Ever since Donald Trump announced he would run for president in the summer of 2015, political discourse has degenerated into political discord. TV pundits daily rage at one another with mean-spirited, personal and vulgar attacks, with no modicum of civility. At a time when the ability to debate without hate seems to have become a lost art — the latest film from the Pure Flix series, ‘God’s Not Dead’ inspires peaceful debate on the sensitive topic of opposing spiritual beliefs.
“In our society and culture right now, we have a lot of darkness,” reflects actor/producer and Co-Founder of Pureflix Entertainment, David A.R. White.
“There’s a lot of anger; there’s a lot of fighting. You can’t turn on the news for even a second without seeing something that’s really disturbing. This is a time in our society when it seems like we have so much tension going on – we have the left, we have the right, and nobody can agree on anything. This movie really brings that out. It’s a movie about hope, about love, about healing and ultimately, forgiveness,” says White.
In the third release of the hugely popular God’s Not Dead series, we discover the previous supporting role of the handsome and laid back Reverand Dave (played by David A.R.White), has evolved into the lovable central character of God’s Not Dead: Light in the Darkness.
When Rev. Dave’s St. James Church burns to the ground in a suspected act of arson, a conflagration of different sorts rages up in town. Despite mounting opposition, Rev. Dave commits to fighting that effort– even as growing public opinion questions whether a college campus is the proper location for a house of worship – and if the church is even still relevant in such a diverse community.
The questions being asked, notes actor Ted McGinley (Hope and Faith), who plays Ellsworth, Hadleigh University’s dean and Rev. Dave’s close friend, are legitimate: “Does this church represent everyone on campus? Can this church be for everyone on campus? Are we allowed to put money into a church, because when you do, you take away from certain areas?” But the way those questions are being debated by most, including Rev. Dave, are part of the problem. Fortunately ‘God’s Not Dead’ Inspires Peaceful Debate.
“Many of us are so protective about our own views and our own points of view that we stop listening,” McGinley says. “The reality of this movie is that these are all people who may be right in their own groups. This movie is not about ‘the Christians’ versus ‘the villains.’ It’s about everyone. There are a whole bunch of people in this movie who aren’t incorrect. They’re just two different sides, and they’re not listening to each other.”
Into this contentious environment comes Pearce Hill (John Corbett, All Saints), Rev. Dave’s brother, a big-city lawyer who drifted away from his family years earlier, when he drifted away from his Christian faith. The siblings’ reunion is rocky on multiple levels, but Dave has nowhere else to turn in his fight to rebuild his church.
“Pearce is reluctant to help, but Dave is his brother, so he decides to help,” says John Corbett. “But there’s also something about returning home and breaking through those walls they put up after drifting apart. As it turns out, we find a greater love and understanding when we find a common denominator of leaning on each other. I come alongside my brother to conquer something that was insurmountable.”
That breakthrough, at the micro level, is what GOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS hopes to be at the macro level.
Sonoma Christian Home spoke with actors Ted McGinley (TM) and Shane Harper (God’s Not Dead) (SH) at the L.A. Premiere for God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. SCH Editor at Large Dr. Diane Howard reports.
SCH: In John 17, our Lord prays repeatedly that believers would be one in the Father, and in His Son, and that the world would know that the Father has sent Him. In this film, what aspects of God’s glory are shown to demonstrate this?
TM: We are imperfect people. God gives us space to be imperfect out of His grace. When we show His glorious grace to others we find unity that the world might know that the Father has sent the Son.
SH: This movie picturizes the glory of God in sacrifice and in laying down personal ambitions for others. The movie shows God’s love model of free grace and His love transforming us in our weakness.
SCH: What are critical needs in the lives of young people today that this movie addresses?
TM: In the movie we see young people’s unique world that includes dependence on their smartphones and social media. Young people need to know that the church understands their world. For many young people there is a fear that they will never really be heard. They see the hostile ways that people come at each other. They need the freedom to ask “why?” This movie demonstrates how to resolve their conflicts with real listening and hearing.
SCH: Why do young people today need the grace the movie picturizes?
SH: Many young people have not seen enough real grace and have not seen the real heart of God.
DH: What solutions does this movie present for today’s pressing issues for young people?
SH- For young people, the movie brings to life the humility, grace, patience, and other fruits of God’s spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control…) which provide solutions.
SCH: What do you think audiences will find most surprising about this film?
TM: Honest, different opinions are okay. Someone with a different opinion is not the bad guy in the movie. Different opinions can be honorable. People are not monsters because they have different opinions.
SCH: In your view, what was the most powerful element of the story?
SH: That the lead character learns to sacrifice. He learns to see the heartaches of others and learns the value of sacrifice for them.
SCH: What does the movie say about how we as the church can have the greatest impact?
SH: By dropping judgement and by loving our neighbor.
SCH: How does this movie give us a clear picture of how the church body should live?
SH: As a body, community, serving others emotionally and practically, loving and caring about others as Christ did.
“This film allows conversation to be OK,” David A. R. White notes. “It says, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this,’ instead of just beating you over the head with what I believe is right or what your parents believe is right or what your friends believe is right. Let’s just open up and talk about it.”
Jennifer Cipolla, who plays Sydney, one of the college students who brashly challenges the wisdom and relevance of having a church on her university’s campus, says the way in which the film encourages dialogue is “going to get audiences’ heads turning.”
“It’s not about trying to sway their ideas or make them think a different way, but just think in general. And most of all to come together,” she says. “The idea of this movie isn’t you have to think one way or the other. The idea is that all of us can come together and we can all have our different opinion – and that’s OK.”
“In our culture right now there is a lot of fighting going on. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, left side, ride side, nobody seems to be able to get along and there’s a lot of dissention,” David A. R. White says. “So we wanted to shine a light on this, but in a GOD’S NOT DEAD way: filled with hope and healing and forgiveness.”
“My hope is that the overarching narrative of this story would bring light into people’s hearts – feelings of unity and compassion as opposed to anger and frustration,” says Shane Harper, who returns as Josh Wheaton, the role he popularized in the original film. “I want people to be encouraged that we’re in a time that we need the church to be the church, and reach out and be loving and be gracious. This film is called A Light in Darkness for a reason: There’s a lot of darkness in the world right now, and we need to focus on grace and compassion and unity rather than division.”
“It’s really about not being judgmental, but loving,” McGinley says. “Just because somebody has a different point of view, a different idea of what they think is right and wrong, it’s OK. It doesn’t mean we can’t listen to each other. That we can’t work it out. Because butting heads, constant conflict, is never going to work. We’re all in this together; it’s not going away. So let’s work together and find a way. And what a great way to do it – through God and with God.”
“The message of this movie is how do we as Christians, as individual believers, relate to others? How do we be a light in darkness?” White says. “The biggest thing I hope all believers will take away is that Jesus was about love. How do we relate to those in need? How to we encourage them? Uplift them? Care for them?
“Ultimately that’s what this film is about. I don’t think it’s exactly what people will expect. I think it’s more than what they will expect.”
David A. R. White also stars in the Christian sitcom, Malibu Dan.
To learn more about the author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard