I am pleased to present a review of the film God’s Not Dead from guest writer (and my friend) Ken Mann. Ken is currently wrapping up his M.A. in Science and Religion at Biola University and is a regular contributor to Dr. Holly Ordway’s website, Hieropraxis. He resides with his family in Colorado.
I have a confession to make. When I first saw the trailer for God’s Not Dead, I winced. Perhaps it was the brevity of the medium. Perhaps it was the “David against Goliath” theme being wielded (at least in the trailer) with the subtlety of a nuclear weapon. Perhaps it was simply my fear it would be another in a long line of poorly executed Christian themed films.
I have never been more pleased to be so wrong. Having viewed the film this weekend with my 18-year-old daughter, I could hardly wait to write about it. I believe every Christian should see this movie. They should become familiar with some of the apologetics material in it and take an atheist/skeptic friend to see it. The conversations that would follow would be wonderful, even epic.
Allow me to review the film from two different perspectives: as an apologist and as a filmgoer.
As an apologist, going in I was especially worried. From the trailer, it seemed obvious that the Problem of Evil as well as the existence of God were part of the story. Making such material accessible and presenting it in the necessarily compressed context of a film narrative are daunting challenges. A college classroom and an arrogant philosophy professor are wonderful vehicles for the film’s protagonist (Shane Harper) to present scientific arguments for God’s existence. The nerds of scientific apologetics (like myself) will be awed at the name-dropping (Hawking, Dawkins, Lennox and Lemaître) and potent quotations (“Philosophy is dead.”). The casual viewer not familiar such material will hopefully come away with the strong impression that the Christian view of reality, as seen in the history of the universe, is rational and plausible.
The problem of evil plays a prominent role in the film’s overall narrative, while playing a very minor role in the apologetics dialogue of the classroom. Since I want to avoid spoiling the film, I will simply say that the problem of evil is real and has “nasty pointy teeth.” There are some difficult, gut wrenching moments, which serve to drive home the necessity of grappling with the question of God.
Overall, I would describe the apologetic elements of the film as tight, clear and effective.
As a filmgoer I was pleased. The story never dragged and kept four different yet interrelated storylines moving toward a significant and powerful collision at the end of the film. As I experienced it, there were only a few times when the dialogue seemed stilted. After certain plot elements were injected into the story, the scene ends abruptly. However, these minor annoyances were overshadowed by a well-acted and well-paced story where almost every character, even the atheist, was sympathetic. I wept. I cheered. I was completely captivated.
Finally, let me share the analysis that came from my conversation with my daughter. As much as she shared my reaction to the film as we watched it, she commented on the way home, “It worked well as a draft.” As effective and well done as it was, it had many rough edges. It was as if, once the apologetics scenes were tight, and the entire screenplay was deemed short enough, they went ahead a started shooting. At a mere 113 minutes, some pacing could have been sacrificed for the sake of narrative exposition.
Finally, as both an apologist and reviewer, there is an element of the story that simultaneously works for and against film. Anyone familiar with Greg Koukl’s Tactics knows, the concept of a student challenging a professor in the professor’s classroom, is absurd. The professor is the authority, the expert in their field, they “own the microphone,” and is, in effect “god” in the class. In that sense, the central storyline of the film seems implausible.
Yet this very element works as the most important message of the film. It is implied that Shane Harper’s character, Josh Wheaton, has been a Christian a long time (at least six years), but not fluent in apologetics. He neglects all of his other classes to read and prepare for his “lectures” in the hostile philosophy class. In his first lecture, he is tentative and ultimately stumped by a single Stephen Hawking quotation. During his third and final lecture Josh has been transformed. He began convinced (seemingly by the Holy Spirit) of the necessity of his task. He ends inspired and emboldened by what he has learned.
That is the most powerful message of the film. Those who are willing to study (philosophy, science and theology) will be given the confidence of the truth, a confidence to assault any fortress, any idea, which denies the reality of God.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
 I have written on this topic in a five part series and I am currently working my way through The Many Faces of Evil. This is a deep and complex topic, but every Christian needs to be familiar with the subject.
Ken Mann is a graduate student in Biola’s Science and Religion program. Ken is a software engineer by way of vocation, a physicist by way of education, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ, in his words, by necessity. Ken is the Chapter Director of Ratio Christi at the University of Colorado, Boulder. You can also connect with Ratio Christi at CU on Facebook and follow him on Twitter at @gadgetmann.