The God Who Wasn’t There

If the “Di Vinci Code Scare” has taught us anything, it is not to get too concerned about new media that tries to destroy the message of Christ (though I do not think that this was the intention of the movie or book).  However, when new media does come up that is a monologue directly aimed at the Bible and the Christian message, then we at least need to be aware of it. 

One such film has been circulating in recent months.  The God Who Wasn’t There is a movie set out to put down historical relevance of the story of Christ and goes as far as to undermine its complete validity.  Much in the way that Dan Brown used “fact” to overlay his story, the filmmakers in this case have also used historical fact and woven it together in this documentary-style film.

The Current Perspective on the Church in America

The fundamental concern that gives this film life is the extraordinarily negative perspective that a growing number of Americans have about Christians.  Unfortunately this is being reinforced by sometimes prominent but most often well-meaning church-goers who want nothing more than to share the gospel message and compel people to believe. 

However, the message has been heard as one of hatred and bigotry rather than of love and mercy that was preached by Jesus.  Take a look at the trailer for The God Who Wasn’t There:

My first reaction is that it is not true.  But then realizing that there are really clips of Christian preachers speaking about hate, my next reaction is to not want anything to do with it. 

Fortunately, it is apparent to me that what is being criticized are people on the fringes of the faith, and that most of us understand that there is a different calling set upon us by Christ: we are called to love our enemies and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Afterlife and the Gospel Message

Some of the damage of “fire and brimstone” preaching is the perception of hatred.  The message of the afterlife is becoming more and more irrelevant as fewer and fewer people believe in an eternal punishment.  The notion, then, of a Rapture that will zap people out of the physical plane and into another realm is laughably rediculous to many. 

It would seem, though I have no research studies to reference, there is a direct relationship between the more people preach about heaven, hell, and the rapture and the number of people who leave the church believing it to be nothing more than fairy tales meant to scare people into right behavior.  This is not to say that these messages are false, but they do not mean anything to those with whom we are most trying to build relationships.  What strength can a word have if no one is listening?

Comments in Biblical scholarship and the Historic Christ

There is certainly truth to some of the films assertions about the Gospels and the historic Jesus.  There were a series of other “hero” stories (what the film calls “the hero pattern”) that were circulating for centuries within different cultures of the day.  These stories told of spiritual leaders with birth, death, and resurrection details that were similar to Christ’s, though none with all elements in common.

Most Biblical scholars will tell you that there was a significant period of time between the life of Jesus on earth and its documentation.  It is also clear from even casual reading of the canonical gospels that there are very different perspectives on events, and even the order of events recorded. 

For instance, have you ever wondered why all of the gospels do not make record of the birth of Christ if it was so significant to his identity?  Take a look at the events of Jesus’ last week and it will become obvious that there are different events recorded as well as different order to the events described. 

These “inconsistencies” are more indicative to the style and purpose of the writings, rather than their truth or lack thereof.  The events recorded in the gospels were not recorded as a reporter would chronicle details of a lengthy trial.  Rather the style of the day allowed for these different perspectives to bring to light an undercurrent of purpose.  Each gospel writer recorded what they did to show who Christ was, not his day-to-day activity.

My Challenge

Do not stick you head in the sand.  Look at what this movie says (perhaps even purchase a copy) and find the answers you need to know what you believe.  Start with some books on church history and discover what really is known about the early days of Christianity and about how the Bible was written.  Be honest about what people outside the faith are hearing and have open dialogue with them to discover better ways to be relevant.  Find a new way to bring urgency about having a relationship with God to people who no longer believe in an afterlife.  After all if our faith is something worth cherishing does it not mean something in the meantime?

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

3 responses to “The God Who Wasn’t There

  • Philippa

    I believe that a major challenge America faces (and I don’t live there, so please correct me if I’m wrong…) is that Christians need to set the moral standard for the country. In their passion for what’s “right” (e.g. anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, etc) they hold up the bible as Life’s Manual. Unfortunately, this does not resonate with the vast majority of people, and Christianity instead becomes a set of rules and do’s & don’ts (seen as mostly don’ts). For instance, if someone said to me that I had to believe a certain way or not do a certain thing because the Koran said so, I would have to say I would not and could not comply.

    So what happens is that a large portion of preachers and (dare I say the word) Christians preach hell and damnation and judgment, and many, many others draw the conclusion that Christians are radical fundies, who hate everyone who doesn’t believe as they do.

    Jesus never operated in the halls of power or by grandstanding. If every Christian who truly believed in putting others first, who believed in God’s grace to them – a sinner, who knew their own fallen nature, who wanted God’s will, who actually loved their neighbour with true agape love, then we wouldn’t get movies like this. Because we would be quietly and faithfully serving and loving others, who would want what we have, and would turn to God out of love and in turn would love others.

    I liked what you said about knowing about your faith, and researching and learning. So many people spout stuff they’ve heard, and it’s just depressing and scary the level of ignorance.

    Sorry, this comment is really long!

  • John Lunt

    There will always be naysayers. That’s why God never expected his church to deal with what they say on an intellectual level. Paul himself said he didn’t come with the wisdom of man but in the demonstration of the power and the Spirit. God wins when we yield to him and stand on faith. He will give wisdom that man can’t challenge. When we love the way God wants us to love, their arguments fail. When we pray for the sick and they are healed – their arguments fail. God is not weak. His Kingdom is not challenged by scoffers. I no longer look at the way the way the world views us. I will not compromise the Word of God…that includes the reality of Hell whether they believe or accept it or not.

    I will love them and demonstrate love and caring. I will stand firm on my faith and I will believe and pray for the supernatural so God can convince of his truth.

  • David Morris

    I’ve seen this movie and agree it creates distortion to prove a point. And even in some spots the director just goes gonzo on us, and for that, I wouldn’t recommend anyone watching it because he does a poor job edifying anyone, or anything. My suggestion is that you have to gain a birds eye view on what he’s trying to do–albeit sensationally. It’s not so much a question about whether God is true or not, but rather a question of whether the way the human institution of the church must challenge itself to move on and not give credence to the distortions that inevitably happen.

    I totally agree with you that cracking open a few books on church history is a good idea. In fact, it may be more important at the time we now live in. This shouldn’t seem so hard or unaccessible, but alas, it is.

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