In the spring of 2014, the American public was surprised to see an unrepentantly Christian film not merely released in public theaters, but actually perform well in the box office. God’s Not Dead was something of a cultural milestone, following on the heels of similar films which had been making waves within Christian communities – films like Fireproof and Courageous – this film dared to mingle the Christian narrative with that of the secular, the atheist and the Muslim – and to have the Christian narrative emerge triumphant.
Despite its clearly Christian message, God’s Not Dead managed to earn decent figures in the public box office and received acclaim from Christian and even some non-Christian critics for its story and characterization. This success has led to the creation of a sequel – opening in theaters this April 1st.
God’s Not Dead received unilateral praise for bridging the gap between Christian Pop Culture and Christian Apologetics; its plot forcing Christians to realize that, unless properly informed, they were liable to be eaten alive in a world which demanded answers they frequently didn’t have.
However, a criticism sometimes aimed at the first film was that, once introduced, the Apologetics were less rigorous than they could be, and managed to be largely swept aside by the overall plot.
God’s Not Dead 2 has brought onboard famous Christian scholar Gary Habermas as a consultant, and two acclaimed Christian Apologists to consult on, and play parts within, the film.
This Columnist had the opportunity recently to talk to one of the stars of this new film, Homicide-Detective-turned-Christian-Apologist J. Warner Wallace, who spoke about the film and his role.
God’s Not Dead 2 stars Melissa Joan Hart as Grace Wesley, a teacher who answers a question about Jesus in her classroom. As a result of her actions, she faces the possibility of losing her job, and brings her case to court – where the crucial drama of the movie unfolds.
Because of his many years working as a detective, Wallace has spent his fair share of time testifying in court, and so this setting for a film was ideal for his expertise. In the film, Wallace plays himself; brought in as an expert to describe some of the evidence for the historicity of Jesus.
However, Wallace is not the only Christian Apologist taking the stage and playing as himself in this courtroom drama. The court also calls as an expert witness legal-journalist-turned-Christian-Apologist, Lee Strobel. In real life, Wallace and Strobel share not only their Apologetics in common, but they were both once atheists and both became Christians after a rigorous investigation of the facts concerning the historical Jesus Christ.
“[In the movie] Lee Strobel and I each get just a few minutes to present evidence from our books. I focus briefly on the unreasonable nature of conspiracy theories offered to explain the resurrection, and I also testify to the nature of eyewitness accounts and the presence of ‘unintentional eyewitness support statements’ in the gospels.”
Wallace’s involvement with the God’s Not Dead 2 actually reaches back prior to the release of the original film. The former Detective’s star has been rising quickly since the release of his first book in 2013. His dynamic speaking style and unique approach to Apologetics made him a natural fit for such a film, so it is little wonder that Rice Broocks, the author who was responsible for the God’s Not Dead series, nabbed Wallace for the project.
“I met Rice Broocks just prior to the release of God’s Not Dead (the first movie), and we eventually met for dinner in California. We talked about the importance of creating fictional movies that incorporated the case for God and the case for Christianity. We eventually met with the screenwriters of God’s Not Dead 2 (along with Gary Habermas) to discuss the evidence for Jesus, and as a result of this lengthy meeting, the producers asked me if I would present some of this evidence in the next movie.”
Wallace has spoken countless times in court, as a minister and now as a traveling Apologist speaker. However, as a first-time actor, it turns out that Wallace had a great deal still to learn. Because he was playing himself and largely presenting material from his own books and talks, his script was essentially lines he had written himself. Despite all this, it wasn’t easy.
As Wallace tells it:
“I didn’t realize I would have to repeat [my lines] over and over again with a fair amount of precision as they filmed the scene from many different angles. That was a bit challenging. The other actors were incredibly gifted and patient with me. Ernie Hudson was especially helpful. He sat next to me all day, playing the judge in the courtroom scene, and during the breaks he would give me little tips and tell stories about his experiences in the movie industry.”
In exchange for the stories being shared with him from the film industry, Wallace was able to share with his fellow actors and actresses all of the many evidences for Christianity.
Wallace encourages audiences – Christian or not – to go see God’s Not Dead 2 for several specific reasons. It is not, as it may seem, a thin dramatic veneer for some Sunday School lesson, nor is it an Apologetics documentary dressed up with actors. This is a movie which is about real people in real situations plucked directly from the headlines of cultural relevance. It is a drama which represents each person and their views legitimately, and explores the complex topics of the times.
As Wallace says:
“I … think the story is inspiring and will be encouraging for those who recognize the cultural shift taking place in America … I’m very pleased to be able to play a small part in God’s Not Dead 2.”