Earlier this year, God’s Not Dead opened wide across America, and made a lot more money than anyone thought it could. This got the attention of lots of folks, including me.
I was in China, and so was unable to see the film. I read a review, and that review lead me to write “What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking”, a blog post that has been read over 100,000 times as people have apparently been asking the same question.
Tonight, I was finally able to watch the movie, and I’m extremely bummed to say that things are worse than I thought.
This is the film that American Christendom embraced, buying out countless theaters, taking endless youth groups, and ultimately helping earn the film over $60,000,000?
This is the film that The Dove Foundation calls a “powerful film“, holding it up as a high expression of Christian filmmaking, and awarding it a “faith friendly” seal?
This is the film that won the 2014 Epiphany Prize from Movie Guide and the John Templeton Foundation, a prize that named it the most inspirational movie of the year? (updated information)
I’m sorry, folks, but if this is the best we can do – if this film is the most inspirational film of the year – then we are in big, big trouble.
On the one hand, I feel bad saying this because I know that the film was made by well-intentioned people of faith, and many of them are highly trained professionals working in the trenches of the entertainment industry, doing the best they can to make a film that will impact the world. I respect that. I really do.
I also feel bad saying this because many of my friends who I love and respect as Christian brothers and sisters absolutely loved the film, and I recognize that opinions are like belly buttons. I don’t think I’m more correct than they are, nor am I coming close to suggesting that they need to change their opinion of the film.
But this film is such a keen example to me of the problem we have in 21st century creative Christianity and the things that we permit to be produced in our name, that I can’t NOT speak my mind.
I need to pause here, and step back for a moment. A few weeks ago, I was finally able to watch Aronofsky’s Noah . I still haven’t written my review for Noah, but one of the huge things that I walked away from with that film was that Noah was not made for the church. It was a film made by a critically acclaimed atheist filmmaker – and he made it for himself, and for those people who adore him.
Do you hear that church? Many of you got all upset over a film that really wasn’t meant for you anyway. This was a film made for the filmmaker and his ilk. It was an auteur expression on a blockbuster budget scale.
And this is why you didn’t like the movie.
I don’t blame those of you who were vocal of your distaste for the movie, because you were purposefully misled by lots and lots of people into going to see this film. The studio lied to you, trying to tell you it was just an interesting take on a biblical tale, and that if you don’t give it a chance, you’re close-minded and not savvy enough. Lots of Christian leaders who had advanced screenings misled you (purposefully? I don’t know. I’m not going to accuse anyone of being purposefully misleading), trying to convince you that it was made for you and working up resource materials for pastors, making the claim that the film would be a great way to engage the culture.
They were right in this one thing, that the film was potentially a launching point for engaging the culture, but they were wrong to encourage you that the film was for you. Because it wasn’t at all for you. Not even close.
And here’s the crazy thing – if you approach Noah with the understanding that it wasn’t made for Christians – you can find quite a bit to enjoy and appreciate about the film. This, in such the same way you might from other secular films also not made for you – such as Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, or Chariots of Fire.
Which brings me back to God’s Not Dead.
Christians, this is a movie that was made for you. It had the right language so that you would easily understand it, it had a conflict that would fire you up to just the right level, it had celebrity cameos that you would love, it had a resolution that might have made you weep with joy and relief, and it concluded with a challenge that – if you did it – would make you think you were actually doing something meaningful.
God’s Not Dead is a classic example of a movie that was made to preach to the choir, and my criticisms of the film will revolve around that point.
Just like I didn’t mind watching Noah when I realized who it was made for, I found that I could enjoy aspects of God’s Not Dead when I realized who it was made for. I’ll gladly show the film to my family, and we’ll talk about the merits of the film as well as the things that could have been done better. However, I was also glad to know that I would be very strategic in choosing to show the film to a non-Christian friend because ultimately, it was a film that was not made for them.
I look forward to the day when we Christians give our filmmakers the resources and support that they need to consistently make films that we can be excited to watch with our non-Christian films.
Whew! That was a heckuva a long intro to my actual review. For part 2, click here!