Last week, I saw two movies: Noah and God’s Not Dead. Over the past few weeks, both of these movies have been widely discussed in conservative, evangelical Christian circles—but for opposite reasons.
The film Noah, directed by the controversial Darren Aronofsky, was met with a flood-like torrent of backlash from the Christian community. Many have criticized this movie for being unbiblical and anti-human. Others have complained that Aronofsky unfairly portrayed the Old Testament hero Noah as a crazed maniac. Still more have lamented that the story never mentions “God” (in the movie, the characters refer to God as “The Creator”). (For a fun spoof of all this backlash, see Jon Stewart’s satirical response.)
On the other hand, God’s Not Dead, produced by the Christian film company Pure Flix Entertainment, received an outpouring of praise and support from the evangelical Christian community. This movie had a lot going for it: cameo appearances from the popular Christian band The Newsboys and from evangelical media-darlings Willie and Korie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame; both Dean Cain (think Superman) and Kevin Sorbo (think Hercules) in starring roles; and finally, a catchy tagline: “What do you believe?”
God’s Not Dead follows the story of Josh Wheaton, a college freshman enrolled in a philosophy class where the professor is a staunch and avid atheist. For their first assignment, everyone in the class has to declare in writing that God is dead. Josh, a Christian, refuses to participate in this assignment and instead is given the challenge to prove to the class that God is not dead. Over three class sessions, he brings up traditional scientific and philosophical arguments to prove the existence of God. He is met with ridicule and setback on every side: from his overbearing girlfriend to his jerk professor. In the end (spoiler alert!), the professor does eventually accept the existence of God and becomes a Christian.
Honestly, if you take away the overacting and unfinished plotlines (Whatever happened to Dean Cain’s character? Was Amy healed of her cancer? Did the pastors ever make it Disneyworld?!?), it wasn’t a bad movie. It had a great message of “stand up for your faith, no matter the consequences.”
But I wonder, is this movie trying to have a modern argument in a postmodern world?
Many have accepted the premise that we have entered into a time known as “postmodernism.” In contrast to the reason and logic of the Enlightenment and the modern age, people today (particularly in the younger generations) are guided by relativism and a rejection of absolutes. (For a brief explanation of postmodernism, see PBS’s helpful definition.)
Unlike the professor in God’s Not Dead, in our postmodern world, most people feel no need to prove or disprove God’s existence. Today, people generally don’t mind what or how you believe. “You think what you want, and I’ll think what I want. You believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want.” Those in this mindset aren’t going to be convinced of God’s existence by apologetics or arguments. Frankly, they just don’t care.
Instead, postmoderns place a high value on stories and narrative. They are more responsive to the narratives of God’s Story and the story of my own Christian journey, and are actually turned-off by well-constructed arguments or a presentation of the Four Spiritual Laws. But in God’s Not Dead, these narratives and stories are virtually non-existent. I’m curious, how did Josh become a Christian in the first place? Why is Amy so antagonistic towards Christianity? How did Mina respond to Radisson’s atheism when she was his student? How did Ayisha initially encounter Christ and what gave her the strength to secretly live out her faith in a Muslim household? Stories like these are what draw postmoderns into conversations about God and Christianity, not scientific explanations of how God created the universe.
Noah, on the other hand, captures and expounds on a beautiful and confusing story about a man and his trust in the Creator. As he does his best to follow after God, Noah’s story often becomes muddled and chaotic, much like most of our own stories. His story encapsulates both the pain of loss and the beauty of new life. His story is real and true and profound. His story intrigues me much more than Josh Wheaton’s classroom arguments, and I’m guessing that many of my postmodern friends feel the same way. Is this film entirely biblically accurate? Not really. But Noah opens the door to conversations, while God’s Not Dead shuts that same door with a definitive and resounding bang: “No, God’s not dead. The Bible says it, I believe it, end of story.”
Let’s not shut the door. Let’s not end the story. Let’s keep the conversations going. Our postmodern friends need us to. Just like the story of Noah, these conversations may often be uncomfortable and confusing. There may even be times where we need to humbly admit, “I don’t know.”
In the end, whether you go see Noah or God’s Not Dead this week, I ask that you keep these words in mind from fellow blogger Jonathan Haefs, “The beauty…of all Bible based films, no matter their inaccuracies, is that they open doors to conversations to which people are typically closed off.” May you be blessed in and through those conversations!