The God Who Wasn’t There: Review

Posted: January 3, 2013 by Dillon in Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,
Cover of

Cover of The God Who Wasn’t There

I’m going to take a little departure away from my usual writings for a little New Year’s special. I was asked to write a review on the film The God Who Wasn’t There and post it here.

The God Who Wasn’t There is a self-described documentary by Brian Flemming. Flemming’s apparent thesis is that modern Christianity is wrong about the historical Jesus, with some overlap with a thesis of Christianity being bad.

This first paragraph has nothing to do with my faith background, but my critique as an academic.  As a history major, I have the expectation that any documentary will feature interviews with experts of the subject and up-to-date scholarly research.  Flemming fails on both counts.  The vast majority of scholars, secular and Christian, agree that there was a man called Jesus of Nazareth who held a religious following.  The fact that Flemming never interviewed one of these thinkers is a sign of poor research and film making.  The closest to a historian Flemming ever gets is Dr. Alan Dundes, an expert on folklore.  Flemming shows his bias, that was already prevalent, by speaking with an expert on folklore about Jesus, while never subsequently speaking to a theologian.

Flemming sets the stage with the idea that, “Christianity was wrong about the solar system. What if it’s wrong about something else, too?”  This reference to the Papacy’s stance supporting a geocentric model of the solar system attempts to open the audience to an idea of a flaw in Christian thinking.  He further lumps atrocities committed by self-proclaiming Christians (Charles Manson, Pat Robertson, Dena Schlosser) to be part of all of Christianity; this presents a very clear fallacy.  Flemming breaks a basic premise of philosophy by judging a concept by its abuse.  This is no different than saying that Mao Zedong, an atheist, killing 45 million people (a conservative estimate) means atheism is inherently evil.  However, there is a massive disconnect present.  Charles Manson acted contrary to the teaching of Jesus and Christianity; Mao Zedong did not act contrary to atheism because atheism has no intrinsic moral system.
EDIT: In no way am I implying that atheism is the cause of immorality, nor was I saying that Zedong committed murders because he was an atheist.  I was attempting to illustrate the flaw in Flemming’ reasoning.

Although receiving a Christian education, Flemming seems to be lacking in his theological knowledge–another shot against the credibility of his research.  Flemming states that the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel, “and the other three are clearly derived from Mark.”  This is hilariously far from the truth.  Yes, it is true that sections of Mark are included in Matthew and Luke.  However, Luke explicitly states, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught,” (Luke 1:1-4).  Luke derived his writings from every available source, included but not limited to Mark.  Additionally, there’s a reason the Gospel of John is not included as a synoptic gospel.  Larry Hurtado, a New Testament scholar, writes,

“…probably most (but by no means all) scholars nowadays hold that the author(s) of John (at least at the earliest stage of the process that led to our present text) either did not know of, and refer to, any of the Synoptic Gospels or, at the least, did not use them as sources in the way the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark (and Q).” [1]

I could spend a whole blog post on just the specifics and historical details of the Gospels, but Flemming moves on.  Flemming, and presumably Dr. Dundes, claim that because of similarities between Christ and other pagan myths, it is logical to assume the story of Jesus is derived from other hero stories.  On its own this claim is very convincing for some. However, some of the “similarities” that Flemming lists aren’t even correct.  No educated Christian truly believes that Jesus was born on December 25th and Jesus did not go to Hell.

Flemming transitions to critiques of the Apostle Paul with statements such as, “He [Paul] never quotes anything that Jesus is supposed to have said.”  I direct your attention to 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.  Flemming attempts to draw further comparisons between Christ and pagan gods regarding violent deaths and resurrections.  However, Flemming doesn’t take time to describe the differences.

“The resurrection of Jesus is not reported to have taken place in the gray and distant past. Rather, it was linked (1) to the time of Tiberius and Pilate, (2) to a specific location: Jerusalem within Judea, and (3) to numerous eyewitnesses who were still alive, including Jesus’ own family members. That the Jesus of whom Paul spoke is a contemporary rather than a mythic figure from an unspecified time in the past could not have been any clearer.” [2]

Flemming touches on the idea of moderate Christianity and how it is illogical.  Here I actually have to agree with him.  However, Flemming uses the age old Leviticus argument, which I’ve already addressed here.

Flemming’s claims become increasingly straw man in nature as the “documentary” progresses.  It is abundantly clear that Flemming is bitter towards Christianity and the education he received as a child.  Flemming finishes his film by antagonizing the audience when he rotates the camera to focus on his face, and openly denies the Holy Spirit.  At this point it seems Flemming only used this film to fight against his upbringing and have a platform to purport cynical rhetoric.  Faith issues aside, The God Who Wasn’t There fails as a documentary.  

[1] Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 355-56.
[2] Hurtado (2003), 266.


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