The Pure Flix film God’s Not Dead opened in 784 jam-packed theaters last night, averaging $10,400 per screen. For comparison, no film showing in more than five hundred theaters the previous weekend took in more than $5730 per screen, and last weekend’s top ten, on average, took in only one-third of God’s Not Dead’s first-night revenues.*
This film taps into something in the Christian psyche. What is it?
While there were reviews that came out before opening night, including mine, the real energy behind these large audiences surely came from its trailer, which was viewed some 5,000,000 times on various web locations in its first 72 hours online.
What’s sparked all this interest?
David vs. Goliath
There is a classic David-Goliath theme expressed here: the freshman takes on the professor. The lines are clearly drawn; the battle is intense. while we can’t tell from the trailer who prevails, we can at least see that he holds his own. Everyone loves it when less powerful people stand up to those who are more powerful. Everyone loves it when the underdog wins, unless its their own team that takes the beating. (No one thinks atheists comprised much of last night’s audience.)
Who wins in the end? What could winning even look like in that context? The trailer leaves us wondering: we won’t find out without seeing the movie. That’s another reason it’s drawing crowds, and I certainly don’t intend to spoil the effect by saying more.
I think there’s something more specifically Christian going on here, though. It has to do with our uncertainty about the way we hold to our own beliefs, and the way we live them out.
Christians aren’t quite sure of themselves; or rather, they’re not quite sure of God. Dallas Willard put it this way in The Divine Conspiracy:
The powerful though vague and unsubstantiated presumption is that something has been found out that renders a spiritual understanding of reality in the manner of Jesus simply foolish to those who are ‘in the know.'”
(See also my article, Has the Faith Been Found Out To Be Foolish?)
Too many churches teach what to believe and how to behave, without looking seriously at why we should believe. Atheists and skeptics say Christians accept the faith based on what they’ve been told to believe. That’s not necessarily the case, it’s certainly not always the case, but it is definitely too often the case.
So when we see a young man standing up to a professor with reasons for his faith, something inside us says, “Yes!” Yes, there are reasons to believe. Yes, our faith has a solid foundation of knowledge. Yes, there are answers even for professors we had thought were (as Willard put it) “in the know.” For those who have been disturbed by Willard’s “powerful though vague and unsubstantiated presumption” that the faith is foolish, this has to come as a welcome relief.
A Clear Witness for Christ
Christians want to share their faith, too. We have a powerful though not so vague and unsubstantiated sense of failure in our witness. Often the problem has to do with not knowing what to say; sometimes it’s simple fear. Shane Harper’s character comes across as one who is neither fearful nor tongue-tied. We want to learn from him; even more, we want to identify ourselves with a character like that.
For my part, before I saw the film I didn’t care whether Shane Harper’s character “won” in the classroom (whatever that might mean) as much as whether he spoke with truth and faithfulness. If he did that much—and if I could do the same in my own life—that would be enough. Unbelievers can do with it what they will; their responses are between them and God. I just want to represent Christ well. Shane Harper’s character speaks boldly, with power, truth, and insight. I’m not the only believer who likes to see that. I’m not the only one who wants to be that way. Most of us want that.
Real Needs, Real Questions, Real Help
This movie is “soaring” because it addresses real needs. Shane Harper’s character faces real questions.
And the questions have real answers. For those who face these questions on campus, whether the pressure you’re facing is subtle pressure or overt, Ratio Christi stands ready to help you understand the answers.
And for anyone wondering whether atheists have rational reasons to deny the faith, I suggest you read True Reason: Responding to the Irrationality of the New Atheism.
Why Do You Want to See It?
The film lives up to its trailer’s promise. Not everyone reading this wants to see it, but if you do, I really hope you get the opportunity. And I close with a question for you. I’m not asking anyone to answer unless you’ve seen the film or you want to see it. My question is, why? What attracts you to it? Why do you want to see God’s Not Dead? I’m sure I haven’t covered all the territory, and I’ll be interested to know what else you have to say.
*(The link to previous weekend sales appears to be one that will be updated from week to week. My observation here is based on figures for March 14-16, 2014. That chart covers an entire weekend, whereas the information I have for God’s Not Dead includes only Friday night. Its box office figures will likely drop somewhat over the weekend.)