I’ve previously addressed the sad state of Christian movies. Those people who are attempting to bring a film to the general public either try to cram the entire Gospel message into an hour and a half, or just try to do too much. I was considering my feelings regarding God’s Not Dead recently, and decided to write about it.
First off, the movie did a beautiful job showing the grace of God. As you follow the bitter reporter who gets difficult news, she starts searching for the Truth. The interview that was supposed to be an expose on “the real Christians” turned into a time of prayer for her. That was a good moment, it was real, and it definitely belonged within the plot.
The major point of the movie was the student was defending his faith (and the existence of God) before his classroom. The apologetic arguments were absolutely fantastic and are undoubtedly a great resource for any young adult who wants to defend their beliefs. There was good information, good facts, and great quotes from atheists.
There is another point of this movie that was really good, but I’ll address that in another section.
The concert to end the movie was pretty cool – with a great rendition of the movie’s title – also a popular song. There were other parts of the ending that I had issues with, but the concert was great.
The movie also did a splendid job showing that a pastor’s work is never done. Pastors can often feel discouraged and as if they are having no impact upon anyone. The film did an excellent job of showing that pastors are human, too. They have issues just like the rest of us, and they can benefit from having friends with whom they can be real with.
I will list this under the good as well, since Christian films generally pretend the rest of the world’s morals don’t exist unless they’re portraying a villain. One of the main characters was living with a man who was not her husband. This was an attempt to show the real world, and showing that they need Jesus, too. It was a brave move, and I applaud the effort. I had issues with the relationship portrayed, but I will acknowledge that the movie makers were trying to make a valid point and make this character “real.” They did a good job with that aspect, and I respect their artistic decision.
I believe this falls into its own category, so I created a different section to describe it. The entire movie was pretty disjointed. I spent half an hour watching about seven different characters, waiting for them all to be connected. They were, mind you, but it was a pretty long wait to find out how the reporter and the corporate jerk were related to the woman living with the professor, and what any of that had to do with a pastor.
The plot felt crammed together. Not only do we have a student defending his faith while adjusting to college, we also have an overworked pastor who desperately needs a vacation, a girl who only wears a Muslim headpiece around her father, and a woman in a relationship who is hurting. None of it made sense for quite a while, and I as a moviegoer got impatient waiting for it all to come together.
How I wish I could write a review of this movie and not have to detail the parts where they failed horribly. I’m pretty lenient on the reality of some plot lines, because the writers made me believe that whatever was done was possible. That did not happen in this case, so I am compelled to point out the things where the movie could have done better.
The pastor in the movie meets a friend in the airport, who we eventually learn is a missionary overseas. He’s with the pastor for a week, and all he wants to do is to go to Disney World. Stuff happens, and their plans get delayed indefinitely. The missionary friend was a great character, and a good sounding board for the pastor. However, he was never named. You never even learned where he was ministering overseas.
The evil professor was living with his girlfriend, a girl we followed for a good ten minutes without realizing who she was or why she was important to the story. We learn that she’s frustrated with the relationship, and the evil professor treats her horribly. There’s a twenty year age difference, and you find out halfway through the movie that she was once his student, and they began dating midway through that semester. The relationship between the two of them felt forced and not real. It didn’t make any sense to have this girl living with this professor, except that it showed that the professor was evil and the girl needed love.
The professor character, I know, they tried to make real. They gave him screen time, reasons behind his attitude, and showed his home life. However, he was first and foremost in the writers’ minds as the evil professor, so that is how he was portrayed in all three areas. I don’t care what I’m doing. I’m evil and I’m glad that I don’t need God. Sorry, writers, but you failed. I actually know some atheists, and they don’t give off the “I’m evil” vibe every time you’re in their company. Atheists do live by their own set of morals, they just reject the One that Christians accept the rule book came from.
Sadly, the main part of the movie also falls into list of things that the movie makers messed up.
While the apologetics shared during the meat of the movie were incredibly awesome, the movie stumbled in getting to that crucial point.
The movie begins with the student in the evil professor’s classroom, who teaches philosophy. The evil professor tells his students to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and pass it to the end of the row. If they all do this, they will skip a hard part of the class that most people fail.
The student we are following refuses to sign. The professor eventually challenges him to a debate before the classroom. The class will hear both sides on the God argument, and they will vote on whether or not God is dead. If the professor wins, the student automatically fails his required class.
While a great start to the movie, and a great way to show the main struggle, the movie makers missed a key point. The student had every right to go to his advisor or higher up the chain of command and explain that his religious freedoms were being violated in the classroom. The separation of church and state works two ways, and universities do their best to steer clear of trampling on student rights (the least they can do after taking all their money). Now, if the movie makers were sold on this classroom showdown, then they needed a different scene in the movie that showed the student trying to fight what was happening in the classroom. The person he talked to could have been a friend of the professor, and the issue would be dead in the water there. The student would have to defend his faith in order to pass the class.
But the movie makers ignored the reality they tried so hard to portray and went on with their premise. This made me dislike the classroom scenes (some of the best parts of the movie) because the writers missed what would have been my first move if it had been me. College professors have no right to demand anything of you that will compromise your religious beliefs. It is, perhaps, the only benefit I’ve encountered of having a separated church and state.
I am a fan of happy endings. I got exactly what the writers were attempting to do with the ending – spreading their core message in what apparently is a standard practice in the Newsboys concert displayed. But the ending was stupid.
First, the Newsboys have heard about the college kid who defended his faith in the classroom. The movie gave no clue how they knew of that, just that it happened. Considering the climax in the classroom occurred less than a day before, it was pretty unlikely that the band would have learned of it through their channels.
Second, the band encourages the crowd to pull out their cell phones and text everyone in their contacts “God’s Not Dead.” I get they’re trying to send a message, but it wasn’t something I as a concert-goer would have done.
Then you switch back to the evil professor, who wants to reconnect with his girlfriend who has just left him over the God issue. He is running to the concert, where he knows she’ll be. The man is hit by a car. As another set of familiar faces stop and help him, they realize he’s dying and try to win him to Jesus while they wait on the ambulance.
Then the evil professor that the writers have spent so much time with that hates the very idea of God decides to abandon his stance and accept God in his dying moments. Zero believability for me. The die-hard atheist accepts the reality of God with his dying breath. Really? This is the selling point of the movie? Just after this, the girlfriend texts her ex, since she’s at the concert. Those helping the professor look at his phone just as he passes. God’s not dead.
I think the writers were trying to make it look like the professor was communicating from the other side, and telling them that he knew God wasn’t dead. It would have been a halfway decent move if they’d been establishing a connection the entire movie about those who speak from the grave. But since the writers believe what I do and know that dead people don’t speak, it was stupid and made no sense. It’s like they tried to kill the bad guy just because he deserved to die, but were afraid to let him die with his soul in danger of Hell.
The Best Part
Even with the ending that I did not enjoy, there was one part of the movie that I absolutely loved. The jerk that I previously mentioned had a sick mother with Alzheimer’s. They show a nurse giving the lady her dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. The lady lights up. “I love chicken and mashed potatoes! I can’t remember the last time I had it!”
The nurse smiles and turns to the daughter. “She has it every day.”
The daughter pleads with her brother, the jerk, in a different scene, urging him to visit their mother. He says he’ll come if she can prove that their mother can remember what day it is.
The jerk does come for a visit. It’s best if you watch the clip yourself.
My final conclusion is that God’s Not Dead could have been way better. It was a good attempt, but it still needed a lot of work. It is, sadly, a standard among Christian movies that needs to change. How will we win the world through our movies if they can’t stand to watch anything we create?
Please, Christians, do better.