It’s a rare sequel that can match, let alone surpass, its predecessor. As controversial as God’s Not Dead was – an unabashedly Christian movie with steps and missteps – I think the sequel is an improvement.
The story: when popular public school teacher Grace gets a question in her history class about Jesus, she well-meaningly answers it in the historical context, quoting from the historical texts that establish Jesus’s actions and teachings.
Shortly after, she finds herself being sued by the ACLU for “preaching” to her students and trying to spread her Christian faith, with a non-believing young lawyer to advise her.
One of the problems of the first film was the overwhelming number of characters and plots swirling around the main thread, frequently only tangentially connected to the main thread.
I’m not sure if it’s because there are fewer roles in the sequel or if recognizing the returning characters from the first film helped, but the confusion seems less in GND2 – and the individual plot threads seem more closely connected to the main arc (Grace’s religious liberty trial).
Both movies attempt to show how different lives intersect in small yet significant ways – the sequel (in my opinion) does a better job.
I know from experience how hard it is to craft realistic, compelling characters that fit the plot, yet also act within the expectations of what the audience knows of the world.
GND2 does a good job. Grace is perky, kind, caring, and enthusiastic – yet also struggles to keep trusting God as she faces losing her teaching certificate, job, and even house in judgements and lawyers’ fees. Even as she struggles with despair, her determination to do and say what she believes to be true, no matter what it costs her, inspire the audience and supporting characters alike.
The clumsy pastor from the first movie also makes an appearance. While he mostly provides comic relief (and theological support for other characters), he is more tightly connected to the plot this time around by being on the jury that tries Grace. His wry, sometimes frustrated performance shows Christians as ordinary people, called to deal with even the “normal” trials of life (such as being called for jury duty or spilling coffee on your shirt) with patience and grace.
The lawyer advocating Grace is an interesting and complex character. While he openly admits he’s an unbeliever at his first meeting with her, he obviously cares about what the truth is. His character arc across the length of the film is inspiring, while not stretching the bounds of credibility by forcing a conversion. Nevertheless, his willingness to learn and engage with new ideas makes him my favorite character.
God’s Not Wimpy
While the first movie did a good job showing how powerful arguments don’t win the day, the sequel did an even better job displaying how God moves and works through comments that – from a human perspective – sound weak, stupid, or nonsensical.
It’s easy (especially for doctrinally-grounded, church-raised Christians) to think that we can win people’s hearts and minds with our stunning rhetoric or blinding facts.
The first film underlined the fact it’s each individual’s decision to accept or reject God that matters.
The second reiterated this: “Who do you say that I am?” What you do with Jesus, and what facts you decide are authoritative about Jesus (historical and spiritual), is up to you.
Hearts are changed by the “stupidest” statements we Christians make. Conversely, hardened unbelievers can listen to the most profound, impassioned declarations without batting an eye.
GND2 does a good job portraying the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit, without resorting to cheap theatrics.
Multiple Plots, Superfluous Characters
Although this was better than the first film, it still felt as though some of the characters were forced into the movie as brand service. The Newsboys especially seemed included simply as emotional support for another character (and because they were sponsoring the film and needed to play the theme song). On the other hand, that was better than in the first film, where they seemed included as short-hand for “Christian culture”.
My brother rants at length about the missteps of the first film, but I thought it an appropriate call to action for Christians to realize the importance of standing for and sharing their faith. The greater coherency of this sequel makes it more appropriate to share with your unbelieving friends; it also includes real-life experts to speak to the historicity of the person Jesus.
It even got the stamp of approval from my brother Mr. Portentous Critic ☺.
God’s Not Dead 2 has a lot to offer thinking Christians willing to confront their fears about standing for what they believe, plus elements to get open-minded skeptics (like the defense lawyer) thinking critically about what they believe and why.
Lead image from Wikipedia.