Story: Josh is a pre-law student at an American university. His philosophy professor asks all students to sign a paper saying “God is dead,” but Josh refuses to violate his conscience and submit, even though his stubborn decision is not supported by his girlfriend or parents. The story shows the result, as well as the lives of various people connected to Josh, including his pastor, a Chinese classmate, and a middle-eastern student who works in the cafeteria. [2014; starring Kevin Sorbo (Prof), Shane Harper (Josh), David AR White (Rev Dave), The Newsboys, Willie and Korie Robertson; PureFlix Entertainment; drama, inspirational; PG)
Setting: Hadleigh University (fictional) in Louisiana, USA, 2014
Note 1: At the end of the film, the credits list dozens of US court cases defending the rights of Americans to freedom of speech, religious liberty, etc., saying that these cases inspired the film.
Note 2: According to www.imdb.com, this film had a 2 million dollar budget (very small for a motion picture). It earned almost five times that much on it’s opening weekend in theaters.
People and proper nouns:
- Josh Wheaton: the college student at the center of this story
- Prof Jeffrey Radisson: Josh’s Philosophy Professor
- Pastor Dave: Josh’s pastor
- Pastor Jude (though I don’t think we ever hear his name!): a missionary friend of Dave’s, from Dakar, Africa
- Mina: Jeffrey’s girlfriend (Mina and Marc’s mom has dementia)
- Marc: Mina’s brother (portrayed as an aggressive businessman)
- Kara: Josh’s girlfriend
- Ayisha: middle-eastern college student
- Amy Ryan: Marc’s girlfriend, who introduces herself like this: I blog “The New Left”
- The Newsboys: a popular Christian music group (they are not fictional!)
Vocabulary:(underlined words are vocabulary terms; *key terms)
- *(Sorry, I haven’t come up with this list yet!)
- *”in the trenches”: this refers to a front-line soldier who is in the most dangerous part of a battlefield, and by analogy, people with a difficult job who are making a difference.
- “It’s your funeral”: if you do this, you will be hurting yourself (not hurting me)–so go ahead if you want to, but I would advise against it
- more to come?
More information:(to help you understand what you will see)
Synopsis: Freshman university student Josh Wheaton attends an “Introduction to Philosophy” class, where the uncompromising Professor Radisson asks all students to submit a signed statement that “God is dead” so that he can skip a discussion about God’s existence and teach only the work of atheist philosophers. When Josh refuses due to his own Christian beliefs, the Professor challenges him to defend his position that his God is real–which leads to a series of confrontational presentations between himself and the professor. The class is “the jury” which will decide if Josh’s presentations deserve a passing grade. The stakes are high for Josh, for he risks his relationship with his girlfriend and parents, as well as scorn from classmates who are assigned extra readings because Josh refuses to go along with the majority. The professor is also a brilliant man, intent to make this young student look bad in his class, and he even promises to destroy Josh’s academic plans (to attend law school). Josh’s fellow Christian girlfriend (among others) urges him not to throw away his future with this meaningless action of defiance. But Josh feels deeply that this is something that God wants him to do.
One of the main ideas in Josh’s presentation is that God gives us all free will. Therefore, Josh’s goal is not to convince everyone to believe what he believes, but to empower people to make an intelligent, free choice. The professor, and people who belong to a “religion” (including some parts of Christianity), want to pressure or demean people into believing what they believe. Josh wants people to hear the truth and make up their own minds.
Several sub-plots keep the viewer interested (or perhaps confused, though they all present interesting points to talk about!). One sub-plot involves the endless delays and curious incidents that hinder Josh’s pastor (Dave) and his African missionary friend (Jude) from driving to Disneyworld. Another sub-plot involves foreign-student Ayisha, who is at odds with her father’s conservative Muslim religious principles. We also follow the professor’s girlfriend (Mina) and her hotshot businessman brother (Mark), their mentally ill mother, and Mark’s busy-blogger girlfriend (who receives bad news from a doctor). –adapted from a synopsis written by ChazzMatt and posted at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2528814/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ql_6
(A) If you were Josh, and you heard a lecture like this on the first day of class, what would you have done, and why?
(B) Let’s say you are studying abroad. Can you think of anything you believe or anything about your home country/culture that you think you would “risk so much” to defend? If so, explain. If not, why not? (Do you think that people should have deeply-held convictions?)
(C) What do you think of what Ayisha’s father said to her? (See dialog 5) Later, he beat her and kicked her out of his house. Do you understand why he did this? [Accurately, I think, the film showed that this latter decision was very hard for both of them.]
(D) Also talk about the interaction between Martin and his father.
(E) I think that Ayisha, Martin and Josh all had fathers who refused to let their son/daughter think and decide for themselves. They wanted to force their own worldview or choices on their children. What other similarities and differences did you see in the relationships between parents and their adult children? [At the very least, I think they showed that what we believe—right or wrong—should have a big effect on what we do. Comment on or illustrate this, if you wish.]
(F) Talk about the relationship between Josh and his girlfriend (of six years). If you had been one of them, what might you have done differently?
(G) What is the point of all the delays that Pastor Dave and his friend experience? (the car won’t start, the rental car is broken, the crowd blocks the way…)
Sentences/dialogs from the movie:(One of our favorite “movie websites” is http://www.imdb.com/, which is a great source of movie information; blue indicates a key dialog or sentence)
- 1. Freshman Registration Advisor: You might want to think about a different instructor.
- Josh Wheaton: Because?
- Advisor: Let’s just say you’re wandering into the snake pit. I’d recommend Patel or maybe Mueller.
- Josh Wheaton: Come on, man, it can’t be that bad.
- Advisor: Think Roman Colosseum, lions, people cheering for your death…
- Josh Wheaton: Yeah, but I’d have to rearrange my whole schedule. I don’t think I can really…
- Advisor: It’s your funeral. Last drop date is the 22nd; you might want to keep that in mind.
- 2. Prof: This semester, I propose that we refuse to waste our limited time together debating the existence of “the big man in the sky,” the myth of a benevolent, all-powerful, supernatural being. God is dead. This is, of course, a metaphor, but an illustrative one, meaning not that God has somehow died, but rather that he never existed in the first place, other than in the depths of our forebears’ imaginations. He was a useful fairy tale in ages gone by, when his fiery anger was used to explain away plagues and crop failures, diseases and disasters, which we now ascribe to bacteria and viruses, chromosomal disorders and plate tectonics. In short, science and reason have supplanted superstition, and we are all the better for it.
- [He then says that if everyone will sign a paper saying “God is dead,” then he can skip this “senseless debate” and get right into the philosophy literature written by famous atheists. Every student except Josh agrees to sign such a statement.]
- 3. Kara: You don’t want to deny your faith. I get it. So, the answer’s simple: drop the class.
- Josh: Yeah, but I’m not sure I can do that. I feel like God wants someone to defend him.
- Kara: Don’t be ridiculous.
- Josh: I just keep thinking of that C.S. Lewis line, “Only a real risk can test the reality of a belief.”
- Kara: So, you’re gonna risk our future over your yearbook quote? …Josh, I love you, but I absolutely forbid you to go up against this professor in his own classroom. We have too much at stake. The whole thing’s rigged to make you look like an idiot, and if you want to get into law school, you can’t afford to flunk this class.
- 4. (Amy “ambushes” Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson and his wife Korie as they enter a church, trying to “interview them” for her popular blog. She wants to make them look bad, or at least, look like backward, unsophisticated people.)
- Amy: You’ve made a fortune selling devices that are designed to lure water fowl to their deaths. [Willie says the company has done well; “Life is good”] What makes you think you have the moral right to go around maiming and killing innocent animals?
- Willie: Hey, look. Let’s just get one thing straight. I ain’t maiming nothing. Whatever I see and I aim at, I shoot. When I shoot it, I kill it and then I eat it.
- Amy: …So this isn’t an act. You’re actually proud of what you do?
- Willie: Of course I am. Why would I do it if I’m not proud of it?
- Amy: …So what do you say to people who are offended by your show, not just because of the hunting, but because you openly pray to Jesus in every episode?
- Willie: Hey, we’re not trying to offend anybody, alright? If they don’t want to watch the show, they can turn the channel. As far as my praying to Jesus, my life and my whole eternity belongs to God. All this stuff is temporary: the money, fame, success. Even life is temporary. Jesus? That’s eternal. Jesus said: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, he will acknowledge before the Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me, I’ll disown him to the Father.” Now, those words are written in red [in the Bible] so they’re important.
- 5. Aisha’s father is reminding his daughter why she must veil her face, “living in their world and being apart from it”. His little speech includes: “I know they seem happy, but know that when you look around at all those people, there is no one who worships God, not the way he deserves and demands to be worshipped.” He closes by saying, “I only insist on this because I love you. You know that, don’t you?”
Note: CS Lewis [The Problem of Pain, p52-53] points out: “[God] demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration….’ (not because it does Him any good, but because it leads us “to where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted,” namely, real happiness.) “…But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures*) and to love Him we must know Him; and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces [in humble worship]. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God…” *beings created by this Creator
- 6. Pastor Dave (in the church, Josh is sitting in a pew, when the pastor walks in): Waiting for someone?
- Josh Wheaton: Yeah, you could say that. It looks like He’s out at the moment.
- Pastor Dave: Well, maybe that’s why He sent me.
- [We break to see Amy busily typing her blog, and ignoring a call from a doctor; and then return to the church]
- Josh Wheaton: I could drop the class, run away, pretend like it never happened, which is what my girlfriend wants. I could sign the paper saying something I don’t believe. Or I commit academic suicide in front of a live audience by trying to prove that God exists.
- Pastor Dave: How many people in that class?
- Josh Wheaton: Eighty maybe.
- Pastor Dave: And how many of them do you think would ever step foot in here, or any other church for matter?
- Josh Wheaton: Well, none probably.
- Pastor Dave: So, your acceptance of this challenge, if you decide to accept it, may be the only meaningful exposure to God and Jesus they’ll ever have.
- Josh Wheaton: Yeah. Yeah, I suppose so.
- Pastor Dave: Check out Matthew 10:32-33.*
- Josh Wheaton: What, that’s it? That’s all?
- Pastor Dave: Yeah. [Dave gets up to leave]
- Josh Wheaton: Just a Scriptural citation?
- Pastor Dave: If you’re still undecided after that one, look at Luke 12:48.*
- Josh Wheaton: It can’t be that simple.
- Pastor Dave: Sure it can. You’re here because that still small voice inside you isn’t happy with the choices everyone else wants you to make. Personally, I think it’s the Holy Spirit talking to you. That’s how He interacts with us if we allow him to. All you have to do is decide whether or not you’re willing to listen. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
- [Josh goes home and looks up the scriptural citations…]
- *Matt 10:32-33: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in Heaven.” –Jesus
- *Luke 12:48: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” –Jesus
- […and then Josh sends a txt to Dave: “I’m going to give this a shot. What now?” Dave’s reply: “Don’t try to be clever. Be content to tell the truth.”]
- 7. Dr. Stevens [to Amy, because her phone keeps ringing as he tries to tell this busy woman that she has terminal cancer]: Amy, your results came back positive. You have cancer. …I know you are very important, and the world can’t get along without you, but it’s my job to let you know that it may be preparing to do exactly that, and it certainly will unless you begin immediate treatment. Do you understand?
- 8. [After Josh gives his first “lecture”—which goes so-so, yet better than the professor expected—the professor finds Josh in the hall and is very upset with him.]
- Prof Radisson: Do you think you are smarter than me, Wheaton? Do you think there is any argument you can make that I won’t have an answer for? … Now, I want to make this clear. In that classroom, there is a god, and yep, I’m him. I’m also a jealous god, so do not try to humiliate me in front of my students. …If you truly feel a need to continue with this charade, I will make it my personal mission to destroy any hope of a law degree in your future. Have a nice day.
- 9. (Martin and Josh meet in the library; after a polite interchange…)
- Martin: Can I ask you a question?
- Josh: Yeah, sure.
- Martin: Why are you doing what you are doing? [Martin says that everyone thinks he is crazy; his girlfriend has left him, his parents don’t want him to take this risk, and all the preparations are making it hard to do his other school work.] You have described your difficulties, but you haven’t answered my question of why.
- Josh: I don’t know. I just think of Jesus as my friend.
- Martin: So you think Jesus is God?
- Josh: Yeah; the Son of God. I don’t want to disappoint Him, even if everyone thinks I should. See, to me, He’s not dead. He’s alive. I don’t want anyone to get talked out of believing in Him just because some professor thinks they should.
- 10. (At a restaurant, Pastor Dave and Mina are having lunch, and Mina is talking about her problems with her boyfriend—Prof Radison)
- Mina: It’s like I’m a convenience to him, except for when my faith comes up, then he becomes verbally abusive.
- Pastor Dave: I’m guessing he’s bright. Handsome. And his attention makes you feel special; it gives you a sense of completeness. Psychologists call it the Cinderella complex… In essence, you are looking for his approval to give you a sense of self-worth instead of generating it internally. (Lots of people do it.) But using romance to shore-up self image is an unstable foundation. (If God is incapable of making mistakes…) and He made you in His image, His likeness, then it follows that He cares about you… to the point where God’s only son would willingly be crucified again for you, just you, if that’s what was necessary. Well, if He loves you that much, who cares what your boyfriend thinks? To the wrong person, you’ll never have any worth, but to the right person you’ll mean everything.
- 11. Josh: What happened to you?
- Prof: When a 12-year-old watches his mother dying of cancer, it’s only natural to beg God for her life. He’ll promise anything to his make-believe grandfather in the sky, including to love and worship him forever, if only he will spare her.
- Josh: Sometimes, the answer is “no.”
- Prof: Tell that to me the day you lose someone you love. She died believing a lie. She died believing that someone out there loved her even while he was strangling her to death. A God who would allow that is not worth believing in. That is why, Mr. Wheaton, you will find the most committed atheists were once Christians, but we took the blinders off. We saw the world for what it truly is. You see, Shakespeare had it right. “Life is really a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.”
Note: [I would add, that the most committed Christian evangelists were also once atheists. But the more they studied and tried to disprove the existence of God, the more they came to the conclusion that God is real, and “the blinders” are a man-made attempt to deny an inconvenient truth: that the best of us has only a very temporary and very incomplete power to be his/her own god, while the true God is God forever.]
- 12. Mark (talking to his mother, who doesn’t even recognize him): You prayed and believed your whole life. Never done anything wrong. And here you are. You’re the nicest person I know. I am the meanest. You have dementia. My life is perfect. Explain that to me!
- Mina’s Mother: Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn’t want them turning to God. Their sin is like a jail cell, except it is all nice and comfy and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to leave. The door’s wide open. Till one day, time runs out, and the cell door slams shut, and suddenly it’s too late.
- 13. (Amy goes backstage before the concert to “confront” the Newsboys.)
- Singer 1: Did we schedule this?
- Amy: No. I find that the best interviews are unscripted. So, in a few minutes you guys are going to go out there and you’re going to sing about God and Jesus as if they are as real as you and me. How can you do that?
- Michael Tait: Well, to us, they are as real. As a matter of fact, even more so. I mean, we exist in the here and now. They’ve existed forever. Think about that.
- Singer 2: Yeah, you know, “in the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.”
- Amy: I see. So when you are pressed, you quote a bunch of ancient scribblings and say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s all in there.’
- Singer 2: Well, they may be ancient, but they’re not scribblings. I mean, we believe God gave us an instruction manual, and it’s where we draw our strength and where we find our hope.
- Duncan Phillips. So, where do you find your hope?
- Amy: I’m dying.
- Duncan Phillips: Hey Amy, you’re not here to trash us, are you? …I think you’re here, kind of hoping that this stuff is for real, aren’t you?
- Amy: How do you know that?
- 14. After an accident (I won’t tell you who is injured, so it doesn’t spoil the surprise), Pastor Dave (who is unintentionally stuck in traffic, and sees it happen) goes to the dying man and says something like this:
- Pastor Dave: That car could have killed you instantly, but instead God has given you another chance to change your final answer. You are scared; so was Jesus while facing His death on the cross. He asked the Father to spare Him and the Father said “no”
- Man: God says that a lot.
- Pastor: God gives us the answers we’d ask for if we knew what He knows. Are you willing to put your faith in Jesus Christ? God is willing to forgive you of all your sins [sins that have separated you from God], if you accept his Son and ask Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior.
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