What would you do if you showed up at your new college, went to your philosophy class, and were ordered by your professor to agree that “God is dead”? What would you do if he told you that your refusal to sign would require you to prove in three lectures that God is not dead? What if your girlfriend threatened to leave you and your professor to ruin you if you took the challenge?
For Josh Wheaton, college freshman and dedicated Christian, there can be only one answer.
Take the challenge and tell the world that God is definitely not dead. In fact, He’s very much alive.
This is a film that clearly proclaims the gospel, along with the power and goodness of God. It doesn’t get too preachy, and does a pretty good job weaving Christianity into the story naturally. It also does a pretty good job of weaving a lot of different storylines together. Each storyline has a slightly different message to offer. Josh learns that God will bless his faith and his courage. A pastor learns that being faithful in the little things is just as important as “being on the front lines” and that God is in control of everything–even cars that refuse to start. A conflicted girlfriend learns to see herself the way God does, and that she doesn’t need attention from anyone to make her worthy. And yet not everyone learns better. A quintessentially selfish businessman exits the story the exact same man as when he entered it.
None of these morals hit the audience over the head too badly, with some of them even left to the viewer to figure out for themselves. Everyone doesn’t live happily ever after, but the central characters do discover God’s faithfulness.
The film is also technically excellent. The cinematography was artistic without trying to be too clever, and the filmmakers did a good job overall of showing instead of telling. The acting was superb almost across the board, and the emotion was portrayed powerfully. Together, these aspects create a film that definitely has the potential to inspire and get people thinking.
Unfortunately, the film had too many flaws for me to wholeheartedly endorse it as I wish I could. Almost all the characters are unrealistic and two-dimensional from beginning to end, making it hard to take their lessons seriously. All the atheists in the story are stereotypically and over-the-top bad, with one even remarking “I’m the meanest person I know.” One atheist is outright verbally abusive, to the point that I was honestly a bit scared when one scene left him alone in an elevator with the protagonist. Not only is this not true to real life (many atheists are kind people, and most mean people hide it a little better than these characters), but it gets a little tiring to watch after awhile.
To be fair, the atheists aren’t the only mean ones. One character’s Christian girlfriend angrily leaves him because what he believes to be the right thing to do might interfere with her plans for their lives. My question is why he didn’t see her selfishness previously in their six-year dating relationship, especially since it was obvious to me in the first ten minutes of the film.
But then, there are a lot of confusing or just plain absent motivations in this film. One major character has a sudden dramatic change of heart for unclear reasons… presumably because his girlfriend stood up to him and an eighteen-year-old kid humiliated him in front of his class. Other characters swing from one state of mind to the next with seemingly small reasons.
On a theological note, the idea of trying to prove or defend God is shaky at best. For one thing, the very idea that anything can prove God implies that something has higher authority than He does. For another, statistics and science cannot convince someone to believe. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Yes, He can use anything to touch people’s hearts for Him. But turning to reason as a basis for faith is troubling. We don’t believe because our minds are convinced, we believe because our hearts are changed by God.
I also found Josh’s answer to the question of why there is evil in the world concerning. Whether you believe in free will or not, his reply didn’t indicate that evil has any greater purpose in God’s plan, which is a very depressing point of view, and not one that I believe Scripture teaches.
From my criticisms, it probably sounds like I hated God’s Not Dead. I didn’t. I thought it had merit, and even that it was worth seeing. I think it has the potential to be used by God. I’m grateful for the courage that led the filmmakers to boldly and openly proclaim our King.
I was just disappointed to see that in the end, the story wasn’t able to shake off many of the stereotypes, bad writing, and unrealistic content that has tended to characterize Christian films. It accomplished a lot of things. I just hope that we’ll start seeing some Christian films with better writing in the near future.
I’d give this one 2.5 stars out of five.