Especially compared to the first movie, this one was far superior. The plot was much more believable, the characters were much less caricatured, and the acting was on a whole separate level.
If you're tempted to think that you need to have seen the first one in order to follow this one, put that thought to rest. There may be some finer points in the film that you'll appreciate more if you've seen the first film - because of the characters that have continued into this film. But as far as I could tell, it's not a necessity at all; and you can still enjoy and appreciate this film even if you never see the first one.
What I was greatly delighted in was that the movie wasn't so much about whether or not one should be allowed to bring up Jesus Christ in a public, government-funded school setting as it was an apologetic (a defense) for the reliability of the New Testament gospel accounts and the historical fact of Jesus Christ actually being a person in history.
Obviously bringing Him up in the setting of a public, government-funded school was the impetus that starts the trial; but the court proceedings and movie speak more to the fact that Jesus was a real person in history and that His resurrection is demonstrable by corroborating evidence, etc.
It was really neat to see cameo appearances by Lee Strobel (author of The Case for Christ) and J. Warner Wallace (author of Cold-Case Christianity). And yes, even as a staunch advocate of presuppositional apologetics, I find their books (and this movie) to be useful and helpful in the discussion, even if not ultimately authoritative. Regardless of your philosophy of apologetics, this movie - again - was far superior to what was laid out in the first one, and much more convincing.
Apologetics aside, there was a lot to be commended in the characters of this film and their development.
To note, the teacher (played by Melissa Joan Hart) had a clearly stated commitment to rather stand on the side of God and be judged by the world than to stand on the side of the world and be judged by God - an obvious Biblical mindset (Mt. 10:28; cf. Isa. 8:12-13).
What I also really appreciated was that the pastors in the movie started realizing that there is much more to the Christian life and shepherding the flock than simply "spiritual matters." Indeed, all of life is spiritual (on one level there is no secular/sacred distinction in God's eyes - all of life is to be lived for his glory - Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 10:31). And they began to rally around the idea that it is their duty to be involved in the culture around them rather than stand by on the sidelines. This is a message the church absolutely needs to hear (Eph. 5:11; cf. Prv. 24:24, 25)!
Of course, there is still some room for improvement.
My biggest hang up on the evangelistic side is that there is not one shred of Biblical support for the idea that someone gets saved by "asking Jesus into their heart." That was never preached in the book of Acts or New Testament epistles. Putting one's faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (of which repentance and belief are two sides of the same coin of faith) is the instrument that God uses to save His people (Acts 2:38-39, 3:19-21, 10:42-43, 13:38-39, 16:31; Rom. 3:21-26, 4:4-8, 10:9-13). Yet this movie depicts "asking Jesus into your heart" as how one gets saved. It's hard for me to get passed that.
My biggest concern on the apologetic side is that the battle truly is not, and should not be, over whether a teacher should be allowed to bring up Jesus Christ (either as King of Kings or at least a historical figure) in a public, government-funded school.
If all knowledge (whether in math, history, science, literature, etc.) begins with the fear of the Lord (Prv. 1:7), and if it is Christ in whom are deposited all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), and if it is to His glory that everything is to be done (1 Cor. 10:31) - then not only should He be "brought up" for discussion in the classroom, He should be the very focal point of all the content in all the classes.
And that is not going to happen in public, government-funded schools.
Yet, even if this were a 100% Christian society, government schools should not be in existence. Because in God's economy, not only is the government not authorized to be the educating body for children, it's not right to make someone else pay, by force - and taxation is a coercive power of force - for something they do not want or need. Yet public, government-funded schools are funded through that exact means. While I realize there's more to be said on this topic (which I've done here, here, here, and here), in short, if we don't want to rob from our neighbors, we shouldn't, on principle, support government-funded schools - even in a completely Christian society.
And that is the battle that I think we as Christians should be fighting - more so than whether or not someone should be allowed to "bring up" Jesus as a historical person in a public, government-funded school. But again, the movie just used that more as an impetus to give a rational justification for belief in Christ. It wasn't the main issue in the movie - so I won't make it the main issue here.
Jesus Christ is Lord over all things (Mt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22, 23), the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:16, 17), and the Mighty Redeemer of His people (Mt. 1:21; Heb. 7:25). As His redeemed, we're called to be ready to give a rational defense for why we believe in Him (Col. 4:5-6; 1 Pet. 3:15-16).
While the approach to that defense in this film is not the most authoritative, it truly is very helpful in giving Christians encouragement in what they do believe and in giving some good material to use when talking with their unbelieving neighbors (although I still also highly recommend this set of DVD curriculum first and foremost for learning how to Biblically defend the faith). Personally, I think this movie might be even helpful to the casual skeptic who hasn't really thought through some of his or her assumptions. If you know someone like that, ask them to come along with you to see the film (your treat!).
It's not a perfect film (what is?), but it's a good one; and I do recommend it.
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