My wife often refers to herself as a “basketball widow.” For those of you who don’t know us – I coach high school basketball in Indiana and spend countless nights away from home during basketball season. Most years we are unable to celebrate Valentine’s Day on the holiday itself, and this year was no different. We did, however, plan a couple of dates to spend quality time together after basketball ended. Knowing I would be intrigued by this film, my wife planned for us to go see God’s Not Dead yesterday and we really enjoyed it. The basic plot for God’s Not Dead has been well-publicized in the Christian subculture and does not need to be re-stated or further developed, so I will focus my attention on what I enjoyed and what I wish had been depicted differently. Let’s start with the positive. It was good to see a Christian film painting apologetics in a positive light. Multiple arguments for Christian faith were presented, including argument from origins, morality, and the existence of evil. None of these were fully stated, much less fully developed, but would that really have been a fair expectation in a 2 hour movie? As it is, each movie-goer has the opportunity to develop the arguments in follow-up conversations and this is a good thing. The acting was much better in God’s Not Dead than other Christian films I’ve seen in recent years. Of course, there were a few rough spots, but on the whole, I was pleased. I appreciated the depiction of character flaws and hypocrisy in multiple Christian characters, including the pastor. I was nervous that Christians would be shown as perfect people who have it all together and the unbelievers would be shown as horrible folks, leading the charge for narcissism and every form of self-centeredness.
That said, I reacted negatively to the portrayal of multiple unsaved characters as unbelievably cruel and heartless. Several times their responses even brought a collective gasp from the audience. I am particularly sensitive on this one, so I may be a bit too harsh, but there are a lot of really nice atheists in the world. Portrayal that the lack of belief in God means you are a cold and insensitive jerk does not sit well with me. In the last 30 minutes of the film, at least 3 people came to know Christ, yet no clear gospel presentation was to be found (although a brief snippet of Franklin Graham preaching from I Corinthians 15 was played through a girl’s iPod). Conversion from atheism to theism does not make you a Christian. To be fair, one of the converts (Martin) did say he had decided to follow Jesus. Even so, the emphasis appeared to be conversion based on arguments for God’s existence rather than conversion based on redemption through the blood of Jesus.
The plot did seem a bit contrived. Do philosophy professors at secular universities really come to class with such an overt anger and hostility toward anyone who professes any form of theism? I don’t doubt that some do, but from my experience of teaching dozens of students who have gone to secular universities and my siblings (I’m the only one to not go to a secular school), I’m quite confident this is not the norm. This isn’t to say that Christianity is not under heavy fire at universities around the nation, an obvious truth.
For me, the most revealing scene of the movie involved Martin, a Chinese student calling his dad, who appeared to be a successful businessman in China. Martin was recounting the debate in his class and the strength of the arguments for God’s existence. His father became angry and told him they would not be having this discussion. Martin responded, “but I thought we were supposed to …” Martin was again angrily interrupted by his father who declared the conversation to be over. Presumably, Martin was preparing to say he thought he was supposed to think for himself, examine the evidence, and come to his own conclusions. It is for students like Martin that apologetics is most needed. That is, honest truth-seekers who have been brainwashed into thinking Christianity is an intellectually bankrupt worldview. They have been taught to valiantly seek truth, but think Christianity has nothing to offer except outdated fairy tales and bizarre superstition. As defenders of the Christian faith demonstrate the reasonableness of Christianity, their eyes are opened and they can investigate the Scriptures with a fresh outlook. It isn’t apologetics that saved them, but without good apologetics, they probably would not have given the Bible a fair and honest examination.
On the whole, I was very pleased with God’s Not Dead. Good apologetics is much needed and often neglected due to ignorance or apologetics done poorly. I don’t care if you are 17, 77, in the middle of college or a mid-life crisis, you need to have good answers for why you believe what you believe. God’s Not Dead brought this reality to light and it is my hope that people do not walk away feeling happy that answers exist. Rather, I hope they walk away inspired to search for themselves and “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15).