Conversion Without Christ: The Message of God’s Not Dead

September 15, 2014

God's-Not-Dead-PureFlix

It is worth highlighting and further commenting on, as I called it, “the most ridiculous moment” in God’s Not Dead. As a reminder, here is the description in my review:

After this heated exchange between Josh and the professor, each student begins to stand, one by one, declaring, “God’s not dead.” (Think of Dead Poets Society and all the students declaring, “Oh Captain, my Captain.”) Over and over, “God’s not dead. God’s not dead.” Eventually the entire class is standing. Remember, this is the same class that wrote, “God is dead,” with their signatures just a few weeks prior. Josh is so persuasive that he wins over the entire class!

This is the coup d’etat for Josh. He has just delivered his final blow to the professor. Standing victorious, Josh watches the class rise in an emotionally-gripping declaration of their belief in God. Martin, a student from China, is the first to stand. Earlier in the film, he informs his father back home that he was being persuaded by arguments for God’s existence, much to his father’s displeasure (commie atheist bastard that he is, of course, because only stereotypes exist in this evangelical fantasy world). Apparently Martin was not alone, as we see every student in the class rise after him, determined and defiant with their newfound faith in God.

That should strike you as profoundly disturbing. Josh has converted the entire class. How? By proclaiming the love of God in Jesus Christ? No. By preaching repentance and forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ? Nope. By mentioning at least something vague about Jesus Christ, the promise of redemption, the hope of glory, or any of the sort? No again. The message of the film is clear. You don’t need Jesus or the Holy Spirit to convert a classroom of students to belief in God. Reason alone is a sufficient bridge from unbelief to belief. No “foolishness” to the Greeks here. Sorry, Paul. “God is alive,” and you don’t even need to change your heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

Josh has “put God on trial,” as he stated at the beginning, and God won! Whew, I’m glad that God has such great lawyers on his defense team. What would The Almighty do without them?

Switching topics. In the review, I talked about the one-dimensional characters and the filmmakers’ apparent inability to grapple with the complexities of human nature. In the comments, Robert has a sober reflection:

When contemporary Christians produce “art,” including and perhaps especially popular “art,” that so poorly reflects the truth of the human world around them, reducing it to caricature (and they do this very, very often), it inevitably supports the suspicion among perceptive non-believers that, since Christians are so badly out of touch with the truth about human reality, they are even less likely to be in touch with the truth about divine reality. It in fact produces the same suspicion in me, a Christian, about many other Christians, both the ones who produce this “art” and those who gleefully consume it. This is why it’s so embarrassing, and cringe-worthy.

Amen. The End of the Affair, this movie ain’t, and it is hard to imagine evangelicals today being capable of such.

18 Responses to “Conversion Without Christ: The Message of God’s Not Dead

  1. Kim Fabricius said

    Another fine painful post.
    And what Robert said.

    Conservative evangelicals seem to be incapable of producing even decent, let alone great art, while they are prize-winners of the cringe-worthy. I’m sure this aesthetic barrenness is due to, inter alia, their historical iconoclasm, their thin doctrines of creation, their fear of worldly contamination, their anti-somatics, their literalist mindsets, and the corrupting influence of their rationalist apologetics. Catholics and Anglo-Catholics, of course, are the go-to creators here, with a smattering of “liberal” Protestants (e.g., in contemporary writing, Marilynne Robinson and Wendell Berry). And I’ll tell you, for me this tin ear alone puts the entire CE project under suspicion.

  2. Joel said

    What’s going to happen to the high schoolers who see this movie, get all pumped up to Defend Jesus, and then find being an On-Fire Apologetics Warrior in college doesn’t work out quite like they hoped?

    • Kevin Davis said

      That is precisely what my pastor said after watching it. Sadly, many will become disillusioned and just fall away from the faith altogether.

  3. I teach English, and every year I’m amazed by Milton’s Paradise Lost. I just started Calvin Miller’s Singer Triology, but I have no idea how this work will compare–it was recommended to me by an older Greek teacher. Some of the best explorations of Christianity in today’s literature doesn’t even come from Christians. I have in mind Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot. Can y’all think of any exceptional recent “Christian” literature?

    • Kevin Davis said

      Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is a favorite among a broad range of Christian (and non-Christian) readers. She is mainline Protestant. Going back to the 90’s, David James Duncan’s The Brothers K is beloved among literary-minded Christians. Duncan stands aloof from any formal connection to Christianity, as far as I know, even though Christianity is vital to his works. Also from the 90’s, Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy has come highly recommended. I recently acquired it, but I have not read it. Hansen is Roman Catholic

      From about the mid 1940’s to mid 60’s, a number of Catholic writers dominated Christian literature, namely Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, and Graham Greene.

      • Joel said

        And also Tolkien, for mid-century Catholic authors.

        “Silence” by Shusaku Endo, a rare Japanese Christian, is good.

        John Updike was a Christian and one of the best postwar American authors. The “Rabbit” series is very good and was made in an unusual way – each book is written a decade apart. And American society and the characters age ten years with each. They’re great, though there is a hefty dose of weird sex in there! One of his novels (which I haven’t read) has a Barthian professor as a main character.

        Gina Ochsner is a recent small-time author who I found on a use-bookstore impulse buy and a Christian. I enjoy her short stories. Some obvious Flannery influence, but with some magical realism and a lot of them set in Eastern Europe or Russia (though she is not from the region herself).

        Oh yeah, The Brothers K is pretty good, but it’s kind of pretentious for Duncan to name it after Dostoevsky’s novel. It’s not THAT good.

      • Kevin Davis said

        Yes, Tolkien — for some reason I didn’t realize that The Fellowship of the Ring was published in 1954. I thought it was a decade or more earlier than that. I recently acquired Endo’s Silence, but my theology reading continues to crowd-out my literature reading. I need to fix that! Thanks for the Updike recommendation. The book is Roger’s Version, after a quick Google search, and I will have to read that too! So, I have Hansen, Endo, and Updike to read! I’ll also look into Ochsner.

        Yeah, pretty gutsy — uhh, pretentious — move by Duncan!

  4. Kim Fabricius said

    And when you open the cupboard of poetry, it is absolutely bare of CEs, while, again, you have the Catholics and Anglo-Catholics like (20th century +) Eliot, Auden, Elizabeth Jennings, R.S. Thomas, Geoffrey Hill, Micheal O’Siadhail, Luci Shaw, and a few “liberal” Protestants like Richard Willbur and Wendell Berry.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Oh, but you have forgotten the praise & worship:

      If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
      So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss

      (“How He Loves”)

      Take that, Eliot and Auden!😉

  5. […] class is converted to “belief in God”, whatever that means (good review of the problem here). I won’t read alternative motives. But it’s in the vein that God needs defenders and […]

  6. Kim Fabricius said

    Yep, in the category of “Saccharine Songs”, a Pulitzer for sure!

  7. Daniel Svendsen said

    This is for my own curiosity, but does Josh ever go to church in the film? I know that the notion of Word and Sacrament is a pipe dream, but any hint of the preached word at all? Any hint of a desire to be at/a part of a local church??

    Or is his attending the Newsboys concert at the end sufficient enough for his spiritual well-being? Because that would just about be the icing on the cake.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Very good observation, Daniel. I noticed that as well, and I wrote it down on my notes. But I didn’t include it in the review, which was already getting too long. Another reviewer made a similar observation, but I forgot where I read it.

      There is one scene where Josh talks with the minister in the sanctuary of the church, but that is the full extent of Josh’s involvement with the church. There are no church services in the film. The overwhelming impression is that Josh is an independent “freelance evangelical,” making his way through life with his BFF, Jesus. None of the other characters are seen attending church services, and there is no indication that they should go to church in order to learn about God — as would have been appropriate for Martin, Amy the journalist, the heartless attorney, the professor, and the professor’s girlfriend. But they do make it to the Newsboys concert! Yeah, icing on the cake indeed. That is the perfect picture of the evangelical mindset today — semi-celebrity rock stars replacing the word and sacraments.

  8. I like what you’ve written in the review and here in this follow up Kevin.

    This doesn’t sound like it’s even close to the horrendous manipulation on display in the 1972 movie ‘Thief in the night’.

    I haven’t seen ‘God’s not Dead’, but I’ll weigh in on something that seems to have been overlooked by some of the statements in the comments section, which i.m.o betray a slimy leftist excitement over the condemnation of conservative evangelicals.

    On balance it’s probably a good thing to keep in mind that the genre is ”fiction” – it’s not a documentary or an official theological declaration. Like a lot of ”art” it either inspires us or irritates us.

    Even if the movie “God’s not Dead” has flaws.Even if a perceived kitsch triggers the anxiety of overenthusiastic critics – who fear rejection; or the movie somehow presents a simple version of Christian discipleship.

    Like with ‘Thief in the night’ or the more recent ‘The Left Behind’ series. God can still use this film, even if it seems to be permeated with a veiled Deism, Pelagianism or the modern heresy of drive-thru churchianity.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Thanks, Rod, for reminding us to keep our balance. After I saw the movie, I told my pastor, paraphrasing a bit, that at least the Holy Spirit could use it to lead people to Christ in some way. However, I am seriously concerned about those who are led away because of this movie. I read one review by a woman, not a Christian, who was brought to the movie by one of her Christian friends, and the movie has deeply prejudiced her mind against Christians and Christianity. We don’t need more unnecessary barriers for people in our society. The Holy Spirit can still “blow wherever He bloweth,” but that does not abdicate us from our responsibilities. Having said that, I think that you and I are in fundamental agreement.

  9. […] This arc of the story culminates in the final showdown between Wheaton and Radisson. Theoblogger Kevin Davis (After Existentialism, Light) has done a great job summarizing the ridiculousness of this part (here and here): […]

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