Ever since Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ, there’s been a growth of Christian films in the market, with movies like Fireproof, War Room, and a remake of Left Behind starring Nicholas Cage. Most rarely are released theatrically, but instead make money through direct-to-video sales and rentals, as those more easily lead to impulse purchases. One notable exception is the movie God’s Not Dead and its sequel. The first movie boasts a cast consisting of Kevin Sorbo (who you may remember from the Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess TV series), Dean Cain (of Lois and Clark fame, and William Robertson and his wife from the AMC Duck Dynasty reality show. I have several problems with this movie, so let’s get started.
Problem 1: Too many subplots: The main plot concerns Josh Wheaton, a college student taking a Philosophy class taught by Professor Jeffrey Raddison, a stereotypical atheist. On the first day of class, Raddison has all the students write on index cards the famous Nietsche quote “God is dead.” Josh is defiant and writes “God’s not dead instead. Rather than fail him outright, (as he had promised) Raddison proposes to debate him on God’s existence, letting the class decide the winner. In addition to the main plot, the movie pads out its run-time with the following subplots:
- Two priests try to go on vacation at a water park, but keep getting cars that break down.
- A female Muslim student wishes to convert to Christianity, but has to contend with her abusive father.
- An agnostic Japanese student (or at least it’s implied that he’s agnostic) is attending Josh’s class, and may or may not be convinced. He talks to his father via cell phone, but is pressured to focus on his studies.
- Raddison’s Christian fiancée, who he is trying to convert to atheism by ridiculing her faith and forbidding her from practicing it in her presence.
- An atheist liberal blogger hounds William Robertson and Christian rock band Newsboys about their faith. She then discovers she has cancer. The Newsboys, being the “good Christians” they are, pray over her before their next concert. (I happen to be a fan of the Newsboys, but I was still disappointed with this scene.)
Most of these subplots have little to do with the main story. In fact, I’m sure you could throw some of them out and nothing of value would be lost.
Problem 2: Almost all of the “bad people” are non-Christian: the professor, the abusive father, the defiant son, and the liberal blogger. All the “good people” are either Christian or at least agnostic. Folks, this is unrealistic finger-pointing. Raddison is an embodiment of the strawman fallacy. Yes, I am well aware that many Christian students are facing the same situation as Josh on both high school and college campuses and having atheism beaten into their heads. They are being forced to renounce their faith in order to get a passing grade. But not all colleges are doing this. My alma mater, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana allowed Christians to practice their faith. We even had a Baptist church and a Catholic church on the campus grounds. (The fact that I live in the “bible belt” is irrelevant, by the way, so don’t bring that up) I’m well aware that atheists are ridiculing and bullying Christians online, as I’ve been the victim in groups on Facebook and in message boards. But I’ve also met atheists and other non-Christians on Facebook who are willing to at least tolerate my faith, if not ignore it. Some have even defended my right to express my faith in the Facebook groups. In the movie, there is only one Christian who isn’t good, Josh’s girlfriend, who pressures him into dropping the class.
Problem 3: It could’ve all been avoided: We are told from the start that Wheaton didn’t need to take this particular course. Raddison is far from the only Philosophy professor on the campus. After the first debate, Josh walks out to his next class. Raddison follows him and actually grabs him on the shoulder from behind, threatening him if he embarrasses him in front of his students again. There are even witnesses! Wheaton could’ve very easily brought Raddison to the dean of the university and accused him of assault, and those witnesses could’ve testified against Raddison! (that would’ve been a good plot as well, actually)
Problem 4: Raddison is not redeemable. I dislike this movie so much, I’m going to spoil the ending! At the end of the movie, Raddison reveals why he doesn’t believe in God. He blames God for his mother’s death. He had prayed constantly for his mother to be revived, but to no avail. He’s been angry at God ever since. (Reminds me of what CS Lewis said in Surprised By Joy concerning his own mother’s death) When Josh asks him why he’s so angry at a deity he doesn’t even believe exists, it breaks him. A few minutes later, he learns Josh has gone to the Newsboys’s concert, and decides to go there, probably to ask forgiveness. On his way, the two priests from the first subplot accidentally run him over. They pray over him, despite his request that they don’t, and he dies. What was even the point of giving us the possibility of his redemption if he was going to be killed?
I don’t think this movie will change anyone’s heart. It’s not our job to convert people anyway. It’s their decision to receive or not receive God’s grace. This movie is unkind to those who do not believe and seeks only to preach to the choir.