I’m continuing to blog about the 2014 Christian movie God’s Not Dead. A key sub-plot of the movie is Christian student Josh Wheaton’s conflict with his atheist philosophy professor, Jeffrey Radisson.
Here are some thoughts:
1. The Christian band, The Newsboys, is in the movie. This is pretty ironic, considering that one of the band’s original members not long ago came out as an atheist (he was not in the movie, though). In any case, at the end of the movie, the lead singer of the Newsboys says that Josh put a smile on God’s face because Josh defended God’s honor.
This scene stood out to me because I was wondering what I would have done if I had been Josh. Back when I was a cocky college freshman, I probably would have marched right into the arena and challenged Professor Radisson; my arguments for Christianity and God’s existence would have been pretty poor, but that would not phase me. I would keep on coming up with things to say. The me right now, however—-jaded, burnt out, wearied by life, conscious about my future, and more unsure about my rhetorical and intellectual abilities, yet able to see more sides of an issue, and even to understand where atheists are coming from—-would simply decide not to take Professor Radisson’s class. I am enough of a Christian that I would feel uncomfortable writing down on a piece of paper that God is dead and signing my name to it (as Professor Radisson asked his students to do). But I would be conscious of my grade and my future, so there would be pressure on me to conform. Therefore, I would bypass the problem altogether by not taking Professor Radisson’s class. I can read atheists’ books and articles whenever I am interested in what they have to say. I do not have to be bullied or pressured by an atheist professor. (As a side note, I had atheist professors, but they never pressured me to be an atheist or to outwardly conform to atheism, as Professor Radisson did to his class.)
I have to respect Josh for defending God’s honor, though. And I would say that Josh’s motives were purer than mine were back when I was a freshman, defending God’s existence against atheists in online forums. I was more interested in being right, showing people that I am right and they are wrong, and validating myself by winning debates (which often happened only in my own mind). In retrospect, I honored God more by serving in the nursing home at that time than I did in those online debates. Josh, however, reluctantly went into the arena out of conviction and did so to give the students some exposure to Jesus Christ, and he did so at cost to himself: he would have to make up a lot of schoolwork that he was sacrificing by working on his presentations for Professor Radisson’s class, there was a strong possibility that Professor Radisson would fail him, and he lost a relationship. That sort of courageous risk for God would put a smile on God’s face! I still would dodge the class, myself, and try to put a smile on God’s face in other ways.
2. My favorite scene in the movie is when Pastor Dave (played by David A.R. White) leads Professor Radisson to accept Jesus. Professor Radisson has been hit by a car and is dying on the street. Pastor Dave comes to him and asks him if he believes in God. Professor Radisson replies that he is an atheist. Pastor Dave says that the God Professor Radisson does not believe in is giving Professor Radisson one last chance to change his final answer. Professor Radisson says that he is afraid and is not ready to die, and Pastor Dave responds that Jesus, too, was afraid: Jesus asked God to take the cup from his lips, but God said no. “He says ‘no’ a lot, doesn’t he?”, Professor Radisson retorts, for Professor Radisson has long been angry at God for not saving his mother from death back when he was a child. Pastor Dave responds that God gives us the answers we would want if we know what God knows. Professor Radisson then quotes Isaiah 55:9, which affirms that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and God’s thoughts than our thoughts. Pastor Dave smiles, apparently impressed that Professor Radisson knows his Bible (Professor Radisson quoted one of Job’s speeches to Josh earlier in the movie), and proceeds to lead Professor Radisson in the sinner’s prayer. Pastor Dave then says that, in a few minutes, Professor Radisson will know more about God than he or anyone else on earth. Professor Radisson then passes into eternity.
On the one hand, I think that this scene inadvertently presents a rather trivial picture of salvation. God has given Professor Radisson a chance to change his final answer? What is this? A game show? On the other hand, I loved Pastor Dave’s appeal to how Jesus was afraid (which some Christians would actually dispute) and how God said “no” to Jesus.