(The entire list of reviews read that contribute to my thoughts can be found here)
- Stereotypes, Oh my! Multiple races are portrayed in this film from the "average American" to a Chinese boy studying abroad to a Muslim who has secretly converted to Christianity. The biggest complaint deals with the second group mentioned - many reviews cite all sorts of accusations about irresponsibly representing other cultures, in this case, making us consider said student a "godless communist."
While I personally didn't feel there was any statement being made about communism here, I did feel like they encouraged the typical "academic Asian" stereotype - notably in a scene where the boy's father basically tells him "if the professor says there is no God, then there is no God." These days, when anything can be interpreted as racism or hate, you have to be careful. Especially given the message of love that Christianity ultimately preaches. There are worse things, but I cringed often in the film hoping that certain characters wouldn't be portrayed in ways that would ultimately make the film seem racist or stereotypical.
- The text "call to action" is bad Christianity. The final scenes of the film take place in a Newsboys concert where attendees are all asked to pull their cell phones out and text "God's Not Dead" to everyone in their contact list. When the film is over, it asks the actual audience to follow suit,. As one reviewer said:
"Don’t call your friends and loved ones and ask them how their lives are going. Don’t see what you can do to help them with whatever need they may have. Send a brand-building mass text to everyone on your call list. None of them will find this at all annoying."
I couldn't agree more. There has been a trend in evangelism for the longest time that I try to stay away from - the one that says "quantity over quality." Go, win souls, the more the merrier - hand out tracks, ask strangers where they will go if they die today, don't get to know them - just rush to get them to "pray the prayer" so their eternity is secure and you've done your job. No, I don't like that at all. And no, I didn't text. If I'm not doing my job of loving people and meeting their other needs, I have not earned the right to butt in with my religious beliefs to feel better about myself. This isn't love, and it isn't good evangelism. More on that in the next point:
- "Meeting needs is more practical." Spoiler - the aforementioned Muslim convert is ratted out by her little brother and tossed about before being kicked out of her house by her father. The next we see her, she is in a church office crying to the pastor who tosses some scripture at her and tells her she's made the right choice. The reviewer put it best: "An offer of a place to stay might be more practical."
Yes. Again, we must meet all needs. The scriptures clearly tell us that it's not enough to tell a hungry person "go be full." In other words, faith without works is dead. Sadly, the movie doesn't devote enough time to any of the subplots, really, so in this character's case, we don't really know what happens - after the pep talk with the pastor, we don't see her again until she attends the Newsboys concert in the ending scenes (Sure, she can afford it!)
- Christians are imperfect. While no reviewer straight out comes out and says this, some reviews feel like the Christians are portrayed as argumentative tyrants while others felt like they were unfairly all portrayed as angelic and perfect. I saw something different - reality. I saw the protagonist who stood up for his faith and I saw the missionary who demonstrated that with God, the glass is always half full. But, I also saw a Christian who dated an atheist despite knowing better, a girlfriend who tried to control her man and dumped him after six years because she didn't get her way. I saw a pastor who was discouraged by the events of everyday life like we all do - i.e. the car not starting when it's time to go to Disney World. I saw humans who all need Jesus and know it because they know their own imperfections. Although this review was scathing like many, this end statement was perfect:
"Real life Christians are as thoughtful as anyone else. They know that the world is complicated and people aren’t stereotypes. They live among non-believers and believers in other religions, people who are just as kind and thoughtful as themselves, and they do so peacefully, understanding that winning debates and humiliating people with whom they differ is almost always a useless aspiration, one that goes against everything they want to achieve..."