MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, A-III
Reel Rating: (5 Reels out of 5)
Warning: Some spoilers ahead!
God’s Not Dead is my choice for best film of 2014. Yes, it’s only April and there’s still Heaven is for Real, Exodus, Interstellar, and Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Yet I think it will still be the best film, although I have to give a little wiggle room for Unbroken.
years, independent Christian production companies have been trying to
produce a mainstream theatrical film that could compete with major
studios in both quality and box office receipts. Their pictures had
ranged from boring and bland (Left Behind) to a little above mediocre (Fireproof).
But, finally, their persistent efforts have found success in a film of
real depth with actual financial bite: it landed #5 in its first weekend
of release, reeling in $9 million on less than 800 theaters.
first indicator that this is not going to be an average “low budget
Christian film” is the risky decision to make an ensemble piece rather
than a straight narrative. God’s Not Dead seamlessly weaves
together a host of compelling stories and complex characters, all
connected through divine providence and personal dilemmas involving
faith and doubt. Think Crash meets Mere Christianity.
heart of the story is the David and Goliath struggle between a college
freshman and a seasoned philosophy instructor. On the first day of
class, Prof. Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) instructs his students to write “God
is Dead” on a piece a paper that will count for 30% of their final
grade, a huge violation of academic ethics even for the most hardened of
atheists. Josh (Kevin Harper) refuses, citing his Christianity.
Radisson gives Josh the chance to prove himself by allowing him three
twenty minutes lectures to make the argument God is not dead. His bored,
disillusioned classmatesall of whom signed the paper without
hesitationwill be the judges. Not only are Josh’s grade and law school
prospects on the line; so too are the souls of his peers and Radisson
Other stories include a humanist reporter who jumps
Christian celebrities with gorilla interviews and later finds she is
dying of cancer. Her interrogation with Willie and Korie Robertson of Duck Dynasty
only proves these “redneck duck-killing idiots” are funny, kind,
polite, and surprisingly insightful. Seriously, this odd couple made
more theological sense in five minutes than probably half the country’s
Catholic university staff in a whole semester.
There’s also a sad
but beautiful subplot involving the reporter’s boyfriend and the mother
he rarely visits due to her dementia. He talks to her as if she doesn’t
exist. “You’ve been faithful your whole life,” he smirks, “and God left
you like this.” She stares forward and responds, “Sometimes the Devil
allows people to be successful to keep them far from God.” She then
turns to him and smiles, “Who are you?”
This may be the first film that credits an “Apologetics Consultant” in the opening titles (perhaps an imprimatur
on a Catholic movie is in the future?). Josh’s first lecture focuses on
science, the Big Bang, and the necessity of a creator; Fr. Robert
Spitzer and Aquinas would be proud. Radisson is not impressed and
confronts Josh with Hawking’s theory of a self-creating universe. This
dialog doesn’t last too long but gets the casual viewer interested in
The second phase is far more interesting. After
dealing with science and theistic proofs, Josh gets to the heart of the
matter: the problem of evil. Here, the film really finds its groove by
allowing the story to be the argument rather than the lecture. Prof.
Radisson has a checkered past marked by much pain. He’s not just an
atheist; he hates God. Josh challenges him, “How can you hate
someone you don’t believe exists.” Radisson counters with one of the
devastating phrases ever uttered: “That’s why former Christians make the
most passionate atheists.”
God’s Not Dead isn’t perfect,
but its imperfections mirror its flawed characters. In the lectures,
there are certain questions that are left unanswered or not fully
explained. There’s also a Muslim father who beats his daughter when he
finds her listening to Christian sermons. While this is a realistic
experience for some Muslim converts, it is an easy stereotype. Radisson
is also so overwhelmingly arrogant and demeaning that atheists could
just write him off as not representative of their beliefs. The film is
best when it goes in for the punch, facing the tough questions head on. A
pastor rushes over to a man dying from a hit and run. The man asks the
pastor why this happening. “Sometimes God says no,” he replies. Choking
in his own blood, the man grunts: “He says no a lot.” Wow. The
film has the courage to say what is lacking in many Christian groups:
holy lives require suffering, not just in body but also in soul.
cinema have the power to convert souls? No, only God converts. However,
a great film can help a person fall in love with God because it
reflects a little bit of His wonder and grace. A five reel film can do
that. This is a tremendously entertaining film that leads to God, not in
addition to its quality but through its quality. God’s Not Dead rings true because it shows He who is Truth.
And it ends with a heart wrenching twist matched only by Schindler’s List and Rabbit-Proof Fence.
a personal note, please pray for me. I am actively discerning the
priesthood for the Eparchy of Phoenix, which could require a temporary
move to Austria for my whole family. I have the courage to announce this
publicly to the world because of this film.