“We learned in Sunday School who made the sun shine through. I know who made the moon shine too, back where I come from.”- lyrics from “Back Where I Come From” by Mac Anally
There is a movie that I keep seeing discussed in Christian circles. It’s called “God’s not Dead.” The name of this film is an allusion to a famous statement made by 19th century German nihilist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Here’s the movie’s premise per its Wikipedia page:
“Josh Wheaton, a devout Christian and freshman college student, enrolls in a philosophy class taught by a dogmatic and argumentative atheist, Professor Radisson. Radisson demands that all of his students must sign a declaration that “God is dead” in order to get a passing grade. Faced with a choice between passing the class and betraying his beliefs, Josh refuses.”
I haven’t seen this movie and don’t plan on so doing. This may surprise people who know me given that I often vociferously engage in defenses of the Christian faith and am currently working towards a Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics at a Southern Baptist Seminary.
This movie is about defending the Christian faith, so why do I not want to go see it?
Quite frankly, the premise of “God’s not Dead” is absolutely absurd.
I minored in Philosophy at the University of Georgia and never ran across any professor, of any theological bent, who required students to sign some sort of statement to pass. In any subject, especially philosophy, such an act would be a gross violation of academic freedom. When I first heard about the movie, I couldn’t imagine a professor like the one portrayed in “God’s Not Dead” keeping a job in a philosophy department. However, I’ve been out of (secular) school for a few years so I thought I’d investigate to see if my reservations about the film’s premise were valid. I contacted the President of the Georgia Philosophical Society and asked him, “In all your years of experience, have you ever heard of a professor like the one in movie? Am I right in presuming that such a situation is completely unheard of?” This was his response:
“When (the “God is not Dead”) trailer debuted a few months ago, it caused a similar degree of consternation among my friends and colleagues. Most are atheist or agnostic, but by no means all. We all pride ourselves on respecting the argument more than the conclusion, and everyone I know said they had *never* heard of such a thing and couldn’t even imagine acting that way. And I can’t imagine even a tenured and senior professor keeping their job. Even their atheist colleagues would scorn them. There might be some professor somewhere once upon a time that did this, but no one I know is aware of it. My network isn’t just GA – I got my PhD in Colorado, a pretty large Grad school, and so my colleagues include my professors there, and the graduate students who I went to school with, who are now teaching all over the country, and their new colleagues.”
So, from where did the conception of the fictional Professor Radisson come? Clearly, it’s not art imitating life. Sadly, this conception seems to come from a pulpit straw man. If your Sunday morning experiences are similar to mine, you have heard it preached that swarms of Christian youth leave home for college, face the ire of liberal professors, and come back home having lost their faith because of the challenges to Christianity they faced from their instructors. Many of them never return to church.
Here’s what I think really happens…
Culturally Christian youths leave for college and get outside of the watchful eyes of their parents. With no parent watching them, they are able indulge freely in the temptations to binge drink and fornicate. When they lived at home with mom and dad, their local culture deemed it to cool to go to youth group and listen to Jesus-is-my-boyfriend-style Christian rock and have pizza parties, they did so. At college, their local culture deems to cool to listen to real rock music and have keg parties. They do so.
I have seen this happen.
The next time you hear about liberal professors ruining the minds of young people, ask yourself where the person telling you that it went to college. Did he go to a secluded bible school? Does he even know any liberal professors? I attended Georgia Southern University and the University of Georgia (party schools). I teach at a liberal arts college.
I have been to the places where faith is abandoned.
Faith is not abandoned by academic pressure. Liberal professors did not ruin my faith. Furthermore, no one ever made me deny my faith in order to get a good grade! Don’t misunderstand me; I’ve come across plenty of liberal professors in my life. They just didn’t ruin my faith. In my college experience, I heard things and read things that contradicted scripture. I didn’t believe those things, they contradicted scripture!
When I was put to bed as a young boy, my father would kneel beside my bed, read mea devotion from scripture, and pray out loud with me. Some anthropology professor isn’t going to undo years of Godly influence from my father with one PowerPoint slide that touches on evolution. Some kid at the keg party in the apartment downstairs isn’t going to undo that godly influence either. My dad taught me to value what they taught in Sunday School and not what they brewed in the still.
Read the Parable of the sower in Matthew’s gospel. Consider the seed sown in the Rocky Place and the thorns. These are examples of why, I think, young people leave church and don’t come back.
I believe God planted me in good soil. That’s why I endure in my Christian walk. Even if people like Professor Radison existed in real life, which they don’t, they wouldn’t pluck true believers from the Lord’s hand.
I would advise Christians to be careful about becoming the target market for Christian cinema like “God is not Dead.” People who make these movies and the supporting soundtracks need ticket-buying Christians to make money. I’m afraid too many Christians go to certain movies just because those movies are “Christian” movies. I know I wasted $10 on my ticket to “October Baby.” I’m not writing off Christian cinema entirely. Sometimes, they get it right. “Courageous”, for example, made me cry (more than once) when I went to see it; it purveyed a message that was not contrived.
I think Christians also need to be careful about becoming the target marketing for a certain type of preaching. I think it’s easy to preach to the sound of approving “Amens!” about the evils of worldly liberalism. It’s harder to preach a convicting message from scripture that cuts the congregation to the quick. I’d like to hear more of this kind of preaching, the church needs it. We are not at church to be entertained.
I want to be clear that I’m making no other judgment about “God is not Dead” other than to say its premise is absurd. I have not seen the movie, therefore, I do not think it proper to comment about it further. If anyone reading has seen it, I hope that it at least it inspired you to be prepared to make a defense for the hope that it is within you.
For those of you reading this who are outside of the Christian faith, I hope you’ll investigate the claims of scripture for yourself. Jesus is Lord and there is salvation in His gospel.