Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Thoughts on the Movie Trailer for "God's Not Dead"

The trailer for "God's Not Dead" has been recently been making its way across the Internet. This has brought some polarized reviews. Interestingly, this movie hasn't been released and I have not read of anyone actually getting a early viewing yet. Therefor, having not seen the film, I feel as qualified as anyone to make a few comments.

Brandon Vogt, a Catholic blogger who I absolutely love, posted a link today to an article, 10 Reasons Why "God's Not Dead" Was A Terrible Idea by someone simply tagged as Matthew on By Way of Beauty blog. I agree with some of Matthew's points but there are certainly points he made which I disagree with. My purpose here is not to begin an inter-blog argument. I would like to look at one of these points, that this is just another movie made "by Christians, for Christians", and, while agreeing that this is probably true, focus on some of the positive aspects.

We all want fantastic movies to come out with the best actors and unlimited resources which can totally transform our society. We also know that this hasn't happened on any scale and probably will not. It's just not realistic. The Passion of the Christ, for example, had a great budget, well known actors and director, and was a movies of the highest standards. While the theaters were sold out for weeks, they were mainly sold out by Christian church's buying up large blocks of tickets for their congregations. As a youth minister, I teamed up with two parishes to buy out the theater one night. Yet, I don't believe that this movie is a failure because it's main following turned out to be Christians.

Certainly there is value in movies made "by Christians for Christians." I highly doubt that the great films on lives of the saints that Ignatius Press has been distributing are selling in high numbers to non-Catholics. Yet they have the ability to challenge, teach, and inspire deeper faith in those already following Christ.

Sherry Weddell points out in her book Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus that many of those leaving the church to become what she calls "none's" (those who identify their religious affiliation as "none") do not do so overnight. They may take a couple of years to disassociate and finally break the connection from the Church. These "by Christians, for Christians" films are heavily shown in settings like church youth groups, young adult groups, parish movie nights... Perhaps, hearing this topic addressed in a narrative movie format will reach some of those contemplating leaving the faith in a way which they have not been reached before. Many people will come to a parish movie night who will not come to an evening talk on "Refuting the New Atheism." It can also be a great discussion starter which can be the "milk" that leads them to search out the "meat" found in resources like Brandon Vogt's Strange Notions Web site.

"God's Not Dead," like other Christian movies, will probably have limited release. But some non-Christians will see it. For them, what we can hope for is the really same is with those in our Church; that it becomes a catalyst for discussion that will lead them to dig deeper into the truth. A movie that is an intelligent discussion starter can be a good thing IF we are prepared to intelligently have those discussions with family and friends who have seen the movie and ask us what we thought about it.

We do need to wait and see what the final movie holds. And I do have a nagging fear of it being cheesy or spewing falsities like "reason doesn't matter if you have faith." We also need to be aware that this movie is not made by Catholics, so don't expect the main character to quote Thomas Aquinas. It's not going to have lengthy philosophical debates. Honestly, most audiences wouldn't pay to see it if it did (present readers being an exception). But the truth is that all we have right now is a short trailer and a lot of speculation. When it is released in the spring we will know if it is done well or not. Let's all pray that it is and when we see it ask ourselves, "What good can we sew from this movie?"

"Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate." St. Thomas Aquinas


One thing I do disagree with Matthew on is that I love the Newsboys' song, "God's Not Dead." 

Feedback is welcome! (Flaming and trolling is not) 


Death Before Death said...

Just the slightest of opinion on the Newsboys' song. I have always chaffed at terminology that says Jesus is alive in the hearts of his followers. I feel that that's more applicable to Santa Claus. St. Nick's existence IS perpetuated by our internal life.

Christ, on the other hand, is living, in the flesh, in a resurrected body, at the right hand of God. It's a small point, but I actually had a friend who's struggling with the church mention this very point the other day, so I thought I'd mention it.

J. Craig King, "Theology Geek" said...

DBD - That's a good comment. It's a situation where the lyrics are not wrong, they just lack the fullness truth. I expect some level of this when I listen to Christian music that isn't specifically Catholic. If they had an understanding of the fullness of how Christ was with us they would be in our RCIA process preparing to receive him in the Blessed Sacrament.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of Catholic music in the variety of genres that the rest of the Christian world has to offer. I can give up those genres of music or I can listen to non-Catholic Christian artists. Personally, I find that the music lifts my spirit (you might say it "Lifts my mind and heart to God" in the words of Therese of Avila). I don't mind having to theologically screen out anything it may be lacking. In fact, I have been able to use similar instances as teaching moments with my children. One example is the late Rich Mullins line "I can taste you in the bread and in the wine." So much is theologically wrong with his wording and so much is deeply right in his sentiment.