My church recently held a screening of the film “God’s Not Dead”, a film that describes the struggles a young believing student faces in a college philosophy class taught by a militant atheist professor. He attempts to force the class to sign a sheet of paper saying that God is dead. The student in question refuses and is challenged to “prove” that God is not dead, with a failing grade hanging over his head should he fail to do so.
I didn’t particularly want to attend this screening, out of a combination of wanting to have a quiet night at home with my wife and daughter, but also because I feared the film would follow in the footsteps of a lot of “Christian” films, and simply be terrible but given a pass by believers because it’s “Christian”.
Well, it was not as bad as I feared. The actors did a great job with the material, very little overacting or hammy performances, the sets were well done, and most of the sideplots were coherently tied to the main issue. However, the film has some flaws, and I do not believe they should be simply overlooked because the film has a “God-positive” message. I’m going to count down my 4 main issues with “God’s Not Dead”.
4. The Newsboys scene at the film’s ending
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Newsboys. After Peter Furler left the group and was replaced by Michael Tait, I worried that the band would end up a shadow of it’s former self, like the Kevin Max version of Audio Adrenaline (shudder), but I was wrong, the band is just as good as it ever was.
The problem comes when you realize that you have this awesome band giving a live performance on film, with practically no dialogue between the characters happening during this time…and yet you mix them to be background noise. Why? You end the film with an incredible band that gives fantastic live performances, and you don’t allow the audience to enjoy it. With the exception of a few moments where two of the studends briefly speak, there’s no dialogue that occurs while the band is playing. Crank the ‘boys up and let us enjoy them during the film’s denoumont.
Minor quibble? Absolutely. But it annoyed me enough that I felt it warranted a mention on the list, even if it was at the bottom.
3. The subplot involving Ayisha serves absolutely no purpose
I’d call this a spoiler alert, but it’s practically inconsequential to the film. Skip the next paragraph if you must.
Ayisha is introduced to us as a college-age Muslim girl who comes from a very traditional family. She wears a face-covering garment in public, but at home she’s seen listening to a sermon by Franklin Graham. Her little brother sneaks into her room, discovers this, and eventually tells their father. When she refuses to deny that Christ is her Lord, he angrily throws her out of the house. While he is shown to be remorseful, he does not let her back into their home, and she turns to the local pastor for help. The pastor tells her God is proud of her and that she’ll be okay. Next thing we know, she is shown at the aformentioned Newsboys concert where she has a very brief interaction with the film’s protagonist.
That’s it. She has no ties to the main plotline of the film whatsoever. She isn’t in the class with the protagonist. She doesn’t know any of the main or side characters with the exception of the pastor (but we don’t learn that until very late in the film). She never interacts with anyone outside of her plotline in any sort of way that develops her character. She isn’t inspired by the protagonist or the pastor to have the courage to accept Christ and refuse to deny Him to her father, she does that all on her own. You could remove her entire subplot from the film and it would make no difference whatsoever.
So what was the point? The only thing it accomplishes is to demonize Muslims. The father is portrayed as controlling, old-fashioned, and intolerant. He throws his own daughter out on the streets for defying their culture. If you still believe in this day and age that all Muslim families are like that, you need to wake up, because it’s not true. Yes, there are families like that out there. But there are just as many who are more tolerant and open-minded. Chosing to showcase the former when it has zero impact on the plot at all means the only point you are making is to portray all Muslim families in a negative light and reinforce the “us vs them” mentality that pervades all aspects of our culture. I’ve had enough of that garbage. We’re all humans, and we need to come together in love and respect.
2. Every Atheist in the film was way over the top
How many atheists do you know, I mean REALLY know, to the point that you would consider yourselves good friends?
I can’t see your response, obviously, but I know a pretty good number of them. And I’ve talked with several of them about Christianity at length. These conversations were respectable, friendly, and thought-provoking, at least from my perspective. I can’t speak for them obviously, but I would hope they’d say the same.
This film had a very very big chance here to portray a similar experience. To show both sides of the debate that the other side is not full of militant angry people who just want to beat you over the head with a Bible or a copy of Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, but as fellow human beings, all trying to seek answers about the nature of life and the universe.
Instead, every atheist is a caricature of a human being. The professor is arrogant and hateful, seeing all believers as beneath him intellectually, and emotionally abusive towards his Christian girlfriend. The lawyer is extremely selfish and uncaring, reacting to the news of his girlfriend’s cancer with anger and a casual tossing aside of their relationship. The reporter is full of snide superior arrogance, ambushing Willie Robertson with questions that make it clear she regards him as a primitive subhuman. All of them are set up not only as atheists, but also terrible human beings. There was no need whatsoever to do this. We as Christians already make this connection FAR too often, that people without God are hopeless and immoral. We need to be reminded, often, that these are our fellow human beings, and that Jesus called on us to love ALL human beings as our brothers and sisters.
1. The film ultimately fails to serve any meaningful point of futhering the Great Comission.
Our calling as Christians is to go forth and tell everyone the good news, that Jesus’ death was the redemptioin of our sins, to go and make disciples of all nations, to love each other as Christ has loved us.
This film does not serve to aid us with any part of that calling. At all.
Think about it. Who are you going to invite to see this film? Your fellow Christians? Your atheist friends? Your friend of a different religion?
What will they come out of this film with?
Fellow Christians will come out proud that their hero proved to the mean ol’ atheist professor that God wasn’t dead. Woo! Feel good moment! We won! Down with the other guys! Go home and warn all your kids that the evil college professors will try to destroy your faith, but you must be strong! Except, as I pointed out above already, we need to stop seeing non-Christians as the enemy. They’re our brothers and sisters. If we ever want to make any kind of headway with helping them realize that God is actually real and that He wants to enrich our lives, it needs to start with Love.
Your non-Christian friends are probably going to be upset, and rightfully so, that you see them in the manner portrayed by the atheists in this film. Never mind that it’s more than likely that if you’re that close of a friend, they’ve probably never treated you as poorly as the characters did a day in their life, they must know the TRUTH that God is not dead! I’d be embarassed to ask non-Christian friend of mine to attend this. I would never, ever want them to think I felt this way about them, because I don’t. Far from it. Would I like them to come to the realization that God is real, loves them, and wants them to know Him as intimately as I do? Of course. This is not going to make that happen.
I don’t see the point of this film. The idea has merit, but the execution doesn’t work for any meaningful purpose. The attitude far too many Christians are coming out of this film with is the exact one we need to have less of.