Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #22

Re: God’s Not Dead [video] (2014)

I heard your criticism of God’s Not Dead on the radio, and have to disagree with your point that the film portrays all the believers as perfect people who don’t have anything in their lives that needs to change, and that they don’t have to sacrifice anything for their faith.

You will no doubt recall that the decision to defend his faith cost Josh his long-time girlfriend who he intended to marry. The girl from the Muslim family was assaulted by her father and rejected by her family for her faith in Christ. The professor’s girlfriend had to choose between God and her relationship with the professor, and chose God. I would put those examples in the “sacrifice” category.

As far as the believers being perfect, the professor’s girlfriend struggled with where she sought her value, Josh’s girlfriend (a believer) put her own desires before God and anyone else, and the pastor hosting the missionary also seemed to have difficulty realizing that God was at work throughout the events of the film, at least until the end.

I will grant you, it is no cinematic masterpiece, but your criticism, oversimplification and near dismissal of this film come across as prejudice toward an evangelical film, rather than an honest review.

Oversimplification is impossible to avoid in the highly condensed format of a live call-in show, but I certainly have thought through all the examples you cite. In a written review I would do better justice to these points.

Certainly Josh loses nothing of value, and has no need of change. On the contrary, he dodged a bullet. Clearly the filmmakers believe Josh’s girlfriend has to go, given her domineering, selfish, unspiritual attitude. She was a shallow, manipulative control freak who had no respect for Josh’s conscience and equated her own life plans with what God wanted. When Josh declined to be bullied, she walked away without even a hint of conflict or regret. (You call her a believer, but does the film offer any evidence of real faith on her part, or of goodness, etc.?)

There was no growth or change on Josh’s part. A new situation brought out who he always was, and she didn’t like it, and left. If it was a sacrifice, it wasn’t one Josh was very broken up or conflicted over. The parting zinger, “My mother was right about you,” is proof positive: The engagement was a trap.

The professor’s girlfriend loses nothing but the shackles of being unequally yoked to an unbelieving bully. While she has no moral flaws, it is true that she has an arc, at least theoretically, of getting over her “Cinderella complex,” but since there’s no actual character development supporting that concept, I think my critique still applies. We don’t actually see her weakness or dependence on him, or her process of growing past that. All that happens is a guy says to her, “Get over it,” and she gets over it.

(Side note: The movie leaves her in the end euphoric and happy at the Newsboys concert — while her newly dumped lover dies outside in the rain. Presumably she’s going to leave the concert and be told that he was killed. How will she feel? That’s a complex, challenging question of the sort this film has no interest in.)

The one real exception is the Muslim girl, who has no flaws, but does pay a real price in getting thrown out of her home. Even there, I don’t recall that the reality of that cost is ever brought home or made concrete, in the sense that we don’t see what her circumstances are after this event (how she deals with being kicked out, where she goes, etc.). All we see of her is that in the end she too is happy at the concert.

I have a cheeky theory that the Newsboys concert, coming as it does at the climax, can be seen as an immanentization of Heaven, the culmination of the Christian life in symbolic form. If so, Josh’s on-stage shout-out from the Newsboys can be seen as a this-worldly stand-in for “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

And notice how Josh is rewarded here for his faithfulness in resisting and losing his girlfriend with a new love interest — the Muslim convert girl, who reconnects with him at the concert! From the very beginning in the cafeteria scene, when Josh and the Muslim girl smiled at each other after his first skirmish with the girlfriend, I was sure the Muslim girl was really Josh’s True Love, and his current girlfriend was the False Love.

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