The Austin Chronicle

God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness

Rated PG, 106 min. Directed by Michael Mason. Starring Jennifer Taylor, John Corbett, Ted McGinley, Tatum O'Neal, Shane Harper, David A.R. White, Gregory Alan Williams, Samantha Boscarino, Shwayze, Mike C. Manning.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 6, 2018

A little over half a century ago, the cover of Time magazine famously asked: “Is God Dead?” The question was a rhetorical one, posed during a turbulent decade freshly haunted by the 20th-century horrors of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. The more literal-minded God’s Not Dead franchise of faith-based films, however, appears to have no interest in a dialogue about God’s whereabouts amidst the terrors of the contemporary world. Rather, its agenda is largely informed by our contemporary culture wars – those pitting religious beliefs and secular principles against each other in conflicts (both real and imagined) – and staged as a Punch-and-Judy show on the proscenium of American political theatre.

Like its two predecessors, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness relies upon a firmly held belief in the persecution of Christians today. Released in 2014, the first film pitted a devout evangelical college student against an atheistic university professor who directed his pupils to sign a declaration of God’s demise to pass his course; two years later, the second film pitted a devout evangelical public high school teacher against an educational administration zealously intent upon maintaining the distance between church and state. In this latest chapter, affable pastor Reverend Dave (White) from the initial film (his denominational affiliation is unspecified, but it appears to be old-school Protestantism) reappears here to suffer the requisite crisis in faith during a showdown with public university officials seeking to remove his 150-year-old church from campus property for financial and other irreligious reasons. The maltreatment narratives in these films are similar: Big Godless Institution versus Little Guy Christian, with the Big Guy in his corner. It’s a David and Goliath dynamic as old as the Bible.

To its credit, this third GND installment earnestly attempts to give some degree of lip service to diverging perspectives on the socio-religious-political scale without too much proselytizing, although there’s never any question about whose side it’s on. Regardless, the absence of the one-dimensional stridency and hostility of its predecessors is more than welcome. As the conflicted reverend and agnostic brother (Corbett) who comes to his legal aid, the leads nail the way that grownup siblings sometimes interact with each other, reverting to little kids playacting in adult roles. The way their characters ultimately come to respect the differences in their belief systems is hopeful, and not altogether contrived. It may not portend a reconciliation of the believer and the unbeliever in these charged times, but it’s a start.

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