The absolutely unscientific research I’ve done into the God’s Not Dead movie franchise suggests that most Christians think that it is the best thing since the “Left Behind” book series. This saddens me.
Nice is not a fruit of the Spirit, and I don’t intend to use it. So, for what it is worth, here is my review of God’s Not Dead.
Yes, I watched it. Last night. The first one, on Netflix, because I didn’t want to spend any money.
If you’re a Christian and you’ve enjoyed either of the God’s Not Dead tickets, you need to know that I don’t think less of you. I respect you as much as I ever have. No joke. The fact is that I would prefer you didn’t read this blog post. I’m afraid I may offend you, and I’d rather not. I would like to use nasty words to describe this film, and articulate my desire to burn the studio responsible for it to the ground, but I am worried that such language will alienate you and I, and destroy what little respect you may still have for me, after that meme I posted a couple weeks ago.
Having said that, I will do my best to make a reasoned case for my point of view. No promises.
In their 4-star review of this film, even Focus on the Family admitted that, “Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.” (http://www.pluggedin.ca/movie-reviews/gods-not-dead/) So much for the “Friend of Sinners” subplot in Jesus’ life.
I would add to this that most of the Christians are sugar and spice and everything nice, victims of persecution. But in the end of course they win, making sure we know that this is indeed about North American Christianity, because victory is a virtue here while losing has got to be one of the infamous Seven Deadly. The credits include a list of court cases that inspired the movie, giving an air of reality.
So, were the producers trying to paint a picture of what is, OR what should be? I was confused. Still am. Because a better movie could be made about Christian parents who abuse and kick out their homosexual kids, frightened pastor’s kids who get abortions because of their religious communities, and pagan intellectuals who understand that debate can come from a place of mutual respect. That would be just as close to reality. Let’s acknowledge kingdom values and have the well-groomed protagonist lose more than his bitchy girlfriend. It can be done.
Now let’s talk about persecution – one of the overwhelming themes of this show. Practically speaking, will opposition to the Christian message continue to increase in our society? Yes. Taking the big picture into consideration, have we experienced enough persecution to begin high-fiving one another? Oh, please. Here is today’s reality check. There is no systematic, state-sponsored persecution of Christians in North America. Period. Baking cakes and other such things do not count, people. Sure, there are uncomfortable hiccups, but in this movie’s credits where it lists all those real court cases, you’ll notice the judges regularly upholding the rights of believers.
Another thing. Every time a Christian needs help in this movie, they get a little sermon and a polite smile. Here is a partial list of problems, with the solutions given in the movie:
Q: God needs to be defended, but I’m scared.
A: Don’t disappoint God. Here are Bible verses to read.
Q: I got kicked out of my house for being a Christian.
A: Here’s some verses, we love you, and you’ll forget about your homelessness by the time you get to the Newsboys concert.
Q: The car won’t start.
A: God has other plans. Getting a rental car or a mechanic shows a lack of faith. You know the verses.
Q: I feel like my life’s work is pointless.
A: Repeat after me: “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.” Doesn’t that make you feel better?
I’ve said elsewhere that the people with the most profound impact on my life have been those who have had to live with dark questions for an extended period of time. There is no room for that reality in GND’s world.
In a nutshell, this movie is more concerned with being right than real. It mentions Jesus, but portrays a brand of Christianity that applauds pat answers more than action. It caricatures and alienates unbelievers. Providing a half-baked culturally relevant venue for preaching (to the choir) was obviously a higher priority than creating moving-picture art that would stimulate thinking and portray experiential High Truth. There are just as many cultural and political references to how Christians should vote, eat and clothe themselves as there are to Jesus himself. It represents everything I hate about the artificial, politically driven bubble we call Western Christianity (Christianism?).
I prefer the real life version. My mechanic is deeply involved in the lives of his employees, because of Jesus. My pastoral friends in the States minister to “the least of these”, for Jesus’ sake. My missionary friends eat with Muslims and Bhuddists and Hindus in places I can’t even publish, because no sacrifice is too great. My best friend hangs out with gay church kids and atheists who aren’t welcome in any religious homes. These are my heroes (many of whom appreciated this movie and laud those in the same genre.)
Sure, the protagonist in this movie is a hero of sorts, I guess. But his world simply doesn’t exist. Nor should it.
I suspect this film was popular because we like to have the underdog validated, especially when he’s fighting for our faith. Fair enough. If there are other reasons, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll skip the rest of the franchise and wait until someone has the balls to do another End of the Spear, Believe Me or The Passion – films that are more closely aligned with what we should aspire to.