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godsnotdeadGod's Not Dead is about to have a sequel. God's Not Dead 2 is currently in production and is slated for a 2016 release. Most likely, it will carry forward the basic plot line of its predecessor: a Christian who is bullied in an environment hostile to faith stands up for Christian conviction and makes a case for Christianity.

Why God’s Not Dead Resonated

God's Not Dead resonated with many evangelical moviegoers for a number of reasons:

  • The setting was a university campus, the place where many a young evangelical has encountered intellectual challenges to faith.
  • The antagonist was an aggressive, atheistic professor determined to belittle anyone who harbored a trace of religious belief.
  • The hero was a young believer who turned the tables on his professor and won over his class with his argumentation for God's existence.

Throw in some popular apologetic tactics, a conversion at the moment of death, and a concert with the Newsboys, and you have a story in which the Christian subculture confronts and overcomes the hostile forces of unbelief.

The Secular Situation and the Apologetics Solution

Many of the evangelicals who cheered at the end of God's Not Dead (and texted all their friends to let them know!) rightly sense the inherent worldview conflict between secularism and Christianity. They feel the pressure of living in a world in which belief in God is no longer unquestioned, but is often challenged by naturalistic and evolutionary assumptions. They recognize the difference between divine revelation and human reason, but also the importance of human reason in making a case for believing divine revelation. And they see the university as the battleground for worldview conflict.

The situation? Christian students regularly encounter intellectual challenges to their faith in college.

The solution? Prepare Christian young people to give good reasons for their faith.

A Deeper Diagnosis

I agree with both the symptom and the prescription here, but because this diagnosis doesn't go deep enough, God's Not Dead gives us a cartoonish villain who is out to destroy Christian faith and a hero who can sway an entire class by force of logic.

Let me be clear. Christian students do confront arguments opposed to Christianity when they are in college. Some professors are hostile to Christian belief and practice, especially Christianity's distinctive ethical teachings. Many of these students are hearing these arguments for the first time and are unequipped to respond in satisfying ways. Some walk away from the church; others conserve but compartmentalize their faith.

But to see the situation as a "battle of the minds" and the solution as "winning the argument" is to miss the deeper part of the diagnosis. The problem is not merely argumentation, but environment. The environment (created by unexamined presuppositions) is what makes the argumentation so persuasive.

Yes, some Christian students lose their faith because they are unable to respond intellectually to certain arguments from hostile professors. But most Christian students who waver in their faith do so, not because of argumentation against their beliefs, but because of the environment that makes their beliefs seem so "out there," so "alien" to the university's common life.

The Power of Community

Imagine that you are a student in a university where the majority of professors adhere to something similar to the Enlightenment's myth of progress, the idea that we are on an evolutionary journey toward greater and greater heights of knowledge and technology (with science pushing us forward, and traditional religion holding us back). When a student walks into this academic environment and absorbs this vision of the past and future, it becomes more plausible than before. The perspective is assumed, not argued by the professors and students - and that is what makes it so powerful.

Seen in this light, it is not the aggressive atheistic professor of God's Not Dead who is most likely to persuade young Christian college students. It is more likely to be the subtle, yet powerful presence of a community that lives, without question, according to another view of the world – another definition of "progress" and the past, a view that relegates religion to the private realm and leaves it impotent and irrelevant for public life.

What God’s Not Dead Missed

So, if God's Not Dead only gets half the diagnosis right (the part about intellectual engagement) but misses just why those arguments are so persuasive (the environment in which the arguments are presupposed), what must be the solution?

Well, the answer lies, at least in part, in the very thing God's Not Dead left out - the Church, the people of God who showcase the reality of the resurrection through our common life together. If college makes it plausible to believe "God is dead," the Church should make it hard to believe anything other than "God is alive.”

The reason some kids abandon their faith is not because they go to college, but because they stop going to church. They immerse themselves in a culture with naturalistic assumptions, rituals, and beliefs. The church becomes something for the holidays.

The Church as Apologetic

Lesslie Newbigin spoke of the people of God as a community apologetic, submissive to the Scriptures while challenging the plausibility structures of Enlightenment thought. It is not that the Church replaces rational strategies and arguments for belief in God, but rather that the Church becomes the atmosphere, the teller of a better story, a story whose truth is shown in a way of life.

Christians today should make use of the various tools at their disposal in order to equip people to make a case for faith, but unlike God's Not Dead, we must not leave out the world where God's Good News comes alive--the people of God who corporately witness to a kingdom that has no end.

The best apologetic for a secular age is a people who are in this world but not of it, who counter the Enlightenment's eschatology with the true story of a new world which began on a Sunday morning outside Jerusalem.

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9 thoughts on “Why “God’s Not Dead” Resonated, and What It Missed”

  1. Wayne says:

    Spot-on! I did not see the first movie, but your summary and thoughts resonated with me and struck me to the core. (John 15:18-21; John 17:14; 1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

  2. Mac says:

    As a graduate philosophy student who first studied in a secular university (and now studying at a seminary), this movie has glimpses of truth for the everyday academic life of a philosophy student in greater academia. However, I thought it lacked in apologetic prowess (if that was part of the intent of them movie).

    Also, Trevor’s view seems to indicate presuppositionalism as the way to go. I understand the usefulness of exposing presuppositions, however, by simply showing atheism to be false does not necessitate the truth of Christianity (as a presupposition). A or B, A therefore not B is affirming a disjunct. Just because atheism fails as a worldview doesn’t make Christianity true. This is the problem with much of presuppositionalism.

    1. Tiribulus says:

      No offense sir, but you have misunderstood both Trevin and presuppositionalism.

  3. Curt Day says:

    Having taught in college for 19 and 1/2 years, I can tell you what the movie God’s Not Dead missed, it missed in how it stereotyped opposition to the Gospel and the belief in God. Even with the worse example of an atheistic professor I’ve encountered, I never encountered someone like the antagonist of the movie. In fact, on average, what I’ve found on the 5 different campuses I’ve taught at is a resistance to conservative politics as expressed by many Christians than to their theological beliefs. Even then, there is much tolerance and only occasional bouts of significant intolerance and we should note that being a poltical conservative is not necessary for being a religiously conservative Christian.

    What the movie also missed is that we don’t have to assume heroric roles, as the star of the movie did, in order to share the Gospel.

    With that being said, we should prepare our kids to be students in college settings where there faith is to be challenged. But I never taught my kids to expect the antagonism that the star of the movie did. That would make them too vigilant for their own good. In addition, the biggest challenge for Christians on campus is not the intellectual challenge of apologetics, it is the difference in the morals and way of life between what is acceptable for Christians and what isn’t. In addition, as I’ve seen in my kids, another issue is that kids are being taught to be more thing-oriented than we were through the use of an ever growing technology used in social media as well as other things.

  4. Adam says:

    I havr to agree with the points madr in the post. There were many things about this movie that just fell short. What may have bothered me the most was how it was so anti Nietzsche that the movie was named to defy him, yet the “hero” ultimately triumphs by behaving in a very Nietzschan fashion (shouting the professor into a corner). Hardly the gentleness and respect that Peter said ought to accompany apologetics.

  5. Vander Meulen says:

    It’s not merely that youth don’t go to church, but that when they go to church, they often don’t go for the right reasons. I have plenty of church kids in my youth group from other churches. They hop from youth group to youth group, including WyldLife and YoungLife, all week long, and on Sunday, attend “kids church”. Their entire church experience is in their own little bubble, approved by parents relieved that their kids are safely ensconced in Christian culture, with other safe Christian kids, doing safe things. But the things that come out of these kids’ mouths are shocking. No not swearing, not sexual talk, not pop culture cliches, but things like “I don’t believe everything in the Bible, some if it’s not really true, so I choose the things that sound right to me.” I could give a plethora of other examples, but that’s the one that sums up the problem. We don’t teach them doctrine or apologetics or rhetoric, but we send them into the world expecting them to defend themselves and their faith. It’s like the Charge of the Light Brigade. Yes, I’m generalizing a lot here, but there is a serious problem and it cannot be fixed only in the church, it must begin at home.

  6. Cody says:

    Curt Day, from watching their movies, I feel that the writers of God’s Not Dead like stories where Christians with no character flaws suffer at the hands of non-Christians with….many character flaws. I wonder if they only know non-Christians from the internet.

    Adam, I feel that the both the arguments for Atheism and the arguments for Christianity in this movie mostly boil down to “famous people believe this and so should you!” Then again, that is arguably what college is like.

  7. Philmonomer says:

    As an atheist, God’s Not Dead was a hugely offensive movie to me.

    Watching the movie was probably the single most negative experience I’ve ever had of evangelical Christianity. While the vast majority of evangelicals that I meet in person and online are good, decent people whom I enjoy interacting with, this movie makes me wonder if I’ve been kidding myself all this time.

    In reality, evangelical Christians apparently think atheists are the scum of the earth–people who are broken, angry, mean, and incapable of common decency or humanity without Jesus.

    The fact that this movie is so popular with evangelical Christians only reinforces this point. It’s enough to make me rethink Evangelicals. Maybe they aren’t so nice after all. Maybe it’s just a facade.

    1. Laura says:

      I’m very sorry for this movie. I had nothing to do with it being made, but it was honestly a mess and I’m ashamed that so many people I know don’t see the problems. The thing I couldn’t stand also was the insanely oversimplified caricatures that they made the characters. The professor, the muslim student… it was just ridiculous. The problems go on, but it’s a shame that this is what the general public gets to see of Christianity. Yikes.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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