Editor’s note: What follows is a review of the new Christian film, “God’s Not Dead.” It was not written by me, because I have not seen it, because I have no interest in seeing it. Based (I freely admit) on nothing more than the trailer and a few articles I’ve read about it, the movie looks like it pretty much embodies everything I find distasteful about American mainstream evangelical Christianity.
But again, I didn’t write the review. Instead, it was submitted by the very smart, very thoughtful and very reasonable David Buchanan, a Facebook fan of the site. I trust that you will appreciate his perspective.
But be warned: The following review does contain big spoilers, including the climax of the film. If you wish to see it without having the ending ruined, I’d suggest not reading any further.
The primary drama in “God’s Not Dead” arises from an atheist philosophy professor (Radisson) who demands that his students write, and sign, a statement declaring that God is dead. A Christian student (Josh) refuses and is told that he must give three lectures in defense of the reality of God.
The movie has high production values and, at several points, you feel like you are on a college campus (it appears to be LSU). The acting for some of the main characters (the professor, the student and a pastor) is generally good. Some of the other performances…not so much. Rather surprisingly, Dean Cain (Superman, for crying out loud!) creates a particularly wooden character.
The premise of the tyrannical professor who demands such a statement from his students still bothers me. I fear that some in the target audience (evangelical Christians) will be comfortable assuming that a demand for atheism would be standard at some universities. However, such an action should not be tolerated and any professor who makes it a condition for a grade would be in serious trouble. This is exacerbated by the fact that this professor also commits an assault on the student.
Nonetheless, the intellectual interchange between Josh and Raddison has some good points. I was glad to see the Big Bang used as part of the defense for the existence of God and that John Lennox was quoted. The interchange about Stephen Hawking demonstrated that a defense of God’s existence cannot be accomplished in a cavalier manner and I liked that, though I was bothered by the swipe at Darwin, which really did not contribute much to the debate. I was especially disappointed that Lee Strobel was given credit for the imagery that is used to illustrate the idea that life has only been present on the planet for a short time in comparison with the age of the universe.
In the end, Josh probes the idea that the professor is actually turning his back on reason when he starts the course by demanding a conclusion. This was good. He also entices the professor into admitting that he actually hates God. This backs Radisson into the untenable position of hating something that he claims to know does not exist. By the end of the debate, I found myself rooting for the student and was pleased that his classmates supported him. My daughter will tell you that I am frequently brought near tears at some point while watching movies. This was that moment in this movie.
The movie had too many distracting subplots. This started with Josh’s girlfriend. Apparently, she thought that she lowered herself to attend the same school as Josh even though her academic performance would have probably propelled her into a better university. She seems to have their lives planned out although she does not appear to actually know (or care) much about Josh as a person. She exits Josh’s life and the movie early on.
Radisson’s girlfriend (apparently a student, or at least a student when the relationship started) and her brother (the Dean Cain character) are dealing with a mother suffering from dementia. An extremely left-wing reporter specializing in painfully shallow “ambush” interviews discovers that she is dying of cancer and her boyfriend (Dean Cain again) dumps her for no reason at all except that the cancer seems to be too inconvenient for him.
There was also a local pastor and his missionary friend who were having a lot of trouble getting to Disney World. In addition, a student from China has frequent sub-titled phone calls with his father. Willie and Korie Robertson (from Duck Dynasty) appear for no obvious reason other than to serve as “product placement”. All I will say about the inclusion of a girl and her apparently Muslim father was that it was handled in an exceptionally offensive manner.
The movie starts to move, toward the end, to a concert by the Newsboys (singers of the song from which the movie’s title is derived). All of the major characters seem to be being carried to the concert by some invisible force. At this point, I wondered how they could have 10,000 people (almost all of them seemingly college-age) attending a Christian concert, but only one student in a class of 80 seemed to have any hesitation about signing a statement declaring that God is dead.
Among the characters being pulled toward the concert is the professor, Radisson. I was very curious to see how this would play out. As he nears the arena, he is struck by a hit-and-run driver. The pastor and missionary happen to be right next to the accident (having not gotten very far in the effort to go to Disney World) and leap out of their car to assist him. The missionary declares that the injuries are too severe for him to survive (how he has the expertise to know this is a mystery).
The pastor asks Radisson if he knows Jesus. The seeds of faith that were planted by his mother who died when he was 12 bear fruit and he accepts Jesus. This is, of course, good news. Nonetheless, I felt tremendously cheated at this point. One of the two main characters in the movie dies, and none of the other characters who knew him are affected by it at all. His now-former girlfriend (who is a Christian) and Josh had significant relationships with him and they are happily singing along with the Newsboys while he lies dying in the street.
They will, we assume, discover tomorrow that he has died, but will they know anything at all about his conversion as he died? The opportunity for such a well-known and articulate antagonist of Christians to explain the change in his life is lost forever. Also, many in the audience are left to assume that he committed to faith just because he was afraid to die.
My curiosity about Radisson at the concert evaporated into the feeling that the producers decided that the movie was already almost two hours long, and killing him would save time.
Have you seen the movie? If so, do you agree with David’s thoughts? Do you want to see it? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.