2014 has been a fabulous year for Christian films at the box office. We had Heaven is for Real cost 12 million and made 101 million. Noah (I know some Christians didn’t care for it but I liked it!) cost 112 million and made 359 million. While not a huge hit, Mom’s Night Out doubled it’s budget. The Bible on History channel was a massive success and Son of God spinoff from that film made 67 million.
This makes me very happy because I want Christian films to be made and made well. If Hollywood knows they can make serious money the quality will continue to improve and we can hopefully get messages of faith without the excessive preaching and poor production values of direct to video variety films. People of faith deserve to have their stories told and have a spot for them at the movies just as they do in music and literature.
Of all of the Christian releases this year the one I was looking forward to seeing the most was God’s Not Dead. This scrappy little Christian film made 62 million off of a 2 million dollar budget! It was in the top 10 for a long time and earned 8.6 million in it’s opening weekend. In contrast, Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted earned 16.5 which is shocking when you consider its wider demographic and marketing budget.
Remember my post on Consider the Audience? Most of the critics hated it but the audience felt favorably. That is because it is a movie made for a specific Christian audience, which many critics do not fall into.
I really enjoyed it and was moved by it. In fact, I related to it quite strongly. It is about a boy named Josh who is asked by his philosophy professor to sign a paper saying ‘God is Dead’. Being a man of faith he cannot sign such a document. The teacher challenges Josh to prove God is not dead or he must sign the document and fail the class.
Some not of faith may think this scenario is ridiculous but if you talk to most Christians who have attended secular higher education they have faced similar circumstances. While perhaps not as dramatic as the movie portrays, most of us have been forced to defend our ‘insane notions’ of our particular faith before academics who think they know better than us (and I love academics BTW).
Before I was accepted into a church-ran school, I was called out in front of my history class and forced to debate my teacher about my faith on more than one occasion. At first it started with Mormon history and defending Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. Then it moved to basic Christianity and theology. He proceeded to try and enlighten me on why I was stupid and foolish and the whole class should take note. A similar incident actually happened that same year in a political science class I took (you see why I was so glad to go to BYU!)
This type of attempted public shaming of those of any faith is unfortunate but it has an opposite effect of what’s intended by the person doing the shaming. It only makes us stronger and more aware of God’s strength and power. While my class didn’t stand up and cheer like in this movie, several came up to me after the sessions commenting on how impressed they were with me and my courage. Again, not having the effect the teacher was intending on any of the students. If anything it just makes them look like atheist bullies.
Capturing this kind of challenge of faith is where God’s Not Dead is very strong. Shane Harper as the student is very good. He’s confident but nervous and doesn’t have an answer to every question Professor Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, throws at him. I liked that. None of us have every answer but enough to carry us through.
Some of the other side plots are more mixed. I enjoyed seeing the guys from Duck Dynasty but they are a little wedged in to the story. Dean Cain has a laughable scene where his fling girlfriend tells him she has cancer and he says ‘and this couldn’t wait…’. I don’t pretend to understand atheists but feel confident none of them would be so cold to anyone who has just found out she has cancer!
The cancer sufferer is played well by Trisha LaFache and a Muslim girl who is converting to Christianity is also very convincingly played by Hadeel Sittu. Radisson’s Christian girlfriend is played effectively by Cory Oliver. All in all a good cast. We also get cameos from the Christian rock band Newsboys and I liked them also.
This is one of those movies if it sounds like something you will like than you will probably like it. If it sounds like something you’d hate than you’d probably hate it. It is made for a specific audience and especially the scenes of debate between Radisson and Josh are very moving for a Christian audience. Most of us can relate to those moments and can empathize with what Josh is going through. Like I said, a few of the subplots are forced and cliched but all-in-all I really liked God’s Not Dead.
There’s nothing wrong with a film being made for a select audience, and I’m glad they do not seek to be well-rounded and appeal to everyone who could see the film. There’s plenty of movies atheists or agnostics can see that praise their perspective. They can see those. We can see this. I’m hopeful the money trail will lead to even better movies for those of faith in the future.
Content Grade- A+ (nothing offensive in this at all) Overall Grade- B
13 thoughts on “God’s Not Dead: A Review”
Awesome review Rachel! Yes, I love this movie too. Wow, you weren’t a big fan of Muppets Most Wanted, eh? You mind of I ask how come?
It wasn’t bad but I had high hopes because I loved 2011 The Muppets. Honestly I just don’t love Tina Fey or find her very funny (I know that’s practically unamerican but I don’t). It just seemed kind of average and unmemorable.
Gotcha! By the way, you mind if I ask what your thoughts are on the new Christian film Do You Believe? Also, have you seen trailers for the film Hillsong: Let Hope Rise?
I haven’t heard of those. Sometimes since I’m Mormon and not a traditional Christian we dont hear about some of these films but will have to check it out.
“Some not of faith may think this scenario is ridiculous but if you talk to most Christians who have attended secular higher education they have faced similar circumstances. While perhaps not as dramatic as the movie portrays, most of us have been forced to defend our ‘insane notions’ of our particular faith before academics who think they know better than us (and I love academics BTW).
Before I was accepted into a church-ran school, I was called out in front of my history class and forced to debate my teacher about my faith on more than one occasion. At first it started with Mormon history and defending Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. Then it moved to basic Christianity and theology. He proceeded to try and enlighten me on why I was stupid and foolish and the whole class should take note. A similar incident actually happened that same year in a political science class I took (you see why I was so glad to go to BYU!)”
It amazes me that that happened to you. Isn’t there anyone you could have complained to? If it were me I wouldn’t be able to put up with that at all. I would refuse to have to defend my beliefs, and I would probably just end up getting humiliated in front of the class because I would be too angry at having to stick up for myself in that public venue. And the teacher always gets the last word, anyway, so all I could do is let them demean me. And then I’d probably just do something stupid when dealing with the teacher later on that would get me in trouble with the school.
Thanks.I think if you asked most Christians they have similar experiences of being faith shamed on high school or college campuses. The problem with going to administration is they are so scared of being associated with religion (separation of church and state gone way too far if you ask me) that they aren’t very sympathetic to the needs of the religious students. All the teacher needs to do is claim we were ‘preaching’ in his classroom and that’s it end of discussion. So most Christians just take it. In my case I wasn’t really humiliated because I am a pretty good debater and can hold my own with the teacher. In fact, he came off looking like a bully and several students would come up to me after and say how they were impressed with me and appreciated what I had done. I even had a few that came to church with me after! My Mother and I have always had a thing where we debated topics of the day, sometimes quite vigorously and so battling it out with a teacher was no more intimidating than her. 🙂
But faith shaming on campus is a real problem. My friend even experienced it in law school repeatedly. The religious school I went to is often criticized as limiting academic freedom because of the religious classes that are required and some things that aren’t taught. However, nobody ever talks about how my ‘academic freedom’ was limited in the college I went too first. I was not free to discuss my faith, to ask questions, to share my perspective. Why is it only Christians that can be (and in some minds should be) stymied and stopped. If anything I felt more freedom when I went to the religious school because I could just study and didn’t have to worry about my faith getting in the way.
The movie is far from perfect but I think the reason it did so well at the box office is pretty much all people of faith can relate to the relationship between the student and teacher. That is the good part of the movie and felt very real to me. I wish we had a culture that was truly open to a diverse range of beliefs and ideas but unfortunately we are becoming increasingly insular (religious groups too). That if you do not think the way I do you are wrong, stupid or even hateful. Just put a label on someone as a ‘right wing nut’ or ‘religious freak’ and we don’t have to listen to anything they are saying. It’s really unfortunate. God’s Not Dead is a movie made for a small audience and not for the general public but I found it quite moving and enjoyed it despite its flaws.
What’s disturbing is how little information I can find about this being discussed on the Internet, and yet there is a whole article on Wikipedia labeled “Discrimination against atheists”.
How exactly does the topic of religion usually end up coming up in these high school or college campuses (in particular, law school)?
It’s probably something you’d find in blogs and things like that because academia doesn’t take the experiences of Christians very seriously. I mean this movie made over 100 million dollars despite no advertising and terrible reviews. That has to say something about the fact the core message rang true for the target audience. Like I said those that are sympathetic are terrified of losing their jobs because people get upset if they say Merry Christmas let alone help a badgered student of faith. That’s why most believers go to faith based schools. It’s certainly a big reason why I did. It was my dream to be safe to believe.
As far as when it comes up it depends. For me it was in a political science class. It was back pre911 and Bush was running for the first time and the rep for the Congressional district in California was a Mormon. This teacher was bitterly antiMormon and one day he started in on what a moron the Congressman was starting with the fact he was Mormon and “how could any idiot believe…”.
I was tempted to just ignore it but I had studied the apostle Paul in my readings and I knew this could be the only experience these students ever get with a Mormon so I raised my hand and that was it. I always thought it was good prep for my mission :).
In a way I’m grateful because when you defend what you believe you realize how important it is too you. That said I wouldn’t want it my whole life.
I was also used to being the minority and being questioned and even on occasion attacked. I was one of 4 Mormons in my high school but I also had amazing support from all my friends.
Anyway it’s not a perfect movie and I think the athiest characters could be more nuanced in these films but that story of the student and teacher I did relate too. It’s part of my life story and when a movie can tap into that flaws and all it is special 🙂
I will add too that I got an A in that class so I guess I did ok in the debates. 🙂
The really scary part is it is getting worse not better. With hate crime legislation many Christians are terrified to even speak out what they believe because they could be accused of hate, kicked out of school or even imprisoned. That’s why most go to church schools if they can at all afford it. I’m talking about dedicated believers not the go to church on Christmas and Easter type of Christians.