I’m always a bit skeptical of Christian movies. Being both a Christian and a pastor, my concern arises out of a deep desire for both Christians and non-Christians to see a compelling, winsome portrayal of whatever dimension of Christianity is shown in a movie.
Without sounding to harsh, most of the time Christian movies are plagued with bad acting, unrealistic portrayals of life, and awkward slogans the average person wouldn’t find compelling whatsoever—only cheesy, forced, and awkward.
But, every time a new movie comes out aiming to convey a part of the Christian message, I still find myself hopeful that many of these errors will be corrected. So, recently I went to see the new Christian movie: God’s Not Dead 2. I had seen the first, but was quite disappointed. Being someone very concerned with the apologetic witness of Christians, I found the movie to be very unrealistic.
The idea of a college philosophy professor being bested by the newly found arguments of a young freshman is disrespectful to our thoughtful atheist friends who are pretty familiar with the arguments brought up by young Josh Wheaton (the star of the first movie). Among many other reasons, this is one reason I found the movie to be a disappointment
However, I was aware that there were some bigger named actors who were going to be in the sequel (Ernie Hudson, Jesse Metcalfe, Melissa Joan Heart) and more important for me, some legitimate Christian thinkers who were going to make appearances in which they gave evidence for the Christian faith. These thinkers included Gary Habermas, J. Warner Wallace, and Lee Strobel, all of whom I’ve read and each of whom I’ve benefited from greatly.
A Few Problems that Need to Stop
As the movie got underway, there were a couple of moments I wasn’t crazy about, but could handle: some bad acting here and there, a few moments of Christian cheese, and some generally unrealistic conversations. But some of these conversations were just too unrealistic for me not to be a little troubled by.
For example, one of the pivotal turning points for the young Brooke Thawley comes when she asks her teacher, Grace Wesley, how she doesn’t let anything in life get to her. At this point, the average Christian might let Brooke know that things do get to us. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we have received spiritual kevlar that keeps us from being affected by adversity in life.
It’s not that things don’t get to us, but rather when things do get to us, we look to Jesus and have the truth of the gospel to keep us going. Something along these lines would have been expected for such a question raised to the average Christian. But Grace’s response was simply, “Jesus”—an answer Brooke seemed to somehow understand and be satisfied with. Now, I don’t know about you, but just saying “Jesus” in response to a question doesn’t do anything to explain exactly how Jesus helps us or what Jesus has done that gives us strength.
Moreover, if this conversation were to take place in real life, any honestly searching person would have responded to Grace’s answer with, “What do you mean by that?” or “What does that mean, exactly?” But such a response was absent. I think if Christian movies are going to have any hope of connecting with people in any meaningful way, the first thing they must do is stop creating conversations and statements that simply don’t work in real life.
Secondly, anyone watching the movie would have left with a general sense that the American Civil Liberties Union is the enemy of Christianity in America. This was a fact a friend of mine pointed out after the movie—a fact I had conspicuously missed while watching it. I’ve personally been aware of court cases across the country in which the ACLU has argued against Christians in various domains, so I didn’t have a problem with the ACLU being the ones prosecuting.
But my friend pointed out that establishing a specific institution, one which is known in American society, as the chief protagonist of a movie creates a general impression that paints with too broad a brush. Especially when there are several examples in which the ACLU has fought for Christians in numerous cases—a fact that has been well documented.
If Christian movies are trying to achieve their goal of reaching the culture, then being fair and accurate to the facts in culture is an essential feature they must adopt. The apostle Paul calls us to be wise toward outsiders (Col. 4:5). Exaggeration, generalization, and over-simplification are not wise strategies for reaching the culture and further hinder the church from articulating a truthful witness of Christ to the world. If anything, they create the wrong impression in the mind of Christians and further separate us from the real-life conversations we need to have with those far from Christ.
The Best Part of the Movie
All that being said, there are some accurate moments in the movie that are not exaggerations. For example, the subpoena the local pastors received in the movie to submit all their sermons for the past three years is very similar to what happened last year in the city of Houston. Outlandish as it seems, this is something that has a historical precedent and is not a moment of exaggeration for the movie.
Further, the chief attorney for the ACLU in the movie began his opening remarks in the court case by referring to the importance of the separation of church and state, to which Grace’s defense attorney rightly pointed out that this is a misuse of the phrase as Thomas Jefferson intended it. Such incorrect use of the phrase occurs quite often, just refer to any recent YouTube video or social media post in which religion and politics were blended together and you’ll see what I mean.
In addition, there is a moment in the movie when young Martin, a student from Asia who becomes a Christian in the first movie, receives a visit from his father. In the course of their conversation, Martin’s father tells him that he is no longer his son, simply because he has embraced Christianity and in his words, thrown away everything they had planned for him. Again, this is a depiction of something that does happen and continues to happen on a regular basis.
But the best part of the movie, in my opinion, actually had nothing to do with the plot-line, ending, or anything of that sort. Rather, I think the best part of the movie was the awareness created for the legitimate work of men like Habermas, Wallace, and Strobel. The very fact that both Strobel and Wallace’s books were mentioned was a win in my book, because it will hopefully encourage curious Christians to check out these works for themselves, rather than settle for the cheesy slogans found in the movie.
If I’m honest, that’s really my hope for both Christians and non-Christians who see this movie: look past the cheesy, unrealistic moments and go purchase the works of Habermas, Strobel, Wallace and others who have done serious work in the field of Christian apologetics. Wallace actually maintains an incredible website with a treasure chest of useful information to anyone looking for serious answers to legitimate questions.
So, please—don’t settle for movies like this as the best Christianity has to offer in making the case for itself. If you take the lines and slogans from the movie into real life, you will not have a good chance of connecting with people and making a legitimate case for Christ. On the other hand, if you see this as an opportunity for us to do better, then I would encourage you to study your faith (2 Tim. 1:13), be ready to give an answer (1 Pet. 3:15), and put your self in positions to do so (Matt. 5:13–16). Build friendships with non-Christians, let them know you care, and within that environment, be ready to share the gospel and answer the questions that come your way.
In the end, I’m grateful for the attempt being made by believers genuinely concerned to reach the world with the truth of Christ, but until Christian movies improve in several areas, I cannot see them being an effective means of doing so. Unfortunately, I do not see God’s Not Dead 2 helping the cause very much.