I have no plans to see the latest evangelical movie, God’s Not Dead 2, precisely because I watched the original film and was dismayed by the superficial and incomplete (and therefore false) gospel it presented. I have little confidence that this second movie will do much better. Hey, I could be wrong, but let me explain my problem with God’s Not Dead so you’ll understand my reticence about its sequel.
First, allow me to quote the synopsis of the original movie from the God’s Not Dead website:
Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson begins class by informing students that they will need to disavow, in writing, the existence of God on that first day, or face a failing grade. As other students in the class begin scribbling the words “God Is Dead” on pieces of paper as instructed, Josh find himself at a crossroads, having to choose between his faith and his future. Josh offers a nervous refusal, provoking an irate reaction from his smug professor. Radisson assigns him a daunting task: if Josh will not admit that “God Is Dead,” he must prove God’s existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments and evidence over the course of the semester, and engage Radisson in a head-to-head debate in front of the class. If Josh fails to convince his classmates of God’s existence, he will fail the course and hinder his lofty academic goals. With almost no one in his corner, Josh wonders if he can really fight for what he believes. Can he actually prove the existence of God? Wouldn’t it just be easier just to write “God Is Dead” and put the whole incident behind him?
The premise of people making courageous stands for their faith inspired me, and I honestly liked most of the movie for that reason (despite the problem of the characters being delineated into stereotypes). As a college freshman, I sadly failed in my attempts to demonstrate that humanism is, in its very essence, diametrically opposed to Biblical Christianity, so I admired Josh for both taking a stand and doing in-depth research to substantiate his argument. The subplot of the Muslim girl who suffered her father’s rejection when he learned of her Christian faith also made me like the movie, though it may have reinforced anti-Muslim stereotypes. How wonderful to see young people risk so much for their faith.
Sadly, the producers and writers evidently had difficulty risking financial backing and/or industry support that caused them to compromise the Gospel. While they created characters that made bold stands for God (without, incidentally, directly saying the name Jesus), the writers conveniently avoided any mention of the atonement, repentance or hell. As Radisson lay on the street dying because of a hit-and-run driver, for instance, the pastor gently guides him through a superficial acceptance of Jesus. In presenting his hollow imitation gospel, he briefly mentioned forgiveness of sin, but didn’t really tell Radisson that his sin required the blood of Jesus. He said absolutely nothing about hell. Nothing about repentance.
Sure, the immediacy of Radisson’s death meant the pastor had little time to embark on a doctrinal discourse. But the writers could have either let him phrase things differently or had another Christian character proclaim the true Gospel during earlier points in the movie. For that matter, the Newsboys could have presented those things to the blogger when they lead her to Christ. Sadly, her conversion scene was shown in quick cutaway shots interspersed with the Newsboys’ concert.
Many of the characters made admirable sacrifices for God, but they barely mentioned the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. And no one said a word about why He sacrificed Himself.
And, for all the discussion about God not being dead, why didn’t Josh present the historical evidence for the resurrection during his classroom presentation?
As Radisson passed into eternity, horror gripped me. Had the situation been real, he would have entered hell, clinging to an incomplete (and consequently, false) gospel. A real-life pastor, who presumably would have had training in basic Biblical doctrine, couldn’t sugar-coat the Gospel at such a crucial time! Or if he did, he would be guilty of producing a false convert.
Similarly, the producers and writers of God’s Not Dead offer a shallow gospel that encourages false conversions among teens and young adults (their target audience). Why didn’t they display the fortitude to present the Gospel as Scripture proclaims it? One that might result in true converts?
The two movies, if they’re watched by Christians merely as a clean alternative to the moral filth that dominates Hollywood, are relative innocuous, and may even encourage us to make bold stands against a world increasingly hostile toward Christianity. Having said that, don’t regard them as evangelism tools, and please don’t imitate them in offering a wimpy false gospel. People need to hear the real Gospel so that, by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, they might come to know the Lord Jesus Christ.