Friday, April 22, 2016

Movie Review: GOD'S NOT DEAD 2

Rating: 5 DOVES!

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  - Matthew 16:15 NASB

This passage from the gospel of Matthew figures very significantly in this film, the sequel to the highly successful and beloved God's Not Dead.

Before I touch upon that, let me say without hesitation that there is no "sophomore slump" here. While film sequels have not always lived up to the original, God's Not Dead 2 may actually be an even better movie than its predecessor. Let's go a step further: Christian movies seem to have come into their own, judging by this latest work. The quality of the actors' performances, writing, the storytelling itself, and direction far exceeds the Christian movies of the past which, speaking of sophomores, (and I apologize for saying this but it's true) were pretty sophomoric.

Let's begin with God's Not Dead 2's cast, which includes the lovely Melissa Joan Hart, who has been in many more roles (but yes, in our house, she's still fondly remembered for Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch!). Here she plays Grace Wesley, who is the sort of high school teacher you won't ever forget for her dedication and kindness, as well as a devoted Christian who innocently responds to a student's question revolving around Ghandi and Jesus Christ. That leads to a political firestorm that threatens her career, her certificate, all that she has.

Grace is a caring teacher who looks after her aging dad (Pat Boone), but her life is turned upside down when the school board (Robin Givens does a fine job as the principal, who not only is so bent on running a tight and politically correct ship that she tramples on the students' freedom of speech, as well) demands an apology from her. When Grace refuses to apologize for simply answering a question, an ACLU attorney is brought in (Ray Wise, brilliant in this role!). Jesse Metcalf also delivers as Grace's lawyer, who initially doesn't want the job of defending her but eventually can't deny that Grace sincerely holds fast to her faith, leading him to defend her passionately.

The late Fred Dalton Thompson and Mike Huckabee have cameos in this, and there are some familiar faces from the first God's Not Dead--Benjamin A. Onyango as the charming and funny Pastor Jude and Paul Kwo, who gives a poignant performance as Martin Yip, a young man seeking the Lord with all of his heart and ready to give up everything to follow Him. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention David A.R. White as Rev. Dave, a local pastor who's dreading jury duty ("I have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being picked" he tells Pastor Jude) until he finds himself on the jury at Grace's trial.

God's Not Dead 2 was inspired by true and recent events here in the United States, of Christians--whether teachers or bakers or bed-and-breakfast owners--who found themselves in a position similar to Grace Wesley. What makes this so compelling is that, for years, Christians were free to worship and speak about the Lord here in the United States. The tide of political correctness and "separation of church and state" (which, as the movie aptly points out, those words never appear in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution) have changed all that.

Now, naturally, we should have been expecting that, anyway. In John 16:33, Jesus said, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (KJV) Yet persecution has for a long time been something that happened "somewhere else." Just ask believers in other parts of the world, who have seen their children murdered right in front of them, or who themselves have been tortured or killed. This year, on Good Friday, Pastor Thomas Uzhunnalil was crucified by ISIS, and all because of his faith.

Persecution has also come to the United States, though it has taken on a different form. For now. These are the last days, so expect persecution to become much worse. I loved God's Not Dead 2 because it reminds us that Christianity is not only about going to church on Sundays and practicing with the choir and all our holidays. Being a Christian is not just about believing in Jesus but about walking with Him, about having an intimate relationship with Him, even when it costs us either something or everything. It is about cultivating that relationship and holding on tight to Him even when the rest of the world says that faith is unpopular and outdated, and that it's time to move forward into a future without Christ. For us, as believers, there is no future without Jesus. He IS our future, our now, our yesterday, our tomorrows.

Like Grace Wesley, we have all been asked that question in our hearts: Who do you say that I am? Our answer to that question is what defines who we are, our life, our being. That answer should guide everything we do or say, what sets us apart from a world that needs the same Savior it is denying. This movie will inspire you to keep your eyes fixed on the things that are eternal rather than the things that are temporal. As Grace says in one scene, "I would rather be judged by the world and accepted by God than accepted by the world and judged by God."

Five doves to the memorable, emotion-packed and timely God's Not Dead 2.

Ah, yes--and the Newsboys are in this one, too!

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