A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that God's Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness is the third film in the successful faith-based God's Not Dead series. Like its predecessors, this one concentrates on issues of church and state; this time, they revolve around a public university trying to close a controversy-sparking church on campus. Although there's no swearing or sex, characters do flirt, hold hands, and kiss, and there's a scene or two of implied drinking by college-age students (red Solo cups are visible), as well as of an adult drinking beer. And there's some violence, including vandalism that leads to a fire and a dramatic/potentially scary death, plus a man punching a pastor and vice versa. While the movie ultimately has a message of hope and peace, there are also obvious anti-protest/"social justice" themes, in that characters claim that protest culture divides instead of unites and that Christians who follow Jesus' example are uniquely qualified to fight for justice and the oppressed. David A.R. White and John Corbett co-star.
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What's the story?
GOD'S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS is the third in the series of successful faith-based God's Not Dead films, which center on issues of Christian persecution and the intersection of church and state. The movie opens with Pastor Dave (David A.R. White), the head of a church affiliated with fictional state-funded Hadleigh University, going to jail for refusing to turn over the transcripts of his sermons. Pastor Dave's church on the college campus has become controversial, with protests and pundits calling for its removal. One day, an angry college student vandalizes the church and in the process accidentally causes an explosion that kills Pastor Dave's close friend, Pastor Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango), who's visiting from Ghana. With the church in ruins, the university's board of trustees decides to close it down instead of rebuild it, so Pastor Dave enlists the help of his brother, Pearce (John Corbett), a non-believer civil rights attorney, to help him fight the decision.
Is it any good?
Faith-based films continue to improve on the technical front thanks to professional actors and high production values. But it's still hard to imagine anyone who's not an evangelical Christian wanting to see them. This third installment in the God's Not Dead series, while slightly less silly in its setup than the previous two, still feeds the opinion, within certain circles, that colleges obsessed with tolerance start being "intolerant" when it comes to Christianity (or at least the narrowly defined fundamentalist/evangelical version of Christianity, as portrayed in the movie). Star White, who also produces the movies, does a fine job playing fed-up Pastor Dave, who's ready to fight/stand up for his church's right to be on the state university. Corbett, a regular on the faith-based circuit, is also good as the secular brother who felt hurt by his family's Christian judgment long ago.
Some audiences may notice that the only minority characters either die, are used as wise council (fellow pastors), or represent the non-believer threat of protest culture (i.e., a young black man who's constantly on his phone using social media to call for fellow students to protest). None of the people of color in the movie are fully fledged characters the audience gets to know -- just supporting players with few lines in an otherwise all-white ensemble. That feels uncomfortable, particularly since most public universities would likely have much more diversity. Props to the filmmakers for at least having the black pastor call out Pastor Dave (who's complaining about feeling persecuted) by saying something to the effect of "Brother, I'm a black preacher in the Deep South -- how many bricks do you think have been hurled at me?" And then Pastor Dave apologizes. There's also dialogue in which Pastor Dave acknowledges the violence and persecution caused by Christians in the past, although it's quickly dismissed as not as important as what's happening now against Christians. Moviegoers who already agree with the filmmakers' premise will enjoy this drama, but anyone who doesn't believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States is likely to find the plot condescending -- particularly because Christian persecution is very real in other countries.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether God's Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness has a particular agenda. Do you think all movies do? What's it like to watch a movie that promotes beliefs different from yours? How does it compare to when you identify with a movie's perspective?
How does the movie depict its point of view? What is that perspective? Who do you think the audience for this movie is? How can you tell?
What is the movie saying about protests and protesting? Do you agree with that message? Why or why not?
Who are the role models in this movie? Why?
- In theaters: March 30, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: August 21, 2018
- Cast: John Corbett, David A.R. White, Shane Harper
- Director: Michael Mason
- Studio: Pure Flix Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material
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