I watched the 2016 Christian movie, God’s Not Dead 2, on Amazon last night. God’s Not Dead 2 is the sequel to the 2014 movie God’s Not Dead.
Here are some items. In the course of my commentary, I will share aspects of the movie’s plot.
A. Martin Yip was in God’s Not Dead. He was from the People’s Republic of China, and he was a student in Professor Radisson’s philosophy class, along with Christian Josh Wheaton. In God’s Not Dead 2, Martin approaches Pastor Dave with 147 questions about the Bible and Christianity! Martin tells Pastor Dave that Josh told him that Pastor Dave might have answers to his questions.
One of Martin’s questions was especially good. Martin referred to the Golden Rule in Luke 6:31, and Martin questioned whether it was possible for him to care about other people and their needs in the exact same way, or to the exact same extent, that he cares about his own. I find that to be an excellent point. I support caring for others and their well-being, and even doing things concretely to help them. I also realize that, for the sake of peace and the well-being of others, I cannot always get what I want. But seriously: of course I will prioritize my own needs over the needs of others’! And, before you criticize me for saying this, here’s a newsflash: you do too! For example, you work to earn money for yourself and your family. You do not give your entire income away to another family!
Martin also said to Pastor Dave that, for every one of Pastor Dave’s answers, Martin had three more questions! Pastor Dave likened this to a candle: the brighter the flame, the greater is the darkness around it. I do not know how accurate that is, but I do like the concept of answers generating more questions, and answers to those questions generating more questions. Wouldn’t one expect that, when it comes to an infinite, deep God? How different this is from the situation in which evangelicals give pat answers to questions and expect that to close the door on the subject!
B. In the first movie, Amy Ryan was a left-wing atheist blogger. Then she learned that she was dying of cancer, and the Christian band, the Newsboys, prayed with her. She became receptive to faith at that point. In God’s Not Dead 2, Amy learns that her cancer is in remission, and the Newboys attribute that to divine healing. But Amy is unsure about what she should do with her faith after this. When she had cancer, she was clinging to Jesus for dear life, for that got her through her time of uncertainty. Now that her time of uncertainty has passed, she does not know why she should have faith, or even if she wants to have faith.
I appreciated this part of the movie, since I deal with similar questions. I have clinged to God for years because there has been a lack in my life. Because I have Asperger’s, I do not have too many friends, and I have felt alone. Also, I am not where I would like to be professionally. I have wondered: suppose that I were liked by more people and were prospering financially? Would I maintain my relationship with God, or would I leave God, becoming an atheist or a-religious agnostic?
Amy has a conversation with Pastor Jude, who is Pastor Dave’s friend from Africa. Pastor Jude speculates that Amy still feels drawn to Jesus, on some level, and this is why she is still thinking about faith, even after her cancer remission. And yet, he says that part of Amy doesn’t want anything to do with Jesus. Amy could identify with that. So can I!
C. Brooke Thawly is a high-school student, and her brother was recently killed in an accident. She is having difficulty moving on from that. She meets with her history teacher, Grace Wesley, outside of school and the two of them have a discussion about faith. Grace goes home that night to her grandfather, Walter (played by Pat Boone), and Walter says, “Atheism doesn’t take away the pain, only the hope!”
Is that true? I can envision Christianity adding more pain rather than taking pain away! If conservative Christians are correct that God damns to hell those who failed to accept Jesus in this life, would that make people feel better? Fortunately, Brooke’s brother accepted Jesus before his death, but suppose he hadn’t? Many people don’t! Christian doctrines about heaven and hell would not comfort Brooke, in that case. Plus, there is the problem of evil: if God could have saved the life of Brooke’s brother, why didn’t God do so?
At the same time, I can also envision Christianity adding a sliver of hope. God is a personal being, not an inflexible doctrine, so who is to say that God absolutely, positively cannot save people who failed to commit to Jesus in this life? That doesn’t mean that we should test God, but there is a sliver of hope, to which even some evangelicals appeal when discussing the issue of hell.
D. The movie revolves around a court case. Grace in a class lecture is asked a question by Brooke, and Grace answers Brooke’s question by talking about the role of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of non-violence. Grace specifically cites and quotes Matthew 5:39.
Grace gets in trouble for that, as her superiors claim that she was teaching religion in a public school, which is unconstitutional. The ACLU, representing Brooke, brings a lawsuit against Grace.
You would think that this sort of case would be absurd: Grace was not promoting Christianity by telling her students about the role of the Sermon on the Mount in American history! She was making a historical point, not a religious point!
To my surprise, though, the ACLU attorney, Pete Kane, actually made some fairly decent points, which is not to say that a real ACLU attorney would make those arguments. Kane said that Grace, by citing chapter and verse, was showing her class that she knew the Scriptures well and was a devout Christian, and thus was promoting religion as a teacher. (One could counter that Grace, in citing chapter and verse, was showing that she was literate rather than religious, but I can still see Kane’s point, at least somewhat.) Kane also attempted to establish a record of Grace proselytizing on school grounds: Grace invited teachers and staff to an activity at her church, Grace collected funds at school for a religious charity, and Grace broached the subject of religion to Brooke.
Grace’s union-appointed lawyer, Tom Endler, also made some decent points, but his points contradicted each other. On the one hand, he wanted to deny that Grace was teaching religion in school. He argued that Grace was simply making a historical point in response to a student’s question, rather than promoting Christianity. In the course of the movie, he attempts to establish that Jesus was a historical figure, in order to argue that Grace has a right to talk about the teachings of Jesus in a classroom history course, as she would have a right to talk about the teachings of any other historical person. On the other hand, Tom made the usual right-wing talking-point that separation of church and state is nowhere in the Constitution, and he seemed to argue that, in a diverse society, Grace shouldn’t be required to leave her faith at the door when she enters a public setting.
Grace herself had a contradictory attitude. She maintained that she was simply making a historical point in class, but she also framed her perils in religious terms: she needs to be faithful to God, rather than the world!
E. Sheila O’Malley at Roger Ebert’s site, not surprisingly, gives the movie a low grade. Yet, she still praises the performance of Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace: “The only really good scene in the movie features real-life cold case homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace, who used his forensic statement analysis skills on the gospels, resulting in a book called ‘Cold Case Christianity.’ He’s put on the stand in defense of poor, wronged Grace Wesley, and his testimony is simply delivered and thought-provoking.”
Regarding J. Warner Wallace, I somewhat identify with what blogger DagoodS said in a comment on his blog, particularly when Dagood criticized Wallace for “treat[ing] 1st Century documents like 21st Century police-reports…” One can legitimately argue that the two are apples and oranges!
Still, I appreciated Sheila O’Malley doing the unexpected and praising an aspect of the movie.