Monday, August 25, 2014

God's Not Dead -- a Review

God's Not Dead the Movie -- it's something else, too?
You may have heard about God's Not Dead and wondered if it was worth a rental. The Bear offers a review.

This is a competently produced Protestant feel-good movie with likable good guys, sneering villains and absolutely no surprises.

Kevin Sorbo (who played Hercules on television) stars as an arrogant, contemptuous, abusively atheistic philosophy professor. In other words, he is a pale shadow of real atheist philosophy professors found in classrooms and faculty lounges across the country. It is revealed that he lost his mother when he was twelve, therefore he hates God.

On the first day of class, he sets the right tone by forcing each student to write "God is dead" on a piece of paper and sign it. Should any student refuse, that student will have to defend God's existence before the class in three lectures, with a third of his grade at stake!

Want to bet one plucky student refuses to deny God? Freshman Josh Wheaton just can't bring himself to play Peter, what with being a Christian and everything. Nobody pats him on the back, though. Not his parents, not even his Christian girlfriend he met six years ago at youth camp. They're all convinced, you see, that this will somehow ruin his chances to get into law school.

Well, you have to have something at stake in a drama. The point is, the Christian may find himself at odds with family and friends, and even risk his position in the world. The movie gets that across in a few heavy blows. Effective, if none too subtle.

Josh shows up for the first session with a slick Power Point presentation that includes professional animations. (Kids these days.)  He wows the class with the theistic implications of the Big Bang theory. Things are looking good for God when the professor, positively slavering, pricks Josh's bubble with a single quote from a scientist Josh had never even heard of. He asks the class who they are going to believe: one of the greatest minds of science, or "a freshman?" What, Josh, you think atheists play fair? How will Josh ever convince the class that God is not dead when the professor can blindside him with a one-liner?

Orbiting Josh are minor characters with their own subplots centered on their own faith issues.

There is the professor's Christian girlfriend who is tired of being humiliated in front of his snotty faculty dinner-guests for not knowing Greek and letting the wine get too hot in her car. "I'm worried we're unequally yoked," she complains to him at one point. Ya think?

There is a snarky female blogger who does ambush interviews of Christians. She tackles one of the Duck Dynasty guys, who makes a cameo appearance. She gets cancer and her jerk boyfriend dumps her twenty seconds after she tells him.

There is a cute girl from a Muslim family who is a secret Christian. In an amazingly non-PC scene, her father beats her and throws her out the door when her little brother rats her out. (Dad, you said I could help in the honor killing!) If you're thinking cute homeless ex-Muslim girl would be a perfect match for Josh, you'd probably be right.

Josh's stand will affect the lives of everyone around him. Has he convinced the class after the third lecture? What do you think?

One would expect a movie called God's Not Dead to serve up plenty of apologetics. The movie provides some, and does a good job with what there is, but this is mainly a story about Josh's courage in standing up for God regardless of the cost. This is probably a good choice by the writers, rather than getting bogged down in tedious arguments.

Kevin Sorbo's atheist philosophy professor might be criticized as a caricature, but only by those who have not run across the species in the preserves of academia. Overall, the acting is good enough. Christian movies are by no means completely amateurish these days. Like Courageous, it has a bright-eyed earnestness that makes it hard to dislike. It gives its intended audience what it wants.

Monsignor Georges Lemaitre
Is it something Catholics would want to see? Any well-made movie where the openly Christian hero vanquishes an obnoxious atheist professor is welcome. It even gives Monsignor Georges Lemaitre credit for the Big Bang theory -- sort of. Josh gets the name out, and says, "who was a--" before the professor conveniently cuts him off. So the intended audience of God's Not Dead will never learn that Georges Lemaitre was a priest at the Catholic University of Louvain.

There is a scene toward the end where someone gets hit by a car, providentially right in front of the movie's Protestant pastor character. The pastor prays over the dying man and says God has forgiven his sins. He immediately expires and the pastor and his friend rejoice that he's in Heaven. The Bear cringed through the scene, wishing a Catholic priest would show up and give the poor guy a chance.

The Bear did not feel it wasted his time, but for apologetics, you would do better to get a book from Catholic author Peter Kreeft.


  1. It was cute. My kids liked it. Heading into college this year, this movie was part of the discussion.

  2. Yes, I can see where that would be useful. I liked it, for what it was.

  3. He was not a Jesuit, he was a diocesan priest.

  4. He is frequently identified as a Jesuit. But perhaps that is because he attended a Jesuit secondary school. Since you may be right on that and it isn't important to the story, I've removed "Jesuit."


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