I didn’t go see the movie God’s Not Dead. In fact, the idea of it disturbs me.
Perhaps it is hypocritical to call into question a movie which I haven’t seen, but hopefully I can be fair about this. I’ve attempted to read up on it and get a good idea of what it is about, but I realize that any review will naturally be biased. This is based on second-hand information. Feel free to correct me.
That being said, essentially, I see the movie as a Christian pep-rally, propaganda movie–a sort of one-dimensional, thin portrayal that makes Christians feel good about being Christians at the expense of real thought. Was the intention to be a ‘witnessing tool’? An aid in apologetics? I doubt it worked.
My beef with it is twofold.
Stereotyping and one-dimensional portrayal of non-Christians
In their review, Plugged’N (part of Focus on the Family) admits,
Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.
Obviously (the movie implies), if you’re an atheist you’re a jerk. If you’re a Muslim, you’re going to violently kick your daughter out of the house for converting to Christianity.
That’s not a fair portrayal.
The Christians Win in the End (hurray for the good guys!)
Rembert Browne said:
This is a film in which antagonizers of Christianity are strategically given a platform to speak, just so they can be shut down.
If there’s anything that makes people irate about this movie, it is this one. The atheist MUST be shut down, and therefore he cannot be given a true chance to speak. Both sides cannot be argued fairly. Why? Is it because the questions he could ask are too hard to answer?
And what if the protagonist did not win the class over? What if he had given his best defence and was still considered an imbecile? What if he failed his class? Would he be less ‘successful’?
And then, as if to make everything better, everyone ‘becomes a Christian’ in the end.
Rembert Browne again:
So yes, this movie is absurd. It creates a fantasy world in the name of Christianity winning in the end. It positions a David vs. Goliath scenario with the kid who believes in God and the professor who denounces that belief. After losing to the student in the eyes of the student body, the professor has a revelation, gets hit by a car, and decides to give his life to Jesus as he lies in the street, probably dying.
And then we end with a rock concert. What?
Perhaps what disturbs me most about this movie is that as Christians, we could do so much better. It seems to portray unhealthy ways of engaging with our friends, neighbours, coworkers and professors. I would rather see these two ideas promoted:
When engaging others, remember they are people.
It is entirely possible that their views are NOT well thought through, and that their religion (or lack thereof) is based on a shaky foundation. But assume that it isn’t. For the sake of their dignity as a human and an image-bearer of God, take the time to hear them out. Get to the root. What do they really believe, and what led them there?
Ravi Zacharias, Christian author and apologist, said that one of the most important qualities of an apologist is humility, and it takes humility to listen, risking that the other may have a good point to make.
Winning is not the point
There is no shame in bowing out gracefully, and there is no shame in being out-gunned. Learn from it. If you can’t win the crowd over, as long as you have spoken the truth and as long as you have conveyed God’s love and character, consider it a job well done.
I recently had a debate with a coworker that dragged on (by email) for almost a month. A professor of mine, who I turned to for advice, urged me that arguing with him was probably not the best method. I disregarded him at first, but I eventually realized that we were getting nowhere, and so in order to preserve the relationship, I bowed out. It felt like caving, honestly, but it was the right thing to do.
Debates, if done well, are extremely useful. If you keep your mind open, and focus on learning instead of winning, they will force you to reconsider what you hold dear–what is truth, and what is just pet idea of yours. In the end, you are likely to walk away stronger (or perhaps with a new viewpoint).
If you are interested to learn how to engage people of other faiths, or defend the Christian worldview, I encourage you to listen to podcasts by Ravi Zacharias, read some of his books, or if possible, see one of his apologists in action. Their simultaneous knowledge and humility is a great example to uphold.
By nature, a movie like this will polarize. I get that. Friends of mine who saw it all loved it, but it was no surprise that IMDB.com was full of vitriolic reviews (from Christian and non-Christian alike).
I expect there were instances where God’s Not Dead inspired thought. Perhaps it stiffened the spine of some. I appreciate the idea: stand up for your faith no matter what. I just wish the movie-makers used a bit more wisdom in how they did it. We, as Christians, are already viewed in stereotypes of hypocrites, bigots and intolerant fools. Let’s not prove them right.