God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness Review

Overall Rating

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Strongly centered in a biblical worldview


Ranking Categories:
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance 4.5stars.png
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships 4.5stars.png
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations 4.5stars.png
Family Viewing Suitability 4.5stars.png
Entertainment Value 4.0stars.png
view our criteria

Summary

As the third installment in the GOD’S NOT DEAD series, A LIGHT IN DARKNESS picks up where GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 ended and builds a completely new and fresh story line centered around a tragedy sparked by vandalism at St. James Church—engulfing nearby Hadleigh College in controversy and challenging relationships in the community and the faith of key characters. And by shining a light on timely topics like religious liberty and freedom of speech, GOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS also challenges Christians to reconsider how they are called to engage the world and be the light of Christ in the darkness.  

Produced and distributed by Pure Flix (WOODLAWN, DO YOU BELIEVE?, THE CASE FOR CHRIST, SAMSON), A LIGHT IN DARKNESS is both written and directed by newcomer Michael Mason, who gives the film an even more polished look and feel than its two franchise predecessors. Similarly, the relatively large ensemble cast—featuring several characters from both GOD’S NOT DEAD and GOD’S NOT DEAD 2—take it up a notch, including: David A.R. White (GOD’S NOT DEAD 1 & 2, REVELATION ROAD 1 & 2) as Pastor Dave Hill; John Corbett (ALL SAINTS, “Sex in the City,” MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 1 & 2) as Dave’s brother, Pearce; Shane Harper (GOD’S NOT DEAD 1, “The Passion”) as college ministry leader Josh Wheaton; Ted McGinley (DO YOU BELIEVE?, “Happy Days,” “The Love Boat”) as college chancellor Tom Ellsworth; Benjamin Onyango (GOD’S NOT DEAD 1 & 2) as Reverend Jude; Jennifer Taylor (“Two and a Half Men”) as Meg Harvey; Tatum O’Neal (PAPER MOON, THE BAD NEWS BEARS) as Barbara Solomon; Mike C. Manning (WWJD WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? THE JOURNEY CONTINUES) as Adam; Samantha Boscarino (“Good Luck Charlie”) as Keaton; and Judge Jeanine Pirro as herself.


Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance

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When it comes to the application of Christian faith to hot-button contemporary issues like religious liberty and freedom of speech, A LIGHT IN DARKNESS asks audiences an important question:  In the face of increasing persecution, should Christians stand up and fight for their rights in the public arena, or turn the other cheek and win people to Christ through a different approach? Here, in a somewhat surprising departure from the position taken in previous GOD’S NOT DEAD films, the message of A LIGHT IN DARKNESS is that the essence of Christianity is to lay down our weapons and love our enemies—that the Gospel can’t be taken seriously if Christians don’t live by their professed values and roll over those who persecute them.  

Here, Pastor Dave holds the view that many Evangelical Christians in America hold today—he’s tired of being pushed around and marginalized, and believes that it’s time for Christians to stand up for themselves and exercise their civil rights in the public square. Yet when another pastor challenges Dave with the view that Christians should not respond to hate with more hate, the premise of the story becomes clear—a small flame of self-sacrificial humility lights the way toward healing and hope among individuals and throughout whole communities.


Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships

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Overall, key relationships depicted in A LIGHT IN DARKNESS are faith-compatible. For example, the primary relationship moving the story forward is that between Pastor Dave and his estranged older brother, Pearce—a big-city lawyer who has fallen away from their once-shared Christian faith. Despite this, Pearce comes home to help Dave and St. James Church in their legal battle against Hadleigh College, which seeks to use eminent domain to remove the controversial church from campus following the devastating fire. As the brothers work together to save the church from eviction, they grow in love, patience and respect for one another—and experience healing and forgiveness in their relationship as they confront long-simmering issues from their childhoods.  

In a similar—but somewhat less believable—vein, Dave’s relationship with college chancellor Tom Ellsworth is tested to the point of physical altercation but eventually lands in a place of understanding and reconciliation. And beyond this, Dave has a godly and edifying relationship with Meg, a woman who runs a food kitchen that St. James supports. She tells Dave that she’s proud of him and is there to support him as he fights for what he believes in. Finally, carrying over from previous GOD’S NOT DEAD films, there is continuity in Dave’s relationships with Josh Wheaton—now a college ministry pastor—and Reverend Jude, a brother in the Lord from Africa whose church community powerfully ministers to Dave and the displaced Christian students following the fire.  

The other major relationship in A LIGHT IN DARKNESS centers around a backslidden female student named Keaton and her agnostic boyfriend Adam. Within their friendship circle, there is loud and vocal skepticism about the truth claims of the Gospel and strong opposition toward Pastor Dave and St. James Church. In varying ways, these students ask a lot of hard—but legitimate—questions about faith as they express their doubts. Here, as Keaton struggles with her faith, Pastor Josh encourages her to ask honest questions and be open to hearing God’s answers.

Some of the most well-acted and emotionally powerful scenes in A LIGHT IN DARKNESS involve Keaton and Adam. On the one hand, he says he doesn’t care what she believes—yet pressures her to give up her faith. This causes her to break up with him—only to be drawn back when Adam confesses to having vandalized the church and unintentionally starting the deadly fire. In navigating this difficult situation, Adam receives forgiveness and reconciliation not only from Keaton, but also Pastor Dave—opening Adam’s heart once again to a faith that he had cast aside when his parents divorced during his childhood and his mother was rejected by the church.


Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations

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A LIGHT IN DARKNESS begins where GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 ended—with Pastor Dave in prison for refusing to turn over his sermons. When his friend and fellow pastor Jude bails him out, they are caught up in a crush of media attention and controversy, which gives the administrators of Hadleigh College the cover they need to evict Dave and his church from campus.

In this politically charged context, many Hadleigh students take sides on the religious liberty and freedom of speech issues associated with Pastor Dave’s imprisonment—and the prominent presence of a Christian church on a publicly funded campus. When Adam vandalizes St. James Church after a night of drinking with friends—inadvertently starting a deadly fire—the stakes are raised to the next level for each character. Here, much of the story centers on a 12-hour timeline involving the events leading up to the vandalization of the church.

With the fire initially characterized as a possible hate crime, community sympathy is initially on the side of Pastor Dave and the church in the public relations battle that unfolds. However, after Dave loses his temper and physically attacks Adam upon learning that he started the fatal fire, the tide of public opinion shifts. Here, students organize a protest, the media coverage turns negative, and the college administrators move quickly to have the charred church razed. 

At this point, Pearce gets a legal order to halt the bulldozers, but tensions remain high. Eventually, each major character has a moment where they must take a serious look at themselves and ask some hard questions. Some—like Dave and Keaton—cry out to God for answers and conclude that they’re on the wrong path. For each main character—Dave, Keaton, Adam, Pearce, and Tom—there’s a measure of healing and forgiveness in the context of the final climactic scene in which Dave lays down his worldly weapons in the legal fight to save the church and agrees to the buyout from the college.

Throughout A LIGHT IN DARKNESS, there is good use of media coverage to fairly and respectfully lay out the various viewpoints expressed in the legal drama. However, in one scene that may challenge some faith-driven viewers, Josh offers Pearce a social justice view of ministry that emphasizes grace before justice—arguing that Jesus was the ultimate social justice warrior. There is also a scene in which Keaton tells Dave that the reason so many young people leave the church is because they’re tired of being judged by those who should be loving and accepting.


Family Viewing Suitability

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At 104 minutes in length, A LIGHT IN DARKNESS is rated PG for thematic elements including some non-gratuitous violence and mildly suggestive material. While there is no sex or nudity, a depressed Keaton is shown swimming in a bathing suit—allowing herself sink to the bottom of the pool. Overall, however, this film is suitable for viewing for children of all ages with parental guidance.  


Entertainment Value

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A LIGHT IN DARKNESS is the strongest of the three GOD’S NOT DEAD films in terms of script, direction, production quality and entertainment value. And while it lands in a place that seems to represent a departure from the previous two films, it depicts differing viewpoints fairly and realistically—ultimately offering a biblical position that may challenge some faith-driven moviegoers to reconsider how they engage the culture on controversial issues.

As audiences have come to expect in the GOD’S NOT DEAD franchise, A LIGHT IN DARKNESS offers uplifting and inspiring music calling for revival, including several Gospel numbers and trademark songs from the Newsboys. In addition, Mike C. Manning and Samantha Boscarino deliver particularly strong performances as Adam and Keaton—as does John Corbett as Pearce.

In the end, A LIGHT IN DARKNESS presents a message of peace, hope, unity and love. It declares that Truth is a person—Jesus—and that God is good and worthy to be praised in all circumstances, even in the aftermath of a fatal church fire. It also affirms that it’s good to ask difficult questions in the midst of a crisis of faith, and that while weeping may last through the night, joy comes in the morning.


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