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.”
- 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.
- 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.
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.