Review: ‘God’s Not Dead’ (because we made a movie about him)

"God's Not Dead" is a mixed bag, our reviewer says.

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.

Tyler Francke

  • Paul Braterman

    OF COURSE it would be scandalous as well as unprecedented if an atheist professor were to require his students to sign a declaration of atheism. But it DOES happen all the time that entire colleges impose on their students and Faculty the requirement that they accept statements of faith, sometimes extremely specific, narrow, Young Earth Creationist faith at that. See my blog p-ost, Credit where none is due; creationist colleges
    and courses http://wp.me/p21T1L-9S, and the current furore about Bryan College.

    • That’s a good point, Paul. And the situation at Bryan College frustrates me to no end.

  • Ben Amend

    Horrible movie. While I agree with a lot of the things said in this review, the thing that it pretty much completely overlooked, aside from pointing out that Radisson would have gotten in serious trouble for his actions, is that every single bad person in this film is an atheist, and every good person is a Christian. This is an incredibly offensive and inaccurate portrayal of the majority of atheists/agnostics, and this, along with the notion that Josh appears to be portrayed as the only theist (or at least outspoken theist) in a class of 80 students, will only serve to feed conservative Christians’ persecution complex.

    The film also shows that Radisson is really only an atheist because he doesn’t think God is “worth believing in”, and Josh showing that he was ultimately just angry at God. All of these ridiculous straw men propped up by the creators of the film are eagerly burned to the ground in what seems to be an effort to shelter Christians from the fact that, generally speaking, atheism is a conclusion reached by people who have sincerely considered the evidence, not a result of some bizarre emotionally damaging experience. Thinking back on that part of the film, I can’t help but remind myself of the annoying and just plain wrong myth pushed by many other Christians I know, even my *parents*, that “atheists secretly believe in God, they just don’t want to be held accountable to anything”.

    All in all, this seems like a whole-hearted effort on the filmmakers’ parts. Not to promote understanding between theists and atheists through healthy dialogue, but to further segregate the two groups by shoving every single falsehood that many Christians hold to be true about atheists down our throats and hoping that we don’t say anything that might ruin their black and white delusion that Christians are always righteous and intelligent, and atheists are always evil and stupid.

    • Yep. I picked up on this just from watching the trailer. This is exactly why I’m not the slightest bit interested in seeing the movie. Too many Christians today seem just as terrified about the tiniest twinge of gray in their “black and white delusion” as they are of evolution or anything else.

      • maxine

        this movie was really good and inspiring. i understand all the atheist were seen bad but they tried to make a movie where people could understand. i am a christian and God Is Not Dead

        • Hey Maxine, question: Is making a movie that grossly exaggerates and demonizes atheists a good way to foster understanding between Christians and atheists? Because you claim that was part of the filmmakers’ goals.

          • maxine

            im only 12 so my answer is no its not but at least their trying

          • It’s nice to hear from someone so young, and I do appreciate your perspective and your honesty. That being said, if the filmmakers really are trying to reach atheists with the message of the gospel, then they need to try harder. I’m sure they could do a lot better than a straw-man-laden effort like “God’s Not Dead.”

          • maxine

            thx and i appreciate you opionion but um…… yeah 🙂

          • Alex Jones

            As a Christian myself, I actually agree with you. I didn’t think the movie was quite as bad as people try to make it out to be, but at the same time I see several of the complaints. However, I don’t think this is a movie intended to convert atheists, but it was directly made for christians. Not every “non-christian” was a bad-guy per say, but the main ones were (The most pointless plot being Dean Cain and his Girlfriend who got cancer). And, not all christians were portrayed as the “Good-guys” either (I.E. his girlfriend) However, the movie was slanted in a pro-christian and anti-athiest perspective as it would be expected to be. There was nothing inherently insidious about the movie, it just wasn’t that good, and any athiest who walks out of it would walk out chuckling to themselves.

            The thing I was surprised about was that it appeared to support Old-earth christianity and the Theory of Evolution.

          • Hey Alex, I’m a Christian as well; you know that, right? Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m curious to hear a bit more: Having seen the movie, and concluding that it wasn’t really intended to be evangelistic or an outreach to non-Christians, what do you think was the purpose of the film? Just speculation, of course, but what do you imagine the filmmakers might have intended Christians to get from it?

          • Alex Jones

            Honestly? A shot in their arm and affirmation of their faith. The arguments were too weak to convince anyone, and even some of my more intellectual christian friends would have walked out scoffing at the meager defense that that movie provided.

            The strongest argument they brought up was a short back-and-forth about Steven Hawking’s defense of a self-creating Universe theory (something I was highly surprised that they even touched on, and was the thing that ultimately convinced me to watch the movie) however, they wave it a way with a statement that it is nothing more than circular reasoning and no more compelling arguments are given for either side. Honestly, the most accurate statement about the movie was the line from Kevin Sorbo at the end of the debates when he said “You have proven nothing.” And it’s true, that movie proved nothing in the end.

            However if you look at the rest of the movie you see that the debates (Which constituted, probably, less than a third of the entire movie) were not the main focus. The story focused around several other side-stories from a Missionary and a Preacher attempting to get to Disney World to a deplorable reporter who gets cancer. The movie itself was about salvation and God’s mercy – despite being presented as an apologetics movie. It was the equivalent of going to a concert of Casting Crowns or News Boys – neither of which are going to convert staunch atheists, but serve as a affirmation of your own faith from fellow believers.

          • Interesting view; thanks for sharing. I can certainly remember when I was a new believer and soaked up concerts and music and — for lack of a better term — “shallow” stuff like that. I can see some value in it. If encouraging the flock really was the main goal, though, then I would just suggest that the whole project would have probably been better in all respects if they had simply left the caricaturizing of atheists and atheism out of it all together. You can make an encouraging film that celebrates what is good and true in the Christian faith without constructing and ceremoniously sacrificing straw-men of opposing viewpoints to do so. It may be a little more difficult, but it can certainly be done. Thanks again!

          • I actually agree with the above commenter – it was meant to soothe fundamentalist Christians with the idea that they are right and good, atheists are by definition godless therefore wrong and probably bad, and more insidiously, to encourage their sense of persecution. Evangelicals generally, and extreme fundamentalists such as we grew up with in particular, have a great need for this us vs them ideology, that they are fighting to keep faith alive in a darkening world, that they are the underdogs, the persecuted ones, because REAL Christians are always persecuted for their faith, and destroying strawmen left and right is the only way they can engage with the issues because true intellectually honest evaluations of godless or any disagreeing positions, really, would be too much for their cognitive dissonance to handle. Sorry if we sound incoherent, we’re a bit sleep deprived, but I hope you get what I mean. This movie was aimed at reinforcing things that many Christians already believe, and reassuring them that their worldview is correct, with all atheists being amoral terrible people and everything that goes with it.

            ….wow just realised how old this post is. um. since we wrote out the comment already I’ll just post it, with our apologies. XD;

          • Savannah

            I am an evangelical Christian and I thought the movie was very inspiring and it definitely touched my heart although I’m only 12 years old

          • Hi Savannah. Kind of interesting that, apparently, you are the second 12-year-old who has chimed into this discussion in support of “God’s Not Dead.” Not sure what that says about the film. Glad it touched you, though.

          • Max SlyFox

            You now about 90% of Christians are not the real deal. They know that God exists and believe in him,but don’t wasn’t top actually do what Jesus says and follow him. This movie is for those 90% , to show them that believing in God, but hiding at a chance to share about him, is not believing.

          • Sure, but it seems the message more in line with the Bible and certainly the gospels would be encouraging such apathetic Christians to live out their faith in service to the needy and the downtrodden and the poor and sick — not to live out their faith by challenging atheists to debates (which appears to be the actual message of the movie).

  • Larry Bunce

    Most writers have difficulty presenting characters convincingly when they don’t understand the character’s viewpoint. The movie version of M*A*S*H gave a very one-dimentional presentation of Frank Burns’ Christianity. This tendency is always exaggerated in a propaganda film. Not only is the other side shown as totally evil, the ‘good guys’ are always shown as without a blemish.
    Christian literature and films I have ever seen seem to have a cloud over the writing. I don’t know if this is a result of the propagandistic approach inherent in these works, or because the writing is not up to the standards we have come to expect in mainstream film and literature.
    As to the atheist professor’s last-minute conversion, a legend spread after Darwin died, (denied by his sister who was there at the time) that on his deathbed, Darwin renounced evolution and accepted Jesus.

    • Good points, as always, Larry. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • lzzrdgrrl

    I don’t think I’ll trouble myself with this movie, it’s not even wrong…….

    The full statement, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”, makes no reference to the (provable) existence of G_d, the nature of matter, the age of the universe or a binding statement on reality. It refers to the predicament of modern man three centuries after the ruin and dissolution of the One True Church. It makes no reference to ‘science’, it is not ‘logic’, you don’t defend it with ‘proof’. It is an assertion supported by argument, somewhere in the rest of the book, which is precise enough for ‘Josh’ and ‘Radisson’ since apparently neither of them bothered to read it…..’>>…..

    • Alex Jones

      A lot of people – both atheist and Christian – use the line “God is Dead” improperly. Its one of those lines that people like to throw around despite the original meaning… And sitting in a bookstore flipping through the atheist equivalent of apologetics books yesterday only to see the term “God is Dead” thrown around on every other page has convinced me that it’s meaning (like the words ‘gay’ and ‘queer’) has changed from its original meaning.

  • He reigns

    Great movie one of the best I’ve seen.And to all you atheists saying its a horrible movie,I’m sure there are movies you consider good but I consider horrible.GODS NOT DEAD!!!

    • But aren’t atheists part of the group that the filmmakers are trying to reach for Christ? Wouldn’t a Christian film be a better witness if it was liked by more than just other Christians?

      • Colin Morrison

        Absolutely. I can bet this film will not even get distributed outside of USA, and if it does, it’ll bomb horribly.

        Compare it to The Unbelievers – by all accounts, it’s quite accessible to believers.

        • At least “The Unbelievers” is based in the real world. You know, that place where most of us have to live.

        • iaino

          Its showing in the UK just now.

  • AramMcLean

    It sounds like that terrible Chick tract that keeps getting updated as the Christian student’s proofs become marginalized over the passing years. All this kind of film does is preach to the choir (and make a lot of money, coincidentally).

    • Agreed. It does seem like it was inspired by the apocryphal email forward.

  • Mia10112

    This movie is a great movie now for MY opinion others that don’t like it and now to me is not understanding it. I have been longing to see this movie I am a forever Christian and no matter what you people dont like about this
    Movie we’ll that’s find because they were using as an example and I really hate it when others are stupid and try to find bad things in good things it’s a movie and it’s not perfect either I’m 12 and I can understand this I would like it if people would start looking at the good things and stop focusing on the bad things who cares if they had a couple of errors in the move well I think they did a good job.good day

  • iaino

    Just seen the movie. I was disappointed at the ending and especially by Radisson’s death and how this was played out. I felt that there was so much more for his character to contribute to the film either in a reversal of his atheistic views publicly or in a final confrontation with Josh at the Newsboys concert.
    His character was more believable than I had anticipated in reading other reviews, and his backstory gave it more of an edge.
    I do not think the movie in any way demonised atheists or promoted the belief that having a horrible life experience turns one against God. In my own experience and in many others it would seem to be the other way round.
    It was indeed a niche film aimed at Christians and there’s nothing wrong with that.In fact it is a lot better than some I have seen!
    If the movie generates dialogue between Christians and atheists and/or gets young Christians interested in apologetics then great. I was really touched by the sub plot concerning the reporter dying of cancer and especially the prayer scene with The Newsboys when for the first time in the film she actually smiles and seems at peace.
    All in all a good effort but rough around the edges and a compressed ending that could have been so much better.

  • Gus

    Bad acting, Bad Storyline, Too much unrealistic drama . . . . awesome debate.

  • Anthony McClatchey

    I completely see why this film is so controversial as the characters and the story line are really bias towards the christian view point but are strongly exaggerated and not entirely true, I am 17 and have watched this film twice, i am a christian and this film did inspire me to step out for Jesus alot more, no matter who objectifies against it,which i believe was the core target for the film. Quite alot of non- Christians may not fully understand it because they don’t have a relationship with Jesus, so as a result would not understand the message it is trying to get across. there was a few times in the film that i started to pray for the characters as in those times i forgot it was a film :/ I have decided to study this film for media studies A2 level and have looked up with how it is received. It comes quite often with the words “Christian propaganda” and that many people are appalled by the way the characters are badly interpreted but i feel like this could just reflect on how we live in a broken world and how we should treat everyone with respect as at the end of the day we all have our struggles. I feel that for the niece group of Christians with the intention to boost peoples faith and encourage them to stand up for Jesus then this film is good, but if you were a non christian then it may offend people but the interpretation of characters and plot i don’t think should be looked into too much although that is a very important part of a film :/ so overall i liked the film but i do feel as though it can be interpreted in the wrong way by both Christians and non-christians alike especially if you take the film and merge it with reality too much. Have a great day 🙂 from the UK

  • Finally got a chance to see this movie and reviewed it on my blog.

    Will just say that it was better than I expected. (I had zero expectations, so….)

    The debate was the best part of the movie. “Best part” is a relative term.

    https://yewnique.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/movie-review-gods-not-dead/

  • Maj. Spoilers

    Wow, this is the first review of the movie I pretty much entirely agreed with. He pointed out a few things I didn’t pick up on right away, though, and left out the major complaint I had that Professor Radisson was WAY over the top in every single way. I actually genuinely liked the movie, and all the side-plots didn’t bother me, except the Disneyland one. Was that one REALLY necessary? If this movie was really intended to convert atheists, then it was horribly done, but I think it was more aimed at conveying a story that fellow Christians would enjoy, since that was more what it came off as. A mixed bag indeed.

  • lynwood

    God is great all the time. All the time God is great.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Do you know the Arabic translation of that phrase?

  • Johann Hollar

    Do these morons really think that by attacking secular based colleges, that they will get their point across?

    • Matthew Funke

      Good question. I believe they’re not primarily after getting their point across; they’re primarily after acquiring and keeping power. If they can convince people that they’re really right after all and that by sending their young people to college, they’re putting those young people’s souls in jeopardy, they can secure the power and influence they have for a little longer.

      With that in mind, it’s a worthwhile enterprise to show that their methods are completely baseless — that their reassurances to their audience that they’re right after all are nothing but empty chatter. So I appreciate reviews like this, and your characterization of their lack of mental prowess. 😉