Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 53 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 1
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
Like Blue Like Jazz director Harold Cronk’s film deals with faith on a university campus, but there the similarity ends. Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman’s script is so contrived that I almost wanted to root for the atheist. I know there have been a lot of cases of university administrations and professors discriminating against campus religious groups, but I doubt that there has been anything like that of this film’s Prof. Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) dictatorial behavior in his classroom. In a fictional Southern university he points out to his freshman philosophy class a long list of philosophers and scientists who were and are atheists. Saying that he wants to bypass a useless discussion about the existence of a god who does not in fact exist, he tells the students to sign a statement that “God is dead.”
Everyone but Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) does so. Radisson is upset over this, but after arguing for a time, he says that he will give Josh 3 20-minute sessions of his class to put the case for God. If he cannot prove his belief, then he will fail the course. Josh holds out a while longer, pointing out that the one judging his arguments ought not to be the professor, but the class. Thus begins a series of serious studies, discussions and debates (his long-time girlfriend doesn’t want him to continue). In real life Josh would be getting legal help, possibly even from the agency hated by conservative Christians, the ACLU, because there is no doubt that Raddison has stepped over the boundary line of the professor-student relationship.
There are a number of other faith stories thrown in. A classmate from China is drawn to faith by Josh’s example. A doubting reporter enjoying poking at the faith of Christian celebrities faces a crisis when she is diagnosed with cancer. A Muslim girl who works at the school library and overhears Josh defending his faith against his professor is strengthened in her newfound faith but terribly afraid that her strict father will discover she is a secret Christian. A Christian pastor and his African missionary friend are continually delayed in leaving for Florida when a series of cars will not start. This is almost as unbelievable as the professor getting away with his classroom dictatorship, though at least the portrayal of Reverend Dave is a positive one.
Josh gives a good accounting of himself, perhaps too good for a real life freshman. Rightly coming to the conclusion that the claims of such atheistic scientists as Richard Dawkins are offered as facts when in reality they are statements of faith themselves, Josh is still unable to budge his opponent, but it is a different matter with the students. Raddison also faces issues of rebellion with his lover who decides to stop being his puppet (she was once one of his students), and then the professor meets a fate that, well, the ending just is so far out that it lands in fairytale land.
The best thing about the film is the concluding concert of the Christian pop group the Newsboys. All of the characters have found their separate ways there, and even Prof. Raddison, undergoing a change of heart, was on his way to the arena to seek out his lover there when—As I have argued about most other faith-based films, there is no subtlety to this film, art giving way to propaganda. If you want to see a film of faith in a university setting that will not insult your mind, take out and watch the already mentioned Blue Like Jazz. I cannot imagine a film that is more of an embarrassment to the Christian faith than God Is Not Dead!
1. What do you think of the professor’s behavior in his class? How is he abusing his power, and could he get away with this at a real university?
2. There are, of course, professors who do enjoy poking holes in the faith of literalist minded Christian students: what can the church do to prepare their youth for college life? Why is it important that we help young believers to raise questions about the Bible and doctrines? Can faith grow without this questioning?
3. Do you think that many atheists fall away from faith because of a traumatic incident like Raddison experienced when he was young? See the opening minutes of the Jodie Foster film Contact when her father died just out of reach of his medicine, and the church members tried to offer simplistic words of comfort.
4. Why is it impossible to “prove” that God does or does not exist? How are scientists just as much dependent upon faith as theists are?
5. What part has doubt played in your spiritual development? In what ways have tragic as well as joyful events contributed to your faith?