The registration assistant glances down at the cross around Josh Wheaton’s neck, looks down at his class choice, raises an eyebrow, and adds, “Let’s just say you’re wandering into the snake pit. … Think Roman Coliseum. Lions. People cheering for your death.”
Can’t say he wasn’t warned.
While not exactly the Roman Coliseum, the movie “God’s not Dead”, certainly sets the stage for this poor guy to be eaten up alive.
The main character, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), is a college freshman who finds his faith and courage immediately challenged by his atheist philosophy professor. It all starts when Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), demands that everyone turn in papers saying, “God is Dead” so that he doesn’t have to waste time arguing that point. His class, his rules. And what he says, goes.
When Josh refuses, (and he is the only one who refuses) he is given an ultimatum. Either agree that god is dead or take the podium and try to convince the unsupportive class that God is not dead. (Funny, I thought the professor said he wasn’t going to debate that topic, but apparently he changed his mind).
Throughout the movie, Josh is bullied by the professor, cornered and threatened in a hallway, and nearly humiliated in front of the class. Despite losing his girlfriend and the mounting pressure to give in, he continues to stand firm in his conviction, drawing upon what I think is the scripture theme of the movie:
“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:23).
Some good takeaways from the movie:
- “God’s not Dead” does not leave room for interpretation or symbolism. It comes right out and speaks the name of Christ and His Scripture. It professes Jesus as Lord and Savior, which is huge in this world of relativism and vague universal-all-is-god-love-peace-mumbo-jumbo.
- It did a good job of portraying the theme of standing up for your beliefs by weaving several more characters who ended up doing just that, in their own ways.
- A Muslim girl (Hadeel Sittu) is beaten and kicked out of her house by her father when she professes Christ.
- A Chinese student (Paul Kwo) shocks his own father (who lives in Communist China) when he texts “God’s not Dead”
- Professor’s Radisson’s girlfriend, who we find out converted to Christianity, finds the courage to break up with him.
- By allowing the audience to see past the hardened exterior of some of the characters, I was reminded that I can’t assume that anyone is beyond conviction, beyond God’s love.
- It drew an interesting parallel in showing how people can react differently to the same circumstance (dying of cancer). While one character became bitter at God, another one turned to God.
- This movie has gotten criticism for being overblown in its portrayal of Professor Radisson, and I agree. Maybe I’m naïve, but to have a professor demand signed papers saying “God is Dead”, and (on top of that), not having more than one student object to it seems implausible. At least not in the country…at least not yet.
From the exaggerated stare-downs and seething, disgusted “I loathe you” glares, to his red-faced outbursts, the character of Professor Radisson comes across as a one-dimensional caricature of the angry atheist — if not a little creepy that he has nothing better to do with his time than stalk his student.
I’m not sure how convincing this film is to anyone who isn’t faith-minded, simply because of the way the opposition is handled. Had the filmmakers been fair to Sorbo’s character and created him to be more reasonable and open to a thoughtful dialogue (i.e. more realistic), it may have evened out the playing field and drawn more viewers to honestly consider the question of God. As it was written, the atheist stereotype forces a shallow approach to the movie and probably puts outsiders on the defense. Think of this way – Christians are always poked fun of. Are we to do the same to our enemies?
- The aforementioned scene of a Muslim student being slapped and dragged out of the house by her strict father when he discovers that she is a Christian can be taken as a stereotype against Islam. I don’t believe it was intended to be, but it just shows the reality that has happened to some.
- In one of Josh’s lectures, he implied that God worked through the process of evolution to create man, which is a lie. My Bible says that God created man through Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis (Genesis 2:7, 2:22). Additionally, when Josh was asked why he was willing to risk so much to defend his faith, he answered “because Jesus is my friend, and I don’t want to let Him down.” While there is a sense that Jesus is our Friend, this answer alone is incomplete and weak. How about, “I’m doing it in obedience and love for my Lord and Savior”? It seems that we as Christians have become far too casual with God, using terms we could also use for a roommate we’re helping with a mid-term.
Despite these weaknesses, I am happy to hear the Gospel proclaimed in this movie and especially the story of redemption in the end. It has an especially fitting title as we come up to the Easter season. We may even add a line to our typical greeting:
“He is Risen”
“He is Risen, Indeed”
“Our God’s not Dead”
“He’s surely Alive”
Has anyone seen this movie? What are your thoughts? What would you do if you were in a similar situation? Would you step up to the challenge despite the cost?