God's Not Dead 2, An Early Review

We just got home from an advanced screening of God’s Not Dead 2 in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I will say right off the bat that this one is a better overall film than the original, an odd and somewhat surprising departure from the usual pattern of sequels often coming up short of the original.  That being said, there are some serious concerns I have which will be touched on in this entry.

From the web site:

From the college classroom of GOD’S NOT DEADto the public square in GOD’S NOT DEAD 2, the name of Jesus is welcomed less and less with each passing day. If Christians don’t take a stand today, will we even have a choice tomorrow?
Welcome back to Hope Springs … home not only of Hadleigh University, but also Martin Luther King Jr. High School, where beloved teacher Grace Wesley helps students understand and enjoy history. Her love of teaching, her love for her students, and her love of life all come from the same place: her love of Christ.
So when Brooke, a hurting student grieving the loss of her brother, reaches out to Grace, their coffee-shop conversation naturally leads to Grace sharing the hope she finds in Christ.
When Brooke later asks an honest question about Jesus in the classroom, Grace’s reasoned response lands her in big trouble—almost before she even finishes giving her answer.
With the principal and superintendent joining forces with a zealous civil liberties group, Grace faces an epic court case that could cost her the career she loves and expel God from the classroom—and the public square—once and for all!
GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to the beloved Pure Flix movie from 2014 and features an all-star cast. Coming to theaters beginning April 1, 2016, GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 will have audiences standing proudly for what they believe … while they still can. Where will you stand?
The short:
MPAA Rating : PG (for the life of me, I cannot figure out where that rating came from, see below)
Featured Actors (Character): Jesse Metcalfe (Tom Endler), David A.R. White (Pastor Dave), Ray Wise (ACLU lawyer Pete Kane), Robin Givens (Principal Kinney), Hayley Orrantia (Brooke Thawley, Melissa Joan Hart (Grace Wesley), Ernie Hudson (Judge Stennis), and several more, including The Newsboys with other rolls from the original film reprised by the same actors.
Ratings Content: None- no nudity, no violence, no profanity, no adult situations, no sexually provocative or innuendo. Indeed, I could not find anything worthy of a “PG” rating, other than the name of Jesus.
The GOOD: As mentioned above,Mathis is an extremely “clean” film, with no morally concerning content. Also, there was what I perceived as a more focused attempt to make the presentation of the Gospel more “natural”/less contrived.  Some of the characters are actually believable, and most of the acting is at least average or better.  This movie presents an almost believable illustration of someone struggling with their faith when the circumstance that led them to faith no longer applies. As is typical for PureFlix and David A.R. White films, there is a sometimes awkward juxtaposition of comic relief with very serious material, though even that was less of a forced nature in this movie than its predecessor.  Finally, this film is entertaining and encouraging, even if somewhat predictable. And praise God there isn’t the formulaic “dying breath conversion” so common in Christian films (especially from this company). And believe it or not, there will be some “Amen” moments as the plot deals with some current event controversies (maybe too many forgone film?).
The BAD:  this film is not without its flaws. Some production gaffs- one of the most glaring is that “Martin Luther King Jr. High School” (filmed at Benton High School, in Benton, AR)  had Benton School District busses. Yet the setting of the film doesn’t match.  There are a few day/night mismatches in the storyline (mostly not too noticeable).
Things to be cautious or even disturbed about (if you are concerned with spoilers, you might want to skip the following):

Most of the factors to be cautious about, or that present an issue fall under the theological/doctrinal umbrella. The most concerning was a consistent lean on experience and “feelings” as evidence of God and faith. One of the main characters bemoans how God doesn’t “feel close”, but instead like “He is a million miles away” and that she “cannot hear Him speaking to me any more”.  A single reference to God audibly speaking to her might have been almost excusable. Unfortunately, it is a repeated concept in the film (Charismatic viewers will probably classify this as a GOOD thing, but I digress).  

Another concern that will likely no phase many evangelical viewers- the unscriptural “ask Jesus into your heart” Soteriology, along with a lack of any mention of repentance. 

 A fresh believer (from the original movie), just months (in the two movie timeline) into his new faith and full of questions for Pastor Dave (David A.R. White), the verbalizes his “call to ministry”, to be a pastor to his country (China). Add to this that there is no indication that any of the characters have a regular church family (especially confusing with this young man’s “call to ministry”.  I also wonder why there was no demonstration of the main character, Grace (Melissa Joan Hart) having a regular church home/family (and none come stand beside her in her “trial”.

And of course, as has become a predictable part of most of these kinds of films, especially from PureFlix- some fairly contrived circumstances, some of which may very well feel so forced because of editing. Quite possibly the editing was a bit heavy-handed in spots, leaving some plot gaps. 

Summary Thoughts:  While God’s Not Dead 2 has some theological issues, particularly with Soteriology and experience-based, pragmatic faith,mismatch least partially redeems itself by not shyingnawaynfrom challenges to our faith and the reality that JesusnHimself warned us of: that there is a cost to following Him. The over-arching message is “will you stand on your faith, or are you “ashamed of the gospel?” Not everyone will even blink at the “issues” this film has (some of which were detailed above), but the vast majority of Christians who see this movie will leave encouraged, and Impray, more willing witnesses of the hope that is in them in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). 

Look for some interesting characters (played by themselves), including Lee Strobel, author of “Tje Case For Christ”, and real-life cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace who serve as witnesses in court.

Some of my more “militant” (some call it “cage stage”) Reformed friends will have a difficult time just enjoying God’s Not Dead 2 specifically because of the above issues. But for those able to either filter through or overlook these concerns, you will likely enjoy this film, possibly more so than the original.

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