God's Not Dead: What the critics got right

April 9, 2014

I recently saw the film God's Not Dead, and while I didn't expect the critics to love any Christian film, I found much irony and disappointment in many points of their reviews. They got a lot wrong in my opinion. But, they also got some things right - things that also merit discussion. So, here goes!

(The entire list of reviews read that contribute to my thoughts can be found here)

  • Stereotypes, Oh my! Multiple races are portrayed in this film from the "average American" to a Chinese boy studying abroad to a Muslim who has secretly converted to Christianity. The biggest complaint deals with the second group mentioned - many reviews cite all sorts of accusations about irresponsibly representing other cultures, in this case, making us consider said student a "godless communist." 
While I personally didn't feel there was any statement being made about communism here, I did feel like they encouraged the typical "academic Asian" stereotype - notably in a scene where the boy's father basically tells him "if the professor says there is no God, then there is no God." These days, when anything can be interpreted as racism or hate, you have to be careful. Especially given the message of love that Christianity ultimately preaches. There are worse things, but I cringed often in the film hoping that certain characters wouldn't be portrayed in ways that would ultimately make the film seem racist or stereotypical.
  • The text "call to action" is bad Christianity. The final scenes of the film take place in a Newsboys concert where attendees are all asked to pull their cell phones out and text "God's Not Dead" to everyone in their contact list. When the film is over, it asks the actual audience to follow suit,. As one reviewer said: 
"Don’t call your friends and loved ones and ask them how their lives are going. Don’t see what you can do to help them with whatever need they may have. Send a brand-building mass text to everyone on your call list. None of them will find this at all annoying."


I couldn't agree more. There has been a trend in evangelism for the longest time that I try to stay away from - the one that says "quantity over quality." Go, win souls, the more the merrier - hand out tracks, ask strangers where they will go if they die today, don't get to know them - just rush to get them to "pray the prayer" so their eternity is secure and you've done your job. No, I don't like that at all. And no, I didn't text. If I'm not doing my job of loving people and meeting their other needs, I have not earned the right to butt in with my religious beliefs to feel better about myself. This isn't love, and it isn't good evangelism. More on that in the next point:
  • "Meeting needs is more practical." Spoiler - the aforementioned Muslim convert is ratted out by her little brother and tossed about before being kicked out of her house by her father. The next we see her, she is in a church office crying to the pastor who tosses some scripture at her and tells her she's made the right choice. The reviewer put it best: "An offer of a place to stay might be more practical."
Yes. Again, we must meet all needs. The scriptures clearly tell us that it's not enough to tell a hungry person "go be full." In other words, faith without works is dead. Sadly, the movie doesn't devote enough time to any of the subplots, really, so in this character's case, we don't really know what happens - after the pep talk with the pastor, we don't see her again until she attends the Newsboys concert in the ending scenes (Sure, she can afford it!)
  • Christians are imperfect. While no reviewer straight out comes out and says this, some reviews feel like the Christians are portrayed as argumentative tyrants while others felt like they were unfairly all portrayed as angelic and perfect. I saw something different - reality. I saw the protagonist who  stood up for his faith and I saw the missionary who demonstrated that with God, the glass is always half full. But, I also saw a Christian who dated an atheist despite knowing better, a girlfriend who tried to control her man and dumped him after six years because she didn't get her way. I saw a pastor who was discouraged by the events of everyday life like we all do - i.e. the car not starting when it's time to go to Disney World. I saw humans who all need Jesus and know it because they know their own imperfections. Although this review was scathing like many, this end statement was perfect:

"Real life Christians are as thoughtful as anyone else. They know that the world is complicated and people aren’t stereotypes. They live among non-believers and believers in other religions, people who are just as kind and thoughtful as themselves, and they do so peacefully, understanding that winning debates and humiliating people with whom they differ is almost always a useless aspiration, one that goes against everything they want to achieve..."

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  1. Wow. These are some awesome points. That last quote was perfect and surprised me. I am so used to Christians getting flack about 'forcing our views' on others. I am glad some people see that we are not all like that. Thanks for both of your posts and for you honesty! I believe I have a better understanding of the whole thing and will be more prepared when I see the movie.

  2. Yeah, I love that you took the time to write about this. I found it very compelling to hear how the movie made you think and feel.
    Maybe I'll have to go see it and make a night out of it.
    I'll let you know how it goes.

  3. Well written! I'm so interested to watch this now, though I'll probably wait till it is at redbox, not seeing many movies these days.

    Praying for a world to see Christ and christians the way we pray for Him to be seen in us.

  4. Oh, the call to action to send a mass text makes me cringe, too. I don't really think that was a good call or an effective evangelism technique, either. But the point about real-life Christians is profound. I've seen Christians do awful things as well as heart-breakingly beautiful, Christ-like things. Christians both obey and disobey God's Word, and that's the truth. It's just sad to me that a lot of the time, it's all the bad things "Christians" do that get a lot of attention in the media.

  5. I loved reading these posts! Very, very good observations and points!

  6. I was very skeptical when my mom asked me to go see the movie with her. And, like you, I had problems with the stereotypes and the very hands-off approach to Christianity. I felt like the whole movie was a big oral argument for Christianity instead of a display of God's love poured out through the lives of Christians. I could literally hear my journalism professor screaming "Show, don't tell!" It doesn't matter if we've got all the arguments right if we're not daily demonstrating what it looks like to have a changed life. Great thoughts - I really enjoyed your perspective!

  7. I liked your comparison of the mass text to the traditional tracts Christians have been handing out for years - and I agree with you that a mass text will be no more effective at actually showing care for people!

  8. This is great food for thought! I have not seen the movie...but I have a feeling I might think a lot of the same things you noted.

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