Warning: this article may contain spoilers. Proceed only if you don’t mind them.
My wife and I watched the DVD “God’s Not Dead” the other night and we were very impressed. The movie follows college student Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) as he struggles to defend his Christian faith against his philosophy professor, and hostile atheist, Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). The film is based on the experiences of Christians and Christian organizations on multiple campuses across the United States.
Radisson begins the course by requiring students to sign a document stating “God is dead” so they can dispense with addressing “primitive superstition” and move on to other matters. Wheaton, a freshman, refuses to sign and is coerced by Professor Radisson to prove that God is not dead; the students, by a vote, would decide the winner. Despite family, friends, and his girlfriend discouraging the endeavor, Wheaton proceeds to debate his professor. The movie also features David A. R. White, Dean Cain, the Newsboys, and Willie and Korie Robertson.
Positive Aspects of “God’s Not Dead”
There are many wonderful things I could mention about the movie, but some would give away too much of the plotline. Thus I’ll mention only three here.
The film did a wonderful job of portraying the hardships students face when entering many universities. Inundated with professors ardently opposed, and often antagonistic and demeaning, to Christianity, and surrounded by students willing to go with whatever the professors say, Christians find it hard to remain faithful. This issue is timely and, thus, the movie is a must-see for any teenager, especially those seeking higher education.
While many Christian movies are badly acted and feel highly contrived and unrealistic, “God’s Not Dead” used skilled, experienced actors, and clearly worked hard to make the situations as realistic as possible. From Radisson’s classroom behavior (I had undergraduate professors as egotistical and condescending as Radisson) to the relationship between a Christian teenage girl and her ardent Muslim father, producers provided viewers with believable situations many face today.
Finally, when articulating the argument for God’s existence, writers did not take the traditional “old, dusty” approaches that are popular today. They recognized that in a university setting they needed to go beyond the ontological arguments (e.g., the existence of creation necessitates a creator). Using atheist, theist, and Christian thinkers, the writers provided a reasonable argument for the existence of God.
The argumentation used, though, did more than just fit the setting or make a strong case; it challenged Christians to expand their knowledge. It shows the value of believers going beyond simple proofs and, instead, expanding their minds and philosophical thought processes. Many Christians fear philosophy, and others find it unnecessary. However, “God’s Not Dead” demonstrates that philosophy is useful, understandable, and necessary.
I could mention more areas of strength for the film, but these three will suffice for now.
Areas of Weakness of “God’s Not Dead”
Despite its strengths, there are three areas of weakness to the film. First, some characters receive unnecessary amounts of screen time that seemed designed more to highlight the actor than tell the story, especially the characters played by Dean Cain and David A. R. White. Cain’s character does not fit in the overall story. His only purposes were to show that he’s dating one of the characters (which was not clearly evident at first because I thought the girl was his daughter), and that later he would crush that girl’s spirit. This could have been done with one very brief scene introducing the relationship, and then the dinner scene. All other scenes were superfluous.
Similarly, while I enjoy White’s work, like Cain, many of the scenes he had were unnecessary. Other than comic relief, his role could have been reduced to advising young Wheaton, comforting a young Christian girl, and evangelizing the professor.
Second, while the movie put great effort into outlining a philosophical case for God’s existence, they should have spent more time with the argument. At times the film seemed to quickly cut away from the case Wheaton outlined, only to turn to unnecessary scenes. Most Christians would not be able to repeat even the basic argumentation used by Wheaton. If the film makers had spent more time with the argument rather than the scenes listed above, Christian audiences would more easily be able to paraphrase or even recite Wheaton’s case.
Finally, when it came time for students to vote, the director should have instructed about one-third of the students to remain seated. By having them all stand in favor of Wheaton’s case, the film unrealistically implied that all of the students were convinced. While that is possible for God, it is not typical, even in Scripture. Although this constitutes the only unrealistic aspect of the film, it is a minor issue overall.
Overall Response to “God’s Not Dead”
So what did I think of the movie overall? I loved it! It was a well-told story that used high quality production and skilled actors. It didn’t feel like a typical Christian film—preachy, campy, badly acted, and a litany Christian clichés. Additionally, it challenged the audience to expand their minds regarding philosophy and Christian reason, things many Christian fearfully avoid like the plague. Finally, it challenges non-believers and atheists to rethink their positions and honestly consider the arguments in favor of God’s existence.
On a lighter note, the eponymous song by the Newsboys was fun! Although I prefer the more dcTalk-like version that features Kevin Max, Michael Tait and crew entertained, leaving the audience singing or thinking “God’s not dead, He’s surely alive!” Too bad the DVD did not include an official music video of that song. Since it didn’t I’ve included the official lyric video here.