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‘God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness’ loses its way

Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) faces a rough road ahead after his church burns down in “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.”
Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) faces a rough road ahead after his church burns down in “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.”

Independent Christian film studio Pure Flix found itself with a hit on its hands with the 2014 film “God’s Not Dead.” It spawned a sequel, “God’s Not Dead 2,” and clearly the studio hopes box office success will strike again with “God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness.”

The franchise pits faith against academia as a point of debate in the separation of church and state. In “A Light in the Darkness,” Pastor Dave (Dave A.R. White) is back, as the hero this time. Radical, loose cannon Pastor Dave is embroiled in a battle over his historical family church, located on a public university campus. The controversy over whether the church should stay on campus becomes so heated that it is vandalized, causing a catastrophic fire.

This debut effort of writer/director Michael Mason seems built to capitalize on a particularly intense political moment, but the story is so garbled and nonsensical, while playing fast and loose with heavy-duty contemporary social issues, that it ends up downright offensive to a person of any faith.

The dopey Pastor Dave isn’t exactly a galvanizing representation of Christianity. Finding himself caught in a career-ending controversy, he sues his own friend, the chancellor of the university (Ted McGinley), assaults a college student and blows up at his brother Pierce (John Corbett), whom he has called in for legal help. It’s never clear why we’re supposed to find this mop-topped pastor in any way inspiring.

The story seems intended to offer a backdrop for a debate about the role of Christian faith in today’s political climate, but it is riddled with provably dangerous logical fallacies.

There’s the seriously questionable notion that ranting Facebook commenters just might have a valid point. More disturbing is the argument that the young white male who commits the act of violence against the church did so because his girlfriend broke up with him, which sounds a lot like the troubling rhetoric surrounding the epidemic of school shooters at the moment.

“God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness” bends over backward to be topical and edgy. There are TV news debates and protests, and one antagonist is clearly modeled after Black Lives Matter activists, which doesn’t sit right. The filmmakers are at once trying to appeal to a conservative audience, with loaded language and imagery, while also attempting to not completely alienate anyone else, twisting the film into an impossible contortion.

Ultimately, it alienates everyone, because it ends up saying absolutely nothing and makes not one lick of sense. Sorry, Pastor Dave, you’re just not the messiah anyone should be looking for.

‘God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness’

Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material.

Time: 1:44.

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