Review: “God’s Not Dead” (Spoilers)

godsnotdead-poster

Synopsis:  Atheist professor asks freshman intro to philosophy class to sign statement that “God is dead.”  He puts pressure on them, threatening failure for non-compliance.  One student, Josh Wheaton, refuses because he is a Christian. The professor challenges him to a debate on the existence of God in the next three class sessions, planning to humiliate him.  Student does surprisingly well.  Several subplots add context to struggles of various people concerned.  (Turns out professor hates God because He allowed his mother to die when he was a child.)  Professor ends up dying in traffic accident and accepts Christ just as he dies.  (This is actually set up better than you might guess.)  Cameos by Will Robertson and The Newsboys.

The moment of truth: Will Josh sign off on the death of God?

The moment of truth: Will Josh sign off on the death of God?

Evaluation:  The apologetics is mostly sound.  I would quibble only with a few points.  For example, at the end of the debate the the professor says, “You haven’t proved anything. . . . It all just comes down to a choice?” And the student accepts that evaluation.  But it’s not a draw; one choice (theism) is more rational than the other. OK, let’s chalk that up to Josh’s humility.  He really did show that the case for theism is robust.  I give the writers credit for not giving him a cheap victory in the sense that  the prof was allowed to make some strong points on the other side.  (It was too easy though in another sense which I’ll get too later.)

Josh crams for his defense of God.

Josh crams for his defense of God.

The main problem I see, which will keep the argument from having the impact on non-believers that it might have had, is that the situation is a little too contrived.  Freshman intro to philosophy class of 80 students, and only one is unwilling to sign that God is dead?  Statistics on American society suggest that 90% of them would believe in God and about 40% would identify as Evangelical Christians, with maybe half of those or a little less actually being Christians.  It’s a secular university, so make the figures lower than they would be for the general population.  Still, the class seems artificially stacked. We start with 79 out of 80 identifying as Atheists, and at the end all 79 stand up to say they are converted to Theism.  R-i-g-h-t.  Not believable on either end.

 

Josh becomes an instant Apologist.

Josh becomes an instant Apologist.

Another point along the same line.  I’ve been teaching college freshmen for thirty years, and I’ve been teaching apologetics for many of those years.  I simply do not believe that even a senior who was not an apologetics nerd beforehand and who is thrust into the arena suddenly and unexpectedly by an impulsive act of integrity (all true of this character) could have given such high quality presentations.  And if there is a freshman capable of doing it, I’ve never met him or her yet.  Not even close.  In order to make the apologetics itself believable to an audience not already disposed to agree with it, you have to make the background story that presents it believable.  And here the writers allowed themselves to cheat a little in my opinion.  I’m glad the presentations were so well done, but we need a better explanation for that than a couple of desperate all-nighters.  I think the movie will reinforce the faith of believers and encourage them, and not illegitimately so; but sadly the arguments will seem weakened for others because the story itself is, as I said above, just a little too contrived at certain points.

Josh has a lot of thinking to do--and so do we.

Josh has a lot of thinking to do–and so do we.

Bottom line:  Worth seeing, good conversation starter if you can get non-Christians to come with you to see it, but be aware of the weaknesses.  This movie is not perfect, but it is good.  It shows that we Christians are at long last getting better at this kind of thing, and that should be encouraging.

If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams' book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO'S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams’ book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

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About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on March 26, 2014, in Christianity, Donald Williams, Film, Movie Reviews, Philosophy, Theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the review. I had no idea the film existed. “Josh Wheaton”–great evangelical name!
    I teach undergrads, and I agree that I haven’t met students that could debate and beat a prof in a single semester. A decade in–two decades as a Christian–and I’m not sure I could debate well yet.
    Also–bad teacher! Seriously, who “makes” students do things against their conscience? What philosophy teacher would make students agree to anything that they haven’t processed themselves?
    I have taught philosophy of religion and successfully presented Anselm’s argument to a class of bright students who couldn’t disagree or find the faults. And yet, not one of them was convinced. I don’t think it is plausible that a whole class would convert (though many might think one side or another won)–perhaps a handful might be nudged.
    There are two reasons: First, argument and winning is not the sole context for most people’s conversion. Second, as Screwtape says, “men once knew when something was proved, and they believed it.” We don’t know now, and we don’t follow up on what we know.
    Thanks for the post.

    • They did not all become Christians (though at least one did, which is OK), but they all stood up and affirmed, “God isn’t dead” at the end of the debate. Even that is asking a lot.

      • That makes sense–sorry I read that as “they all became theists.” Was reading too quickly.
        These movies, though, can only ever be for comfort and encouragement, right? Are they meant to be evangelistic?

  2. I disagree with your claim that theism is more rational than atheism. Theists have not met their burden of proof, so the claim that God exists should be rejected.

  3. They are. But they still have a way to go to be fully effective.

  4. William, you have responded to my claim with a counter-claim. But a counter-claim is not an argument. I would be happy to have that discussion with you any time.

  5. Yes, the set-up is far too contrived. Not interested in watching a movie that caricatures positions I endorse.

    • Daniel, I would not say it is a caricature–I’ve heard many of the same arguments the professor uses from the lips of actual Atheists, and they are allowed to have their force. As I said in the review, the Christian student’s victory is made too easy, but not by giving him a straw man as an opponent. In real life neither side gets the stage set for them quite this neatly. But that is not the same as creating a caricature.

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