"God's Not Dead," a film about an atheist professor who challenges a Christian student to an epic debate over God's existence, surprised the box office last weekend, coming in fourth place and pulling in $9.2 million.
But in the midst of the film's success, some critics are calling its central plot patently unrealistic -- a claim the film's producer refuted this week in an interview with TheBlaze.
Image source: "God's Not Dead"/Facebook
In "God's Not Dead," the atheist Professor Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, threatens to fail Christian student Josh Wheaton after he refuses to disavow the existence of God.
"Friendly Atheist" blogger Hemant Mehta called the film "one of those movies ripped right from the pages of Snopes." And Libby Anne of the "Love, Joy, Feminism" blog said its premise is "so unrealistic as to be ludicrous."
But Pure Flix Entertainment CEO Russell Wolfe told TheBlaze that the inspiration for the film was derived from some very real First Amendment court cases.
After hearing Alliance Defending Freedom president Alan Sears, a conservative lawyer, share a story about a college student embroiled in a campus battle after defending her faith, Wolfe began thinking more intently about the issue of religious freedom.
"I found out that there were a lot of other cases," he said.
Eventually, Wolfe was inspired to create a movie about religious freedom, which led to "God's Not Dead."
And to prove that First Amendment infractions sometimes unfold at college campuses, Wolfe inserted a list of more than 40 real-life court battles at the end of the film -- cases in which "university students, campus ministries and clubs [were] attacked for their biblical faith."
Consider Jonathan Lopez's battle. He claimed he was derided by a professor at Los Angeles Community College after he delivered a speech defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Lopez won his legal battle in district court, then lost after the case was appealed.
Then there's the story of Beth Sheeran, who was reportedly told along with others in her pro-life club at Spokane Falls Community College in Washington that the state is pro-choice and that a pro-life display would not be allowed because it didn't include pro-abortion viewpoints.
The school ended up settling a lawsuit and agreed to revise its speech codes.
While the cases cited at the end of "God's Not Dead" were not identical to the scenario presented in the film, Wolfe said the movie was based loosely on real-life battles over religious freedom and free speech.
"That's something we ended up hearing -- that atheists were saying no professor would ever do that," he said of Radisson's extreme behavior in the film. "So, that's why I decided to list the cases at the end of the film."
Wolfe said that "God's Not Dead" is intended to strengthen Christians' faith and to encourage them. He's already hearing stories about moviegoers cheering, clapping and dancing during key scenes in the film and about theaters selling out.
Watch the "God's Not Dead" trailer:
While Wolfe acknowledged that the film is essentially preaching to the choir because it helps "people know more of why they believe what they believe," he also said that there is potential for "God's Not Dead" to reach nonbelievers, too.
"What the movie does is it silences [and] quiets people down in a dark room -- and it takes them to a place that they won't even let their best friend take them," Wolfe said. "They're asked that question, 'Is there or isn't there a God?' and then they need to answer that themselves."
Fans of "God's Not Dead" will likely have the chance to enjoy other similar films in the future, as Pure Flix is planning another feature that will likely be part of a new branded "God's Not Dead" movie series.
Featured image via "God's Not Dead"/Facebook