God’s Not Dead: a Movie Review (sort-of)

<Warning: spoiler alert! If you have not yet seen the movie, the post below is full of spoilers. >

I watched the movie “God’s Not Dead” recently with a group of teens and some parents. Our local movie theater offers a $5 ticket for all movies on Tuesdays, with free popcorn. So, we got a couple of minivans together full of teens (and pre-teens) and headed to the movies.

At the end of the movie? We were ALL inspired. We stood outside in the hallway talking after the movie.

My 13-year-old son said, “I’m going to a secular college just so I can do what he did.” A 16 year old boy said he really liked the movie. The teen girls liked the movie. One of the parents (a dad) said it was his favorite movie of the year.

So… what was it about this movie that inspired us?

The main character, Josh Wheaton, is a freshman, and takes a philosophy class. On the first day of class, the professor asks each student to write on a piece of paper, “God is dead”, then sign his/her name. Well, Josh Wheaton struggles with that. He decides he can’t do what the professor asks.

The professor challenges Josh to teach the class. What results is a sort of “trial”, in which the students (the peers, or jury) will decide who “wins”.   He is at risk of failing the class if he does not convince the professor of his position. Much more is at stake, though, than just his philosophy grade. His girlfriend threatens to leave him if he agrees to the debates.

Josh seeks counsel from a local pastor, and ultimately decides he will take the professor’s challenge. In the midst of his “lectures”, Josh has to withstand the scrutiny and tough questions the philosophy prof throws his direction. And he has to face an entire class of students who did sign the papers that say, “God is dead.”

Josh’s girlfriend, upset with his decision, leaves him. The professor, after several class sessions, threatens Josh Wheaton’s entire future (Josh aspires to attend law school).

So what inspired us?

Could it have been the practical demonstration of a student working out his faith? Wrestling with a difficult choice? Standing up to a professor who hates God and a classroom of peers who could judge him to “lose” the debate? Watching a student make a decision that could change his entire future?

After watching the movie I searched it online, read some reviews, etc. I’m so glad I didn’t read any reviews before seeing this movie. Usually, I read reviews– but for this movie, all I knew is that it was PG and that it was going to be safe for all ages of our group, and I knew it involved a debate between a student and a prof. That’s about it.

I read the reviews and was surprised at the amount of criticism and negative reviews from the Christian community. The creation websites were saying that Josh Wheaton didn’t explain creationism well.  There was the shallowness of Josh’s girlfriend.  She dumps him like a hot potato when he agrees to the prof’s debate, because, she says, it is threatening their future lives together (i.e., law school, jobs, etc.). How could he have dated a girl like that for 6 years and not know who she really was?

So I thought– amazing. Here we were- – leaving  this movie where the teens were INSPIRED and the movie is being torn apart for these matters.

The movie does have some issues. I agree – the girlfriend thing was a bit off. The movie claims Josh and his girlfriend had been dating for 6 years; however, if they are college freshmen that would mean the dating began when they were 12 years old. Seriously? Agreed- that part could have been thought out a bit more. And then, it was curious how Josh, obviously serious about his faith, was dating someone who turned out to be quite shallow. But– just maybe — it was being away from home and living the college life that brought out her true colors. I suppose it can be possible to attend youth group together for six years, and be together in that sheltered environment, and for him not to see what was really important to her.

Another situation I found a bit dichotomous was how the prof could be so anti-God and anti-Christian  but in a surprising twist <spoiler alert>, his girlfriend is an unashamed, professing Christian? She was a former student, and he admits, if she didn’t make an A on his test, (he is a bit of an intellectual snob),  he wouldn’t have dated  her, but he sure liked her her looks, as he admits. Later in the movie, he proceeds to demean her in front of his colleagues — making fun of her, at which point she realizes she needs to break up with him. And does.

But… once we get to know the prof a little bit better, his choice of girlfriend can be more closely examined and better understood. He is struggling with his faith, deep inside. He gave up on God years ago, when his mother died. So deep inside, perhaps he wants to believe though he vehemently denies it. The woman in his life represents a person who has chosen to believe (while her own mother suffers from dementia)– a decision he can’t quite bring himself to make.

And what about the pastor? His role was also criticized. He comes across sounding burned out and slightly cynical. Ok– so pastors don’t get burned out? Is he supposed to be real — or is he supposed to fit a prescribed image? The missionary visiting from Africa is more cheerful and upbeat — ends up giving the local pastor a pep talk — but was it supposed to be the other way around? Well, again, the movie isn’t perfect; personally, I’d rather it be real than fit a stereotype.

(Note: there are a few surprises I did not reveal.)

So problems aside…. what about the story of a college freshman who was bold enough to stand up in front of his entire philosophy class and admit his faith in God? What about his courage to engage in a debate with a prof who threatens to flunk him, and who promises to do anything in his power to keep him out of law school? What about that?

How many students today could do what he did? How many actually would?

Isn’t that the point of the movie? I suppose that’s what I thought it was. Not perfection on details. Come on- would you really expect a college freshman student to have all the pat and perfect answers to a seasoned atheist’s arguments, even in a movie? Would you expect a perfect dialogue? Freshman Josh Wheaton could hold his own and he did a fine job, and he had to admit he didn’t have all the answers. Isn’t this realistic?

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I Peter 3:15. Isn’t this exactly what Josh Wheaton was doing?

Admittedly,  in reality, <spoiler alert> I did find it a bit unbelievable that the ENTIRE class would have stood up at the end of the debate to indicate their support for Josh and his belief that God isn’t dead. I think in any college classroom there will be a number of students who would not stand. In this movie the entire class stood up. To be realistic, perhaps they should have had some students stay seated, because that is probably more likely.

On the other hand, though, trying to analyze this from a different perspective, maybe everyone stood because it was clear who won the debate. Josh had gotten the prof to admit some startling things– such as the fact that he was mad at God, which leads Josh to ask, “How can you be mad at someone you say doesn’t even exist?” That cornered the prof and it was clear to the class. It became clear it was personal and not just about what the facts stated– it was about something personal between God and the professor. So the whole room standing up didn’t necessarily mean everyone believed in God (though that could indeed happen) but that the class realized Josh won the debate.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes of the movie was the Muslim girl who got thrown out of her house when her father found out she was listening to sermons about Jesus. She goes to the pastor of the church (same pastor that Josh visits)– but the movie didn’t explain where the woman lived after being kicked out, who took her in, how she survived, etc. The teens with me said they would have liked to have known those details; i.e., what happened to her, and who took her in. We were left to assume that someone in the church did that, but we weren’t told who or how. That was an interesting detail we were quite curious about. Does the church take care of people in need? If so, show us how that works. I felt the producers lost a stellar opportunity here in showing how a church family can help in crises like these, especially to a non-churched audience. It would have been worth an extra 5-10 minutes of movie time to demonstrate to a wider audience what that looks like.

So, the movie isn’t perfect. Some parts are either predictable or don’t make much sense (like the 6 year girlfriend/boyfriend relationship and how she is shallow and dumps him so quickly). But these things did not personally distract me from the movie’s message.

Our small group of  teens and adults was encouraged by the movie’s core message, and I bet others out there were also. I am more than willing to overlook some of the faults or oversights of this production, and focus on the core message of this film, especially after witnessing the reaction of the young people. What other means or mode of communication could elicit such a response from teens to want to react with the same kind of boldness? I could not believe it was my own child saying such words, to want to do what Josh Wheaton did. Whether or not such a thing will actually happen in his life remains to be seen, but that is not the point. I think these young people need to see practical examples like this of faith in action, in ways that are meaningful and applicable to them. This movie does just that. 

Honestly, with so many movies full of immorality, filthy language, nudity, superficiality, and weak plot lines, this movie stands out as a stellar family production– with a worthy topic and theme.

Be sure to stay for the credits at the end of the movie and look for the scrolling list of the colleges that have had cases like this– this movie was inspired by an actual college case(s). It’s worth waiting until the end to see that — the list goes on and on. I want to purchase the movie just so I can scroll through that list.

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech in our country is no doubt under attack. The enemy is sly; our educational institutions have become incubation houses for secularism and atheism.

But the point is this: are we going to stand up for our faith? Stand up and do what Josh Wheaton did? How far am I, are you, are we, willing to go? Is God dead to you or to me? If not, then we all need to ask ourselves what we would do if we were in Josh’s shoes. Would we sign a a paper that says God is dead? or risk flunking? It would be awfully easy and non-confrontational to just sign the paper and move on, knowing in our hearts we believe, but not willing to take the major risk of speaking up. 

Josh Wheaton chose a different path. We should ask ourselves: what path would we choose?

There may be a day, and not too far in the future, when we will also have to make such a choice.  (And– thousands of believers around the world already must do so, in the oppressed areas in which they live).

My 13-year-old asked last night to watch this movie again. It’s out of the theaters now, and it’s not out on DVD yet. But once it’s out on DVD, we’ll buy it, and watch it again. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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