So where do I start with this film?
We seem to have entered a unique time in movie history where there are more and more blatantly Christ-centered/Christ-themed movies being made. We’ve had the sublime in films like Passion of the Christ and Ragamuffin to the head shakers like Left Behind. And we’ve had everything in between – movies that had at its core a great message, some awkward acting, a bit over the top on the cheese factor in varying degrees.
God’s Not Dead seems to have moments of all of these extremes. The movie begins on a college campus where 5 unique story lines begin seemingly independent of one another and they all will eventually collide into one another. At the center of these stories is the conflict between a freshman philosophy student and a seasoned atheist philosophy professor.
The professor challenges his class to sign a document that says “God Is Dead” so they can get to the heart of good philosophy and the lone freshman Christian decides to not sign it. What’s at stake? He will have 3 sessions to present evidence that God is NOT dead and the class will decide the fate of the freshman student – whether he passes of fails.
What the movie is attempting to do is admirable and needs repeating over and over again. It’s not intellectual suicide to follow Christ. One doesn’t have to check his brain at the door of Christianity. Did the film actually accomplish this?
A “straw man” in philosophy is setting up your opponents argument in a way he can’t possibly win. You state the opposite’s position in such a way that no one in their right mind would ever agree with. The straw man is easily defeated but hardly contains the full perspective of the opposite side.
The movie was careful not to set up ‘straw men’ in the classroom scenes (save the last session). The first two sessions from the freshman philosophy student were quite compelling. How creation was handle was spectacular – and it will stretch our “literal 7-days” brothers in Christ. I found the quotes and focus on Creation fascinating but it’s the third session that I believe ultimately failed the film.
The last “session” focused on personal testimony and story instead of philosophy. I’m all for personal testimony but there is a time and place to deal with deep, philosophical truth and that time was then – in the film. We’ve had plenty of other films give us personal testimony. What I wanted was the opportunity to have the great Theistic philosophers speak, allow them a chance to shine. Men like Plato, Socrates, Immanuel Kant, Kurt Godel, Blaise Pascal, CS Lewis, Peter Kreeft, and contemporary philosopher William Lane Craig to name a few. If the “lynchpin” for the philosopher was how many brilliant men believed in no god, let’s trot out the brilliant thinkers who did.
This was a HUGE miss for the film.
The other HUGE miss was the shallowness of the characters who didn’t believe in Christ in the film. A boyfriend who abandons his girlfriend because she has cancer? A dad that beats his daughter because she’s listening to Franklin Graham? A professor who insults his girlfriend in front of his colleagues at dinner?
Lost people are lost. They aren’t stupid. They aren’t slugs of humanity with no morals or feelings. They aren’t sub-human. I felt like it was a huge disservice to “straw men” these characters.
Having said that, there are a few powerful scenes. Dean Cain’s character (the heartless boyfriend) has a confession time with his mother who is going through dementia. That was an incredible bit of filming and dialogue.
I had the expectation that the scenes with the Duck Dynasty crew and the Newsboys were going to be CHEESEVILLE, USA. Sappy, trite, bumper sticker religious speak that ultimately did nothing for the film save a celebrity appearance. They actually came off pretty well.
So what is my ultimate opinion of the movie?
I didn’t enjoy it.
I love the premise. I love the idea of weaving 5 stories together. My kids liked it. Most people I know like the film. That’s fine. Don’t want to ruin their world but if the goal was to make a film to help prepare students for life on a college campus – there isn’t enough in this film to be that.
Personal stories are great and necessary but TRUTH is TRUTH. There is enough TRUTH to defend belief in God and Christ in particular. For college students struggling with their faith on campuses across our country, spend time reading Kant, Kreeft, Craig, Lewis, and Godel. Allow their minds to challenge and expand yours while inspiring you at the same time. Yes, we need our personal story but that personal story sits on the foundation of TRUTH. That truth is what gives your personal story power.
Unfortunately, this film touched little of that foundation and no amount of cool music can hide that fact.