- Have you ever felt compelled to go along with the group even though your own view was the opposite?
- Have you ever faced a college professor who was hostile to your faith?
- Have you ever been threatened with failure in a class because of your Christian beliefs?
- Have you ever been the only person taking a stand on something?
- Have you ever been forced to sign something contrary to your beliefs?
- Has a spouse or boy/girlfriend ever pressured you to change your beliefs?
- Have your choices to follow Christ ever alienated you from family members?
These and similar issues fuel the intriguing story lines in the new movie God’s Not Dead. It opened in theaters across the USA on Friday March 21.
Despite its limited opening in only 780 theaters, God’s Not Dead from Pure Flix Entertainment made the top four in box office results. With $9.2 million on its opening weekend, the movie stunned Hollywood with how well it performed against films released in four times as many theaters. (See U.S. Movie Box Office Grosses for March 21-23.)
The movie treats the most important question in life: Does God exist? It’s about a young man who must either stand up or back down when his faith in God is challenged.
Synopsis of the Movie
God’s Not Dead is the story of college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) who is spurred to defend his faith when bullied by his atheist philosophy professor. Professor Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) is an aggressive hard-core atheist who requires students to affirm that God is dead. Wheaton refuses and Radisson threatens to fail him. Later he asserts he will prevent Wheaton from getting into law school.
Radisson challenges Josh to prove God’s existence with intellectual arguments based on well-researched evidence and to engage Radisson in head-to-head debate in front of the class. If Josh fails to convince his classmates of God’s existence, he will fail the course.
Complicating the situation, Josh’s fiancée (Cassidy Gifford) pressures him to comply with the professor by signing a “God is dead” paper in order not to jeopardize their future. Furthermore, it develops that the professor’s girlfriend Mena (Cory Oliver) is a Christian. At the same time, a Muslim student converts to Christianity; her irate father throws her out of the house.
Willie and Korie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame are ambush-interviewed on their way into church by an anti-hunting reporter. Willie’s replies to her questions are articulate and humorous.
Part of a Newsboys concert filmed in Houston plays a key part in the movie’s climax. Newsboys is a Christian pop rock band from Australia.
– Can Josh convince his philosophy class that God exists?
– How does Josh handle the fear and loneliness that comes with standing alone?
– How does the strained relationship with his fiancée work out?
– Can Mena escape Professor Radisson’s clutches?
– Can the converted Muslim girl survive rejection by her family?
– Can the reporter handle being stricken with cancer and getting dumped by her boyfriend?
– Does pain and suffering disprove the existence of a loving God?
These and other conflicts maintain a high level of drama throughout the movie.
Here are two official movie trailers:
God’s Not Dead is a Christian movie and an evangelistic movie, but it’s very absorbing and entertaining and provides much food for thought.
The movie includes arguments for the existence of God and references numerous atheistic philosophers and scientists like Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, David Hume, Ayn Rand, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Dawkins. This may be a little difficult for those unfamiliar with the material, but it is authentic to the college experience. It also connects with the message of the movie — Christian students and professors on college campuses across the country are being persecuted for their faith. In fact, 37 recent court cases on academic discrimination against Christianity are listed in the credits at the end of the movie. Josh Wheaton is a hero in standing up for his Christian beliefs.
Like Josh Wheaton, Christian students and professors at public tax-funded colleges and universities face threats, hostility, and unconstitutional restrictions on religious freedom. For details on the 37 cases listed at the end of the movie, click 37 Related Cases.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has prepared a free handbook to inform students and professors of constitutional free speech and religious freedom rights. Know what is, and what isn’t, protected free speech. Download the free Student Rights Handbook at the bottom of the linked page.
Arguments for the existence of God presented in the movie include:
- Since the universe had a beginning (as scientists now admit), there must be a Cause (Creator). This was in opposition to the professor’s assertion via Hawking that the universe is self-designing.
- Morality requires a moral Lawgiver (God). Wheaton addresses the Problem of Evil.
Disappointingly, Wheaton uses the Big Bang and theistic evolution as explanations for the origin of the universe and the development of life, contrary to the clear teaching of Genesis 1. He even tries to use these as evidence for God’s existence. This is a weakness of the movie and a potential stumbling block for viewers.
(See The Big Bang! for scientific and Biblical reasons why the Big Bang theory is wrong. For a critique of theistic evolution, see The Trouble with Theistic Evolution.)
Josh should have emphasized the Argument from Design. The design evidence for God is glaringly obvious wherever you look. The many examples of complex design we daily see around us in nature provide strong evidence for a Creator. This “design implies a designer” argument appears frequently in the Bible. See for example Romans 1:18-23.
I think the hallway confrontation between Radisson and Wheaton should have been placed after Wheaton’s second classroom presentation instead of after the first. Nothing in the first talk would have raised the professor’s ire; in fact, it appears that the professor bests Wheaton using a quote from Hawking. However, in the second session, Wheaton turns the Professor’s endorsement of Hawking against him and wins a major point.
One intriguing scene is when Wheaton aggressively attacks Radisson’s stance on God’s existence in the third debate. He goads the professor into saying that, yes, he hates God. The scene is reminiscent of the climax of the movie A Few Good Men when the young lawyer badgers the colonel on the witness stand till he admits ordering the fatal Code Red. After the professor’s admission, Wheaton nails him with, “You can’t hate someone who doesn’t exist.”
Radisson knew God existed all the time. He was not a genuine atheist. He was a rebellious sinner who refused to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over His creation. He had rejected God because of his mother’s suffering and death. His problem with God was not intellectual but moral and spiritual, just as it is for most people. As the Apostle Paul says, there are no true atheists: That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
The break-up scene between the reporter and her selfish businessman boyfriend was not well-done. It was too abrupt.
Many “Christian” movies are a bit embarrassing because of mediocre acting or weak directing or poor production. But this movie did well in these areas. Kevin Sorbo as Professor Radisson turned in the best acting performance of the movie.
I found the many different story lines to be a little distracting or confusing. I would have preferred fewer story lines with deeper development for each and with more intersections between them. Some of the situations seemed contrived, and the ending is a bit corny and pollyannish.
I watched the movie in a large theater which was essentially full. Five times during the course of the movie the spectators broke into vigorous applause. Movieguide’s review gave God’s Not Dead 4 out of 4 stars.
I enjoyed the movie. Parts are enlightening, and Josh Wheaton’s heart for defending his faith, though at times misguided, is inspiring. Despite some big bang and theistic evolution nonsense, I still think there’s a lot of benefit that can be gained from the movie. I give God’s Not Dead 3 stars out of 4 and a strong positive recommendation.
For a deeper dive into the issues and arguments presented in the movie, read Dr. Rice Broocks’ introductory apologetics book
God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty (Thomas Nelson, March 2013). Broocks gives nine proofs of God’s existence with a clear, understandable overview of the evidence and direct answers to skeptics’ claims. For a sample of the book, read the first chapter here: God’s Not Dead Chapter 1.
Here is an interesting interview (15:47) of actor Kevin Sorbo (plays Professor Radisson) by author Rice Broocks.
Questions to Ponder
- How would you counsel someone like Josh who came to you for advice?
- Is there a difference between taking a stand against friends and taking a stand against an authority figure?
- If you were in Josh’s place, what would you have done, and why?
- Have you ever been pressured to abandon something important by a confidant, as Josh was by his fiancée? How did it feel? Why do close relationships carry so much weight when expressing opinions and advice?
- Willie Robertson quotes Matthew 10:32-33 about acknowledging Jesus publicly. What makes it easy or difficult to acknowledge God in public?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday March 26, 2014 A.D.
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)
“Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)