God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness is the third installment in the most successful independent Christian franchise of all time. Each of the films focuses on a different kind of attack on Christians. This particular one is about the fight between the secular and the spiritual; can they coexist, or will they always be apart? It explores the modern relevancy of Christianity and ponders the question of whether Christians sometimes cause their own problems.
God’s Not Dead 3 begins where the previous film left off; you know, the subplot in the after credit scene where Pastor Dave was arrested when he refused to comply with a court order to submit copies of his sermons for legal review. (Believe it or not, this was based on a real case that took place in 2014 when the City of Houston’s mayor demanded that pastors turn over their sermons.)
I thought this movie was going to be all about Pastor Dave’s imprisonment for civil disobedience and the ensuing legal battle, but within the first five minutes of the movie, the charges are dismissed and Pastor Dave is released from jail. However, talking to reporters afterwards, he makes a controversial remark about Jesus being the one and only Truth – and that’s when his real problems begin.
Everyone gets on his case and Pastor Dave’s church is surrounded by protestors, claiming that Dave is a bigot for insisting that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Then the whole idea of having a church on a public university campus comes under fire.
A lot of universities built in the 1800s have a historic church building on campus. You’d think these would be deemed worthy enough to be preserved simply for their historical significance. Nevertheless, after a tragic fire rips through St. James Church, Hadleigh University leaders use the tragedy as an excuse to tear down the church.
Still fresh out of jail for his previous offense, Pastor Dave now has to defend his rights to save his church, which was his father’s church before him. Dave is forced to ask his estranged brother Pearce, a civil-rights attorney, for help, in a bittersweet reunion that opens old wounds and forces them to address the issues that pulled them apart.
God’s Not Dead 3 is a lot darker than the first two. Seriously, there’s a good reason why they subtitled it “A Light in Darkness.” The storyline is gripping and dramatic, the cinematography is fantastic, and the cast does a great job of bringing their characters to life and making them believable.
This movie has the continuity of Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) and Reverend Jude (Benjamin Onyango) from the previous two films, and the return of Josh (Shane Harper) from the first movie. We also get to see John Corbett (the pastor from All Saints) join this film as Dave’s atheist brother Pearce, with strong echoes of the parable of the prodigal son.
What follows is more of a character study than an apologetic treatise, unlike the first two films. Pastors are supposed to have all the answers, and yet they aren’t perfect; they can get angry and frustrated just like the rest of us. By tackling the practical difficulties of living in a country that is becoming aggressively anti-Christian, God’s Not Dead 3 is one of the best films in the series.
Pastor Dave is fighting to save his church, but is that the right or wrong thing to do? The church is just a building. So architectural edifices aside, what about being the light we are called to be in a world that is growing considerably darker? Can Christians fight for their rights and be the light for Christ at the same time?
“You spend so much time telling us what the church is AGAINST,” someone laments. “But what is the church FOR?” That would be forgiveness, peace, hope, and love.
The Newsboys didn’t feature as prominently in this God’s Not Dead movie as they did in the others, but lead singer Michael Tait came on with a spoken message at the end.