Many of you have been asking me what I think about the movie God’s Not Dead. Below are my initial thoughts. I made some notes immediately after watching the movie and am just now getting around to fleshing them out. Forgive me if this sounds rushed. It was. Spoilers ahead!
What I liked:
1. The movie lends a lot of credibility to Faith Ascent’s mission. For five years we’ve been trying to convince parents and pastors that Christians will be challenged in academic settings and should be prepared for those challenges (1 Peter 3:15). Now they are making movies about it! Certainly, the character of Professor Radisson is a bit of a caricature and not all professors of philosophy or religion are militant atheists seeking to destroy the faith of incoming freshmen, but some are. The late Richard Rorty put it this way: “We are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”
2. The movie took seriously the popular misconception that science is at odds with the Christian account of origins and design. Josh, the main character, did a decent job of laying out simplified versions of popular philosophical and scientific arguments for theism in general. Bravo!
3. Josh addressed “The Problem of Evil & Suffering” with a shortened version of Alvin Plantinga’s “Free Will Defense.” This defense is perfectly logical and reasonable. Though, theological differences exist in terms of how Christians define “free will” Plantinga’s defense remains logical and, to that extent, suffering and evil is not logically incompatible with an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God. Bravo!
4. The movie also did a great job of showing how rigorous debate and tactful argumentation in a public setting can have a positive and life-changing impact on, not just the person on the other side of the conversation, but on those listening. This was beautifully demonstrated in the relationship that was cultivated between Josh and Martin. I’ve heard too many Christians say things like, “Don’t throw pearls to swine,” or “God doesn’t need an attorney.” While I understand and to some extent agree with these statements, I think we greatly underestimate the number of open- minded people “peeking over the fence” at our conversations. Bravo!
5. Most of all, I really appreciated the way the movie pointed out that behind most intellectual objections to theism in general and Christianity specifically we’ll find serious emotional objections. Is intellectual skepticism always fueled by emotional issues? No! Should we side-step the hard work of addressing people’s intellectual objections? No! We just need to be sensitive to the reality that intellectual objections are often emotionally charged. Bravo!
What I didn’t like:
1. I am sad that the historical Jesus and the evidence for His resurrection was not unpacked. Maybe I am asking too much of a 90 minute flick, but Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 that, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” As the director of an apologetics ministry I think it’s extremely important to address scientific and philosophical arguments. However, it is of utmost importance to use those discussions to build bridges to Jesus. If our end game is simply making a case for theism or reconciling science and faith we’re selling Jesus short.
2. The movie’s plot revolved around the notion that we can and should offer objective evidence in defense of Christianity. However, I was really disappointed by what I perceived as a mixed message. It seemed to me that, on the one hand, the plot of the movie suggests that we should believe Christianity because it’s true. But on the other hand, outside of Josh’s classroom lectures, the Christian characters all spoke as if Christianity is true because we believe it. This difference is subtle but they are radically different messages that lead to radically different conclusions. Hear me out. The theme song for the movie has this line that says, “God’s not dead, He’s surely alive, He’s living on the inside…” At one point when he’s asked why he couldn’t write “God is Dead!” Josh says, “To me He’s not dead.” Other characters made similar subjective claims all throughout the movie. Historic Christianity has always taught that we should believe because it’s true. To suggest that it’s true because we believe is not a Christian message. It’s actually the rallying cry of relativism and satanic at it’s core. To be fair, I highly doubt this mixed message was sent purposely. But, it’s confusing at best and contradictory at worst.
3. I was really disappointed in the way the gospel was (or maybe wasn’t) presented. I’ll keep this simple: If the judgment and wrath of a righteous and holy God is NOT the problem, then the grace and mercy of a loving and patient God is NOT the solution. As I watched, I heard all about the Father’s love for us in Jesus. (Amen.) I heard all about Jesus my savior. (Amen.) I heard all about Jesus my warm fuzzy cuddly buddy. (Amen???) But what about Jesus “the atoning sacrifice?” What about Jesus “the propitiation for my sins?” Maybe I missed something here, but I left that movie feeling like I heard a lopsided gospel message. It just seemed really shallow to me. Furthermore, I was sad that no mention of the Spirit’s work in the conversion experience was made. Without a genuine power encounter with the Holy Spirit all the facts in the world can’t produce a new birth. Likewise, no matter how strong I believe my power of free choice is, without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit I’m spiritually dead and at war with God.
4. Maybe this is me being cynical and jaded but I didn’t like Willie Robertson’s cameo. I liked the Newsboys cameos even less. The choice to employ them seemed like nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell more tickets and added nothing to the plot. As I watched the movie through the imaginary eyes of my non-Christian friends, all I kept hearing were these questions: “So all Christians love Duck Dynasty and the Newsboys?” (No!) “If I become a Christian will I have to watch Duck Dynasty and attend Newsboys concerts too?” (No! God forbid!) Incidentally, if that were the case, I personally would find that cross too heavy and that cost too high.
In conclusion, I would have no problem recommending this movie to Christian parents and students of all ages. As a matter of fact, I recommend you go see it today! I’m encouraged to see explicitly Christian movies making waves at the box office and attempting to dive deeper than the shallows most “Christian” movies wade in.
However, I would not take a non-Christian friend or family member to see this movie. If you have $15 to spend and you want to help a non-Christian think through objective evidences supporting the Christian faith, buy them a cup of coffee and a copy of Keller’s book The Reason For God (a more pastoral presentation) or I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Geisler and Turek (a more evidential presentation). Read it with them. Discuss.