God’s Not Dead, but This Movie is Mediocre

~~SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know how the movie ends, don’t read further!With a barrage of “spiritual” movies at the theater this year, I decided I would plop down the $10 to see God’s Not Dead. I had heard much better “chatter” about this movie than the Son of God, Noah, and Heaven is for Real. Here’s my take on the movie: If you need something to give you a twinge of anger, two pinches of tears, and a Hollywood-style good ending, go see it. If you want a serious apologetic to confront skeptics about the existence of God, don’t waste your money.The main character of the movie is a likeable young man, the “he-could-be-my-neighbor” kind of college student. I liked the casting of the main role to Shane Harper, he’s smart but not too smart, confident but not too confident, good looking but not too good looking, troubled but not too troubled. In other words: he’s normal. This is a plus for the entertainment factor of the movie. Harper plays Josh Wheaton, a college freshmen confronted by a notoriously obnoxious philosophy professor who dismisses God’s existence in the first class. Professor Radison is played by Kevin Sorbo (of Hercules fame), who plays the role well, meaning the audience hates him from the beginning.The heart of the movie is a defense of God’s existence given, by Josh Wheaton, to his 80 or so peers in the freshmen philosophy class. All in all, this portion of the story line is well done. I just wish the writers had been content to stick with this story. There is so much more that could have been done with this part of the script. The arguments given in the classroom were great “gotcha” lines, but not enough substance. The professor and the student could have spent two hours in riveting dialogue that could have had the audience on the edge of their seat. I wish that the classroom interaction would have brought the movie-goer to ask the tough questions about God’s existence, helped them to see the real questions that real people (and real professors) ask, and provided them more solid philosophical argument than was provided. In the end, God’s Not Dead offered only a few victorious lines of argumentation but not enough that anyone could go from the movie and carry on a philosophical argument with new insight.I give the classroom scene a decent grade for what it did provide, but I longed for so much more. I think the movie could have been mesmerizing with drama of honest skepticism, solid atheism, and true philosophical content.My guess is that if a skeptic went into this movie, they would come out just as skeptical, if not more so. Why more skeptical? Because the movie was filled and overflowing with unnecessary storylines and an obnoxious amount of emotional manipulation. If I was a skeptic, I would leave the movie saying, “They don’t have an argument, so they tried to get me to cry.” Granted, I’ve grown a disdain for the emotional manipulation that has been introduced into today’s church, so I may be hyper-sensitive to the issue.But as the movie progresses, the viewer is introduced to every random piece of emotional drama that could possibly be fitted into a single script.  Well, there was no dying blue-eyed baby, but we did have Joshua’s uber-obnoxious girlfriend who was so self-absorbed that I had an inner cheer for Joshua when she walked out on him because he wouldn’t allow life to spin around her pitiful little world. I was thrilled to see her stomp out in a tantrum, and never return. (Note to my son: please watch this movie for the kind of girl not to bring home). Then we had the equally self-absorbed high-powered attorney who was upset that his girlfriend couldn’t save the news of her terminal cancer to a day when it wouldn’t take the focus off himself. Oh, he also wouldn’t visit his dementia-ridden God-honoring mother who was the sweetest woman anyone ever met. Oh, and his girlfriend (the one with cancer) was a God-hating journalist who confronts Willie from Duck Dynasty (yes, he’s in the movie), so she can “hold his feet to the fire.” Oh, and his sister was a Christian and also the guilt-ridden live-in girlfriend of Professor Radison.  Oh, and Professor Radison was mad at God because his mother died when he was a boy. Oh, and there is a Muslim girl, whose dad we didn’t like at first, but when he began to express tender love for his daughter we learned that Muslims are nice people. Oh, she got thrown out of the house (by the loving dad) because she believed in Jesus. Oh, and a Chinese boy wrestled with God’s existence, to the dismay of his PRC government-fearing dad. Oh, I don’t want to forget the strangest pastor I’ve seen in a long time, who didn’t have much of a purpose in the movie except that he met everyone at least once. Oh, and he had a black friend from Africa who was visiting, and really wanted to go to Disneyland, and kept saying, “God is good, all the time.” Oh, and their car mysteriously wouldn’t start (nor would their rental car…nor the other rental car), otherwise goofy pastor and token black-man couldn’t be written into the script as a bridge between all these strange stories. Oh, and don’t let me forget Professor Radison gets ran over by a speeding car (complete with a slow-motion fall to the street….on a rainy night). Oh, one more thing, the odd-ball pastor is in the next car over, along with his African friend, and Radison stays breathing just long enough to accept Jesus Christ as Savior.Again, I’m overly sensitive to contrived emotionalism and manipulation. Simply put, I hate it. I also don’t care for contrived stories that bear little resemblance to real life and real conversation. The movie is full of all of them. To top it off, under the heart-tugging stories lies a music soundtrack designed to elicit certain feelings at certain times, making you like whom you are supposed to like, hate whom you are supposed to hate, fear when you’re supposed to fear, and cheer when you’re supposed to cheer. I have a strong hunch that if one could show the movie without the musical soundtrack, the audience would walk out long before the pastor’s car wouldn’t start.So, if I was a skeptic, I would go away saying, “Those Christians don’t have much of an argument—they just want me to ‘feel’ like God exists.” How sad this is, because both the skeptic and the college student could be filled with solid philosophical, historical, scientific, and Biblical evidence of God’s reality.Instead, we went away with our heart warmed.Dr. Randy White is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Katy, TX, and ministers online at www.RandyWhiteMinistries.org

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