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.
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)