Ugly Fan Service: God’s Not Dead (Un)Review

by M. Joshua

godsnot

So this God’s Not Dead movie surprised a lot of folks by making a multi-million-dollar splash in box offices this weekend. It’s supposed to show how Christians should respond to atheists. But I take huge issue with its ugly framework:

“Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson begins class by informing students that they will need to disavow, in writing, the existence of God on that first day, or face a failing grade.” -God’s Not Dead movie synopsis, Rotten Tomatoes

The movie seems designed to make Christians feel like a persecuted minority where evil Atheists rule the world. And the film seems designed to make Christians feel good about arguing for God’s existence. But apologetics that serve only to make Christians feel good are garbage. It’s just fan service.

When an argument is built around a villain created purely to be a hateful antagonist, the faith “conversation” turns into propaganda. It’s not terribly different from the posters used in WWI to get American soldiers primed for war and dehumanize their political enemies.

hun

People who don’t follow Jesus are people that Jesus loves. They deserve more than ugly caricatures. And our first and foremost apologetic is gracious engagement that doesn’t paint them as the bad guy in an Olsen Twins movie.

So forgive me for not bothering to sit through the whole of God’s Not Dead. My issue isn’t with the actual information the Christian student pursues to prove God’s existence. My fight is with the ugly framework.

Shrewd as Slugs, Innocent as Dingos

Jesus’ apologetics were subversive acts of love. He gave this a name when he told his disciples to do likewise: “be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

Our apologetics should follow our Rabbi’s model. Jesus was far more interested in showing what God’s kingdom looked like than proving God’s existence. And it showed by how he loved the tiny tax collector in the tree by hanging out with him while challenging him to give up corrupt extortion practices. By singling him out, Jesus made little Zacheus look like the tallest man in the street parade. And when confronted by actual antagonists, Jesus got angry and used his anger to restore a crippled man’s hand on the Sabbath.

For those of us who are more interested in following Jesus than American Christian Subculture, we define apologetics more like 1 Peter 3:15:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..”

That gentleness and respect bit is huge. Otherwise it’s really hard to have a clear conscience.

Like I said, I’ve not watched the movie. But if the promotional materials are any indication, it seems clear that the script doesn’t give atheists a fair rendering. And when a people group isn’t rendered well, then maybe you can’t expect to have a meaningful conversations on matters close to the heart?