It’s been just over two years since the movie God’s Not Dead came out. When it came out on DVD, I saw it and wrote a review. I wasn’t a fan because God’s Not Dead wasn’t a movie about Christianity; it was a movie about cultural Christianity. It was a movie about the sort of shallow religiosity that I was taught when I was a teenager.
It was a movie where “theism” is the same as “Christianity”.
It was a movie where people become Christians without repenting of their sin or even mentioning Jesus at all.
It was a movie where the best part of the Christian life was attending a Christian Rock concert.
It was a movie where a freshman took on a PhD philosophy professor/atheist with a few pithy quotes and a couple of hours spent in a library.
It’s no shock that I really disliked the first movie; it showed the state of evangelicalism and pretty much explained why “I went to Heaven” books are always on the best seller list.
So, was God’s Not Dead 2 any better?
Not by much, mind you, but it was better…and I went in expecting to hate it.
I admit, I was somewhat surprised.
So here’s a summary:
The ACLU Prosecuting Attorney.
The Defending Attorney.
The Chinese Exchange Student.
The Pastor’s Friend
There’s also cameo’s galore from Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, Mike Huckabee, Gary Habermas, Rice Brooks, Fred Thompson (RIP), Newsboys, Pat Boone, Sadie Robertson (daughter of one of the Duck Dynasty guys), some familiar faces from soap operas and even one of the original Ghostbusters.
THE MAIN PLOT:
The Student is in class one day and asks the Teacher if Ghandi and Martin Luther King were pacifists like Jesus was. The Teacher says “yes” and quotes Matt. 5:43-45. The Student’s parents somehow hear about it when a random boy sends them a text message…or something (the movie doesn’t really explain how they found out). So when The Dad and The Mom hear about The Teacher making a passing reference about you-know-who from Nazareth, they go nuts and contact the school, which is run by The Principal.
It seems that The Student’s parents are angry atheists who pride themselves on their tolerance and threaten lawsuits against anyone who makes any statement of which they’re intolerant. That includes The Teacher of their daughter (The Student). The daughter is going to go to an ivy league school and no teacher will get in the way, especially by making passing references to Jesus even though The Teacher likes their daughter (The Student) and is likely giving her an A+.
This whole mess leads to the ACLU getting involved. The ACLU takes legal action against The Teacher for her spouting of religious rhetoric. They send in a horribly evil, God-hating atheist prosecuting attorney. He’s just the bloodthirsty legal assassin the ACLU needs to make sure The Teacher pays for her sins!
But there’s hope for The Teacher! The Defense Attorney is a hot shot lawyer who is also an atheist, but not the angry or irrational kind. He respects The Teacher and wants to make a name for himself with a highly publicized court case. If anyone can stop the ACLU’s legal team, it’s an upstart rookie with next to no experience!
As one would expect, it ends up looking bad for The Teacher when things don’t turn her way, but after a bunch apologists take the stand and testify about how Christianity is reasonable, teenage kids sing “How Great Thou Art” and one of the Newsboys stops a concert to pray for the court case, the defense WINS! The atheist lawyer throws in the towel and accepts defeat, especially after his own legal assistant points out that the defense proved the existence of Jesus!
THE SUB PLOTS:
The Student has her own sub-plot. Her brother died recently and she struggles to deal with the pain of the loss, but she “asks Jesus into her heart” for no discernible reason and then life gets better…until she screws up the court case royally. Still, it’s a Christian movie and ends with everything all hunky dory.
The Pastor has a bunch of bad stuff happen to him. He has coffee spilled on him and spills his own coffee. He spends a half day answering the bible questions of The Chinese exchange student. He, and all the other pastors in their town, have their sermons subpoenaed for some reason, which is never explained (they don’t mention why anyone wants their sermons). The pastor willfully refuses to give his sermon transcripts to the authorities. He also ends up with him on jury duty until his appendix bursts and then he watches the trial results from his hospital. It’s assumed that he has ice cream at some point, but that isn’t shown or even hinted at in the movie (I just made that part up).
The Chinese exchange student asks the pastor a bunch of Bible questions, gets slapped, and decides to become a pastor (if he’s open to going to Singapore, I hear that Harvest City Church has some openings).
The Blogger has a crisis of faith after her cancer goes away and she realizes that she might not believe in God now that she’s healed and has no need for him. So, she does what all bloggers who have recovered from a life-threatening illness do: calls Michael Tait from the Newsboys! He gives her encouragement and she then blogs about the whole court case with The Teacher and the ACLU, but things start to look bad when the court case takes a turn for the worst. So, she calls Michael Tait again during a concert and he takes the call, stops the concert, and then gets the audience to prayer for The Teacher’s court case. As the bible says: “The prayers of a Newsboy are powerful and effective”.
WHAT I LIKED:
I’ll admit that after the first one, I went in expecting to hate this movie. I wasn’t a colossal fan, but I didn’t hate it.
I think it was better than the first one as far as production values went, but I’m not really a reliable critic with any worthwhile opinion on those sorts of technical things.
At least this movie mentioned “Jesus” and had a way better grade of apologetic presentation. The sections in the courthouse where Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace were speaking was interesting enough that it might actually lead to some people investigating their work more. That’s always welcome and their stuff is a decent enough entry-level defense of the Christian faith. I’ve reviewed Cold Case Christianity on Amazon and it’s a book a gladly recommend.
The movie was also based on real court cases that have recently either gone through the courts or were on trial at the time of production. In as much as the plot seemed far-fetched, I know that sort of stuff actually happens. It definitely doesn’t play out like the movies (I don’t think Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace ever show up in court as Christian “experts”), but it’s not nearly as far fetched as the first movie.
Finally, when The Student has a crisis moment and asks Jesus into her heart, she mentions God forgiving her for her sin. I don’t know why she would have said that since she isn’t told about her sin by the person who’s sharing the gospel with her, but in this movie there’s at least a passing mention of sin when someone “prays the prayer”. That’s a step up from the first movie as well.
WHAT I DISLIKED:
The Christianity in the movie looks a lot like what I recognize as Christianity, but it’s not. God’s Not Dead 2 is another movie where the Christianity it portrays is simply cultural Christianity. It’s another movie about the sort of shallow religiosity that I was taught when I was a teenager. It’s another a movie where “theism” is the same as “Christianity”.
It’s another movie where people who share the gospel don’t really understand what the gospel message is, but deliver some sort of talk about God and Jesus and stuff and then people pray a prayer about Jesus “coming into their heart” and their lives get better (which seems to be the motivation behind the prayer).
It’s another movie that shows just how much influence the Charismatic movement has had over Evangelicalism. Half the characters in the movie get direct propositional messages from God. One of the characters in the movie got “saved” because she saw a church sign and God spoke to her through it and asked her “who do you say that I am?” Nobody in the movie takes the Bible seriously or has any below-the-surface knowledge of it. They just pull out random feel-good verses and then do a subtle form of positive confession where they say them out loud and then tell God that they’re trusting him to do whatever it is that they want.
All of that is just a reflection of the sad state of Christian culture, but I’m not surprised. The last few people who started coming to my church were verbally shocked that my pastor preaches from the Bible in church. They had apparently gone to other churches in the area and had trouble finding a church with a pastor who preached from the Bible (as in opened it, read it and tried to explain it). That fact says bad things about the state of evangelicalism in my neck of the woods.
Still, there were two theological problems in the movie that I’d like to point out:
The first problem was that when The Teacher and The Defending Attorney were thinking about her offensive reference to Jesus, they had a landmark moment where they realized their winning strategy. They realized that she was referencing Jesus as a historical figure, not the Jesus of the Bible (even though she was quoting the Bible at the time). They went off about how one can talk about Christ as a pure historic figure, separate from the biblical accounts of him, and divorce that Jesus from the guy who’s in the Bible. Therefore, she was making a historical reference rather than a religious proclamation.
That, my readers, is exactly what the Liberals have been doing for over a century. That’s what is called “historical Jesus studies”, and whoever injected that into the movie needs to be graciously invited to take a long walk off a short pier. I was really disturbed to see that sort of talk, but not really surprised. I’m guessing that nobody associated with the movie either had the theological chops to spot that problem, or thought it was a problem in the first place. Still, the separation of the Jesus of History and the Jesus of Scripture always ends in the same outcome.
That brings me to the second problem: the “minimal facts” approach to defending Christ’s resurrection. There was a scene where Rice Brooks and Gary Habermas are being interviewed by governor Mike Huckabee, and they talked about how almost all the experts agree about the facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection…therefore the resurrection itself is some sort of inescapable reality for honest skeptics.
What the movie didn’t tell you is that Habermas’ approach presents the resurrection as the most likely hypothesis explaining 12 historic facts.
What are those facts?
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- He was buried.
- His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
- The tomb was empty (the most contested).
- The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
- The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
- The resurrection was the central message.
- They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
- The Church was born and grew.
- Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
- James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
- Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).
Those are all the facts that are agreed upon by the “experts”.
Let me rephrase that: From all four gospels, which contain 89 chapters of historical record regarding the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, experts can only agree on those 12 facts about Jesus’ resurrection. That’s it.
So, you know what you’ve got?
Notice something else: if you believe those 12 facts and believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you still don’t have anything close to Christianity. You don’t have Christ’s deity, or his prophecies about his own death, or God doing the resurrecting, or anything Jesus said or did whatsoever. You only have an ancient Jewish teacher rising from the dead, for a mysterious reason, and a bunch of guys starting a religion about it.
That’s not going to ever get you to any form of Biblical Christianity. That’s one of the reasons why I only defend Christianity as Christianity. There are no “baby steps” to Biblical Christianity and belief is a work of divine grace, in response to the Spirit-empowered word of God penetrating the heart. I don’t pretend the Bible is semi-rational to the disbelieving mind; it’s not. The Bible says that the gospel is foolishness to the disbelieving (1 Cor. 2:14) and I believe the Bible.
Also, Habermas’ whole project is horribly flawed. What Habermas doesn’t tell you is that an overwhelming majority of the “experts” don’t agree with his conclusions at all, and the “minimal facts” approach only has a hypothetical chance as long as there’s scholarly consensus regarding the list of “minimal facts”. The scholarly consensus changes regularly, and I’ve heard lists of “minimal facts” that contain anywhere from 12 facts to 7. Once scholars get wind of what Habermas doing (as if they even care), they can shut down his whole process by changing the consensus.
Believe it or not, the resurrection of Jesus would be true even if all the religious studies professors at every university disagreed regarding any list of minimal and innocuous facts about it.
Should you see God’s Not Dead?
Sure. Watch it with your kids.
It’s not that bad, and the mediocre messages it gives you are coming at you from far more than “Christian”movies. Besides, it’s definitely way better than most of the other schlock that Hollywood is pushing out. There’s a bunch of good messages you can take from it:
It shows that prayer works.
It shows people quoting the Bible when they have struggles.
It shows that Christians can intelligently stand up for what they believe in.
It shows that God’s highly involved in the lives of everyone he touches.
It shows that Christians being thoughtful and supportive of one another in difficulties.
It shows Christians standing up for their faith in the face of violent opposition.
Take those messages from it, and talk about those messages with whomever you watch the movie with.
Be alert to the theological junk getting smuggled in the back door, but by all means enjoy the movie and misinterpret it in your favor. Fill in the blanks with good theology and make it better than it is.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Trying to be positive” Unger
21 thoughts on “Movie Review: God’s Not Dead 2”
You may want to warn people that you sorta spoil the movie a little. :). You don’t reveal every detail, but enough that an alert would be nice.
I think you assessment is good, particularly your conclusion. I didn’t write a review because, well, there’s enough wrong w it to make it sound bad in a review, but I still wanted to encourage people to see it if they were moviegoers.
What I felt like they did in both movies, maybe unintentionally, is present through situations and dialogue many realities of the Christian experience. I found myself weeping tears of joy, and often, even in disagreement with the theology they were clearly trying to push, understanding the emotions of the characters.
Like when Lee S tried to go over the top w evidence, he clearly gets all presup. I suppose he didn’t even notice the irony. But God’s true and useful logic cannot be hidden.
Thanks Michael. If I post the review on Cripplegate, I’ll warn about spoilers…but did I give anything away that wasn’t obviously deduced from the trailers?
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
This review is glorious and should be posted on Cripplegate immediately.
Let me guess. Is the Teacher single? And the Defense Attorney single? And, you know, they get together after he becomes a believer!
BTW, why is the Pastor’s friend or even the Pastor in these movies a black guy with sage like wisdom? Seriously? If I take national political statistics regarding African American voters, they’ll vote for the candidate from a party that opposes ALL of their Christian values.
Ha! Thanks Fred!
I’d have to shorten it up, but I night post it on the Cripplegate.
I love pickles.
Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.
Thanks for a great review as usual Lyndon. I have not seen it yet, but planned on it like I do all Christian movies. (for one reason or other)
Spoilers don’t bother me. I don’t really care. It would have been a real achievement if it had been worse than the first one.
Man I couldn’t get outta there fast enough.
Lyndon good review! Took a bit for me to go through it between my breaks with studying but I’m glad I read it.
Thanks Slim! It was longer than I wanted, but I slammed it out!
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I am heading to see it on Wednesday and will have a review up shortly. I hope it is as good/bad as you say.
There’s definitely no shortage of things that need serious improvement, but it wasn’t offensively bad like the Noah movie was.
God’s Not Dead 2 was like getting an aggressive wedgie.
Noah was like getting beaten with a satchel of doorknobs.
In fairness, I haven’t seen the movie yet. However, I did like the first one, it was imperfect but overall a good movie. This reviewer strikes me as being a bit nitpicky.
A lot of his complaints basically have to do with the shallowness of the movie but, it’s a movie, of course it’s going to be shallow. It’s made for entertainment not in-depth Bible study. I’ve seen a lot of atheist critiques along these lines and it is just mind-boggling to me. If the movie went in-depth into “proper” theology, it’d be boring as all get-out. So of course these kind of projects only go in shallow. If you only get your theology from God’s Not Dead, you’re in trouble. The idea is to help reinforce the faith of Christians and hopefully guide new people to Christianity, where they can then get a more in-depth Bible teaching. It’s like my pastor (who does preach from the Bible) who goes relatively shallow on Sunday mornings and more in-depth on Wednesday nights.
I do thank the reviewer for noting that cases similar to this have happened and are happening. Atheists love to ignore this little point and act like nothing of this sort could have or has ever happened. It’s deceitful. Does the movie dramatize it and not follow actual court procedure? Of course, it’s a movie! The number of movies that accurately portray court proceedings is astoundingly low.
Regarding Gary Habermas though . . . he has no idea what he’s talking about. Gary Habermas is making a targeted argument to show Jesus Christ rose from the dead. If you can make that case, you’ve largely made the case for Christianity right there. After all, without the Resurrection, Christianity is meaningless. Yes, the “experts” could maliciously all change their minds, but that would be a blatantly dishonest tactic from them to take and given that Habermas has been making this case for a while, they don’t show any signs of being so dishonest. So yeah, Habermas isn’t defending Christianity as a whole with this argument but it’s not designed to. Christianity is a multi-faceted and beautiful lifestyle, so it has a lot of component parts and those parts can be defended on their own. If an atheist is attacking the validity of the Bible, would Mr. Unger really propose we not bother to look into apologetics showing the Bible is reliable? That is what it sounds like he is saying here and it’s nonsense. Habermas is showing the Resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the facts we know about Jesus, that’s one piece of the puzzle to Christianity; it is arguably the largest and most important piece so Mr. Unger just . . . he’s quite offensive on this point. Quite offensive.
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I found both the apologetic and the legal defense entirely schizophrenic. The defense actually made the case the ACLU lawyer made–Jesus is fine as long as He is a historical character in the classroom.
It surely highlighted the importance of prayer and trusting in God’s plan in the midst of the storm (as cliched as it was), but it demonized the ACLU, the judge, and all the protesters rather than doing what she said in class–praying for them and blessing them.
Go see it, but be careful and open up your Bible as you talk about it.
P.S. Can anyone suggest a biblical support for the claim “The basic right of all people is to know Jesus”?
AW Tozer wrote a great essay called ‘The Menace of the Religious Movie’. All he says may not apply to this movie, but I think much of it does. He makes good points in the essay such as: are there unbelievers be cast as believers in this movie – pretending to be a follower of our precious Lord and Savior? Does the precious act of prayer stop as soon as they holler ‘Cut!’… are they pretending to pray? How does God view all this pretending? Just some thoughts we should consider as followers of Jesus.
I too thought it was better than the first one. I thought the Chinese student was one of the high points of the movie, but after reflecting on it for a day or two something troubles me. We in the United States have enjoyed 200+ years of relative freedom of religion and now are starting to feel some heat so now we want to take action. Too often, legal action. How did the Church in the first 3 centuries influence the mighty Roman Empire. They had no rights and no legal discourse but still the church thrived in the most oppressive atmosphere. So will we influence our culture by making movies about taking legal action or standing up for our rights?
A couple years ago I realized that these kind of movies were probably going to become more commonplace and I questioned whether that would be a positive thing. Or would it do to the church what political power has done, water down it’s message. There are those who are endorsing and outright pushing a thing called the “seven mountain mandate.” One of those “mountains” is the political sphere and it concerns me that this whole thing could very well be a “trojan horse.”
Yeah Woody, I definitely feel you. I’m aware of the Seven Mountain Mandate (I actually have an ongoing draft post about that which I have to finish up sometime), and movies like this are their way of taking the mountain of media “for the kingdom”.
Sadly, when they’re putting out tripe like this, they’re really just giving their enemies exactly what they want: money and a whole lot of ammunition for mockery and rejection.
The problem I have with these movies is that they’re more intended FOR Christians than for anybody else. I don’t see anything wrong with faith-based films per-say, but Pureflix markets these movies as some sort of evangelism tool. However, the only thing the movie actually accomplishes is telling American Christians that they’re being persecuted. Awww, you are unrealistically being put on trial because you mentioned Jesus in class once? A) That would never happen. But B) Even if it did, it doesn’t come anywhere close to the persecution that Christians in places like North Korea face for simply possessing a Bible. It makes us look spoiled to the unbelieving world, like we demand everything handed to us on a silver platter.
I would suggest checking out SayGoodnightKevin’s review of God’s Not Dead 1 on YouTube.