your local university. Feed your curiosity and you’ll stimulate an enjoyable, insatiable hunger.

How important is our spiritual well-being?

Hopelessness, fear and depression often grow out of unsatisfied longings. C.S. Lewis said, “If I can find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” We can try to fill the longing with relationships, religion, volunteerism, or just being good. But the deep ache from the bottom of our souls can only be satisfied in a relationship with God.

Is it healthy to remember the past? What memories should we revisit?

The real power of any moment is fully realized when it is remembered. The experience might have been painful or pleasant, but its intensity and meaning grow when we remember and reflect upon it. Remembering is essential to the health of our souls. So we must tell our souls to look back often. Memories store great anthologies of stories that tell us who we are. They become intimate reminders of our personal histories. However, tell your soul to look back only at what is profitable. Profitable memories are those that add to your soul wellness rather than subtract from it.

How destructive can fear become in our lives? What’s the alternative?

We can’t ever side with fear, because fear is never on our side. And we can’t let fear and despair shake and intimidate us. Fear betrays; hope never does. Fear and despair make us quiver; hope makes us unshakable. Rather than giving into fear and despair, we tell our souls to hope. Hope will always be on your side, cheering you on and defending you. Hope anchors us because it provides spiritual grounding. Hope brings stability to every part of our being: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. We speak the language of hope when we tell our souls to look up.

How can we cope with our busy lifestyles? Where can we find time to rest?

Life is busy. The demands are great, and we seem to have no time for rest. So much of our self-talk is directed at revving ourselves up. Excessive revving up, however, only leads to petering out. Daily we must tell ourselves to chill out. Rest isn’t only for our tired bodies. Weary souls need it too—our wills, our minds, and our emotions. The choice to rest is ours.

How can we press on despite fear and failure?

Steady, small actions will slowly reduce the big feeling that is paralyzing you. Just because you have failed at something does not mean you are a failure. If you quit, the world will be lacking what you alone bring to it. If you continue to feed your feelings of failure and defeat, those dark emotions will grow, creeping across your soul like long winter shadows. But if you begin to starve those feelings, they will slowly die.

How can we become less selfish and “others centered”?

It’s our nature to lift ourselves up, to be egocentric. Looking back at my life, I can say for sure that the most miserable times of my life have been when I was the most self-centered, self-aware and self-promoting. When we tell our souls to get the spotlight off our own preoccupations and onto the needs of others, we reopen the potential for joy in our lives. Only selfless, other-centered people are truly happy. They have learned the all-important key. When we lift others up, we grow stronger, healthier and happier.

If you’re interested in the book, you can find it online at http://www.jenniferrothschild.com/.

Blessings!