This past weekend I saw the new movie God’s Not Dead 2. My expectations were tempered by having seen the first movie. For those who may not have seen it, the original God’s Not Dead was the story of a Christian college student who found himself having to chose between writing “God is dead” for a Philosophy grade, or go head-to-head with his atheist professor defending God’s existence. In that movie, the apologetic elements were a natural part of the central story of the movie. While the film suffered many of the problems common to “faith” films, such as the excessively happy endings with few loose ends, (what my pastor aptly called a “Hallmark-y” quality) it at least portrayed the value of apologetics for strengthening the faith of believers and giving non-believers something to think about. It was a decent storyline with a combination of fine performances and clichéd subplots. The sequel was another matter.
In GND2, a high school history teacher is disciplined and sued for quoting Jesus’ words in the context of a discussion of nonviolent protests such as that of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. The first crack in the plausibility of this was the reaction of the teacher, played by Melissa Joan Hart. You are a history teacher answering a student’s question about Jesus’ influence on Ghandi and King, and when you are asked to defend your actions, your first reaction is “But, that is what I believe.” Really? It took half the trial for you to realize, “Hey, wait! I was teaching history, quoting Jesus as a historical figure.” And then it becomes necessary to have Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace testify that Jesus is a real historical figure? I’m a huge fan of both of these men, but I couldn’t help but feel like their parts in the movie were forced.
Then (spoiler alert) when the verdict is announced, the group of Christians praying in front of the courthouse starts chanting, “God’s not dead, he’s fully alive.” Really? I like the Newsboys, but their appearance in the movie was almost as contrived as putting Stobel and Wallace on the stand in the trial.
Joining the list of disjointed subplots was a meeting of local clergy chaired by the late Fred Thompson announcing that the local prosecutor was subpoenaing their sermon notes, a subplot that went undeveloped in the rest of the movie beyond a threat by the prosecutor directed at the lone pastor who refused. Was this a case of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks,” or the premise for a GND 3?
Lest you think I found nothing good in this movie, let me say what I liked. There was a character in the first movie, a left-wing blogger who was diagnosed with cancer. She (along with almost everyone else in the first movie) became a Christian. In the sequel, she discovers she has been healed. While this is an uplifting (if predictable) part of the story, I appreciate that the Hallmark factor was dialed back, and she was portrayed as struggling with doubts about her faith right after the healing. This was one of the most realistic things in the movie. Additionally, the main character retells how she heard God speak to her. I hear many people claim this, saying God told them a, b, or c, and you are left to think, ”Okay, I guess.” There is nothing in the alleged message that can be tested, and they show not miraculous power to attest it. I will not engage in a debate over whether God gives personal messages to individuals (he certainly can if he wishes.) It is not at all clear, however that Scripture teaches that we can expect him to. However, when asked what God told her, she said, “Who do you say I am?” This is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 16:15. The Bible clearly teaches that God will “bring to remembrance all I have taught you.” I admit some would question how I am using that quote, but the point is, it is entirely reasonable to think the Holy Spirit will bring to mind passages from what God has already said.
God’s Not Dead 2 looks and feels like it was made in the Bible Belt, for the Bible Belt. However, many of us, including me, live up here in the plumber’s butt crack sticking up over the Bible Belt. We long for the day when a movie is made that presents the Christian worldview that is not cheesy and heavy-handed, and does not rely on clichés of the Christian subculture.
Proverbs 16:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” This proverb uses the incongruity of gold rings and pig’s snouts to make a point. I am not comparing the movie to a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. However, the incongruity of fine individual performances with a disjointed story line seem just as stark.