In the movie, God’s Not Dead, college freshman Josh Harper has his sights set on a future law degree. In order to acquire the necessary credits to achieve his academic goals. Harper signs up for a Philosophy class that is taught by a professor who is notoriously hostile to Christianity. The professor offers an assignment to his class asking them each to affirm the statement, “God is dead,” so that they can move on with their future coursework without being burdened with pesky notions of theism (belief in God) creeping into their future discussions.
This causes a test for Harper. Does he go along with the assignment (and the rest of the class) just to get a good grade and pass the class, or does he end up attempting to defend his Christian views against a hostile professor and non-supportive classmates? He chooses the latter. His grade ends up being determined by what the class (not the professor) decides about the merits of his arguments. He faces conflict from his girlfriend who wants him to just do what it takes to get his grade and not rock the boat. It is a real ethical dilemma for Harper.
On the storytelling, on thing I enjoyed about this film is how all of the main characters (10 or so) were all intricately connected to each other relationally, even though they weren’t necessarily aware of it. There was, in some cases, one degree of separation for each person, but their lives were all rather intertwined in a very cool labyrinth. I thought it demonstrated well how our lives effect people even indirectly, through a kind of ripple effect, and the choices we make will impact people we have not even met.
Regarding the Apologetics of the film, it is proposed by Harper that both he, and the professor, begin with certain presuppositions and assumptions, and that neither can ultimately prove or disprove the existence of God. So he says they need to look to the evidence. At this point, the viewer assumes that the main approach will be Evidentialist Apologetics. It is not. Harper utilizes Classical Apologetics, with the Cosmological and Moral Arguments for the existence of God being primary.
It is unrealistic to think that a typical college class will contain all of the elements reflected in this film (a rabid atheist who rails against Christianity, a class that is completely skeptical of Christianity, a student who can hold his own against a trained philosophy professor, a professor who admits that he hates God, etc.). So in one sense the movie doesn’t come off as believable. It’s too much of the extremes all in one place. At the same time, I don’t think that claim (that this is a typical scenario) was the goal of the filmmakers. I think they were trying to create a composite experience of dozens of real-life scenarios (at the end of the film they give a long listing of real courts cases of religious intolerance on college campuses) where Christian students were faced with a choice to essentially deny their faith in order to get a passing grade, or to stand up for their beliefs. Taken as an intended composite, rather than as an expression of a typical college experience, I think the film works.
On the content side, Harper begins his argument by accepting an old-universe cosmology as the basis of origins. As a believer in a more recent creation (thousands of years, not billions), I cringed at that part, but it is true that the vast majority of Classical Apologists and Intelligent Design advocates, hold to a view of an old universe. Check out some Problems with the Big Bang.
Celebrity appearances from Willie and Korie Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) and The Newsboys keep the film from slipping into a strictly narrow-audience academic film.
Criticism from viewers: Detractors from the film will argue against it on several levels. First of all, many film critics will never approve of any film that doesn’t have a budget of $100 million or more. You have to take films of this kind for what they are. It’s not Lord of the Rings. Doesn’t set out to be.
Many will complain that the Christian arguments for the existence of God and the atheist responses are weak on both counts. I wouldn’t say the arguments on either side are weak, they are a few of the classic arguments that end up in any debate on Theism. They just aren’t very comprehensive, and that is because this is a movie, not a teaching video. It will also be posited that the arguments are necessarily stacked to ensure the Christian position comes out on top. Well, duh. It’s a film produced by Christians. A counter film produced by atheists would calculatedly have the opposite outcome.
Personally, I doubt that many atheists will find the move compelling, and I doubt that many will be praying the “sinners prayer” at the end. I also don’t think that a quick view of this film will equip a Christian college student to go to a secular college and suddenly put his atheist professor to shame with his cool Apologetic ninja moves.
In my view, the strength of this film is in the challenge it gives to Christian students (and Christians of all ages) to consider how far they would go to stand up for their beliefs. In the big view of things, God is NOT on trial and has no need for us to defend Him. Mankind is on trial, and has no defense against God. However, Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33, ESV)
There is a watching world looking to see authentic Christianity declared and lived out faithfully. Just like Daniel and his three friends in the Old Testament, you may be called upon to take a stand for your beliefs. Will you stand or back down in fear? Now is the time to consider these important questions. Do you know what you believe? Do you understand why your convictions are true? Can you effectively communicate your beliefs to others? Now is the time to study and prepare.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14-16, ESV)
Israel Wayne is an Author and Conference Speaker. He is the Director of Family Renewal, LLC and Site Editor for www.ChristianWorldview.net.
IMO, the problem with this movie is that it presents an unrealistic picture of what a biased classroom looks like. Any professor who offered an overt ‘grades for agreeing with my atheists opinions’ deal would be risking his job and the incident would end up all over the internet. Real biased classrooms may be just as hostile as the movie suggests, but can be far more subtle in the way they express that bias.
A biased professor might just leave Christian viewpoints out altogether by jumping from Aristotle to Descartes (skipping the Christian dominated medieval era). Or he might present weak versions of Christian arguments. Or he might treat the most extreme Christians as ‘paradigm Christians’, etc. There are many forms of bias in the classroom, but the central illustration of the movie isn’t one of them that you are likely to actually encounter.
Sadly, I have encountered professors who have portrayed themselves exactly like the professor in this movie. One professor, who taught world history, told his class point blank that if we were Christians, then we would fail his class. Another professor, again of history, asked us to write out our ancestral histories. When I got mine back she had written in large red ink over the back that I was only a Christian because my tribe had been enslaved and demoralised by anhry white Christians, and that I needed to renounce my belief in Christ because it was based on falsehoods.
Yes, there are blatant and vocal professors who teach and believe hatred of Christianity. And no, they are not all atheists.
Thank you for your comment.
On the first day of a college class, the female professor announced that if a student brought their Bible to class, they will automatically get a zero. Then she went into a speech how she hated men, and it was her desire to fail every male student in her class by the end of semester no matter if they made straight A’s.
The next day I withdrew from her class. This stuff goes on, and several friends have been ridiculed in class because of their belief and faith in God.
I enjoyed the opening of the film ‘God’s Not Dead’ with my two sons, ages 13 and 11. They both loved the movie and talked for days afterward about subtle points I thought they would have missed. It was exciting to talk with them about what they saw and heard and explore Scripture as they remembered scenes from the movie. They asked great questions and learned alot.
By far the most amazing thing to come form this mini apologetics lesson happened just this week. We were at a park for a free concert and my boys were skateboarding. They were asked by another skater what exactly was going on, as the park had been taken over by ministries, vendors and the stage for the concert. My boys and their friends explained that the event was hosted by our local Christian radio station. “oh, well I don’t agree with all that stuff; I am agnostic” the man told them. He then asked some questions that opened the door for the boys to share their faith very plainly and completely. They told me afterward that they remembered some of the things they heard in the movie.
Thanks for your review and the reminder that this was not a teaching video! However, there was enough there for truth to be proclaimed by my sons and their friends.
I’m non-religious and most Christians would probably consider me to be Atheist (not quite true) but I was hoping this movie was going to be an interesting debate between believer and non-believer that would spotlight the most damning criticisms against the Christian belief in God and come up with some halfway coherent responses; I wouldn’t expect any real evidence, but I was hoping to see a good fight.
To be fair I haven’t seen the whole movie (I skipped most of it) but Professor Radisson is just a strawman, he’s a cardboard cut-out of a villain who in no way, shape or form represents real-world Atheist professors of science. The only thing his character represents is YouTube trolls, and Atheists as Fundamentalist Christians would like Atheists to be – angry resentful misanthropes who “hate God”.
God’s Not Dead is just a fundie/evangelical fantasy of what they would like a debate to be like. But in real life.. well, I recommend watching Atheist vs Christian debates on YouTube to see what really happens.
I’m not sure if links are enabled, but you might want to take a look at “The Four Horsemen of New Atheism”. Surprisingly, these are four guys – all very intelligent – who have quite different personalities and would disagree strongly with each other on many points. For example, Richard Dawkins is totally left-wing while Sam Harris is a very right-wing, yet they converse amicably.
Or try Lawrence Krauss vs William Lane Craig in the “Is It Reasonable To Believe There Is A God?” debate.
This is the kind of stuff that should have been the subject of the movie, and I wouldn’t have minded watching a movie like that, but instead we get a heroic Christian fighting an evil sock-puppet Atheist.