God's Not Dead: Challenging "The Scandal Of The Evangelical Mind"

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's the year of Bible themed movies.

Noah, starring Russell Crowe.

Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale.

Ben Hur.

Son Of God.

And, the little one that took the world by surprise, God's Not Dead.

Noah was made with a $125 million dollar budget and broke just about even.  God's Not Dead was made on a $2 million dollar budget and made $60 million dollars worldwide — That's a 3000% percent increase!

Take that, Stephen Hawking.

“The success of 'God’s Not Dead' shows at least three things,” says Paul Levinson, media critic and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York: “Big budgets are not necessary to make popular movies, there is a significant part of the population that cherishes faith-based movies, and students like narratives about arrogant professors who get their due.”

I will admit, I was skeptical about seeing this movie.  Oftentimes, Christian movies seem to me like they are trite and preachy with overdramatized acting, unrealistic plot lines and cheesy one-liners that, quite frankly, annoy me.  However, God's Not Dead was certainly different.  While it did have elements that I would deem unnecessary, this is a compelling and challenging movie that motivates viewers to examine their own lives and ask the question, What's my mission field? Where do I stand?

The film is relevant.

God's Not Dead stars Shane Harper from Disney Channel's Good Luck, Charlie as Josh Wheaton (ironic name!) who is a first year freshman at a liberal college.  He joins a philosophy class taught by atheist Professor Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, who demands that all of his students sign a piece of paper that says God Is Dead.  As a Christian, Josh is faced with a predicament where he must decide between dedication to his faith and his education.  Therefore, a debate ensues.  Josh is faced with the task of presenting three speeches to the class in which he must prove the argument that God's Not Dead.

“The silent majority is starting to get annoyed with what’s going on,” Kevin Sorbo said about the movie.  “I think more people need to start speaking about it instead of just sitting there and taking it.... It’s happening; you’re getting attacked; you need to stand up for yourself and your beliefs.”

In a world where Christians are bombarded by intellectual persecution and slandered for our beliefs, this movie encourages us to stand up for the most important part of our lives.  And, for many, it may even prompt the question, Is your faith the most important part of your life?

For me, the part of the movie that really captivated me was when Professor Radisson threatened to sabotage Josh's academic career, which would keep him from going to law school and would ruin his transcript.

I'm just a young college student.  What if I was in a similar situation?  My education is so important to me — would I be willing to stand up for what I believe in even if my transcript, graduate school opportunities and career goals were in jeopardy?

The movie allows for character empathy.

Viewers can identify with many of the characters in the film because of the narrative form which follows several stories simultaneously.

The busy blogger Amy, who finds out she has cancer.

The discouraged pastor, Reverend Dave, who doesn't feel like his job is actually influencing anyone.

The outcast, Ayisha, who has been concealing her Christian faith from her Muslim family.

The bitter professor, whose own traumatic childhood is the explanation for his statement that, "Sometimes the strongest atheists were once Christians."

It asks the question, who are you?  Are you Josh Wheaton, who would risk everything for his faith?  Are you someone who once believed but now reject faith because of anger or life circumstances?

Kevin Sorbo continued in his remarks about the film, "The movie had a great message in it … I love doing faith-based movies but I don't want to be preaching to the choir. You already have the choir. They're the people who believe in God, who believe in Jesus. Movies like this are for those fence sitters, those independent voters, so to speak."

God's Not Dead challenges the Christian academic community.

Most believers probably walk away asking the question, Am I taking a stand for God?  And I think that's the easiest message to gain from God's Not Dead, which challenges us as believers to be witnesses in a dark world.

But I think that the message is deeper and even more applicable when we look below the surface.

God's Not Dead challenges the Evangelical subculture that is often settled into a niche known for being purely emotional and not intellectual.  I am reminded of the best-selling book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by acclaimed writer Mark Noll, which opens with the compelling and highly insightful line, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."  This means that the faith community has continued to lose respect and prominence in academic circles, which is an unfortunate truth.

Challenging the scandal of the evangelical mind means seeking Christ in the pursuit of intellectualism.  Josh Wheaton does exactly this in God's Not Dead.  He researched his faith, found support, knew his Bible, sought advice and was able to defend what he believed.

Stanley Hauerwas wrote in his article Go with God, “College isn’t for you; it’s for your Christian calling as an intellectual.” This statement succinctly summarizes the goal of both the liberal arts education and the Christian pursuit of unity with God through intellectualism.  The way that we as Christians engage the natural world, stimulating our minds through academic training, reflects the way in which we come to know the Lord.  We are to strive to see the world with eyes of faith and an educated mind, challenging the conjecture presented in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Are you seeking after intellectual goals as a Christian? 

Jesus said in Mark 12:30, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

Are you loving God with your mind by committing your studies to Him?  This is not only for students, but for any follower of Christ.  We are always learning, always gathering information whether through the media or by reading books.  I believe that intellectual goals are a part of sanctification and growing as a Christian and I think this movie beautifully demonstrated that.

How can you defend your faith if you do not know your faith?

We need more Christians in the sciences, studying philosophy, getting PhDs, gaining respect in the academic community.  Change doesn't happen overnight, but I agree with Gandhi that you should "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

So what's your mission field?

The office?  Your family?  Friend circles?  A classroom?

We are all called to reflect Christ and be a light to the world.  Shine brightly by committing yourself to intellectual pursuits in preparation for the day when you will have your own chance to defend the faith.

1 Peter 3:15, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..."

Are you prepared?  What would you say and do?

This movie challenged me to continue to combat the low expectations we have for Christians in academia.  How has it challenged you?



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  1. I really hoped you would write an article on this movie! I Peter 3:15 "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:"

    1. Thanks for reading, Jesse! This movie is really inspiring, so I just had to share!

  2. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I really liked what you had to say. In my youth group this summer, we went over some more physical evidence that the Bible is true and I really enjoyed getting to learn more about why I believe what I believe.
    We should be prepared to answer people when they ask us about our faith. We can't afford to be seen as weak people who lean on a religious crutch. We have to know what we believe and be able to defend it.
    So great post. I definitely intend to see this movie sometime soon.

    Alexa S. Winters

    1. Thanks Alexa! When I shared this on Twitter, I got some responses from people who scoffed at the movie because they claimed it was "religious and not intellectual." But the irony is, I think that's part of the very point behind this movie! We should be the ones making scientific discoveries, writing books, teaching philosophy - whatever God calls us to do.

      Thanks for reading :)