How to use God is not Dead (The Movie) as a conversation starter

God_is_not_dead_Movie_PosterI recently saw the movie God is not Dead.

My own reaction to the movie is somewhat mixed to the movie.

But a wise evangelist could suggest this movie to a truly seeking friend and allow it to open further conversational opportunities.

This movie will likely not successfully engage those who’s minds are already made up or hostile to the Christian faith.  Some of the story lines and character arcs may seem too simplistic for people who are not seriously considering the claims of Christ.

The basic plot

A Christian guy (Josh) enrolled in a presumably secular university takes a Philosophy class.

On the first day of class, Professor Radisson wants students to sign a declaration of their belief that God is dead so that he can dispense of such notions without having to prove it.

Josh is unable to sign the declaration and the Professor assign him a task to present is arguments to the class.

The movie follows the presentation of various apologetic arguments and counter arguments.

Some of the class members change their mind and at least one becomes a believer.

Along the way, other story arcs are introduced

  • Why the professor is an atheist.
  • A Muslim employee in the school is a convert Christ.
  • A chaplain, apparently struggling in his own faith, finds renewed faith through an African sidekick.
  • Josh’s decision to defend his faith has a cost.
  • A Chinese student is influenced by Josh’s argument.
  • A secular humanist left-leaning reporter faces a crisis her worldview can’t handle.

Reactions to God is Not Dead in our family.

Our family discussed some of the hard choices forced upon the various people because of their faith.

Each character had a point of view and a hard choice to make because of their belief and worldview.

While the Professor character was an exaggeration, the arguments that he puts forth are real arguments that Christians should have a reasonable answer for.

The problem of evil and the why of our existence are two apologetic challenges that have been discussed for centuries, so the philisophical problems are not solved in the film.

Rather, our family discussed the reasoableness of the arguments.

We also discussed how many people have a personally painful reason to reject God.  While not everyone has such a story, it is a common enough basis that we wanted our kids to see it.

Not For Everyone

This is not a movie to bring an intellectual atheist to evaluate or enjoy. The atheist position is a bit of a caricature and will be more of a distraction than a conversational help.

The problem of evil and the existence of God continue to be some of the greatest philosophical challenges. The movie won’t solve it, but it does show us a good way to defend our faith and show that our faith is reasonable.

I have friends whose logic had lead them to different conclusions and they are as angry as the professor.

It’s hard to argue with someone who hates God, but the movie shows Josh sharing a reasonable basis for his faith without being obnoxious.

Ways to use God is Not Dead in your ministry

I’ve seen online reviews that criticize the theology in the movie (and complain about too much leg skin by the Duck Dynasty lady causing lust), but most of the critics complain about the exaggerations and stereotypes in the movie.

Rather than walk down that road, I’d rather suggest ways to use this movie in your ministry.

I imagine a couple of ways this movie could be helpful to the evangelist:

  • Discussion starter for youth groups
    • Standing up for your faith
    • How to be reasonable and respectful in debate
    • Faith may require sacrificial choices
    • How evangelistic moments are not scripted, but happenings in life.
    • Are you prepared to help a person come to faith at a unplanned moment?
    • The role of apologetics on our belief.
  • Discussion starters for seekers
    • Why was the professor an atheist?
    • Have you had doubts about God because of unanswered prayer?
    • What is your answer to the problem of evil?
    • Is it possible to have a conversation about faith without anger?
    • Religion asks “why?”  Science asks “how.”
    • How you’ve had to make your own tough choices because of what you believe.

Other reviews:

Your Turn:

Did you see this movie?

Please share with me your thoughts, reviews, etc. of this movie in the comments below.

Guest Article: The Seismic Shift in Evangelism

Do you understand that evangelism has changed?

Popular approaches you may have grown up with were great for their time, but new approaches to the unchanging gospel are necessary.  Last week, James White sent out this post, and it’s republished here with permission.

ChurchCulture

Vol. 9, No. 10

The Seismic Shift in Outreach

There has been a seismic shift in outreach that few church leaders are understanding, much less pursuing.

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the vanguard of evangelistic outreach was direct proclamation of the gospel. Whether the crusades of Billy Graham or the creative approaches of Willow Creek Community Church, presentation led the way.

This led to joining a community, and eventually, being discipled into participation with the cause.

From the 1990’s thru the 2000’s, community took the lead. People wanted to belong before they believed. Skepticism was rampant, and trust had to be earned. Once enfolded, Christ was often met in the midst of that community.

Cause, again, was the last to take hold.

From the 2010’s forward, “cause” has become the leading edge of our connection with a lost world, and specifically the “nones” (and it is increasingly best to replace the term “unchurched” with the “nones”). Consider the recent Passion Conference in Georgia. What arrested outside media attention was the commitment to eradicate modern-day slavery, not the 60,000 students in attendance much less the messages related to the Christian faith.

In a word, “cause.”

This made the gathering of 60,000 college students in the Georgia Dome for that cause become attractional. In other words, then and only then did “community” come into play. Then, after exploring that community, Christ could be – and was – introduced.

Think of this shift in terms of moving people through stages of introduction:

1950’s-1980’s:

Unchurched >>> Christ >>> Community >>> Cause

1990’s-2000’s

Unchurched >>> Community >>> Christ >>> Cause

2010’s –

Nones >>> Cause >>> Community >>> Christ

It is important to note how far the message of Christ is from the mind and sentiment of the average “none.” It’s not that the church should “bury the lead” in terms of putting Christ at the end of the line – remember, we’re talking strategy. It’s just that leading with Billy Graham’s simple “The Bible says” was a strategy designed for people in a different place spiritually than many are today.

The more post-Christian a person is, the more evangelism must embrace not only “event/proclamation”, but “process” and “event/proclamation.” Earlier models were almost entirely “event/proclamation” oriented, such as revivals, crusades, or door-to-door visitation. As I’ve written about in other places, this is only effective in an Acts 2, God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem context.

“Process” models are needed in Acts 17, Mars Hill, nones/skeptical contexts.

Like the one we live in today.

The presentation of Christ must remain central to our thinking, to be sure. That is the only reason we are even talking about strategy; the goal is to present Christ and Him crucified. But is that where we start? On Mars Hill, the spiritual illiteracy was so deep that Paul had to begin with cultural touchstones, lead in to creation, and work his way forward.

It took him a while to get to Christ.

And community? It matters, but the average person has tastes of that already. Maybe not functional, but they don’t seem as drawn to it as they used to be. Perhaps it is because of the lure and illusion of social media, or because they’ve simply given up on it, but it’s not the great “search” it once was.

So there has been a great, seismic shift. Today, it is cause that arrests the attention of the world.

Which brings us to the challenge.

First, to recognize the seismic shift, and begin to strategize accordingly.

Second, to realize how difficult this will be. If cause is in the lead, and community close behind, the church is at a deficit. In the minds of many, our causes have been mundane (let’s raise money for a fellowship hall!) or alienating (Moral Majority!). And the close second of community? Our reputation for dysfunction in that area is legendary.

But there is great irony in the challenge. Jesus wed mission and message together seamlessly, proclaiming the Kingdom that had come while healing the leper and feeding the hungry. He mandated concern for the widow and the orphan, the homeless and naked, the imprisoned and hungry, while speaking of the bread of life and a home in heaven.

In other words, we should have been nailing this all along.

And if community is lurking in the back of the minds of people as a felt need, that should be a calling card as well. Jesus challenged his followers about the importance of observable love toward one another as the ultimate apologetic for His life and ministry and message.

And even if it takes a while to get to Christ, He should be presented raw and unfiltered in all of His scandalous specificity. As Moltmann proclaimed, “the crucified God.”

So as we ponder the rise of “cause” as the cultural bridge over which to walk, perhaps the greater truth is more elemental:

Do all three.

Imagine a church that had community, cause and the undiluted message of Christ in the vanguard of its efforts.

It might just become the church Jesus had in mind all along that would reach the world.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

 

Appropriate Silence in Personal Witnessing

I’ve got a few friends who have always been hostile to talking about faith.

Their level of spiritual thirst has been low.  In fact, it’s downright hostile.

We remain friends, but talking about Jesus provokes emotional hostility or an evasive awkward silence.

Other times, they attempt to change the subject.

When I try to open up spiritual themes in a conversation,  or follow a possible avenue of spiritual thirst, the conversation is quickly moved on to another theme.

They are an unwilling conversational partner when it comes to faith.

D*** the torpedoes, full speed ahead

Some evangelism techniques encourage you to plow ahead, in spite of the resistance.

The urgency of sharing the gospel requires you to risk ruining the friendship so that you get the gospel to their ears.

It’s not your job to be polite, they say, but to deliver this message of salvation.

They could die of a heart attack in the next 4 minutes, so you need to be sure they hear the gospel and have a chance to respond.

Or, they say, it’s better to witness like this to a stranger on first contact, so there is no friendship to ruin.

You won’t see this person again soon, so share the gospel without regard to their reaction.

Give God the opportunity to work, they say.

They are not rejecting you, but the message.  God’s word will not return void, so plant the seed.

These are justifications some use to find comfort in the face of such unwanted evangelism conversations.

I have a problem with that

There may be times when personal witnessing in unwanted conversations is appropriate.  But many times, it is not.  It causes more harm than good.

The evangelist must know that he or she is riding a real leading of the Holy Spirit to confront sin or to keep pursuing a conversation when it is unwanted.

Peter didn’t step back in the face of unwanted conversations, and some of his sermons in Acts called hard hearted people to repentance.

The difference is in the working of the Holy Spirit.

Peter knew the Holy Spirit was at work, rapidly breaking the barriers.  He knew that the Holy Spirit was leading him to give such sermons.

But a lot of times, one might dangerously plow ahead in a conversation with an unwilling partner without that leading of the Spirit and cause more harm than good.

Save it for another day.

But Jesus did not answer. So the high priest said, With the living God looking on, you must tell the truth. Tell us, are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” (Matthew 26:63, CEV)

If there was ever a moment to witness, this was it.  Jesus had a a chance to speak directly to who He is.

This was a hostile conversation with Ciaphas.  Jesus knew that Ciaphas wasn’t interested in truth (v.59).

But knowing the heart, Jesus knew this was not the right time.

So he chose silence.

There may be times where you will drop the conversation.

It will not be the right time.

Even if your conversation partner is asking questions, you might discern that their questions are meant to be useless rabbit trails on pet peeves, or talking points that they want to make.

Now my friend is interested

In the last 14 days, there is a spiritual awakening happening in my friend.

Suddenly, there is a genuine openness to reading the Scripture, to prayer, to a relationship for Jesus.

God is working and now my friend’s spiritual thirst is obvious.

Because I’ve respected my friend’s boundaries in the past, because I’ve chosen silence at the other times, I have earned a right to be heard NOW.

I’m excited to see what God is doing in response to years of prayer.

Let me ask you this

Are there other times when silence is a better option?

(Image Credit: USNavy)

Tim Keller’s 10 Personal Evangelism Tips

  1. Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
  2. Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
  3. Listen to your friends problems – maybe offer to pray for them
  4. Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
  5. Give them a book to read
  6. Share your story
  7. Answer objections and questions
  8. Invite them to a church event
  9. Offer to read the Bible with them
  10. Take them to an explore course

– Tim Keller [via: Salternlite]

Thanks for sharing the list.

You can download the message ($2.50) from the Redeemer Website here.

At the original post, various comment writers criticize this list for missing “share the gospel.”

The gist of the list is not how to share the gospel (that is assumed), but how to advance the personal 1-1 conversation about the gospel with your peers.

Tim Keller on How churches reach cities – Lausanne Capetown 2010

Here’s a 17+ minute video of Tim Keller talking at Lausanne about how you reach cities by

  1. Planting & renewing churches that are contextual to the city,
  2. Establishing citywide gospel movements

By contextual churches, he speaks of planting a church that fits in your context.   As part of that talk he gave these marks to becoming contextual

  1. A multicultural church has to be extremely culturally sensitive.  Your church must expect cultural and racial tensions and accusations of insensitivity.  It will always be present.
  2. Help people integrate work and faith.  People go to cities to work.
  3. Must have urban sensibility: comfortable with change, disorder,
  4. Evangelism in cities needs to reach different cultures and people.  One script does not fit all.
  5. City Churches need to be famous in its care for the poor.
  6. Artists must be taken seriously.
  7. Relationships are extremely important for ministry in a urban context.
  8. A city can’t be reached by one church, or even one network.  You need a city reaching movement.
Keller mentions 10 in his remarks, but I heard 8.

What is a city reaching movement?

When the Body of Christ is growing more rapidly than the general population.  What creates a movement?

  1. Five or six church planting movements in different denominations and networks.  Don’t work to increase your tribe, but to help others get going.  Collaborate.
  2. You need a
  • network of prayer,
  • evangelistic specialists to focus on universities and youth,
  • work on justice and mercy issues,
  • gatherings based on vocation (business people, artists, etc), and
  • have leaders regularly meeting to discern together what the city needs (not turf wars).

Four questions (from Luasanne’s guide):

  1. How can the church develop a clearer awareness of the needs of the cities?
  2. What has been the response of the church in your context to the increased movement of people to the cities?
  3. What are adjustments that the church should make in order to respond to the needs of the city in a relevant way?
  4. How can the global church be mobilized to the missiological challenge of the city?