Twenty years ago, few Christians in America believed same-sex marriage ever would be legalized. And 10 years ago, not many of us could have imagined we'd all be debating whether a 5-year-old boy who'd rather be a girl can have his pick of restrooms at the local public school.
So if we watch "God's Not Dead 2" (PG) this weekend — and contemplate its plot of a school teacher being taken to court for discussing Jesus in a historical context — we'd better be slow in saying, "That could never happen." In some ways, it already is.
The sequel to the first "God's Not Dead" hits theaters today, spotlighting the debate over religious liberty at the very moment that a controversy is brewing over a religious liberty bill in Georgia. Yes, the issues are somewhat different — the Georgia bill addressed same-sex marriage and "God's Not Dead 2" focuses on religious speech in the classroom — but the two fall under the same umbrella, and Christians would be wise to "study up" and learn.
I wasn't a big fan of the first "God's Not Dead," but I was quite impressed with "God's Not Dead 2." The story is more engaging and faster-paced, the acting is better — in fact, it's very good — and the plot is more believable. It also has a bigger budget.
Melissa Joan Hart stars as Grace Wesley, a high school history teacher who, yes, is a Christian, but who isn't outspoken about it in class. She lands in hot water one day when a student asks her the similarities between the nonviolent teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus, and she gives an honest answer — based solely on history. Unbeknown to her, another student was secretly recording her lecture, hoping to use it to get her in trouble. It does.
When a lawsuit is threatened, school officials try to calm the situation by asking Grace to write a letter pledging not to discuss Jesus in class again. Her attorney urges her to follow the school's suggestion, but she refuses.
"I would rather stand with God and be judged by the world, than stand with the world and be judged by God," she says.
An ACLU attorney then gets involved, telling the student's atheistic parents that "we're going to prove once and for all that God is dead." It may seem like a clear-cut Christian-versus-the ACLU movie, but it's not. That's because Grace's union-assigned attorney is not a Christian — a fact that he tells her is a good thing.
"I don't like to lose, and I'm willing to fight for you," he says.
(By the way, the ACLU does some good work in the world that we should recognize, but that's a column for another day.)
The film also stars Pat Boone as Grace's father, Jesse Metcalfe (the new "Dallas) as her attorney, and David A.R. White ("God's Not Dead") as a pastor who actually lands on the jury for Grace's trial. Sadie Robertson, Robin Givens and the late Fred Thompson have secondary roles.
"God's Not Dead 2" is a good movie, for several reasons.
First, it's simply well done. Hart and Metcalfe are believable, and White and the others are solid, too. The movie's plot also has enough twists that, more than once, I thought I didn't know how it would end.
Second, the film serves as a sort of Apologetics 101 lesson. Two well-known authors and apologists — J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel — actually appear on the witness stand in the courtroom, addressing two major questions: "Did Jesus even exist?" and, "Is there evidence for Jesus' resurrection?" Their scenes aren't lengthy, but they're substantive.
Third, the writers of "God's Not Dead 2" did a good job of giving us a storyline that is believable — even if it hasn't yet happened. I don't know if the courtroom setting would look like it does on screen, but I certainly can imagine a public school teacher — somewhere in America in the near future — getting in trouble for doing exactly what the teacher in the film does. And that's frightening.
Of course, no "God's Not Dead" movie would be complete without the Newsboys, who finish with a rocking and inspiring number.
Finally, you might want to stay in your seats until the credits are finished rolling. There's an additional scene, and if you're wondering if there's going to be a "God's Not Dead 3," it's key.
"God's Not Dead 2" is rated PG. It contains no language, sexuality or violence.
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family friendly rating: 5 out of 5.
Post-movie discussion topics: religious liberty — what do you think of the bills being debated in Georgia and elsewhere?; faith in public schools — what do you believe should be allowed in the classroom?; the future of Christianity in America — what does the future hold?
This first appeared at ChristianExaminer.com.