by Mark Taylor
Recently, I had the chance to see God’s Not Dead. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of Christian-produced movies in general because the quality of writing, acting, and cinematography is unfortunately, and usually, mediocre at best. But this is to not to say that I don’t like all Christian-produced movies. I found Fireproof to be cheaply made, but I loved its message. To Save a Life was an excellent movie that tackled complex issues head on with a thoughtful and God-honoring approach. So let me dispel any objections: my quarrel with God’s Not Dead has nothing to do with budget or production value.

Defending Our Faith

God’s Not Dead centers on the theme of apologetics, or the defense of the Christian faith. Progressive churches may contend that evangelicals have focused on apologetics to a detriment, while evangelical churches may counter that progressive churches have dismissed apologetics altogether. So I was interested to see this movie and how it handled the theme of defending one’s faith.
We are told in 1 Peter 3:15, to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We are not to believe blindly with no reason for our belief. We should think through what we believe and why. We should be ready when we are asked about the source of joy and hope in our lives. After all, if our faith in Christ is central to our thoughts and actions, it would only make sense that we thoroughly worked through the worldview by which we live our lives. So the premise of God’s Not Dead makes sense, and I can wholeheartedly stand behind it.
The next verse in 1 Peter says, “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” And I applauded Josh Wheaton in the movie for how he handled his confrontation with his antagonistic professor. He was humble in his approach. He didn’t go into the debate with his professor to humiliate his professor, defeat him, or to expose him as a fool. Josh merely felt that the professor was bullying an entire class into believing something he himself did not believe. Josh’s convictions as a Christian told him that this was something he needed to stand up for, and that this might be a good chance to expose his fellow classmates to God. Even when mocked and challenged, Josh stood in courageous humility before his intellectually superior professor.
But this is where my support of God’s Not Dead ends. It’s as if the filmmakers took verse 15 to heart and skipped over verse 16 altogether. If only the rest of the movie dealt with its non-believer characters with the same spirit of gentleness and respect that protagonist Josh Wheaton did. God’s Not Dead portrays non-believers in the same way most Hollywood movies portray Christians: as offensive, miserable, mean, self-righteous stereotypes. The frustrating portrayal of Christians in movies that we in the church constantly bemoan is exactly what takes place for any non-believer watching God’s Not Dead.

The End of the Conversation Before It Even Begins

Now I understand that there are non-believers who are mean and nasty people, just as I understand that there are judgmental and plank-in-the-eye Christians. But both sides can admit: that’s not a fair portrayal! Especially when every non-Christian in the movie is depicted as a heartless, cruel, manipulative, and miserable person. So the humble way in which Josh Wheaton stands up to his professor is completely undermined by a pervasive “it’s us against them” mentality found throughout the rest of the movie.
And why shouldn’t we be against them?! Look at them! They beat their daughters. They dump their girlfriends because they selfishly got cancer. They humiliate their girlfriends and treat them like dogs. They abandon their mothers who are suffering from dementia because it’s not convenient. They take pleasure in humiliating students in front of the entire class. It’s downright comical, if not sad, how the non-Christians are villainized throughout the movie.
God’s Not Dead creates a conversation about the existence of God and faith that may never have come up in certain circles (and I applaud that), but it quickly turns the conversation into a one-sided bash fest. Would any Christian be willing to listen to arguments raised against Christianity in a movie that portrayed all Christians as self-righteous, delusional, hypocritical, weak, ignorant, brainwashed puppets? Absolutely not! So why would we expect any non-Christian to listen to what we have to say about God and our faith after we just depicted them as vile, heartless, soulless, goons?
The conversation is there on the table, but we quickly point fingers and start shouting at our guests. When we look at the times Jesus got upset and confronted people about their thoughts and actions, the majority of those instances are with the religious leaders of the day. While Jesus preaches repentance and a changing of one’s heart, his encounters with the sinners and rebels of the day almost resemble a heartbroken father yearning for renewed relationships.
I won’t be recommending God’s Not Dead to any of my non-Christian friends to watch if they’re curious about God and faith. I can’t do that in good conscience. It seems like the movie was made for Christians, and perhaps we can have good conversations about knowing what we believe and how to share those beliefs. But ultimately, God’s Not Dead ends any hope of a conversation with those who don’t have a relationship with God, by delivering the message in a disrespectful and mean-spirited method. Let’s be ready to give a reason for the hope we have, and do so with gentleness and respect.

Mark Taylor is the director of youth ministries at Arlington UMC outside Memphis, Tenn. He is a 2013 graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training.