“God is dead,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, infamously. And philosophy Professor Jeremy Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) of Hadleigh University. And all of his near-eighty philosophy students… except for Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), a Freshman, and a Christian. They had been asked to write those three words on a blank sheet of paper and hand them in for an A grade, but because of his religious beliefs, Josh refused as politely as he could, defying the most notoriously atheistic professor on campus. This is the initial challenge that gets the action moving in the film God's Not Dead
(2013, PG), a dramatic apologia for belief in God in an age of philosophical skepticism.
“All right, Mr. Wheaton,” then says Professor Radisson to his Christian student, “Allow me to explain the alternative. If you cannot bring yourself to admit that God is dead for the purposes of this class, then you will need to defend the antithesis that God is not dead. And you’ll need to do it in front of this class, from the podium. And if you fail, as you shall, you will fail this section and lose 30% of your final grade right off the bat. Are you ready to accept that?”
Wheaton takes Professor Radisson's challenge, much to the misunderstanding and frustration of his family and peers, particularly his intended of 6 years, Kara, who do not understand why he is putting so much on the line.
See, sometimes God calls us to do things that seem preposterous to us, but in the grand scheme of things, make perfect sense. Josh was convicted by the Holy Spirit, and his course of action begins making an impact on others almost immediately. A Chinese exchange student, Martin, is inspired by Josh’s courage, and ultimately professes his faith despite the objections from his father. A Muslim young woman, Aisha, overhears a lunchroom conversation between Josh and Kara, and draws courage to make her own conversion to Christianity from it, undeterred by her traditional Islamic father’s violent response to the discovery. On a much larger scale, Josh’s courage potentially inspires thousands by way of Willie Robertson and a Newsboys concert. And finally, a woman named Mina (who was a former student of Radisson’s, and now his girlfriend) ultimately finds the courage to confront and leave Radisson because of his constant verbal and emotional abuse of her faith.
Between all these tangled souls is Pastor Dave of a nearby church, who willingly assists their spiritual journey, at the same time coming to learn just how deep and permanent an impression he is making in the lives of those surrounding him.
Although we see much of the debate between Josh and Professor Radisson in the film, I appreciated the fact it was not too preachy, even though the case Josh presents for God’s existence is thorough, with plenty of philosophical and theological presentations serving to show just how remarkably simple and reasonable Josh’s position is. He thinks of Jesus as his friend, as he tells Martin. “I don’t want to disappoint him, even if everyone else thinks I should. See, to me, He’s not dead. He’s alive. I don’t want to get talked out of believing in Him because some professor thinks they should.”
Coming from a nerdy, cinematically over-observant point of view, I thought God’s Not Dead to be an excellent Christian film. It was real enough to be believable (although I admit the intertwining of lives seemed to be a bit melodramatic at times), and yet it was appropriate. The only unfortunate thing is that Protestants made this film; I can't imagine a modern Catholic film in which Muslims and Chinese converting would be portrayed so positively. Whoever made this film remembered that ultimately the Gospel is about winning souls, not just winning arguments - but it is admirable in that the arguments actually lead somewhere; the dialogue of Wheaton and Radisson does not just go on ad infinitum - it actually terminates in action, change, conversion - with surprising results for the main antagonist, Radisson.
All said and done, God’s Not Dead is a film about a young person putting himself on a different kind of front line, standing up to his peers and superiors to defend the existence of the God he so firmly believes in, preaching the Good News in a hostile environment, and Josh Wheaton can be an example to us all.
Memorable quote, by Mina’s dimentia-stricken mother: “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn’t want them turning to God. Their sin is like a jail cell, except it is all nice and comfy and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to leave. The door’s wide open. Till one day, time runs out, and the cell door slams shut, and suddenly it’s too late.”
It was also nice to see Kevin Sorbo on screen again; I grew up watching him as Hercules in the lame but entertaining Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
I give it a 3 out of 3 tiaras.