First, my disclaimer. This is not a review of the movie, God’s Not Dead 2. While I’ve seen God’s Not Dead, I haven’t seen the sequel (both movies by Pure Flix Entertainment.)
Having said that, here’s my take on movies like GND2 in one sentence.
I don’t think we “church folk” have a handle on the way the world actually views us.
If we think these kinds of movies are going to endear us to the people Jesus is trying to reach through us, we may be in for a big disappointment. While apologetic-driven movies like GND2 encourage the “churched,” they may actually be detrimental to our witness to those outside the faith.
Rather than showcasing the good news that brings great joy—that Jesus took our brokenness and has received us into His life—we come across as victims with a persecution complex. Certainly, some of this persecution is real (in a first-world kind of way), nonetheless, movies like GND2 tend to lack credibility with those not in the fold.
I find myself conflicted about GND2. I don’t need to be convinced that God is real (neither should any “believer”), so what’s the purpose of a movie like this? Are we trying to prove something that requires faith?
Are we trying to motivate ourselves to stand up for Jesus? Amen. But then we should pause and ask ourselves…how did Jesus stand up for Himself?
So I write this because I’m asking, are we willing to take an honest look at what impression we’re giving when these kinds of films are released to the general public? (Outside the church audience.) I think we’re giving the wrong message.
What we can learn about ourselves from atheists
I recently stumbled upon a review of GND2 by atheist blogger, Neil Carter (Godless in Dixie), in his post titled, “Persecute Me, Please: God’s Not Dead 2 and the Evangelical Lust for Victimhood.” Strangely, I found myself agreeing with him on several points.
Yes, he’s an atheist (former Christian) but sometimes we can learn a lot about us from those who don’t believe. Are we brave enough to listen and learn?
Carter starts the article this way…
Evangelical Christians want to be persecuted. At some level, they need to be persecuted…
After citing some scripture verses on persecution he continues by making the point that persecution in America is more a first-world problem than the real thing…
What does a faith community founded upon martyrdom do when they aren’t actually being martyred in any way? They fabricate their own martyrdom, that’s what they do. They invent their own persecution, either out of thin air or else out of their daily newsfeeds, taking each story and twisting it to reinforce their expected narrative.
There’s some truth to what he’s saying. While there’s no doubt that some Christian freedoms are being challenged in the public arena in America, a lot of this conflict is our own doing. Some of this comes from what I would call our combative “us vs. them” evangelical paradigm. In other words, Christians in America aren’t generally known for what they’re for but what they’re against.
Yes, Jesus was combative, but who with? It wasn’t with sinners.
So, instead of being listened to with some credibility, we get blasted and lampooned for what looks to them like moral engineering and trying to force America backward into the “traditional values” of the 1950’s.
For instance, SNL gave this parody of GND2 recently (don’t watch if you’re easily offended). We may not like the irreverent message, but rather than point to it as proof that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, shouldn’t we be looking at what’s behind their derision? What are they trying to tell us?
I honestly think we’re missing the point.
Are we actually doing what Jesus would do?
Consider this: sinners LOVED Jesus. Yes, even the most despicable of them. Why? Because they could tell that He loved them. So they thronged to listen to His stories about His Father and the Kingdom, to be touched and healed and given hope. He ate and drank with them in their homes, without any rebuke. Sinners didn’t like the Pharisees (who also thought they were standing up for God) because they hypocritically rubbed their noses in their sin.
Who are we more like? What does that say about us?
According to Carter in the same article, this is what we Christians don’t get…
It never seems to dawn on them that there could be other reasons why they are ever disliked. Lately, in America at least, they have come to define their own spirituality in terms of how vehemently they work to curtail the rights of others who are not like them. It is to this, they believe, that they have been called.
Finally, he makes this assessment…
And yet they are still not satisfied. They want more. They want things to be the way they used to be, back when they could say and do virtually anything they wanted to without worrying that it disadvantages other people who believe differently from them.
I also dislike this version of “Christianity.” Not because I want America to slide hopelessly into decadent debauchery (I don’t think atheists want that either), but because I know that sinful behavior is a symptom. And as long as we’re known for our fearmongering and defending our traditional American Christian values, instead of the actual gospel of the Kingdom that transforms the human soul, we won’t get the same results as Jesus.
Carter also wrote a post about the first movie titled, “What I learned about Atheists from God’s Not Dead,” which proves a point I made in my “Are sinners separated?” series (objection #6), about how our traditional view actually insults unbelievers rather than gets them to listen to us.
Why we need a new reformation
Perusing Carter’s blog posts, I find that he makes many brilliant and even devastating arguments against what we evangelicals seem to hold dear. Interestingly, some are similar to what fuels my own faithful iconoclasm. While I disagree with his conclusion about the God of the Bible, we both agree that popular evangelicalism, as it’s practiced in America, is broken at a systemic level. The sooner we realize this the better, actually.
If we honestly want to have a meaningful conversation with thinking people in the world, we need to listen to their criticisms as objectively as possible, and without condemning ourselves. This is how we learn and grow.
God is love, and Jesus’ church is a living embodiment of Love. And like all living things, we must let ourselves be pruned. Pruned back to love, that is (John 15:1-11). This means letting go of the “dead branches” of religious cultural baggage that no longer resonates with the world we live in. This is the impetus of all reformation. And we are in dire need of re-forming today!
This is a fundamental and timeless truth: when we start acting more like Jesus, and loving them more like Jesus, we will start getting the same results as Jesus.
I love you Mel!! We are waking up from that crazy dream and clearing the cobwebs as we recover from amnesia. Yeah, what were we thinking? Loving like Jesus is way better.
Yeah, it’s funny that we don’t see the dream as crazy until we wake up from it. Then, we wonder, “What was I thinking!” 🙂 But Sleeping Beauty IS waking up and remembering that she is loved by Love. And when she remembers that, she will begin to love like Love.
Well said. Thank you.
Thanks Cate! Blessings.
As an atheist, I found this post very refreshing to read. It’s nice to be reminded that not all Christians are like the ones who made GND2. You are certainly correct when you say that movies like GND2 make American Christians come across as “victims with a persecution complex.” Except without the “victim” part. And really, movies like GND2 come across like a slap in the face to people have actually experienced religious discrimination in America. For example, the city council in Phoenix Arizona is trying to keep up their tradition of (usually Christian) prayer before council meetings, while at the same time doing everything they can to prevent someone from the Satanic Temple having a turn at giving the invocation. Including scrapping the prayer tradition entirely. And then bringing it back with a new policy designed explicitly to keep the Satanists out of it while having an excuse they can use to say it isn’t discriminatory. And inviting a lawsuit that is going to cost them a lot of money when they get told that, no, government is not allowed to play favorites with religions in America. Mind, this is entirely, as you say, a “first world” sort of problem, but it’s also incredibly blatant and could potentially set a disturbing precedent if they actually got away with it. (See: http://fox4kc.com/2016/03/04/satanists-threaten-to-sue-phoenix-city-council-but-leader-says-who-cares/)
For another example, there’s Neil Carter, for whom “The Sequel to God’s Not Dead Happened in My Classroom, But in Reverse” (here’s a link if you haven’t seen that post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2015/07/10/the-sequel-in-my-classroom/).
I won’t deny that Christians can also experience religious discrimination in America, especially if they’re part of an unpopular denomination (I’ve read that the military religious freedom foundation takes a lot of cases for Christians, for example), but usually when I hear Christians complaining about religious persecution in America, it’s stuff like being required to do their job without discriminating, or seeing atheist billboards, or having to share religious displays on government property with non-Christians, or thinking that GND2 is actually realistic.
Anyway, thanks for writing this post.
Thanks for your comments, Alex. Neil Carter articulates his position well and seems very balanced. I’m going to post a video of his tomorrow. I wrote before that things get polarized when we stop listening to each other, as we see in the political arena today. But when we stop and hear each other’s stories, we find common ground and good things can happen. Nothing positive is going to happen until we start listening to one another and treat each other with respect.
Unfortunately, there’s a long history of the combative “us vs. them” mentality in Christianity, starting with the Holy Roman Empire’s Sharia-law type “Christendom” dominance in Medieval Europe, denying all non-Christians (Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.) their human rights and making them second-class citizens. Then, Fundamentalism rose up in the 19th century, defending against the rise of progressive and liberal interpretations of the Bible. From this combative mindset, the version we have today started in the 60’s with the heavily politicized and polarizing evangelical movement…rather than representing Christ and His kingdom, trying to get America back to the “good old days” (which we know wasn’t so good for a lot of people!)
What’s ironic to me about this whole thing is, while we shout “separation of church and state” we’re wanting the state to interfere all the time with anything we want, as you pointed out. How crazy is that!
Christians with a “Holy Roman Empire” mindset about America are seeing that traditional culture crumbling and they interpret that as Christianity is crumbling, but I see it as a much-needed reformation for a much better, more Christ-like Christianity.
Thanks again for your thoughts.
If we’re truly going to emulate Jesus, don’t we have to come to terms with his apparent indifference to the culture and his willingness to let most people abandon him?
I don’t recall Jesus rallying his followers to change the culture to reflect his teaching. He essentially said, “Render unto the culture what is the culture’s and unto God what is God’s.” Yet so many of us think we’re supposed to be reforming the culture rather than ourselves.
We also think we’re supposed to attempt to get everybody saved, while I don’t see that in Jesus’ recorded words or activities. He stopped along the roadside, or at the beach, or in a room in the temple, and started teaching. If you wanted to listen, you stopped and listened. If you wanted to keep walking, you kept walking. There was no one with a sandwich board trying to scoop people off the roadway to fill up the meeting.
I don’t see Jesus, during his 3 years of ministry, trying to mass market or reach everybody, or even the majority of everybodies. He obviously loves everyone, with a love that’s big enough to let most of them ignore him to their eternal peril. Ever hear a preacher say anything like that?
I fear what Jesus started as an invitation, we’ve turned into a competition.
Amen. Well said. What you said about invitation vs. competition says it all! We cannot coerce people into faith.They will be persuaded more by how they see Christ’s love working through us than by us trying to morally engineer the culture. Real love requires freedom, so we should actually be the biggest advocates of freedom for all in the marketplace of ideas. And freedom means that people can walk away and choose not to believe. But those who do respond are changed and transformed. That’s actually the Christianity of Christ, as you mentioned here.
Thanks for your comments.
God is Not Dead 1 was truly an awful movie. To say it wasn’t fair to atheists would be an understatement. More to the point. I think films like that do more to promote a kind of shameless opportunism within religious circles than anything else. They do not present y’all in a positive light, and perhaps they aren’t even meant to.
I definitely hear what you’re saying. I’m sure it painted an awful picture for those who don’t hold to Christian values. And I agree with you that movies like this don’t present Christianity in a positive light. This is why we Christians “need to get out more,” as they say. 🙂 Start actually finding out who people are and stop with the fearmongering and stereotyping.
Thanks for your comments.
Wow! That’s exactly what I was thinking reviewing the first movie for my youth group.
Thanks for your comments, Florian. Blessings.
Thanks for interacting about the films. I think there definitely could be some mutual benefit from learning to have real conversations about these things. The culture wars have reached an intensity level that blinds people to the damage they do to real people’s lives. I hope to write about that very thing soon myself.
I agree. People are so polarized because they don’t actually discuss these things with people not like them. They watch 24-hour news channels, hear vitriolic sermons or political speeches instead, which feeds their anger and fear. But when we start hearing each other, all of a sudden the other side becomes human. Imagine that! 🙂
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think we’re probably on the same page about a lot of these things. Appreciate your willingness to have these kinds of discussions.
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Oh my goodness this is awesome! I saw the first movie too with zero plans to see the second. Aside from the first one being cheesy as all get out and having basically no artistic merit (which is a whole other conversation–c’mon Church, SURELY we can do better!)–what REALLY bugged me about the movie is exactly what you’ve dialed into here. It would be the LAST thing I would ever recommend to someone who wasn’t following Jesus, because it reinforces almost every negative stereotype many folks already have about the Church. Thank you for seeking to understand and share from a different perspective. I’ll check out Neil Carter’s blog–always good to hear from people themselves about how they feel than for us to assume we know! Sadly I have been guilty of that far too often myself. Blessings to you Mel.
Cheesy…no artistic merit. That about sums it up, sadly. But what’s even more sad is that this version of Christianity seems lost in its need to defend something Jesus spent zero time on. And worse yet, we’re not seeing Jesus’ heart here.
Thanks for your input here, Cindy. Always appreciated. 🙂
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