The Newsboys, who make an appearance in "God's Not Dead," at Creationfest 2007. Photo by Informant via Flickr (

The Newsboys, who make an appearance in “God’s Not Dead,” at Creationfest 2007. Photo courtesy of Informant via Flickr

The fact of a movie being the #1 Christian film in America is not, on the surface, much of a distinction. Christian movies are routinely panned and their box office sales don’t typically amount to much. So, when God’s Not Dead opened as the fifth-highest grossing film last weekend, people started talking.

God’s Not Dead doesn’t have much in the way of star power, unless you count Kevin Sorbo, Dean Cain, or cameos from Duck Dynasty‘s Korie and Willie Robertson.The premise is simple enough: A college freshman takes a philosophy course in which his professor requires every student to sign a pledge affirming that God is dead. The student, a devout Christian, refuses to sign and he and  the professor spend their time debating each other and trying to sway all the rest of the class to their side. “Your acceptance of this challenge may be the only meaningful exposure to God and Jesus [these students] ever have,” a friend tells Josh Wheaton, our protagonist, in the trailer.

In what some have called the year of the Bible, it may not be surprising that God’s Not Dead has done so well. It opened on 780 screens across America, no small number but certainly far fewer than a big studio film. Targeted marketing to churches and Christian groups proved effective in getting the right people into the theaters, earning a respectable $8.5 million over its first weekend. And, as a post at Moviefone has pointed out, “It’s contemporary. Christian movies with modern-day settings, like this one, or ‘Courageous,’ or ‘Fireproof,’ tend to open between $6 and $9 million. Period movies, like ‘Christmas Candle,’ are lucky to earn half that much during their entire run.”

The interesting thing about the contemporary nature of the film is that it comes at a time when higher education and conservative evangelical Christianity are more and more at conflict. Ohio’s Cedarville University has been through a mess of faculty turnover in the last year, culminating in restricting course offerings taught by women to female students. Bryan College, in Tennessee, is newly requiring faculty members to sign a pledge stating they believe, among other things, that God created Adam and Eve in an instant and that humans are not descended from any other life forms. It may be that those on the inside of this shift toward fundamentalism in the classroom have finally found their movie in God’s Not Dead, even though the thought of a philosophy professor requiring his students to sign a pledge against belief in God seems like the worst of straw man arguments. I would imagine that, for some of those folks, it may feel like a kind of triumph to see Kevin Sorbo’s Professor Radisson get his comeuppance — and delivered by a college freshman, at that! “A little child will lead them,” comes to mind.

Critics have found things to enjoy about God’s Not Dead; or at least things not to pan: “The film is slickly produced, with a competent cast, and although it sometimes stacks the deck shamelessly in defense of its credo, it does allow a few dissenting voices to slip into the debate,” said Stephen Farber at The Hollywood Reporter. Its earnings speak for themselves, and it’s possible that the film only does better before it leaves theaters. But that would be a surprise. People will either love it or hate it, and as The Christian Science Monitor pointed out, with an IMDB rating of 4.6, “there’s no shades of gray for those who see this film.”

Categories: Beliefs

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.


  1. Jonathan J. Turner

    After reading several notices about it on the internet, I caught this film late Sunday night. Did you see it too, Laura? Not quite as smooth as Tyler Perry, but an interesting idea.

    My only comment for now: I was offended that the philosophy prof listed George Santayana among the great atheist thinkers; although perhaps categorizable as a “materialist,”Santayana had a great empathy for Christianity, as exemplified by his early “Lucifer: a Theological Tragedy’ (1899), where in act five the risen Christ shows up on Mt. Olympus to make things uncomfortable for the Greek gods Zeus, Hera, and company; then there is “The Idea of Christ in the Gospels” from the late 1940s,

    If I had taken that class, I would have bruised that prof’s head with Santayana as well as other of my favorite anti-atheists like Newton and Francis Bacon. Here’s an example of Santayana’s writing:

    Now The Truth is one of the names of God,
    and one of the most philosophical; and conceived
    under this name, we can see very clearly how he might
    enter into us, and how we might, as the full truth
    about us, have always been present to God’s
    mind and been in that sense a part of his being.
    Parts of the truth can enter into us without forfeiting
    an iota of their absoluteness and eternity; and we,
    as themes, necessarily enter into the truth, preserving
    there our exact limitations and idiosyncracies. Yet it
    will only be our portraits, as it were, perspective
    views of our evanescent flurries and tensions, that
    will subsist in the truth, which itself does not live,
    but is only a segment of the realm of essence:
    so much of it as God, who does live,
    chooses to exemplify in existence.
    –George Santayana (1863-1952)

  2. This movie’s popularity with Christians shows that atheists are the last minority it’s ok to be a bigot towards. If they made a movie about trying to convert gays to heterosexuality or converting a Jewish professor to Christianity, it would have never been greenlit and would have generated more negative backlash but since it’s about atheists, then suddenly pro-bigot movies are ok.

    • This is not the team-up of Hercules and Superman that I wanted in the 90′s :(

      “If I had taken that class, I would have bruised that prof’s head”

      Given that said prof has pecs you can crack walnuts with, I doubt that. One does not mess with a man who played mythical strongmen. :)

      • I’m not a fan of South Park and never watch the show so please don’t presume you somehow know what my TV tastes are. But South Park mocks everyone equally including atheists.

        • Actually “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, out of all the beliefs in the world out there, Christianity is probably the most tolerant of hate speech towards it. How many big time shows and movies portray Christianity in an positive, AND in an accurate light? I can count the ones that do both with the fingers of my hand right now.

          How many portray Christianity in a negative light using inaccurate arguments? Well, we can start for the messy Christian references in the anime where you took your namesake…

    • Neon,

      I do not think you saw the movie. It’s the atheist that is the bigot. I keep reading lots of angry peoples comments. And you clearly see they never saw the movie.
      People should let people believe or not believe without getting angry. Is that preachy?

    • Wow! Tell that to Jon Stewart, Bill Mahr and a giant litany of VERY public Christian bashers. Give me a break. One little Christian movie challenging atheism and you come out screaming bigotry? Oh brother!

      • Stewart doesn’t bash Christianity, he bashes people who do stupid things in Christ’s name. There is a difference. He’s a comedian with a wide mainstream audience. If he actually attacked Christianity itself he would be on late night pay cable faster than you can blink.

        Its nice that a “Biblewood” managed to get mainstream attention. I would get annoyed over the silly portrayal of atheism but frankly the producers are appealing to a different crowd than myself anyway, An audience I have no connection to. It is a niche semi-independent film with its own idiosyncratic appeals built in. It makes the Bible thumpers happy to pay to see it. Good marketing. Good production values.

        That being said, I would rather plunk $20 to see the new Muppet movie.
        A bunch of former TV actors involved in a contrived pendantic drama conceived by Fundamentalists doesn’t sound worth that much of my money or time. I am sure Hallmark Channel will be showing it in 6 months.

      • Belinda Murray

        I actually went through the same scenario in 1980. My political science teacher told us that God was invented by the lords to give the serfs a reason to keep slaving for them. Their eternal reward in the ever after. He was very intelligent and authorative and you couldn’t argue with him, one guy tried. I was not a believer so I liked further evidence that God was Dead. I only had myself to answer to. So, the movie really isn’t far-fetched at all.

    • Obviously you didn’t see the movie, or the ending credits where it lists the MANY court cases the premise of the movie comes from. And are you KIDDING me with the “Christians are bigoted toward ATHEISTS” thing. You HAVE to be! But in case you are living under a rock…please Google what ATHEISTS say about Christians. Start with Bill Maher and spend the next few hours educating yourself.

      • Mike Dunhurst

        You do sound, excuse my French, a little butthurt. Watching this “movie” it was hard not to get out of the theater. This movie is a disgrace for any educated Christian. It’s director always goes for the cheapest shot and the arguments are laughable. There are countless arguments supporting the Lord’s message and all this movie does is showing Christians using total nonsense as their tools in discussion. I get it that we couldn’t expect the level of a D’Souza, but this movie is just a hateful disgrace aiming for a fast buck with an undereducated target group.

      • “Obviously you didn’t see the movie, or the ending credits where it lists the MANY court cases the premise of the movie comes from.”

        All of which were phony or deliberately misrepresented to look like the “poor Christian” was being attacked for their faith when 99% of the time they were just acting like uncivil jerks. Lying for the Lord is a common practice.

        Atheists may talk a game about Christians, but Christians actually try to give their views color of law. They try to pass discriminatory ordinances to bar atheists from public positions, bar them from acting as military chaplains… The real important lawsuits are the ones where Christians act like they own the government and violate the 1st Amendment. It happens so often, one can make a movie on that. It wouldn’t even need to be a fictional drama with has been TV actors.

        • “All of which were phony or deliberately misrepresented to look like the “poor Christian” was being attacked for their faith when 99% of the time they were just acting like uncivil jerks. Lying for the Lord is a common practice.”

          How about a little proof to back up your big talk. Yes, I’m calling you out on your so called “99% of the time”. And barring atheists from becoming a military chaplain is discrimination? What is this I don’t even…

  3. Wow what a wonderful movie.It makes me want to gobzck to mass.I personally thought it was thought provoking too. I for one recommend going to see it by the way the end was excellent.

  4. Saw the movie – hated it.
    America has become a sick, shallow, stupid place indeed.

    The strong desire for totalitarianism is alive and well in America.
    The fearful, bleating sheep are looking for a sky daddy. They can’t find a real one – so they made one up!

    Disgusting. :-(

  5. Unquestionably the totalitarian in the movie was the professor who tolerated no dissenting belief. It may not be that flagrant in college classrooms, but it does seem like the movie captured the prevailing attitude in the liberal arts communities. Interestingly, the sciences faculty are not so cocksure.

    • There are two movies out in theaters right now being noticed by critics. God is Not Dead and Muppets Most Wanted.

      One film depicts a fantasy full of strange immature people, improbable situations, some songs. It deliberately panders to an infantile audience that doesn’t like to think very hard or know very much about the world around them.

      The other film stars Kermit the Frog.
      “but it does seem like the movie captured the prevailing attitude in the liberal arts communities. Interestingly, the sciences faculty are not so cocksure.”

      At what university could there be there a philosophy course where students can’t transfer out of or complain to higher ups about having one’s religious sensibilities offended?

      None with a plethora of liberal professors.

      You do see this however at: Liberty U, Oral Roberts University, Bob Jones University, Cedarville University and any other school which claims “Good Christian education”

    • Cocksure Theist = God is absolutely, true. Don’t you dare question me!

      Atheist = There appears to be no God so I don’t believe it. But if you have evidence by all means I’m ready to see it.

      Which one of those is the arrogant jerk?

      • Theist = There appears to be a God, and I do believe it. But if you can provide evidence that there is no God by all means I’m ready to see it.

        Atheist = There appears to be no God, so I don’t believe it. But if you have evidence there is a God, by all means I’m ready to see it.

        Arrogant Theist = God is absolutely true. Don’t you dare question me!

        Arrogant Atheist = There is no God! Don’t you dare question me!

  6. There are plenty of cocksure theists AND atheists out there, to be sure. These days there are prominent anti-theists who insist that most of the world’s ills are the result of belief in God, pursuing converts on and off college campuses with evangelistic zeal! I actually have a daughter who suffered through a music theory class in grad school where the prof took regular anti-God swipes at any Christians who happened to be present in his class. So, the film in question rang true to me. I thought the acting was first rate, the drama was gripping, and the argumentation thought-provoking. Granted, the time limitations of the script made it impossible to go into exhaustive detail, but it made the solid point that there are indeed strong-minded theistic advocates out there whose points deserve careful consideration rather than simple dismissal as wishful hicks.

    • Mike Dunhurst

      “… the argumentation thought-provoking”

      Sorry, but I’m not sure if you are serious or just a bad troll trying to heat up the discussion.

      There were not many valid arguments made in the movie and the highlight scene was just a bad joke. Wheaton is not acting like a educated student being able to defend his faith, but like a hillbilly throwing stones. His rhetorics are extremely poor, his arguments practically nonexistent. He sets an extremely poor example for any real life Christian student and would have been destroyed in any discussion with a real professor.

      If we want to be taken seriously by nonbelievers we must hold ourselves to decent academical standards when it comes to discussions. This student was a bad joke and the professor just an extremely bad strawman. I get it, most of the targeted audience would have been able our willing to follow a full on discussion (as we can expect from Lennox, D’Souza …) but I’m deeply ashamed of this movies and it’s cheap shot at presenting decent Christian positions.

      • At first I was like oh wow, 3 paragraphs of critique! Then I was like lol.

        Mike, thank you for proving your skill in insults, but you should really give examples to back up your claims. All of them. Funny how you are accusing the movie of setting up the strawman…

        “I get it, most of the targeted audience would have been able our willing to follow a full on discussion”
        I don’t know about you, but I walked into that theater expecting a movie, not watching a full debate.

  7. I’m not a big bible-thumper and I’ve seen plenty of hypocrisy among those claiming to be Christian leaders, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Jim Jones and even actions by entire Churches to name a few. But these are humans who took others faith and misused it.

    I can truly say this however. I’ve never seen comparable vitriolic responses to the message of a simple carpenter who preached peace and forgiveness to anything else. Further, the degree of anger and the style of the responses all seem as though they were written by the same author. This holds true for a millennia. Unnerving to say the least.

  8. GOD IS LOVE AND FREE WILL. NOT AN ARGUEMENT BUT A CHOICE. You except him or reject him. No argument. People who hate and argue are insecure and have to be the center of attention. Jesus gave his life freely. The center of attention came from the hatred of people not from his message of love and eternal life. Even if you don’t accept God’s message that is written in the Bible of eternal live. If you live by the teachings of these words and ideas written in the bible the world would be a better place

    • Matthew 6:1

      Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

      Matthew 6:6
      When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

      But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.

  9. I enjoyed the movie. It’s nice to watch a movie that doesn’t drop the f-bomb every five seconds, even if it is in a made for tv type melodrama.
    That said, it was pretty unfair to non-believers. I am a Christian and know some very nice, moral and respectful people of different faiths and atheist alike.
    The arguments in the movie were rather diet cola and spoon fed to the audience.
    For a more serious approach to the subject, I would recommend “I don’t have enough faith to be an athirst.”

  10. “God’s Not Dead” is a very successful movie because it depicts a college student standing up for his beliefs. In the United States, that should be applauded by everyone. No one is being a bigot towards atheists. If you watch the film, I think that the characters have sympathy in trying to discover why the atheist professor feels the way that he does.

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