The plot hinges on the response of a Christian freshman student, Josh, to the sneering challenge of his atheist philosophy professor, Dr. Radisson. On a positive note, I was pleased to see that Josh begins his presentation with evidences from the origin of the universe, specifically from big bang cosmology. The depiction of Radisson’s response, a carefully chosen quotation from Stephen Hawking, fits the reality I have sometimes experienced. Josh’s reply is exactly as I had hoped, not an emotional or argumentative comeback but rather a tacit acknowledgement of the need for more study.
His return to the podium with a counter quotation form Oxford professor John Lennox captures his class’s attention and sets the stage for his next point, the question of life’s origin of life and the plausibility of naturalism. These categories of evidence can be and often are effective in opening dialogue with adults who have had little exposure to the Bible or Christianity. So I’m glad they became part of the script.
While a number of Christian reviewers have complained that the apologetics content in the movie is weak or superficial my reaction is more forgiving. A movie is entertainment, not a lecture. I felt satisfied that the movie raised some of the most important apologetics topics. In-depth equipping and evangelistic content may be found in abundance elsewhere.
As for the character portrayals in the movie, most were extreme, unrealistic, and certainly not believable. Although the movie listed over a dozen court cases, some resolved and others still pending, arising from incidents on university campuses where Christian students and faculty were treated unjustly, only a couple I know about personally come close to the outrageous circumstance depicted, and they are cases in which faculty, not students, were treated badly. The portrayal of the pastor also disturbed me. He seemed ambivalent and aloof. However, I did see a few emotionally authentic and impactful scenes. Two that stand out to me include the one in which the Islamic father weeps bitterly after striking his daughter and shoving her out the front door. Both his sorrow and hers seem real. Another is the scene in which the woman suffering from dementia suddenly speaks with profound clarity and spiritual insight. Such experiences may be rare, but I have witnessed them.
The triumphalist attitude the Christian student expresses toward his professor, not to mention his aggressive pressing of his case, bothered me more than any other weakness of the film. It’s certainly true that many atheists rely on intellectual smokescreens to hide deep wounds that embitter them toward God. However, most atheists in such situations will not discuss their personal reasons for rejecting God unless their intellectual objections are addressed and treated with respect. They seem especially reluctant to do so publicly, especially if the Christian badgers. I’m convinced that deeply personal reasons should always be addressed privately and in a spirit of grace, compassion, and humility. I must add, too, that I’ve met some atheists whose barriers really are intellectual. Once their questions about how the Bible and the facts of nature and history fit together, they are ready to give their life to Christ. We Christians should never presume antagonism or animosity, beyond natural resistance to faith’s surrender.
The movie did remind me to pray for the individuals, organizations, and situations listed at the movie’s end, and especially for the Christians involved, that they would display the character of Christ in their approach to those in authority.
Do I think Christians should see this movie? Yes, and for the same reason I think they should consider seeing the deeply flawed depiction of Noah. Viewing God’s Not Dead may provide believers with opportunities for conversation about our faith and about what the Bible does, or does not, teach. It may also provide opportunities to discover what questions nonbelievers are asking, questions we need to be prepared to address, with gentleness and respect and a clear conscience.