Did you catch the 2014 movie God's Not Dead? It's a good one. Good enough, and profitable enough, that a sequel is set to be released April 1, 2016. To get a preview of the upcoming movie, I read the novelization by Travis Thrasher, God's Not Dead 2. Sure, it's movie tie-in, with lots of cinematic, melodramatic elements, but I really enjoyed the book.
When Grace Wesley, a high school history teacher, is leading a discussion about Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., a student asks if their philosophy of nonviolence is akin to the teachings of Jesus. Grace, a Christian, responds by quoting some scripture. Some kids tweet about it, some parents get upset, the principal suspends the teacher, and a lawsuit ensues.
The teacher's defense counsel: Tom Endler, a down-and-out lawyer with a bad attitude, no respect for authority, and a firm commitment not to be a Christian. The prosecution: high powered, high dollar ACLU lawyers with an agenda. No one gives them a chance, but we all know God's not dead--and he answers prayer!
God's Not Dead 2 takes place in the same city as God's Not Dead. The main characters are new, but we get to catch up with some favorite characters from the first movie. I haven't seen the new movie yet, obviously, so I can't compare Thrasher's treatment. Based on the movie preview, it looks like there will be a few differences. But Thrasher's novel stands alone, even if the reader sees neither movie.
I did have slightly mixed feelings about the case itself. Grace teaches at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, named after a Baptist pastor. She is discussing King's public life, an activist who could hardly speak a sentence without some reference to scripture, and whose speeches more sermon than oration. Why is it not self-evident that a reference to Jesus and the Bible would not be out of place in such a discussion? During the trial, the school principal does reluctantly concede that King was a preacher, but that they focus on his civil rights leadership. Tom argues that the two can't be separated, and demonstrates King's use of scripture, making the point well.
The prosecution wants to convict Grace of using her authority to impose her religious beliefs. But the argument is really over the content of the lesson, or, rather, her response to a question about the lesson. It should not have been an issue. But that is really the point the movie and novel are trying to make: this sort of thing is becoming an issue. Tom asks, "Would it be fair to say that, except for Christianity, all other forms of diversity are welcome?" The question goes unanswered, but it is a question that we are forced to ask in real life in public spaces across America.
Speaking of real life, as part of the defense, Tom calls real-life two expert witnesses, Gary Habermas, the Liberty University professor who has written dozens of books about the existence of God and Jesus, and James Warner Wallace, who has written books like Cold Case Christianity and God's Crime Scene. Thrasher's account of their testimony makes a nice, succinct introduction to their ideas.
Just like God's Not Dead, stories of individuals struggling with their response to God are woven throughout God's Not Dead 2. Grace is strengthened in her faith under adversity; Tom considers whether he has faith; Grace's student is torn by her budding faith and her parents' atheism; Amy, the journalist from God's Not Dead, is faced with new struggles and she tries to grow in her faith. Thrasher's characters feel real and likable (well, except for the villains. . . .). The struggles they face are genuine and universal. God's Not Dead is a solid story, a pleasure to read. I look forward to the movie!
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!