I’ve heard about the movie God’s Not Dead before it hit theaters, and I refused to see it…mostly because when it was in the theater I was yellow and wondering if I was going into liver failure.
Now that it’s on DVD, I’ve seen it and have written an Amazon review (feel free to go here and give me positive votes).
Seeing that I’m doing next to no blogging these days, I’m basically double-dipping into other things I write and will toss a few things up here from time to time. My main efforts these days are book editing and learning how to publish an e-book (and there’s a lot to do and learn).
Still, here’s my review for those that are interested:
God’s Not Dead is a “Christian” fantasy film for youth group kids…
…but that’s mostly because the Christianity in this movie is the “Cultural Christianity” of youth groups and Christian rock bands.
In other words, not really the Christianity as revealed by God in the Christian scriptures.
So, the basic story is that a Christian freshman takes an intro philosophy course at university and has a professor who is a raging atheist.
No news there; been there and done that (as have thousands of other Christians who’ve attended university). The professor agrees to allow the Christian to defend the existence of God, gives him 3 classes to present his case (for around 20 minutes a class) and then allows all the students to decide the victor. The student gives arguments that weren’t great, and if you know anything about apologetics (or especially presuppositional apologetics), you’ll find this part to be quite unconvincing…though it’s not surprising that a freshman university student basically quotes popular apologists like Lennox and Strobel (as if any atheist gives them credibility at all), goes off about free will and how God’s over-riding moral quality is that he loves you like a teenage girl…
His professor eventually cannot overcome the student’s unassailable arguments which leads to a break down where he screams and reveals his angry heart to the student. I guess that’s the way many high school students think these debates actually turn out if you just skillfully apply some bumper-sticker truths, but North America is full of “ex-Christians” who bear testimony to how well bumper-sticker theology stands up to rational scrutiny.
Sadly, most atheists with terminal degrees are in a completely different category than Sorbo’s character…and not all of them believe in free will (which basically de-fangs 95% of popular-level Christian apologetics). Still, it’s a movie and serious atheist arguments make for boring cinema, so I guess that’s understood.
You’ll get all warm and fuzzy when the atheist professor is hit by a car on the way to a Newsboys concert at the end and makes a “deathbed conversion”, just so everything is nicely wrapped up (which always happens, right?).
Going to a Newsboys concert?
Well, that’s apparently what a PhD philosophy professor does when they’re ready to “get back to God”.
No prayer or repentance.
No convictions from the scripture.
Just get your coat and run to a Christian rock concert.
Again, this movie is clearly aimed at ill-informed youth group kids who wouldn’t know any better.
The REALLY horrible part was that the atheist professor is dating a “Christian” girl who’s one of his ex-students, and her pastor knows about it but apparently doesn’t care that they’re likely shacked-up (which the movie doesn’t explicitly show even though the girl herself comments on how she feels guilty that they’re “unequally yoked” and they’re unbelievers in the 21st century). The pastor is confused about the gospel, doesn’t care about his congregants living in blatant sin, and is alarmingly shallow (i.e. he laments that, unlike a missionary, he’s not doing “real” ministry…).
Again, I’ll chalk this up to the fact that this is aimed at youth group kids, and we don’t expect much from youth group kids, right?
There’s a third and fourth story line; a Muslim girl is a secret Christian who gets discovered and is kicked out of her house but somehow recovers alarmingly quickly; enough to get to a Newsboys concert as well (I sense a theme here…). There’s also an aggressive atheist blogger who mocks a guy from Duck Dynasty, gets cancer (and dumped by her “rich and greasy” boyfriend), and then gets “led to the Lord” (which means “vague theism”) by Newsboys with a gospel that I don’t recognize at all and can’t seem to find in the scriptures. Apparently, Christianity basically revolves around the Christian rock concerts and knowing that God loves you super much because you’re super awesome.
This whole movie is clearly aimed at ill-informed youth group kids: it’s kitschy, shallow and doesn’t dive into any of the serious questions with any sort of serious approach…which makes sense given the target audience. But the theology is horrible, the pastor is incompetent, and the whole “Christianity” is nothing short of the “cultural Christianity” that is a theological plague in the evangelical world.
Movies like this make Christianity look actually irrational and do more damage than the atheists whom these movies are supposed to combat. It may encourage ill-informed teenage believers who are scared of going to university, but it does so by giving them false and shallow hope, based on frightfully unbiblical and shallow theology, to prepare for the onslaught that most secular universities have in store.
This movie also doesn’t prove that God’s not dead.
It just proves that cultural Christianity sells to people who’ve already drank the Kool-Aid.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Kool-Aid has no place in church” Unger
23 thoughts on “Movie Review: God’s Not Dead”
Gross. I’m so sick of movies like this. Only thing about your accurate review, I wish I could share it with friends and family who have watched this without the tone your review has. Can you write a nicer one? 🙂
I’ve done some edits. Feel free to get specific with criticisms.
I’m not sure what you mean by tone; that term means different things to different people.
What she means is… I’d like to share this review with a genuine but newer believer who “loved this movie” but will feel demeaned and belittled by the tone of your writing.
I haven’t seen the movie, but shouldn’t you reconsider the way you use the phrase ‘youth group kids’ throughout this review?
I (as an Eastern European teenager) find it sad, discouraging and bordering slanderous, both to us Christian young people trying to live faithfully to the God of the Scriptures, and to our youth ministers who strive to do the same.
Appreciate your blog and all that, I just thought you might want to consider some feedback from another perspective.
P.S.: Tried to rephrase my comment multiple times in order to avoid sounding like an offended princess — not sure with how much success. Take it as an honest comment from a brother 🙂
Thanks for the corrective thoughts.
I was trying to use the phrase in the way often used in churches. I don’t think young people are stupid at all; the movie apparently does though.
The mentality behind the movie seems to be what I encounter in youth ministry circles:
Young people cannot stomach actual thinking.
Young people cannot stomach actual preaching.
Young people need to be entertained.
Young people need to have things made simple for then because they’re simple.
I don’t believe that at all.
Does that help?
Thanks. I appreciate what you said in your comment, even though “youth ministry circles” is still way too broad. Do you think what you have written in the review accurately reflects your understanding expressed in this comment? Ultimately you have to answer this — I personally still have doubts about that.
Thanks again for the response. Blessings!
The first clue you knew that this movie was not going to be biblically sound was the participation of David A. R. White as a producer of this film.
Having sat through a couple of his movies, you quickly understand that he presents a vague theism (as you mentioned) that seeks to not offend anyone and make everyone feel good about themselves.
I’m saddened that this movie targets the vulnerable Christian youth who call themselves Christian because they like to listen to KLOVE, like shopping at LifeWay and follow their parents’ Christian culture. But then again, these are the people who buy tickets to this kind of movies so expect more of these movies coming out soon to a theater near you.
Good review, brother. I rented it and watched it with my wife. I did a face palm when the kid played the “free will” card, as if that were the slam dunk argument. The closing death-bed scene was very abrupt and awkward. The tension I have is this: should I be happy that the people in my church get excited about movies like “God’s Not Dead” rather than, umm, movies like “300” or romantic dramas like “The Fault in Our Stars?” I would rather the youth in my church attend a News Boys concert than a Lady Gaga show (I’ve actually seen both). At least is sparks a spiritual discussion I guess. I agree that movies like “Heaven is for Real” does more damage than good, but I’m not sure “God’s Not Dead” is in the same category. Also, from a pastoral perspective, who do you deal with this culture in your own church?
Karl, thanks for the thoughtful comments and questions. I’ll try to offer what wisdom I have…hopefully it’s helpful.
1. I run the constant balance between passively embracing the rampant mindlessness of evangelicalism and coming across as constantly upset about other people’s theology (i.e. Gal. 3:1).
I know that people who only know me via my web presence will see me as being constantly negative, but part of that is because I constantly get requests to read and review mediocre (or outright horrible) stuff. It’s important to always be gentle with people (in person) but aggressive with ideas.
I often attempt to do that but many people don’t get the difference between tackling ideas and insulting individuals. I’m actually going to write a post on that very issue soon enough as it’s a continual problem. Passages like 2 Cor. 10:9-11 come into play here: written text is different than personal interaction. That being said, be as kind and gracious as you can in person (i.e. 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
2. Always ask people lots of questions, and pick the fights with where they’re misunderstandings lie (i.e. notice how Paul regularly says “I do not want you to be ignorant of…” and then gives corrective teaching at the point of misunderstanding?).
In other words, if 90% of the bad ideas in a movie escape people’s notice, don’t point it out to them and then refute it. Pick up on the 1 or 2 things they found to be questionable and ask them questions to explain why they thought it was bad. Grab the underlying theological concept and seize that as the point of discussion.
For example, in the movie there’s the death-conversion scene of the atheist professor. If someone thinks that scene was bad because he didn’t repent, then ask them why repentance should have been in the scene. I’d suggest then moving the conversation as to why repentance has to be a necessary component of the gospel and bring the discussion back to scripture.
If someone thinks that part of the movie was good, then let it slide and don’t focus there.
3. Keep teaching your people and remember that the Spirit has his own timeline for the maturity of others (i.e. Phil. 1:6).
One of the big problems I notice in conservative circles is that those of us with “good theology” and some measure of spiritual maturity tend to get easily frustrated with other believers who aren’t where we are LIKE RIGHT NOW.
You’ve been on a journey of many years, as have I.
The intellectual and spiritual growth of people is the work and responsibility of the Spirit, and he may not take some people as far as you want them to go as quickly as you’d like. Be patient and gracious with people and always teach people from a position of positive proclamation of what the scriptures teach, not a condemnation of what they don’t.
That probably looks like pretty blatant hypocrisy on my part, but I’d dare suggest that I’m only trying to follow Paul’s example with my online presence. Address ideas critically, portray spiritual poison with language befitting it’s danger, silence the heretics but allow the weak and naive to voice legitimate questions and confusions, name names as necessary, give positive instruction as corrective against sinful thinking and practice, and be consistently firm against wicked doctrine (portraying is as wicked, not disagreeable…but make sure you’re right before you open your mouth!).
Menoknight, I love your work. It is funny, has bite, and is theologically sound. While I understand that the internet doesn’t always communicate tone perfectly, I totally get your style and humour. Your Noah review is the best and “I love pickles” constantly has me in tears. God bless you man!
And I spelt your name correctly – I don’t know what happened to that missing ‘n’!
Reblogged this on Bags of Bran and commented:
I am grateful for those who watch the movies so I don’t have to.
My favorite part is how the plot is constructed around the right-wing fever dream where the professor (and you conveniently skipped this little piece of narrative) makes everyone in his class sign a piece of paper claiming “God is Dead” in the first five minutes of class.
You know, just like EVERY professor at university does, right?…..
I also love how the entire professorial class is nothing but a cadre of misogynist, wine-loving effete intellectuals, who dismissively quote Greek to demean their friends and demand their spouses call them “Doctor” in public.
Totally nailed it. This is exactly my experience with university education, only my professors were obsessed with high-end French aperitifs.
Saw the movie last night with some friends. I completely agree with everything you said. And I completely disagree. Let me essplane. No – no time. Let me sum up.
While I agree that overall the movie was extremely theologically shallow, there were a lot of things that were surprisingly positive, I thought.
For example, while the pastor character annoyed me the entire movie because he was such a doofus, his storyline obviously stressed how God works through ordinary means. We Calvinists know that as Gods’ Providence. No magic miracles, no glory cloud, just ordinary everyday occurrences. That flies in the face of most of the crap you hear in popular “Christian” circles. So I thought that was good.
The “youth group kids” that are the target of this movie were personified by his girlfriend. She ended up being portrayed as selfish, shallow, and in and exposed in a totally negative light. Lesson? You need to be totally sold out to God and not just follow him because your youth group does. Something about not just in word but in deed comes to mind.
I was happy to see Philippians 413 actually used in context rather than simply as a slogan to win football games.
I was happy to see the Muslim girl was listening to Franklin Graham rather than Reinhard Bonnke or some whack job like that. I don’t think her character added much to the plot of the movie (except maybe to provide him a new girlfriend). But that’s a argument for another day.
I agree his apologetics in front of the class were weak. However we didn’t see the entire argument. And I think the purpose was just to show that there ARE arguments. That you can make a scientific argument and not just blindly quote Bible verses and stick your head in the sand.
Look, I get it that no atheists are going to be persuaded by the arguments presented in this movie. (Unless of course the Holy Spirit draws them.) But I think this can and will serve as a discussion launching point in many of those shallow youth groups that you describe. My guess is that was the whole purpose of the movie to begin with. In which case, I think it’s succeeded.
If we can rend our garments that this (or the contemporary Cage-filled Left Behind reboot) is not a quote-unquote Christian movie, can we also agree that it’s not about university? That the university it constructs is as far from reality as Monsters University? Rather, it’s a farcical pastiche of internet memes and straw men who represent a university that doesn’t exist outside the mind of the uninformed blogosphere (and for those curious about the ideological bricolage that God’s Not Dead represents, I urge you to read this on the origins and circulation of the left-wing-radical-Marxist-athiest-professor-signthisorfail professor, opposed only by one noble man trope
View at Medium.com
The inability of the movie to present an honest account of the actual state of contemporary liberal arts education makes this movie largely an exercise in fantasy (that is, the good guys always win in the face of an imagined evil, all rights are wronged, and vindication is inevitable, tropes that make this film equally apocalyptic), and thus not much use for someone who actually attends a real university and may wish to inquire into what that is like as a person with thick religious commitments. I’d watch that movie.
So, have you ever been to a university where there was a left-wing-radical-maxist-atheist-professor? Are they not really out there?
What is the actual state of contemporary liberal arts education?
Also, I have good reason to believe that you’re not Kevin Sorbo…seeing that http://www.sorbo.com is a website for a European (Dutch?) cleaning products company. I believe that Mr. Sorbo wouldn’t like someone misrepresenting him.
Have I met a radical Marxist left wing professor who is also an atheist? Sure. Did that professor then make me sign a piece of paper proclaiming “God is Dead” under the threat of failure before heading home to hector his girlfriend about her wine-handling incapacities? No. Because that’s a complete absurdity cobbled together from free-floating internet verbiage and the machinations of people who have never been to university before. Because if someone did that, the Board of Governor’s and President would hand them their walking papers before you had a chance to say “Tonite on Sean Hannity” (where it would be the lead story for 12 straight weeks, as part of an ongoing investigative series in collaboration with The Daily Caller and The Blaze). Because that’s not how university works periodfullstopperiod.
The trouble with this film is that it’s not interested in presenting university as it is, but university as it fantasizes it might be. And this, I’d argue, does a great disservice to any argument it’s trying to make, because it offers the viewer an imaginary scenario at an imaginary university and then expects us to either nod along in agreement or come to some sense of reckoning with the horridness of the place. But for those of us who have attended university, the portrait is so foreign it offers us nothing to hang on to.
My modest proposal is for a film that wants to honestly deal with what it means to be a person of faith at a contemporary public/private secular university. That’s not radical, but it is seemingly novel when it comes to these films.
(as for my use of Mr. Sorbo’s name, two things. 1. If it’s news to you that people use pseudonyms on the internet for the sake of parody/anonymity/becausetheinternet, I’ve got some swampland in Florida I’d like to sell you. 2. Is there any chance at all that someone read this exchange and thought, “Boy, the real Kevin Sorbo sure seems hard on that film he was in and promoted. And it’s odd he’s commenting on the blog of an ex-Mennonite Brethren Canadian pastor’s blog. He’s taken a turn for the worse”? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean 45 racks of clogs at the Schiphol Airport giftshop)
My link to “The Ballad of Marine Todd” seems to have vanished into the ether, though I trust Google should suffice for the inquiring mind
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I think you are right on.
I saw this movie for the first time at my church last night.
I’m a Christian and I was actually getting bored with this movie.
My thing I was also trying to figure out was when the newsboys were praying for the young lady; why didn’t they also include healing in the prayer. Like you I was thinking about the professor and girlfriend living together. Some things that were supposed to be addressed or was addressed should have been done more clearly. OH and the two preachers that were trying to leave; I was trying to figure out was it about the one preacher’s faith being treated our what?
I was waiting for something big to come from the car thing but I really failed to see what the point was. I think the movie was trying to insert something comical.
Anyway; I’m glad I did not waste my money to see this at the theatres.