GOD’S NOT DEAD BUT THE CLICHÉS SHOULD BE

The latest Christian film to hit theaters has done so with a flourish of great success. God’s Not Dead sat in the top 5 for a month and grossed over $40 million before it almost literally ran out of steam and dropped off the flat edge of the earth. During the first 3 weeks they had lineups at the theaters and had to turn people away. By the time I got to the theater, five weeks after the release, it was playing to thinly filled movie houses. Apparently the ‘target audience’(Christians) had all seen the picture. It was great to see that the Christian community came out en masse to support it. This alone should ensure that more Christian films will be made and will survive in a universe filled with mostly ‘live’cartoon superhero action movies.

By half way through Kathy could see me fidgeting, and as we walked out of the theater after the credits she turned to me and said, “Now don’t say anything negative to anybody about this movie and ruin it for them.” She knew right away what was going through my mind. Now don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things to applaud here. The production values were excellent, much better than others I’ve seen from the bible belt Christian producers. (Mark Burnett’s The Bible and Son of God are in a different category altogether.) And personally, I got a huge kick out of Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson’s ridiculous and random cameo. When a reporter accuses him of luring ducks to ‘maim and eat them’, he claims that ‘that’ would be cruel to eat them while they were still alive and so he makes sure he kills them first. Very funny… although I may have actually been the only one in the theater laughing. Kevin Sorbo did a great job playing the atheist Professor Radisson (he was Hercules in Xena the Princess Warrior) until the last 15 minutes when the writers had him fall completely out of character. Shane Harper did a stand up job as the uncompromising Christian freshman Josh Wheaton that was unwilling to deny his faith.

For the record, I really wanted to like the film and I do not want to come across as one of those overly critical people that I am always complaining about. But here is where I need to disagree with some of the rave reviews I have been hearing from many of my friends and peers. For me, the script writing threatened to kill an otherwise great idea for a story line. Before you write me off as just a grump, let me tell you what I mean because I think it is important for the cause of the gospel. The portrayal of every single non-Christian as a horrible human being was embarrassingly overdone. They were cruel, selfish, angry, bitter or all of the above. Actor Dean Cain’s character was depicted as downright sub-human and didn’t look like anyone I have ever met. The lone Muslim man in the script was portrayed as violent and abusive. The Christians on the other hand were for the most part principled and virtuous. The contrast was so stark as to be sure to offend any and every non-Christian sitting in the audience. It is impossible for me to even describe how exclusively they reinforced the unhelpful Christian stereotypes that make our job of presenting the gospel to skeptics even more difficult. The very thing the writers were trying to accomplish, answering the objections to the Christian faith, they successfully undermined by including the Christian cliches that make our message entirely unpalatable to those who would hold a non-christian worldview. They ran the entire length of front pew from the right wing politics, to Christian dating, to the notion of being the persecuted underclass, to the gross overuse of campy Christian slogans. “I am beginning to think we are unequally yoked.” and “God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good”… over and over again. Seriously as the producers employed one bible belt cliche after another I began to hope there was actually no non-christians in the theater watching it.

Perhaps the biggest misstep of all was the main premise of a philosophy professor requiring every student to sign a statement that ‘God is dead’. It was incredulous at best and the fact that 79 of 80 signed it was ridiculous. And then after Josh’s presentation, all remaining 79 changed their minds and were willing to publicly rebuff and embarrass their professor by declaring that ‘God’s not dead’. I felt this hyperbole insulted the intelligence of every viewer and took away from Josh’s actual presentation which was easily the best part of the movie. He did an inspiring job of arguing some well-reasoned apologetics. But again the producers dropped the ball by presenting Sorbo’s character as defeated and speechless, when anyone in his position would have come back with a volley of reasonable rebuttals. If you haven’t seen the movie I won’t ruin the ending for you but for me it was just another cliché.

To say this movie was preaching to the choir would be an understatement. Among Christians I asked what they thought of the movie, their responses ranged from ‘really good’ to ‘the best movie ever’. I think the most revealing exercise is to go on the IMDb website. The disparity between Christian viewers and non-christians was more than slightly disconcerting. Believers tended to rate the movie a 9 or 10 whereas non-christian viewers almost exclusively gave it a 1 out of 10 with comments like, “worst movie ever”. I guess the big question is; what are Christian movies trying to accomplish? If they are just trying to reinforce (arguably unhelpful) existing stereotypes to the Christian population then they are succeeding. If they are trying to reach the non-christian segment of the population and try to get them to rethink the possibility of finding faith then they are failing miserably. I feel we need to do better. God’s not dead but the clichés should be.

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21 Responses to GOD’S NOT DEAD BUT THE CLICHÉS SHOULD BE

  1. Bruno says:

    Hmm maybe I broke the character limits for the page…

  2. Gary says:

    Give me a break, enjoyed it and would go again.

  3. Steve says:

    God bless you Pastor Mark. Just wanted to say keep being filled with the Holy Spirit! Don’t let the devil get you in criticism like he does to almost all of us.
    May God’s abundant grace fill you and bless you!

  4. Steve says:

    By the way, I loved God’s not Dead! One of my favorite Christian movies of all time alongside the Passion.

  5. MRS says:

    I appreciate your candor and respect your views. The best case for Christ is not a single speech, but the day to day commitment to living and exemplifying His love. Those who have not yet befriended Christ may not relate well to the examples of the lost provided, seeing themselves instead as they are: “kind and considerate”, “a good person”.
    Jesus himself did not always convince 79/79 listeners. Even his immediate followers had moments of doubt and confusion. Including these elements in the film would have made it a more powerful ministry.
    Let us create a different film, Alive and Well, celebrating real (not scripted)Christians sharing their genuine faith and testimony, and struggles that the Lord has, by His Word and by His Spirit, provided strength, wisdom, and grace to overcome. I have several stories and the battle wounds to show. But I, like many, have days where I question and He is patient and faithful, feeding me like a nursing infant, precept upon precept and preparing me for His purposes and glory.
    Let us pray for the softening of hearts and minds that the truth of Christ may resonate in the souls of the unsaved, bring back those who have strayed from the fold, and encourage and fill followers of Jesus with the Holy Spirit. If it be the Lord’s will that this film be a tool or a springboard for those messages, they will be so, and it will be good.
    May God be glorified!

  6. Karen says:

    Why are Christian producers “mainstreaming” the gospel and watering it down so much that non Christians are offended by the effort. I think that is defeating the purpose. My daughter bought the “Bible” movie and I have to say that I was horribly disappointed, so I haven’t watched “Son of God”. I haven’t jumped on the band wagon of “Heaven is for Real” or “God is not Dead”. How many solid Christians went and watched “Noah”? What a joke that was…my non believing brother went. Even he knew there was stuff in the movie that wasn’t in the bible. The problem with these movies is that non-believing people are going to go see them and they are going to assume that the content of these movies are what Jesus (Noah, the Bible, Heaven) are all about without going to the bible and searching for the truth themselves. What are all the Christians searching for that are going to these movies?

    Look in the Bible…not to Hollywood.

    • Steve says:

      Yes Karen, we as Christians can get caught up in movies and forget to read the Bible. Always important to stay in the word and live it out.
      And we always need Christians who keep us grounded. Thanks.
      Thank you Pastor Mark for keeping us informed where Christian movies could use a little tweaking. You gotta watch God’s not Dead again though, you might just like it more the second time around.
      I really loved that movie! Really felt the Holy Spirit in the theatre which was awesome!God bless!

  7. Jeff says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but have read reviews…seems to me from the get go that the entire premise is a fail…Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Freedom of Religion…therefore, the Professor would more than likely lose his job in the real world for demanding all his students declare that God Is Dead. Second, in the trailer for the movie that I watched, there appeared to be 50-60 (or more) students in the classroom…and only ONE was Christian?!?!? And were there no Muslim or Jewish students?!?!? Only atheists or non-believers made up the remainder of the students in that class?!?!? That’s realistic.

    As good intentioned as the producers may be, as good intentioned as Mark Barnett and Roma Downey may be, as good intentioned at Russell Crowe may be…if you are not going to stay true to the original script (The Bible) and if you are going to create scenarios that wouldn’t happen in the real world…you will only foster the doubt and criticism that we are witnessing abound about these films right now.

    It’s sad that we are hoping Hollywood will become Holy-wood and do the work of the church for us! WE are the church and WE are tasked by our Savior to share the Gospel…to be His hands, feet and mouth. A relationship with Jesus is personal and that’s how we’re to evangelize…personally.

    Not even going to get into the clichés as they drive me crazy! If I’m “ON FIRE FOR GOD!” I shouldn’t have to tell you! You should be able to see it in my words and actions!

  8. Steve says:

    Whatever people want to say about God’s not Dead or about anyone who watches it is their opinion and I respect that.
    There are a lot of good things in the movie like standing up for God when everyone around you including some Christians are telling you to go with the flow.
    The movie shows how nobody is rejected by God when they turn to Him and gives a good example of the love of Christ through Christians for people who don’t need a preaching session but a kind heart to show them that Jesus does truly love them.

  9. Evelyn Bennett says:

    If you did not care for it after 15 minutes watching I am sure Kathy would have understood. She knows your quirks better than your brothers and sisters in Christ.
    Where is the bold man I met on the TV screen so long ago? You are selling yourself short. I respect your opinions. I believe you are one of the big inspirations in my life and I thank you for starting your blog. You challenge my mind every time.
    For the first time I shut off a movie within 15 minutes because there were too many F bombs in it. Stick to your morale compass.

  10. Bethany Stroup says:

    What you are voicing here are many of my objections to the film. I think it is really important for Christians to tell an honest story, not simply an emotionally gratifying (for us) story. I think the film fails to prepare young people for what they will honestly face in University. I work for a college and I see the real dangers for youth and it isn’t the Atheist professor who will force them to deny God. It is the morally relativistic culture that will influence them to deny that truth exists – slowly and subversively. This film makes us feel good while working to alienate us from others. I personally believe it does more harm than the good it intends. Thank you for being a thoughtful leader, I appreciate your blog.

  11. Roberto says:

    I totally agree with you, Pastor Mark , 100%.Tks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. Sylvia says:

    totally agree here! I know missionaries everywhere in the planet, and they often tell me of precious muslims and ppl from all kinds of faith…and in my country, countless bad, bad ppl proclaim to be christians-CSLewis explains it so well, any goodness is a result of relationship, …it is good for Christians mostly, specially the message of self-value to the young lady, and the message to hear from God and let Him guide you…but the extremes are just not realistic…i would recommend for new-converts…

  13. David says:

    I finally saw God’s Not Dead last week and I agree 100% with Pastor Mark’s blog post. My wife, on the other hand, thought it was a great movie. I’ve recently tried to watch all the major Christian/God-oriented films that came out this past year. Almost all are cringe-worthy. Personally, I thought the only watchable movie was Mom’s Night Out, which was produced by some of the same people that were in the movie Courageous. If you haven’t seen either of those films, I highly recommend them.

  14. Randall says:

    I have to agree with many of your valid points. One being about the cliche’s. A big turn off for seekers. And two, the apologetics were well presented, but a great rebuttal should have been to follow by the professor. This would bring the movie into reality. The fantastic part is that I have heard of countless salvations though this GND Ministry! Angels rejoice when ONE soul comes to know Christ. Incidentally, if ONE did, then this movie was worth its GOLD in production! Amen.
    Another thing is they should have shown a Christian man beating up on his daughter. That is real! Maybe leading to repentance later. The world wants to see Christians are real, but there is a huge gap between believer’s and non in this movie. I think the Christians are polished. Where are the believers wearing skulls on their shirts, with tattoos/piercings? You need a few F bombs tossed in here. It’s real, though maybe not for the WHOLE FAMILY. Where is the contention between the pastor and Josh? This is the real stuff. You can bring the movie to a wonderful climax if you show the real sh*t going down, then closing with repentance and grace through believers coming together in unity. I love God and want to find better ways to share my faith in the ‘NOW-A-DAYS’. It’s a different culture now. Old is faded. God is doing something new.
    I love your ministry and blogs. Carry on…

  15. Gary says:

    Heard God’s Not Dead “2” out in a year or so. So much for all the criticism, how many of you watch and enjoy the movies taking God and Jesus name in vain over and over. If it was only Christians that went to see this movie, so what, at least we have a decent movie to see. Don’t have to put up with all the swearing and nudity while trying to teach morals to our children.

  16. Estelle says:

    I watched the movie again last night at the request of our 16 year old Brazilian student. Had gone to see it for the first time in the theaters with our Nigerian student who really liked it. It was good to watch it again. As a result I am inspired to be more attentive to God’s voice and to obey it.

  17. Rose says:

    Pastor Mark, re: “God’s Not Dead”
    Best Movie Ever!
    It’s a boost for people who deal with friends who “demand” respect for their point of view, when they say, “Let’s not talk about God, He doesn’t exist.” So the professor was left speechless… the bell rang, the students had to leave. And yes, 79 out of 79 might agree with their fellow student, just to back that student for one day, rather than be intimidated by the professor and forced into something they had no thought of before…
    The professor however was ready to beat up the kid… when he met him in the hall.
    Not everyone in the movie theatre got out their cell phones to text everyone they knew.
    I would hope my non-Christian friends would go to see the movie, even if they didn’t like it . It might give them something to think about.

  18. Pat says:

    I finally watched the movie and It’s definitely a feel good Christian movie. When it comes down to it who are we trying to reach? Jesus came to earth to save the lost. I agree with what Pastor Mark wrote.

  19. Delight says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. What is the point to making movies like that…..all it does is pad the “superiority” thinking of the Christians and alienate the non-Christians. Thanks so much for using your platform to call a spade a spade. Keep speaking up for truth and calling out nonsense.

  20. teresa says:

    Is there an email address I can use to write you ? Probably there lost to me in plain sight .

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