God’s Not Dead: Dealing with the Reality On Campus
By Tom Gilson
March 21 marks the nationwide opening of the movie “God’s Not Dead”—“the best Christian film ever,” I’ve been told. I’ve seen the film in a pre-screening and I agree with that assessment, but what do I know? The teenage boy who came with us was the one who gave it that glowing review, and his word carries a lot more weight than mine, I’m sure.
Still, I’ll make so bold as to say that among films made by Christian production companies, it’s the best I’ve seen. Its message is strong, and except for a few moments of humor, there isn’t a hint of it being contrived, as too many Christian movies have been. Those moments could almost be taken as self-deprecating parody of the easy-miracle Christian film genre. I say “almost” because in the end . . . well, that would be telling.
The film has much more to say more than its trailers suggest (here and here). It’s about faith being lived out under severe pressure, not only in the classroom as the trailers emphasize, but also in home and family, and in believers’ encounters with other religions and other values.
The classroom is certainly at the core of the movie, however. Professor Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo) requires his Philosophy 101 students to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and turn it in. Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) refuses, conflict rises quickly, and the plot is off and running.
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I first heard about the movie last fall on Facebook, where someone was already asking dismally whether this classroom confrontation was going to be about chalk not breaking. Maybe you know the story: An atheistic professor challenges Christian students to pray that a piece of chalk would land without breaking when he dropped it. The story isn’t true, and “God’s Not Dead” doesn’t stoop to retelling it. That’s not how the confrontation plays out, and it’s not the way Shane Harper’s character makes his case for the faith.
Instead he reasons, explains, and defends it rationally. I serve as the National Field Director for Ratio Christi, a nationwide student apologetics alliance that helps equip college students with reasons for confidence in Christianity, and to help them become actively engaged in sharing their faith. I’d be extremely pleased to hear that any of our students did as well under pressure as Shane Harper’s character did. I was gratified to see the movie present such a positive portrayal of reasons for belief in Christ.
There’s a second question I’ve seen raised about the film: “How realistic is it? Do professors really require students to give up the faith?” The answer to that is a bit more complicated.
Yes, there are faculty members like Professor Radisson. A student at Dartmouth told me of a professor who asked students to leave their “religious biases” at the door, and then proceeded to attack the Bible and the faith on a regular basis. Another student told me, “My genetics professor kept on referring to how these religions are myths and how Christianity was against evolution.” A mid-career student related a situation in Psych 101 where “the professor came in the room and just said, ‘If anyone in here believes in God, you’re insane and you’ll need to leave, or leave your belief at the door…