God’s Not Dead is about a freshman, pre-law student (Josh Wheaton), who enrolls in a philosophy class where the teacher (Professor Radisson), wants his students to sign a statement saying that God is dead so the class won’t have to waste time on this issue. Josh refuses and as a result, he ends up in a prolonged debate with the professor that spans several classes. Other stories spin off this, but this is the narrative that drives the film.
For a movie that wants to encourage people to embrace reality, God’s Not Dead leaves much to be desired. That’s unfortunate because our culture is in need of salt and light. However there can be such a thing as too much salt and GND definitely falls into this category. As a result, I’m guessing it will generate more heat than light among people who aren’t believers.
In a phrase, everything about the movie is way, way over the top. Instead of characters there are caricatures—all of the unbelievers in the movie are portrayed as terrible people. In addition to Radisson being a malignant, hateful person, all of the university professors are extreme elitists. There is a blogger who is vitriolic toward believers and specializes in ambush interviews. Then there is her businessman boyfriend who dumps her upon finding out she has cancer. The one Muslim family that is portrayed has a father who beats his daughter when he finds out she is a believer. Oh, and we can’t forget the Chinese father who wants his student son in America to stop asking questions about God. I think that about covers all of the non-believers in the movie. Sounds like the unbelievers we know—right?
And that’s the point—if this portrait doesn’t resonate with believers, how do we think it will be received by unbelievers? (And we wonder why there is such hostility against Christianity). Painting them all with a big dark brush is about as non-Christ like as you can get. And, if our understanding and portrayal of the world is this unrealistic, how can we expect our words about Jesus to have any credibility? This is one of the serious problems the film has.
There are other issues. Professor Radisson’s girlfriend (Mina), is a Christian. It’s not at all clear whether she’s living with him on not (I went back and watched the movie a second time for clarification on this point and it just wasn’t there). Most of the reviews I’ve read understood them to be living together. It’s not hard to see how they reach this conclusion since there’s nothing in the professor’s character to suggest he would be content with a chaste relationship. So here’ a problem and kind of a big one. While we get heavy doses of how Mina is being mistreated and victimized by the professor due to her faith, the movie’s makers left the door open to her being involved in sexual immorality. This ambiguity suggests unimportance or a double standard. Either way, this is exactly the kind of thing many unbelievers rightly object to— Christians pointing their fingers at sexual sins (like homosexuality), but failing to apply the same standard to ourselves. The fact that something as obvious as this is overlooked in this kind of a movie is baffling but I suppose also explains its insensitivity in other equally obvious areas. This kind of self-imposed blindness to the truth looks no better on believers than unbelievers and is one reason why I think the movie is (ultimately) as harmful as it is helpful.
There’s more that’s objectionable—but there is also some good material as well (just not enough of it). I thought the Josh-Professor Radisson storyline (though overdone), was the movie’s strong point and furnished some of the movie’s best moments. Josh’s courage to stand up for his convictions is inspiring and contagious.
Aside from the moral objections, this movie might have worked 75 years ago when America was much more self-contained and homogenous, but it won’t get traction in today’s pluralistic culture. It’s the equivalent of dial-up internet—it is for another place and time. If we’re going to communicate Christ effectively, we must understand the times (1 Chronicles 12:32).