God's Not Dead is now available on DVD, video-on-demand, and Digital HD. The faith-based film was released on March 21, 2014 to 780 screens, and was enthusiastically embraced by faith-based audiences, coming in fifth in the weekend box office. According to BoxOffice.com, the film was made for less than 3 million, and has grossed $60,755,732 domestically, and $61,965,732 worldwide.
Harold Cronk, maker of family-friendly and faith-based offerings such as What If... (2010), Jerusalem Countdown (2011), and Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Conspiracy (2012) directed, and inspirational producers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman wrote the script.
God's Not Dead stars Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda) as Jeffery Radisson, an atheist philosophy professor who uses intimidation, bluster, and bribery to control his students. Professor Radisson locks horns with Shane Harper's character Josh Wheaton (Good Luck Charlie, High School Musical 2) who refuses to submit to Professor Radisson's demand that all the students sign a declaration that "God is dead" in order to get a passing grade for the first third of the semester. Because of his refusal, Josh is required to argue for the existence of God, and Professor Radisson will decide how well he does this. Josh considers this a disadvantage, and requests that the students be the ones who decide the validity of his argument. Professor Radisson agrees, expecting that his authority and superior intellect will win the day over what he considers Josh's weak idealism.
Josh's girlfriend Kara, played by Cassidy Gifford, demands he choose their future together over some silly debate about whether God exists. Josh seeks counsel from a local pastor (David AR White, also a producer for the film), but essentially stands alone in his decision to take on the Professor and defend God.
Other stories are weaved throughout the main narrative to reinforce and contrast Josh's stance for faith. Cory Oliver vulnerably portrays Professor Radisson's girlfriend Mina, a Christian who has compromised her faith to be with him, but struggles with this decision as she cares for her dementia-stricken mother, and deals with Professor Radisson's increasing dismissive attitude and belittling demeanor.
Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) does a turn as Mina's brother Mark, a high-powered businessman who has eschewed faith and refuses to help with their mother, and Trisha LaFache plays Mark's girlfriend Amy, a successful, left-wing blogger who specializes in guerilla "gotcha" interviews on her subjects. Finally, Hadeel Sittu plays Ayisha, a Muslim student who secretly converts to Christianity and attempts to hide this newfound faith from her father, who demands she follow Islam strictly by wearing a headscarf.
The film makes several salient points. First, the reality of what has become all too common in many secular institutions of higher learning: Standing for one's faith is the minority position, and leaves a student open to hostility and retaliation. To expect anything less would be naive at the least, and deluded at most. Any person of faith needs to be prepared to confront this anti-Christ and anti-faith mentality that is resident in our culture, and particularly virulent on college campuses.
Second, it reflects a clarion call. The extreme lack of Biblical knowledge, or knowledge of any traditional faith among Millennials has become the rule rather than the exception, as less and less are interested in participating in any faith community. So when confronted with a choice of acknowledging God or renouncing a confession for the sake of a grade, it is no wonder that most would be fine with doing what they need to do to pass a class—even if they don't truly believe it.
Third, as Christians we will be required at one point or another to take a stand for our faith. As we watch the horror of Assyrian Christians in Iraq being driven from their ancestral homes and murdered because they will not renounce their faith, it should give us pause; if we cannot take a stand when we are confronted with hostile arguments or a loss of a grade, what will we do when our life is on the line? If God's Not Dead succeeds in any way, it does in drawing this line in the sand, and emboldening Christians to take an active stance of faith, rather than a passive one.
Where the movie works, it works well: Shane Harper's portrayal of Josh is compelling, sincere, and likeable. You immediately want to root for him, and this adds to the believability of the conflict. Harper establishes his character immediately by his incremental stances: first at the class registration table; then in Professor Radisson's classroom, through challenging his domineering authority; then with Kara, as he refuses to be browbeaten into "going along to get along" in order to keep her affection. The progression of growth from fear and hesitancy to faith and confidence shows the power of knowledge investigated and applied as one defends the cause for Christ.
The most powerful and well-acted scenes in the movie involve Sorbo and Harper, and the movie works when these scenes are in motion. This is where the story comes alive, engages, and lives out the title and overall theme of the film. In turn, Mina's struggle with returning to her own firm faith and her growing distance from Professor Radisson provides a stark contrast to Josh's growing resolve and strength, and shows Professor Radisson being confronted from all sides in his atheistic beliefs.
Where the movie does not work, unfortunately causes gaping holes in the plot. The writers felt the need to insert other stories to reinforce the main story, when the main story stands powerfully on its own. The ball is often dropped with the dimensionality of these multiple stories, and in an effort to complete and connect each one to the main throughline, the characters and their situations come off cookie-cutter, and sophomoric, lacking depth or true engagement.
For example, aside from Mina needing a sibling to contrast her devotion, why is Mark (Dean Cain) there? Cameos by Willie and Korie Robertson (Duck Dynasty) and Christian music group The Newsboys are also problematic. Save for being an excuse to give the one-note character of Amy (Trisha LaFache) something to do, these cast-off appearances are not pivotal to the overall plot, and ultimately distract from the overarching theme of the film.
The biggest misstep is in the character of Pastor Dave. We are unclear of who he is and are left with more questions than answers each time he appears on screen. Is he a campus chaplain? Is he a local pastor? Why is he disillusioned with his work? Who is this Reverend Jude (Benjamin Ochieng) who comes to visit him, and why? The lack of definition sticks out like a sore thumb, and these characters and their interactions become nearly superfluous, and sadly comedic. The writers use the Pastor Dave character as a sounding board and connector between the other characters, but this could have easily been assigned to other characters central to the story. Instead, Pastor Dave ends up being a prop that everyone trips over while trying to get to the heart of the tale. Josh could have been the instrument in Ayisha's life as she struggles with rejecting Islam and embracing her newfound faith, and the crucial moment for Professor Radisson could have been witnessed by either Josh or Mina, and would have had a greater emotional impact.
Despite these flaws, God's Not Dead is a testament to standing up for what you believe, and how this declaration of God's existence and sovereignty holds power to transform our lives, and the lives of those around us.