“God’s Not Dead”
A problem faced by Christian artists – not only filmmakers, but also poets, painters, and rappers – arises from the idea that a believer’s faith encompasses their entire identity, and so their work: where faith is fixed, is there room for invention? Does a Christian filmmaker have a peculiar and personal worldview to imbue his films with, distinct from that of other Christians? Can he create, embellish, or discover a self by way of cinema, where Christianity has not already provided for this? The very best devotional art would argue in the affirmative, and the music of Bach, the poems of John Donne, and films such as Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder prove some of the most daring and original, while also profound and heartfelt works existing. To contradict Dr Samuel Johnson, great minds and great wit do not sink under the heft of the good and evil of eternity, not merely content with calm belief and humble adoration.
Unfortunately, Harold Cronk, the director of the overtly Christian film God’s Not Dead, seems no great wit at all. I’m not aware if Cronk is Christian himself, but the film’s subject and story allow for no other stance. The main plot, a sort of update of the David and Goliath tale, is simple enough, both immediately obvious in purpose, and ludicrous in conception. A first year university student, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), aspiring lawyer and devout evangelical, enrols in a philosophy course taught by the zealously atheistic Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Intent on not disappointing astute forecasters in the audience (and those of us who saw the trailer), the two partisans collide, in the first class no less. Radisson – obnoxious, high-handed, and fanatically protective of his reputation – requires each student in the class to hand in a signed statement of just three words: “God is dead.” He insists that anyone who disagrees will have no luck in arguing to the contrary, and a failing grade surely awaits anyone who tries. This consensus affirmation, he claims, is in the interest of efficiency, so that a section of the syllabus, with a conclusion agreed upon by millennia of respected philosophers, may be gotten through with minimum fuss. Josh refuses to hand it in, citing his faith, and Radisson commands that Josh must then contend his case over three lectures, with the class deciding the winner.