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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘God’s Not Dead’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

4 Stars — Inspiring

With a few notable exceptions, most Christian apologetics are written for the already believing. Almost a thousand years ago, Christian theologians like Thomas Aquinas recognized that belief and thought, faith and reason, are interwoven in such a way that both support the other. Thus when a person experiences the presence of God, it is natural to bring our questions and doubts to the theologians who inform the mind along with the quickened heart. As both mind and heart grow convinced of the love and truth of God, Christian maturity occurs. God’s Not Dead is a recent and helpful example of this apologetic process.

Directed by Harold Cronk and written by Hunter Dennis, Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the film has an intriguing if somewhat contrived interplay of several lives. To accomplish the purpose of the film, most of these characters become caricatures.

The central character is college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), who is warned that as a Christian he should not take Professor Radisson’s (Kevin Sorbo) “Intro to Philosophy” class. Unable to change his schedule, he finds himself quickly on a crucible of faith. The professor requires the students to write on a paper “God is dead” and sign their names so the class doesn’t have to waste time with what he considers superstition. Wheaton declines and in retribution is challenged to defend the Christian God in three 20-minute lectures.

The helpful nature of the film is that these lectures and the professor’s responses are believable. Although the topics covered are far more complex than can be presented in a film, the implication is that Christian theologians and scientists have the ability to stand firm intellectually and not just experientially. Although unusually gifted for a freshman student, Wheaton stands up to his professors as, predictably, do virtually 100 percent of his fellow students when their verdict comes in.

The second character is the girlfriend of Radisson, the sincere but romantically manipulated Mina (Cory Oliver). Captivated by the professor’s good looks, she has tabled her Christianity to gain his attention, only to discover the Faustian bargain she has made.

Opposite to Mina is blogger Amy Ryan (Trisha LaFache). A brutal writer who uses others for her own gain, Ryan ridicules Christians while mechanistically entering a relationship with Mina’s brother Mark (Dean Cain), who long ago abandoned his Christian faith in pursuit of wealth. When Mina is diagnosed with cancer, she finds herself alone as Mark now abandons her.

It is this journey by Mina to find herself and Amy to find her hope that reveals two other goals in this apologetic lesson. Mina allowed her desire to be loved by Radisson to become her idol, and Amy created a contract with life until cancer canceled it. Both are lessons well presented.

There are many other nuances to the film we won’t spoil, but it is a film we recommend to all those who experience God or seek to know Him in greater depth.

Discussion

» Christian apologetics is that area of theology that gives a rational basis for our faith. C. S. Lewis is one such apologist. Where have you turned to get your doubts and questions addressed?

» When Wheaton’s girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford) told him not to ruin his and her careers by taking on the professor, she ended the six-year relationship when he did. Did you find that believable? Why or why not?

» The decision to include a Muslim convert to Christianity created a critique of Islam. Do you think this helped or hurt the film? Did you find the violence believable? Why or why not?

» The casual manner with which the Rev. Dave (David A.R. White) provided his care could be seen as a lack of respect for his faith and his work. Why do you think the writers presented him in this manner?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.




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