A Critique of the Critics - God's Not Dead 2

I just got home from a “date night” with my wife and daughter. We went to see Gods Not Dead 2 (and have dinner afterwards). I had a blast, and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the two ladies in my life. The movie was excellent. I am glad to see that Christian apologetics ideas are making it to the mainstream through this series of films.

I took an opportunity to peruse some of the reviews of the film online. I was curious what the secular movie critics are saying about this newest release from director Harold Cronk and Pure Flix Entertainment.

Jordan Hoffman of “The Guardian” gave the movie one out of five stars and wrote, “God’s Not Dead 2 is a much better movie than God’s Not Dead, but that’s a bit like saying a glass of milk left on the table hasn’t curdled and is merely sour. “

Vadim Rizov of the A.V. Club gave a scathing review of the movie (along with 1.5 stars) telling his readers “The main goal [of the film] is still stoking a sense of paranoia. When Grace speaks of ‘escalating persecution’ against Jesus and MLK, the audience is supposed to feel persecuted themselves.” He concluded that the production is simply “a movie for Ralph Reed’s Moral Majority, with all the political baggage that comes with it.”

Sheila O’Malley at the Roger Ebert.com site, who gave the movie 1.5 stars, opined that 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’.” Apparently Ms. O’Malley missed the courtroom testimony of apologist Lee Strobel and the television interview with Dr. Gary Habermas, both of whom provide excellent summaries of the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth.

Nick Schager at Variety believes that “this sequel to the faith-based hit is a torturous exercise in one-note proselytizing.” He commented that by the time the movie reached it climax with “a courtroom defense rooted in proving that Jesus was a historical figure – thus making him fit for public classroom dialogue – the proceedings have long since ditched any pretense of legitimate intellectual debate in favor of convoluted evangelizing.” Schager believes the movie operates “with far greater levels up upside-down logic and bald-face intolerance” than a middle-school play. (My apologies to any aspiring middle-school actors out there; that was just mean).

Jackie Cooper at the Huffington Post penned a fairly tame review, given the “HuffPo’s” decidedly liberal bent. Cooper was pleased with some of the acting and didn’t go out of his way to be overly critical of the Christian themes of this obviously Christian film. He scored it “a lively 7 out of 10” and noted the movie is geared towards “those who have felt discriminated against because of their Christian faith.” Cooper noted that it “goes straight for the issues that many think have been hidden by the media”; namely, persecution of Christians in the public square.

What these reviewers have all failed to do is react to or comment on the underlying truth claims of the film. Namely that Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical figure, and the Gospel accounts found in the New Testament are reliable, historical records of the sayings of Christ and the events of his life. I suppose this is to be expected from film critics. Their job is, after all, to review movies, not comment on historical evidence. But it is still surprising that they all seemed to miss this critical, underlying theme of the movie. There are no serious historical scholars that deny that Jesus was an actual historical figure; who lived in Palestine some two thousand years ago; was crucified by the Roman authorities at the behest of the Jewish religious leaders; who died on a Roman cross; who was buried in a borrowed tomb, and that tomb was found empty three days later; whose followers were radically transformed by what they claimed were appearances of the resurrected Jesus; and these same followers all never recanted their claims, even those who faced torture and death for their beliefs. Christianity is grounded in these truth claims. It stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus. As the apostle Paul wrote, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV).

Several of the reviews I found commented that the movie was “political red meat” for the evangelical right, complained that the film was full of mischaracterizations of atheists, and poked fun at one the main character’s conversion to Christianity. Snarky, snide comments aside, several of these reviews pointed out perceived flaws in the technical aspects of the film, such as superficial character development and tangential plot elements. These all may be accurate. I’m not a film critic. All I know is I enjoyed the movie, and I “got” the underlying theme of the film. Perhaps some of these film critics could learn a thing or two from the likes of Strobel, Wallace, and Habermas on the historicity of the New Testament. But then, what one does with the historical evidence is of supreme importance. As the main character, Grace Wesley (played by Melissa Joan Hart) said, the question that all of us has to answer regarding Jesus of Nazareth is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).