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Rights vs. Light

David A.R. White (left) and Ted McGinley. (Pure Flix Productions)

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Rights vs. Light

God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness probes the good and bad of Christians pressing their legal rights

To some people, the God’s Not Dead films function as unwelcome Christian Lives Matter protests. The franchise’s first film took on religious discrimination that many Christian students face on university campuses, and the second the pressure that some Christian teachers experience to deny their faith in high school classrooms. But critics who are charging God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness (GND3) with being a “persecution complex” three-peat weren’t paying close attention this time.

GND3, which opened Easter weekend, certainly looks to be a tale about Christians having another axe to grind. The film’s central conflict is Church vs. State—a church vs. a state university, to be precise. Writer-director Michael Mason, a franchise newcomer, fashions the best of the three films, though. And he does what a disciple of Christ should do—put his axe away.

In the film’s first scene, authorities arrest and briefly jail Pastor David Hill (David A.R. White) for having refused to turn over his sermon transcripts to city officials. David’s church, located on the grounds of (the fictitious) Hadleigh University—also the setting of the original God’s Not Dead film—becomes the site of anti-Christian protests and violence. The university decides to eliminate the problem through eminent domain. How does David respond to an order to sell the church building and grounds? Not so well—and this seems to be Mason’s point.

The book of Acts records multiple occasions when the Apostle Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen. GND3 shows what can happen, though, when Christians put their interests above God’s glory. David wages an unseemly public relations campaign and engages in what’s probably the motion picture industry’s first (and, I hope, last) on-screen fistfight between a pastor and a university chancellor (Ted McGinley). Without spoiling the ending, the movie sends the right message for all involved; believers, too, have something to learn. Did the naysaying critics walk out of the theater early?

All that being said, the battle to keep the church on campus takes a back pew to two compelling subplots. David’s estranged older brother, Pearce (John Corbett), becomes legal counsel for the church. Corbett superbly plays a free-spirited lawyer who has rejected his faith. And White has noticeably improved his acting craft since his painful showing in Faith of Our Fathers. The back-and-forth between Pearce and David, as they revisit the family issues that tore them apart, rings true.

The other story concerns a Hadleigh student, Adam (Mike C. Manning), who vandalizes the church and accidentally kills the co-pastor. Adam’s struggles with guilt and the decision whether to turn himself in make for the film’s most emotionally genuine moments.

But GND3 (rated PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material) also has several starchy moments, sermonettes that come off overly rehearsed. Still, for the most part, Mason keeps the film real—no tide of converts, just characters who for the first time give pause to their bias against Christianity.

That’s something a few movie critics should consider doing, too.

Comments

  • Christian_Prof
    Posted: Mon, 04/02/2018 10:45 pm

    The first God's not Dead was truly awful. I didn't watch the second as a result. And the sad thing is, that God's not Dead (part 1) was actually right. On many campuses (most higher end ones, actually), Christians are not welcome in the classroom, nor are conservatives. It's bigotry by the supposed "tolerant" and secular left... but we as Christians need to do better than a cheesy movie. 

    There are tens of thousands of lives being lost to Christ on hundreds of campuses throughout the USA every single semester.

  • RC
    Posted: Tue, 04/03/2018 12:40 pm

    The students who graduate from the anti-Christian schools are not permanently lost when they get outside of the ivory towers. There is still time to redeem them in the real world. All hope is not lost. The followers of Jesus Christ have been attacked for over 2,000 years and we are still going strong.