Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #22

Re: God’s Not Dead [video] (2014)

I’ve read your reviews for several years now, and appreciate your analysis of contemporary film. Regarding your recent video review of God’s Not Dead, which I have not seen, I’m wondering why the film seems to have earned your deep antipathy, which appears almost visceral.

I think I understand your general disappointment based on your comments, which I found instructive. But given that the film attempts to bring real Christian apologetics onto the big screen, in a context that (even if poorly executed and unrealistic in your opinion) does relate to the very real world of the modern American university experience, it is difficult for me to fathom why you would give such a film a “D” rating.

My uneasiness with your review was crystallized in your last sentence, in which you took visible pain (offense?) at the fact that the filmmakers neglected to mentioned that a key Big Bang scientist was a Catholic priest, instead referring to him as a “deist.” Isn’t this a rather trivial criticism? The term “deist” is used in multiple ways, and might have been used sloppily, but it conveys to the general public at least a belief in a Supreme Being.

If and when I do see the film, I hope to appreciate your perspective better, but this film review, given the seriousness of the film’s subject and the important role general Christian apologetics, was unsatisfying and smacked of ungraciousness.

Thanks for your thoughtful cross-examination.

I think you may have misunderstood my closing remark. Josh (accurately) describes Père Georges Lemaître, father of the Big Bang theory, as a “theist” (not a deist!). It’s true that using this generic term rather than acknowledging Lemaître as a Catholic and a priest is a trivial, fleeting thing — hardly worth citing in itself in a two-minute review. I cite it, not so much as a substantial criticism in itself, but as a straw in the wind, an indication of a much larger problem: not a problem with accuracy, but with honesty.

This was startlingly confirmed for me after recording this video review when I learned that the Protestant filmmakers deliberately removed a reference to Lemaître being a Catholic priest originally written into the screenplay by the Catholic screenwriters! To the filmmakers, this was an awkward fact to be omitted.

The intentionality of the omission — obvious to me in the viewing, even without that back story — speaks volumes about the filmmakers’ overriding wish to avoid anything in any way challenging to the intended message to their intended audience, i.e., American Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants. It was this that set off my dishonesty detector. He who is faithless in small things will be faithless also in much.

More broadly, my feeling is that a movie like this in some ways actually does more harm than good. It conveys a message that is, in fact, not true: that science and reason are so clearly on our side that atheists really know it deep down, but they choose to deny God for emotional reasons.

It also portrays a picture of the Christian life that I find off-puttingly triumphalistic: one defined primarily by outspokenness and glibness, rather than by such things as charity, community, sacrifice, growth, repentance, forgiveness or humility. And it ends on a queasily celebratory note, with all the Christians joyously partying at the Newsboys concert while (spoiler warning!) the mean atheist dies, on the street, in the rain, after being hit by a car — but not before praying the sinner’s prayer.

I think I grade indie Christian films on a pretty generous curve. God’s Not Dead makes movies like Courageous, October Baby, For Greater Glory and There Be Dragons look like spiritual masterpieces. At least all those films challenge their protagonists to grow and change, or at least grapple with their flaws and weaknesses.

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