God’s Not Dead

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gods_not_dead_big_2I will admit it: I am not a fan of Christian films. It’s not that I’m the anti-christ and hate anything that Christians try to do…it’s just that I don’t really care for bad acting, poor scripts, and stereotypes. Some people say to me, “but the message is so good!” I can’t always agree with that statement because the means of communicating that message are subpar. The same is true of any film.

So when this movie was released, I had an idea of what it was going to be like. Now sure, I loved Hercules and Lois and Clark as a kid, but even Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain weren’t enough to sell me on this movie. I decided to wait to watch the film until I could be as unbiased as possible. After much thought on it, I decided to see if all the praise for the movie was valid or if it was just the usual, “Christians released a movie in theaters and it rocks!”

After waiting about a week since watching it, I decided to give you some thoughts on it. Hopefully these thoughts can be a jumping off point for how we can converse about Christians in entertainment.

***Spoilers below***

1.) Stereotypes do not make characters.

I think this upset me about as much as anything. Before you say to me, “But Caleb, Hollywood constantly stereotypes Christians and people they don’t like. Why can’t we?” Well, simply put: because it’s inexcusable to use a stereotype as a basis for a character — regardless of whether or not that person is a Christian. I don’t like when Christians are stereotyped in film. Unless you are making a satire where stereotypes are used as a blatant exaggeration of flaws in society, then please don’t use stereotypes. All of the philosophy professors were angry atheists who were trying to destroy Christians. You had the Chinese exchange student who’s father was extremely controlling and hated God. You had the Muslim woman who secretly accepted Christ and was abused by her father for doing so. You had the one black guy in the college classroom who referred to himself as J-something or other. The [expletive] girlfriend who doesn’t want her boyfriend to look like a fool. This problem is not with just Christian films…in fact, it tends to be a problem with a lot of films. But it doesn’t make it right. When looking at characters, we can’t use stereotypes to create the characters. We must begin with the character and move forward from there.

I think much of my problem with the characters in this film was that they sounded like they were straight out of a sermon illustration from a pastor. “A young Chinese student travels to America for an education. His father hates Christians and demands control over his son’s life. The Chinese student finds God because of a Christian’s refusal to step down from what he believes. We’re going to play ‘How Great is Our God,’ and if you no longer want to step down from what you believe, I want to encourage you to come forward and for the first time, truly proclaim that our God is great!” We’ve probably all heard something along those lines. The hardest part in creating a character is to not use stereotypes as the bouncing off point for who that person is.

2.) “God’s Not Dead” text messages really do….nothing.

When this film was released, I was receiving texts left and right telling me God’s Not Dead. I was really confused. I mean, not about whether or not God is dead. I know He isn’t. I was confused about why people would send a mass text message…it wasn’t the typical, “hey I don’t know you, but Merry Christmas,” text. It was a text that had a profound statement but with no follow-up. So to one person, I responded, “prove it.” They never did. My fear is that people who watched this movie became super excited and texted all of their friends but when their friends ask, “how do you know He isn’t dead?” they will probably respond with, “well, there’s this one part in the movie where he is talking about evolution and like it’s…you know…like it…well…it’s hard to explain. You’ll just need to see the movie.” Part of me fears that this text message was part of a free marketing ploy. That doesn’t bother me so much because I’ll text people and tell them if I watched a movie I think they should like. The problem I had with this is that, it was emotionally manipulative. There had been a heart-wrenching scene in the movie and now they were saying, “text all your contacts and proclaim that God is not dead!” It was like the 3rd night of church camp all over again. Would we all be able to truly explain ourselves to someone if they responded back to us? Or would we point them to a movie?

3.) The message is just as important as the means. 

I look back to Scripture to where they would build these beautiful temples with gold, silver, the best of wood, and everything you could ever dream about. I look at pictures of some beautiful cathedrals. And then I see our films. Some of the best architecture, art, and music in history was made by Christians to glorify God. Will this film make AFI’s top 100 movie list? Most likely not. How we communicate the message has to be just as important as the message.


 

I could go on and on about circular reasoning used in the film to combat circular reasoning (although, I don’t think it would ever end). Or I could even talk about how the film used the age-old street preacher saying, “if you were struck by a car right now, where would you go when you died?” Or I could talk about how Jesus was used as a band-aid for unresolved story lines. Or I could even talk about how confused I was at the role of Dean Cain in the movie — like seriously. I’m confused about his character. Maybe I will talk about those things in a later post.

I may have been a bit harsh in this post. Here’s why: because I really do want to see Christians succeed. I want to see our message proclaimed as loudly as possible. And when I see it handled like this, it saddens me. All of those resources could’ve went into something greater. All of that time could’ve been spent for something else. Obviously, God can move through anything. He spoke through a donkey once…so I’m sure He can move through anything.

I long for the day when phrases like, “the message is really good,” or “but they love Jesus,” or “their heart was in it,” no longer describe films made by Christians (I also long for the day when Christian film is no longer a genre). Can we work to make something that has a beautiful message and is delivered beautifully? With characters that are so relatable that it almost feels like it is us? With story lines that don’t feel the need to use Jesus as a band-aid because the unresolved issues add the right amount of discomfort? I hope we can.

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Less Faith is More Faith

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“I wish I had more faith.” I have said that to myself so many times in the past year. But haven’t we all said that numerous times? I think many of us are afraid to admit that we want more faith. It is something we pray in the dark, but something we would never admit in the light.

But if someone were to ask me what I wanted from God, I would simply say, “more faith.” I don’t want a job, money, security, more friends, more knowledge, more power, health, safety, or anything else that I should ask for. Instead, I just want more faith.

I wish I had more faith in finances. As I was talking with friends who were doing a church plant, I told them that I wished I had the faith that they had to go out and raise their finances. They just packed up their lives, moved across the country, and trusted that God would provide. In reality, this is an idiotic concept. People who do this usually end up on the street. And in this economy? They must be asking for poverty. But sure enough, God has provided for them. Sure, it has been difficult, but He has provided.

I wish I had more faith in my prayers. When talking to one of my friends about prayer, she said that she prays for the impossible and God always provides. In reality, this is an idiotic concept as well. You are speaking to an invisible being? How is this different than a child and his/her imaginary friend? But sure enough, she has faith that her prayers will be answered. It would be nice to believe that prayers would be answered. But it is difficult to believe in answered prayers when all you can recall is unanswered prayers.

I wish I had more faith in my career choice. I speak with many friends/mentors who know that they are doing what they should be doing. They have received affirmation from other friends. They know because of how the doors were opened to where they are now. They know because of the impact they are making. But what about those who don’t have jobs right now? Are some people called and others aren’t? Is God looking out for some but not for others? Did some people pass God’s test but others didn’t?

I wish I had more faith in the Church. It is difficult to believe in the power of the Church when all you see is the failures of the Church. The bad always hides the good. How can I have faith in the Church when I constantly see people who refuse to go to church because of what the church has done to them? And how can I have faith in the Church when the Church’s response to those people is, “Get over it. We all make mistakes and we all have been hurt at one point or another.” How can I have faith in an organization like that?

I wish I had more faith in God. It is hard to believe in something that you cannot see. It is hard to believe in God when you haven’t seen Him work in a while. You begin to forget about all He has done and focus on all He has not done. A while back, I journaled this:

“God, I know I have seen Your works before. God, I know that you are still working today. But if you could help me out a bit and remind me of what it is like to see you work, I would appreciate that. Because right now, you seem like a vivid dream. I can’t remember if you really did what I think you did.”

That was a dark place. That entry still strikes a chord with me.

I wish this blog post was about how God showed me everything and now I fully believe in Him and will never doubt Him again. But it isn’t. I still wish I had more faith in God. If I had more faith in God, then I would have more faith in the Church, my career choice, my prayers, and my finances. Life would be a whole lot easier if I had more faith. But unfortunately, my faith is the size of a mustard seed…at best.

We have tried to tell people to have more faith in God. If you doubt anything, you just need more faith. In the dark moments of your life, you just need more faith. That is our prescription for everything. Have more faith in God. If I had a dollar every time I heard that, I would not have to have more faith in my finances. Christ tells us in Matthew 17 that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.

The reason we pray for more faith is because a mustard seed is too small. Or at least that is what we think. We are uncomfortable vocalizing our doubts and fears because a mustard seed appears small. We will pray for more faith in the dark but refuse to talk about it in the light. Instead, we put on a mask that we trust in God for everything. In reality, we may be hanging by a thread. We can’t let people know that, though. Otherwise, they will think of us as “less” of a believer.

It is hard to have faith. That is undeniable. Wishing you had more faith does not make you less of a Christian. In fact, it makes you more dependent upon Christ. You recognize your humanity. You recognize your fears. You recognize your inability to trust in something that God could do through you. So maybe less is more. Maybe those who say they have a lot of faith really have a lot of false faith. Maybe they have convinced themselves that they have a lot of faith but in reality, they are plagued with dark and restless nights that they refuse to bring into the light.

Perhaps less faith is more faith. Perhaps it is better to have the mustard seed.