Disappointing: “God’s Not Dead” appears to have missed an opportunity

Spoiler alert: Skip this post if you don’t want to know too much about the God’s Not Dead movie

Note: I haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t, but this review seemed pretty thorough and came from a site that would presumably be predisposed to like a production like this.  Go ahead and see it if you like, but either way I encourage you to use it as a springboard to candidly discuss the points of the movie, the gaps and how we could be more effective in sharing the Good News.  My goal with skeptics isn’t to fully address every item in their Big Book O’ Atheist Sound Bites, but to give thorough, meaningful answers to a couple key questions to remove some barriers and then encourage them to read the word of God, which will do the real work.  

And remember that apologetic reasoning isn’t just important for addressing legitimate questions of non-believers as we seek to point them to the truths in the Bible, but also to strengthen the faith of believers.  So it is important to always use good arguments and to consider the counter-arguments.

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When I first heard of God’s Not Dead I thought it might be a good opportunity to present some key apologetic arguments in a movie.  Sounds like the effort may end up being counterproductive.  Apparently they used arguments that weren’t fleshed out very well and that atheists could easily refute.  If Christians new to apologetics try to use the arguments presented by the movie, they will probably fail with the atheists and may end up with less confidence themselves.  Yes, we have been given the truth, but if you love people you won’t send them off with a false sense of confidence and pretend that they can be white-hot apologists in one easy lesson.

There are multiple subplots in the movie which are all introduced in its first few minutes, but not developed immediately, and it seems to take a while before the details emerge allowing the viewer a chance to catch up. However, the main story is that Josh, a college freshman, is taking an Introduction to Philosophy class from an infamously atheistic professor, Dr. Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo who is known for his role on the TV show Hercules, among other roles). The very first class, the professor stands up and gives a short discourse about the virtues and intellectual superiority of atheism. He then gives the class their first assignment. He passes out blank papers, and demands that each student write “God is dead” and sign their names in order to get a passing grade. Josh refuses, so the professor forces him to take an alternate assignment; Josh will be given time in the next three lectures to prove the existence of God. If the students in his class are convinced, he passes the assignment. If not, he fails the semester, and thus his chances at a prestigious law degree.

This “hostile atheist professor” is a pretty common scenario, though usually not in such a heavy-handed way.  I am a big believer in equipping kids to stay strong in their faith when they leave your house.  But you can’t give them superficial or partial arguments.

And you should never expect some sort of immediate and across the board conversion of a group of people even if you make sound arguments.  The Holy Spirit goes where He will. We can honor God by stating the truth about him regardless of whether He has made them spiritually alive and they accept the truth.

I don’t want to be too hard on the movie, because there is only so much you can cram into two hours.  But it sounds like they could have used better arguments and that they made the characters and scenarios a little too extreme.  I would have stuck with things like the cosmological, design and moral arguments.  These are very sound yet also accessible to the average person.  But I would not have missed the opportunity to work in the minimal facts* arguments.  Consider the benefits of that:

  • You would be talking directly about Jesus, not some generic god.
  • You would point to facts that the history professors on that very campus would agree with (e.g., Jesus really lived and died on a Roman cross, that Paul was a convert and wrote extensively about Jesus close to his death, etc.).
  • You would be bursting the myth that we have a blind faith.
  • You would be talking about the crucifixion and why it occurred, and the resurrection and what that meant.

And I definitely wouldn’t have missed an opportunity to highlight Romans 1, which would demonstrate that in the Christian worldview no amount of arguments will work on people who are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and that God will judge them based on Christ’s standards, not their’s.

Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 2:15-16 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

We know why atheists hold their worldview, but all they have to explain our worldview is their beloved Darwinian evolution (however they are defining that this week). And if the manifestation of their theory is the cause of our trust in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, why are they so angry about the outcome?

Whether you see it or not, be sure to be prepared to address the topic when it comes up.  Point them to resources like Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent DesignDarwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design or Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, or to my favorite apologetics blogger, the Wintery Knight.

You can remind people that Christianity is a faith based on real events in history.  We readily concede that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then we are completely wrong about God (1 Corinthians 15).

But we have great reasons that He did rise from the dead, that He is fully God and fully man, that if we repent and believe in him we can be saved from our sins and have his righteousness imputed to us, that He is the only way to salvation, and more!  Point them to the word of God and trust him with the results.  And don’t be surprised if they dislike you even more after you share the truth in love.

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*Summary of the “minimal facts” approach: Nearly 100% of historical scholars from 1975 – present agree with the following statements:

  • Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
  • Jesus’ disciples believed He appeared to them.
  • Jesus’ brother, James, went from being a pre-crucifixion skeptic to a post-crucifixion church leader.
  • The Apostle Paul believed Jesus appeared to him and he wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, I & II Corinthians, Philemon and others. He converted from persecuting Christians to being the greatest evangelist ever, despite nearly constant challenges, persecution and ultimately dying for his faith.

75% of the same scholars agree that the tomb was empty.

None of the alternative theories can be true in light of these facts.  The physical resurrection of Jesus best accounts for these facts.

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8 thoughts on “Disappointing: “God’s Not Dead” appears to have missed an opportunity”

  1. I haven’t seen the movie either – but if the character in the movie uses the three arguments mentioned – an argument from first cause via big bang cosmology, an argument from the origin of life and it’s inherent qualities, and an argument from the necessity of God for objective morality, then he is using some of the most positive apologetics arguments there are. Such as these are regularly used by the likes of William Lane Craig to refute atheists. I am not sure where the review get the idea that these are arguments “atheists would easily refute”, since i have rarely found an atheist that could refute them honestly.

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    1. Hey Jack — good points on the arguments themselves, but it sounds like they weren’t presented in an effective manner in the movie. Though I will note that I disagreed with the reviewer’s superfluous age of the earth issue.

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  2. I have seen the movie and enjoyed every bit of it, then again I’m a huge Kevin Sorbo fan. Keep in mind that the student, Josh Wheaton, was only given one hour (three twenty minute segments) to make his case before a packed lecture hall full of people who have already publicly professed that God is dead. I like that he chose to start with something all of the other students are familiar with, the Big Bang theory, and built from there.

    Personally I believe that the critique given by creation.com was nearly as biased against the movie as the atheist Prof. Raddison (Kevin Sorbo’s part) is against God. The authors actually seem shocked that the movie would present something as unbelievable as a pair of 12 year olds would end up going to college together. Wake up Lita Cosner and Scott Gillis! Willie and Korie Robertson, who were in the movie, met when they were 9 and now have been married 22 years come this June. That’s life in Small Town America, in fact out here in the real world we’d think it odd if school sweethearts didn’t plan to go to college together.. (I know, I lived and thrived for over half a century in Small Town America)

    In fact after reading their review I’m beginning to wonder if Cosner and Gillis and I were watching the same movie. Maybe the subplots were a bit thin, but let’s compare the sub plots to most of everything coming out of Hollywood today – God’s Not Dead is literary gold compared to much of the big studios products. As for the pointed out “dramatic conversion of the entire class” – the movie made it painfully clear it was only one person in the class that was converted, many of the rest just agreed to say that God is not dead in response to Josh’s arguments. The Muslim girl was indeed wearing a short sleeve shirt (which is improper for both sexes in Saudi Arabia, but seems to be fine in Turkey) but the iPod? Having lived in several Muslim countries I found that music there was as prevalent as it is here. And as for the Muslim man beating his daughter when he finds out that she’s a Christian – the Koran actually calls for her beheading so either he showed great restraint or he didn’t have a hatchet at the ready.

    Personally I say that while God’s Not Dead isn’t a high budget epic of vast proportions it’s also not a foul rehash of a bad comic book which is what Hollywood is only capable of doing any more. I say that unless you’re a militant and angry Young Earth adherent, go, see it, enjoy it. With the recent theological disasters of the entertainment industry still fresh in my mind (The Bible, Son of God, The Bible Rules, Noah) I went in to the theater expecting little, and found a lot. A great mental game to play while watching is to count the bits of the plots and subplots a non-believer won’t understand.

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  3. I love this blog. In fact, it brightens my day when I find it in my in-box. But this time I disagree.
    ‘God’s Not Dead’ isn’t a perfect movie, but it is a great argument for the Lord’s existence. True, the young man doesn’t use the facts of Christ’s life to prove God is alive, but he does point out that cosmology, biology and even evolution (see the Cambrian explosion) support the necessity for a Creator. Friends of mine who do not recognize the Bible’s authority (I’m working on them) would listen to this argument. They would, however, turn away from a film that used the Bible as a basis for Our Father’s existence. I believe this is the audience this movie seeks to reach, and in that it does a super job. And it’s got Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain. So thumbs up from me.

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  4. I saw the movie. I applaud the what I felt the primary purpose of the movie was which is encouragement to stand up for what you believe. And there is a cost to it shown in the movie. He loses his girlfriend. The world strongly encourages everyone to go along to get along which is the choice offered in the class as well. To me, the point of the movie was not how do you win over an atheist with logical arguments. To me, it was about being willing to listen to the Holy Spirit moving you to stand for your belief even when all others around you want to make what appears to be the easy and obvious choice. In fact, you likely will not win. Stand for your belief in God even when you stand alone is a good message.

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