The bizarre thing about this film, the third in the God’s Not Dead franchise, is that it seems like an apology for the first two films. God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in the Darkness has a new writer and director, Michael Mason, who takes a whole new approach to the series. The first film was about a college student whose faith was attacked by a philosophy professor; the second film was about a teacher attacked by her school administration. Both films had villains that were a little more evil than a combination of Snidely Whiplash, Bill Sikes, and Dracula -- with just a tad more sinister mustache twirling.
The first two films in the series depicted Christians in America under assault from government and the media. To put it lightly, not everyone agrees with this assertion.
On the other hand, some believe that Christians are still recipients of privilege in this country. They argue that our institutions are biassed toward Christianity, giving people Christmas day off and including “In God We Trust” on our money.
Inquisitions during the Middle Ages -- targeting Jews and Christians with dissenting views -- were government-run, while the Church (at times) provided a moderating influence. On the other hand, some Islamic and Communist governments still persecute Christians, throwing people in jail and even putting people to death.
David A. R. White returns as the Reverend Dave Hill. In the first two films, he was a supporting player, supporting the persecuted. In this film, he’s the focus, as Hayden University tries to take his church through eminent domain.
The legal case seemed a bit fuzzy to me. Apparently, the university had been a Christian school which was given to the state of Arkansas. The church was located on university grounds, but the church is said to own its property.
There are, of course, other plot complications. A young Christian student, Keaton (Samantha Boscarino), argues with her boyfriend, Adam (Mike Manning) about issues of faith. Adam, in a funk, vandalizes St. James, accidentally setting it aflame and killing a man. When Rev. Hill learns Adam was responsible, the Reverend yells at him and shoves him. This confrontation is described as an attack in the newspapers (which isn’t too far off).
But Rev. Dave eventually comes to see that perhaps he was in the wrong. He says God spoke to him saying, “This building is not my Church.” At the film’s climatic protest, the Reverend tells crowds protesting on both sides that he is giving up the case, and people need to learn to be tolerant and understanding of each other. The crowds immediately go all Kumbaya, hugging and forgiving each other. (Which seems rather unlike the protest culture we see in the news today.)
In the previous films, all Christians wore white hats, and many of the non-Christians wore black hats (figuratively if not literally). In this one, some of the most attractive characters aren’t believers, particularly the Rev’s brother, Pearce (played by John Corbett). He left the faith of his family during his law school years, then felt abandoned by his family. Dave doesn’t seem to have kept in contact with Pearce until he needs his help, but Pearce immediately came to his brother’s aid. Even so, Pearce doesn’t come to Christ and “pray the prayer” at the end of the film as one might expect.
In the previous two films, there are dramatic conversions to Christianity, but this film settles for people reconciling with one another and Christians becoming more clear about their own faith.
Habitat for Humanity and supports a soup kitchen, so it doesn’t deserve our lowest rating, and at the end of the film, we see hope that the church will earn more steeples (if there’s ever a God’s Not Dead IV).