It’s been a while since a film made me as angry as “God’s Not Dead” did. Not because I hated it. Far from it. And not because I disagreed with its message.
“God’s Not Dead” made me angry because it had the chance to be truly great, but it settled for merely good.
As I was watching the movie, I kept seeing ways they could have tweaked it to really speak to people who are hurting, lost, and looking for purpose in their lives. But instead they pandered to the faithful. They had every chance to take risks and add to the ongoing conversation in culture about God. But too often they took the safe and easy route. They could have made a Christian “Crash” or “Magnolia”, a movie with intertwining storylines that in the end brings them all together in a profound and meaningful way. In fact, I think this is what they tried to do. But when all of the stories intersect because the heroes all go to a “Newsboys” concert, I am forced to draw the conclusion that “Tate saves.” (That is extremely unfair of me to say. I am both a Newsboys fan and a Michael Tate fan, and I think they’re wonderful people. On the other hand, maybe it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, since Michael did play Jesus in the awesome “Hero: The Rock Opera.”)
The core of the film has some great meat in it, stuff that every Christian really should know. It covers how the Big Bang is one of the strongest indicators that there is a God. It dismantles Stephen Hawking’s fairly recent refutation of God from his book “The Grand Design.” It shows that often there are underlying reasons someone is an atheist, not simply because the evidence says so. To top it off, the two leads in the movie (Kevin Sorbo and Shane Harper) do a fine job of acting, playing off each other in a manner I found believable.
But the outlying areas are where there are problems. Most of the side plots (very few of which ever really tie into the main story) are unnecessary at best and actively damaging to the movie at worst. Discussing Muslim persecution of Christians in a movie whose sole purpose is to defend God? Really? Why? Bringing in a rich atheist only so he can be trounced by his Christian mother with Alzheimer’s? Come on! The pastor who feels useless until he is counseled (with hilarious results!) over and over again by his wise missionary friend? (Face palm.) The level of pious disrespect shown at the end of the film towards one of the main characters in the name of religion cheapens any impact that could have come from the ending as well.
Having said that, you should still see “God’s Not Dead” if you are a Christian. It has some great nuggets that you will be able to use in love to discuss some of life’s most important topics with non-believers. However, if you happen to be that non-believer yourself, you needn’t apply. It will just make you angry.
Why, subplots? Why?
It also suffers from some of the terrible acting that usually plagues Christian movies. There are tonal shifts that just should not have happened throughout the film (largely, surprisingly, in the subplots!), the way the stories all tie together is highly anticlimactic, and the way one of the main characters is cheaply treated at the end will ensure that no one besides Christians will get anything out of this movie. That is a shame.
Having said all of that, many Christians will get something out of this movie. Shane Harper does a good job, even when others around him are trying to suck him down to their level. Kevin Sorbo is appropriately angry and self-possessed, though his grand moment can’t escape unscathed like Shane’s does.
I found myself talking to the screen throughout the film as the case was being made for God. That is largely because I had read just about all of the books that were being quoted, and so I knew the argument that was going to be made before it was made. That was fun for me. Chances are you haven’t read those books, but it also means you can get something from them without ever having to crack them open. There are some really good arguments that can be made from within science and the socially accepted worldviews, and in those scenes “God’s Not Dead” excels.
“God’s Not Dead” has a great heart. With a couple more heads involved, a lot less fear, and a couple of script rewrites, it could have been a great film. But as it is, it’s still a good film, and it will still make believers think (and probably cheer.) Interested non-Christians, though, should skip the film and go straight to the books.
You can buy “God’s Not Dead” on Amazon here.
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