I have this vague memory as a child of there being some kind of controversy about God being dead, but it didn’t connect to my pre-pubescent mind. If I recall correctly, there were books about it and they even could be found in the Lutheran church which I attended with my family.
This “God is dead” theology passed onto the scene in the mid 20th century and apparently didn’t last long. As I grew up, what replaced it for me was the campus Christian group and the Jesus movement.
So when I read about a new faith-based film called “God’s Not Dead”, I was intrigued. I didn’t even know that the concept that God might be deceased was an issue these days, especially given the rampant, if erroneous, spirituality of our times.
I had another choice for the cheap matinee-a movie with Kevin Costner about the NFL draft. As a big football fan I was tempted, but Costner is at his best a B actor to me. I have never cared for his stuff.
Speaking of B actors, these populate the cast of “God’s Dead”. Most of them can be seen on television reruns.
For example, there’s Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules on TV–a show I never watched. Sorbo is the antagonist philosophy professor Jeffery Radisson who decides to make his class hell for freshmen born-again Josh Wheaton. Josh has an appropriate name, as it is also the moniker for a major evangelical university. Billy Graham is an alumnus.
The atheist Radisson tells his students on the first day of class that he wants to skip over the drivel about God, since he doesn’t exist, and requires that they sign a sheet of paper that says God is dead. Josh refuses and Radisson tells him he will fail the course unless he proves that God is alive in three 20 minute lectures.
As Radisson’s Christian girlfriend Mina, tells him, the directive to Josh is rigged. There is no way a freshmen college student is going to outmaneuver an experienced platform teacher like Professor Radisson.
Despite objections from his parent’s and his girlfriend, a young woman he met at his church youth group six years before, Josh decides to accept Radisson’s challenge. He does this after much soul searching in a church, and the counsel of its minister, Pastor Dave. The pastor tells Josh that his lectures are probably the only opportunity these unchurched college students will ever have to hear the gospel.
Sorbo is excellent as Professor Radisson. The actor is himself a person of faith, but he projects an inner rage that lashes out at God in the form of his radical atheism and increasing hostility toward Josh.
Another “B” actor, Dean Cain, is a successful businessman named Mark who like Radisson is a self absorbed jerk. Mark is Mina’s brother. Although Mina is greatly concerned about their failing mother, a Christian woman with Alzheimer’s disease, Mark could care less about her or God.
He does care about his girlfriend Amy, a muckraking Internet blogger, that is until she announces over dinner that she has cancer. Mark’s response is telling. He is angry that Amy has ruined his own celebration that day. Mark has been named a partner at his business.
Amy’s not exactly a paragon of virtue herself. She goes after Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame in one of her unscripted, unannounced, man on the street style interviews. Willies’ testimony foreshadows Amy’s own journey to faith.
“God’s Not Dead” could have been called “Skeptics versus Believers”, as the story’s conflict comes from the battle between Radisson and Josh, and also from lesser fights over faith between other characters.
Amy battles with her own demons. Radisson does so as well, and also begins to have problems in his relationship with Mina, who tells him that she is beginning to feel “unequally yoked” (a biblical phrase which refers to a believer betrothed to an unbeliever).
As teacher of internationals, I was especially drawn to the character of Ayisha, a Muslim student who comes to faith secretly. The film also portrays the spiritual journey of another international student, Martin Yip from China. Martin is attracted to the message of Joshua in their philosophy course.
Both Ayisha and Martin alarm their fathers because of their interest in Jesus. In fact, the influence of parents on their children’s spiritual lives is a strong thread in “God’s Not Dead”.
The movie is worth seeing in this day and age of spiritual confusion. It does have its weaknesses. Joshua’s argument with a trained philosophy professor seems simplistic and the result contrived. In addition, Pastor Dave comes across as something of a stereotype and is prone to using the cliche “God is good all the time” with his missionary friend from Africa.
However, the film will encourage the believer in their faith because it does emphasize that although God does seem to be far away in a world of pain, He has not forgotten us and He is alive and well and active in our lives.