That is the question I’ve been asking myself since I watched God’s Not Dead. I’m still not sure I have the answer yet, because I know in my heart it is not a “yes or no” simple kind of answer. But that is the question the movie left me with, and partially because of the arrogance and presumption that God does need someone to defend him is stated in the film. Are we called to defend our faith? (Of course. The Bible tells me so.) But the thought that God needs anything from us causes a holy and righteous anger in me, because I believe in an omnipotent God. He doesn’t need a thing from me. But he does want something from me. It may be all semantics… but important ones, because wrong semantics can shift our view of God. And there are just so many dangers in this.
Which is just one of the many issues I have with God’s Not Dead. Bad theology will always be something I desire to fight against, and mainstream Evangelical Christianity has a plethora of it. Spend 30 minutes listening to the lyrics on K-LOVE and you’ll get a solid dose right there.
I was warned about God’s Not Dead. From people whose opinion I trust and don’t trust; they are thinking Christians both conservative and liberal alike in their political and theological beliefs. Which I found fascinating. Since seeing the movie and expressing my opinions on it, I’ve been “beat up” for that opinion by those who loved the movie, which I guess isn’t too surprising. But I guess I also hoped to find places of grace and open dialogue where all opinions and thoughts could be expressed about film as art. I forget that not too many Christians see it like this. They defend a movie because it has the label of “Christian” and all the bad stuff is forgiven or glossed over for the sake of the message. Is this the end justifying the means? Of course it is. I grieve at the lost art of critical thinking, particularly in the baby boomer generation, when it comes to art that has the label of “Christian.” (This is not meant to stereotype, but it has certainly been the majority of my experience at this point in my life, and was certainly proved with the conversations I’ve had about God’s Not Dead.)
Which honestly brings me right back around to my question: does God need someone to defend his honor?
Unlike this movie, I do not think every non-Christian is evil. I was saddened by the significant amount of stereotyping in the script, which leads to fear-mongering in the very worst way. All vegans have a vengeful streak against hunters! All Muslim fathers beat their daughters! All atheists are set on humiliating a dissenting voice with intellectual bravado!
Which comes to what I found most offensive about this movie. [Spoiler alert]
Tasked with proving God is not dead to his Philosophy 101 class and professor, Josh fights back with mainly creationism arguments (sigh) but also with rhetoric so basic it’s no wonder his professor laughed at him. It is in this debate (in a scene just between him and the professor, without the class present) that Josh learns the reason why his professor demanded the class sign a paper saying “God’s Not Dead.”
(Sidenote: seriously, there is not a singular professor, tenured or not, that would EVER get away with such a blatant lack of civil liberties. Even in our post-Christian culture. Nor would the basis for any Philosophy 101 class be atheism. But we suspend belief in all movies for the sake of the story. I get that. But still. Ugh.)
Josh learns that when his professor was 12 years old, he prayed to God to heal his mother. His mother still died. My heart broke in that moment, because I know so many with similar stories. Is the way to convince them that God isn’t dead to debate them? Nope. I just don’t buy it. The biggest and most offensive thing about this movie is how Josh then proceeds, in the next class period, to humiliate his professor by using this information. Thankfully, Josh doesn’t tell the class the story. But Josh does push and push his professor until he breaks. Where does “clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness and humility” [to paraphrase Colossians 3:12] come into play here?
Josh had a significant opportunity to engage with his professor on a human level, and talk to him about that nature and character of God. He instead chooses to bully and humiliate him, just as his professor did to so many others. This is not the only way to speak up for your faith, Christians. This is a mostly useless way of proclaiming gospel truth to the world, and is a poor example of what it means to be Christ in the world.
What I will affirm about the movie:
1.) The message that God is not dead, of course, is a true and powerful one. Is the medium the message for people who see this? I hope not. God is very much alive and working in my life and in the world right now.
2.) Perseverance under great pressure. Josh pressed on, even when his girlfriend, also a Christian, pushed him not to. He chose to stand up for what he believed even though it could cost him a good grade. He dug his heels in, studied, and learned how to defend his faith. That is always a good thing, no matter who you are. I simply question the attitude and method that proceeded.
3.) The gospel message is clearly stated, as well as the very important truth that all people have worth. Hooray!
What I will challenge; all of what I mentioned above plus:
1.) Too many story lines. Each character was entirely one dimensional. Not-great writing and some pretty bad acting. Some potential great moments completely lost because there were so many storylines.
2.) THE BIBLE IS CALLED AN INSTRUCTION MANUEL. I just can’t deal with that.
3.) When the Newsboys pray with one of the characters, one of them actual says, “God, save her tonight.” UGH. She was saved on the cross. Not because a prayer was said. Again, semantics. But important ones. Who is doing the saving? Us in our prayers or Jesus? Solus Christus.
4.) The arrogance. Oh my goodness, the arrogance.
Let us (Christians) remember that just because art is “Christian” does not make it good art. We want it to be, and I completely understand that. Here is one of the greatest takeaways I had from Denis Haack’s Film and Theology class: we are not starting a conversation. We are joining an existing one.
We should not be so concerned with starting (and in this movie’s case, stopping) the conversation, but graciously joining the conversation that is already out there. Let us not just defend, but engage.