Thursday, 07 May 2015 15:53

Christians, Art, and the Academy

Written by  Matthew Jordan
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Not long ago, I watched God’s Not Dead, a 2014 movie about an aggressively atheistic philosophy professor and a brave Christian undergraduate who is willing to stand up to him. It raises some genuinely important questions about what it means to be faithful to God in the face of serious challenges. In that regard, it’s an effective film. Other aspects were positive too. Some of the actors did a very nice job, the movie as a whole was visually appealing, and the actual content of the philosophical discussions wasn’t bad. I can certainly see why some of my friends liked it and recommended it to me.


With that said, I hope that fans of the movie will forgive me if I am too blunt in my criticism. Overall, I thought that God’s Not Dead was, well, lousy. And this worries me a bit. When it comes to art, American Christians have a tendency to overlook poor aesthetics and otherwise shoddy workmanship as long as the message is one we agree with. God’s Not Dead includes a lot of unrealistic (and otherwise badly written) dialogue, nearly all of the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes, and the you-too-should-take-a-stand-for-your-faith message is delivered with all the subtlety of a punch in the face.


Also worrisome is the film’s cartoonish representation of what professors at a secular university are really like. I have spent most of my adult life as a Christian in the academy. I came to faith as a freshman at Ohio University, earned my Ph.D. in philosophy at Ohio State, and have taught at Auburn Montgomery for five full years. Now, it is true that there are professors at American colleges who are hostile to Christian faith. And it is probably true that one will find more open hostility on a university campus than in a typical American neighborhood. On the whole, however, the professoriate is not aggressively opposed to Christianity. University professors are people, after all. With respect to the gospel message, we professors look a lot like the Athenians of Acts 17: some mock, some will hear it again, and some believe. Professors do tend to be aggressively in favor of critical thinking, but if asking hard questions and “being prepared to give a reason” (1 Peter 3:15) is interpreted as antagonism to the gospel, well… that says a lot more about the church than it does about the university.


In short, I am troubled by God’s Not Dead, both as a work of art and as a reflection of attitudes toward the university. It encourages Christians neither to create things that are beautiful nor to engage with the world outside the Christian subculture. These are harmful attitudes. We should be wary of them. Happily, many people already are. Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts and Houston Baptist University’s Master of Arts in Cultural Apologetics are both examples of Christian institutions taking up the challenge of seeking to create great art that is grounded in a Christian understanding of reality. And there remain many thousands of Christian students who seek to follow the biblical examples of Daniel and Paul, participating in the life of the university both as citizens of a pluralistic society and as ambassadors of the kingdom of God. Let us go and do likewise!



Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2015 16:06
Go to Top