Review: “God’s Not Dead” (Spoilers)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Posted on March 26, 2014, in Christianity, Donald Williams, Film, Movie Reviews, Philosophy, Theology and tagged Apologetics. "God Isn't Dead", atheism, college, faith, God, philosophy, Theism. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.