First the positives. It was an emotionally charged movie with lots of feel good moments and scenes that move your emotions. One such scene was when the daughter visits her mother who has dementia and after watching her mother struggle with trying to get food on her fork, asks, “would it be ok if I helped?” In my opinion, one of the best and most genuine scenes in the entire movie was when the God hater, Amy, is diagnosed with terminal cancer and is told she is going to die…she falls to pieces, scared and alone in her home office. This confrontation with death sets Amy on a search to discover whether what Christian’s teach is real (notice I didn’t say, “what the Bible teaches”). Which leads me to the many reasons why I feel embarrassed about the movie God is Not Dead.
1. Stereotyping Characters The writers seemed unable to develop characters beyond shallow superficiality (i.e. Josh’s controlling girlfriend) and gross stereotypes (The African Missionary, the abusive Muslim father, the meek Asian student, and the angry atheist professor to name a few).
2. Unbelievable Characters The main character, an atheist Philosophy Professor begins class by saying, “I want to bypass senseless debate altogether” therefore he has his students all write a statement saying “God is dead” , sign it and hand it in. WHAT!! This is so far from believable…Fiction is one thing, but this is fantastical screen writing!
3. Projecting Western Norms as Superior A female student approaches a Muslim student wearing a hijab and declares to her “you’re really beautiful, I wish you didn’t have to wear that.” What!? Maybe this young Muslim woman did not want to wear the hijab, maybe she was struggling with her religion and culture, but what does wearing a hijab have to do with being beautiful? If she was not as physically beautiful as the actress that was portraying her, should she wear it to cover her plain face? On the contrary, the white, American student missed the entire point: many Muslim woman desire to dress for God and their husbands and so cover up their face’s and bodies out of respect for them. This scene was down right offensive in my opinion, and if the writers were hoping to reach Muslims with the gospel through this movie they really blew it on that scene, but wait…it was not nearly as offensive as the next scene …
4. Sterotyping the Muslim Father as a Child Abuser In a strange irony in the movie, the writers had this man speak one of the most theologically sound statements in the entire movie. This occurred when he was empathizing with the tension his daughter was experiencing as a Muslim living in a western culture when dropping her off at her college campus one day. He gently explained to her their identity in God, what God desires from His people and the importance of keeping oneself from being polluted by the world etc. The movie writers used it to turn a God fearing man, who was trying to shelter his family from the world, into an abusive father who clearly got violent with his daughter as he kicked her out of the house because she had converted to Christianity. (I am not condoning the actions of the father, but I ask you to consider how should a Christian parent react when their young adult brings “foreign gods” into the family home and begins to worship them?)
6. Worldly Christianity For the most part the movie depicted the Christian lifestyle as being involved in worldly things: christian rock concerts, sea world and Disney. The climax of the story was a News Boys concert, where everyone was suppose to text to 10 people they knew “God is Not Dead.” Really, is this what we want to portray to the world as a mark of true Christianity, messaging friends and family that “God is not dead? You mean, you’re a follower of Christ and your lifestyle doesn’t already express to those who know you that you believe that God is alive and well?
7. Bad theology. Examples:
- The tall and unassuming, dark skinned (African) missionary with broken English whose theology seemed to be anchored solely on the sound bite theology, “God is Good” combined with his Pastor friend who would on cue echo back the response “all the time“…. Tell that to the business man struggling to understand why his sinful living has been rewarded with untold wealth, contrasted with his saintly mother whose righteous living is now rewarded with dementia; the professional business woman dying of cancer; and the little boy (aka now grown up atheist professor) whose mother died despite his heart broken petitions to the all powerful God asking Him to spare her from a cruel death. I know, maybe they should have all just put their proverbial suitcases in the trunk to prove they had enough faith to make the car start. (you’d have to have seen the movie to get this one).
Which leads me to theological reason number one of why I am embarrassed about the movie. The “just invite Jesus into your heart and you’re good to go” message. This salvation theology of “Just accept Jesus as your Savior and live the way you want” because after all, it’s about a relationship right? This is about as far from what the Bible teaches as the New Age heresy of “just get in the vortex” and create your own reality!
The professor’s girlfriend (no her name was not Mary Ann) was delivered from this “bad” relationship where the professor showed her no respect, not because she was convicted of her sin, but because she learned how much God loved her. Not a bad thing to embrace the love of God, but it’s only half the message. The Apostle John wrote, and I paraphrase, “Behold what other worldly love is this that we should be called children of God!” This other worldly love is revealed in the light of God’s holiness, justice and mercy to the repentant sinner not the one who needs little help getting out of a personal jam so they can be happier and comfortable.
A few more things to consider about this theology…
- First, without conviction of sin, how can one grasp this love of God and this God Who is Love through and on behalf of the Christ and His work on the cross?
- Secondly, does God love the unrepentant sinner or has He actually prepared a place of destruction for them where on the Day of Judgment “the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 8:12
One part of the movie that I was not embarrassed about was Josh and how he defended the existence of God in a secular college setting against a hostile professor under the threat of being unpopular, loosing his girlfriend and being ridiculed by family and class mates. If anything this movie did well, it was having Josh point it’s viewers to the reality that if one is truly in Christ…
God is not dead, “He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion…”