Updated: Aug 20
Recently, I saw “God’s Not Dead 2” with my friend, Brian. I did enjoy the movie and I wanted to give you my thoughts from my perspective as someone who has watched numerous trial proceedings and testified on many occasions in a courtroom. Before going into that, I really liked how they portrayed pastors in the movie. In being an elder at a church here in Kernersville, I see how pastors are unsung heroes in many ways. Yes, you see them running around in church on Sundays smiling and shaking hands. But during the week, what a lot of people don’t see is the tough work they do helping people with their problems in so many different ways. We did see this in the movie on several occasions when the two pastors (Revds. Jude and Dave) made themselves available to help some of the characters who were having “dark nights of the soul.”
Regarding how the action in court played out, there were many dramatic moments in the movie that would not have been allowed to occur in the federal courts (and I assume local courts as well) that I operated in. For instance, when Brooke Thawley, the teenaged “victim,” burst into the courtroom and blurted out her support for her teacher (the defendant-Grace Wesley), I am pretty sure that a mistrial would be declared by the judge on the grounds that the jury would be unduly prejudiced for the defendant by the outburst. There were also several other dramatic surprises in the movie as well. Mention was just made of the teenager bursting into the courtroom. Another dramatic surprise was when Grace Wesley was forced to testify on the stand by her own attorney. In a real courtroom, if a defendant, one who is charged with an offense or one who is accused of wrongdoing, does not wish to testify, she is not going to be forced to testify. This protection against self-incrimination is covered under the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. So, Grace Wesley would not have been “forced” to testify near the end of the movie like she did unless she desired to do so. Even in the case that she wished to testify in the proceeding, the judge would question Grace to make sure that she understood what she was going to do before she did it (that she understood her fifth amendment right against incriminating herself).
So, a rule of thumb for federal courts is that federal judges do not like surprises in their courtrooms. There is an orderly way of doing business that attorneys who practice in federal court on both sides of the bar, are familiar with and adhere to. These are contained in local rules of the court and also in the federal rules of criminal procedure. For instance, if the defendant’s attorney (the lawyer of the teacher Grace Wesley), wanted to put witnesses on the stand for the historicity of Jesus, then they would have to notify the court and the attorney for the plaintiff (the side bringing the case) that they were going to make this argument well before they intended to do it. They would also have to inform the court and the plaintiff’s attorney exactly which witnesses they were going to call to the stand to testify and what these witnesses are going to testify about. The court would also allow the plaintiff’s attorneys time to examine the new material in order to properly prepare to cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses. So, there would have been a pause in the trial proceedings to allow for this process to occur.
The two witnesses for the historicity of Jesus called by the defendant were author/educator, Lee Strobel and retired Torrance, CA homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace. Even though Lee Strobel offered good evidence for the historicity of Jesus, his testimony would not be allowed to come in as evidence in the proceeding. In order to get the evidence in, the defendant’s attorney would have to offer and authenticate the documents that Strobel referred to. So, the documents of those non-biblical sources that Strobel spoke of would have to be brought in as evidence through introducing the documents themselves through witnesses who maintain them. This would be an arduous process because there would be numerous ancient documents that would need to be authenticated by different witnesses who possess the ancient documents. Most likely, because of the fragility of the documents, an alternative arrangement would be made so that the jury and the plaintiff’s attorney could review these ancient documents outside of court. So due to these complications, I see why the makers of the movie had Strobel do a summary of these proofs. However, in a real courtroom, Strobel would not have been allowed to testify in this manner especially when he offered the opinions of others (He would not be able to testify about what others say- hearsay- Gary Habermas, etc.).
Jim Wallace was a natural on the stand and the information he testified to is also very good evidence for the truthfulness of the New Testament. When he testified on the witness stand, I appreciated his forensic analysis of the account of Jesus before Caiaphas as he analyzed the same account from three of the four Gospels. Two Gospel authors unwittingly verified the details from another Gospel author (Mk. 14:65; Luke 22:64 confirm Matt. 26:67-68;). This is good confirmation of the accounts being truthful. He also offered good circumstantial evidence for the veracity of the NT and by extension the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ when Wallace discussed the fact that all of the apostles died as martyrs for their faith.
In my opinion, the most effective way to show the veracity of the New Testament in court (and by extension the historical Jesus) would be to authenticate the various gospels by presenting the early manuscript copies that exist, demonstrating the evidence for their early authorship, presenting evidence for the authorship of each Gospel, and by showing the “chain of custody” in which the New Testament comes to us. Additionally, the defendant’s attorney could also call those who have possession of ancient copies of documents of the early church fathers (those 1st and 2nd century church leaders who confirm the authorship of the various NT books) who wrote about the various books of the New Testament and their authors. However, this would be a tedious process. This is probably the reason that the makers of the film condensed this process by calling both Strobel and Wallace to the witness stand to summarize this evidence. In much more detail than GND2 permitted, Jim Wallace makes a great case for the authenticity of the New Testament in his book, Cold Case Christianity. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in studying the evidence for the veracity of the New Testament.
Another point to mention regarding the testimony of Wallace and Strobel is that the plaintiff could call witnesses to refute the testimony that they both offered on the stand. However, in the movie, the plaintiff did not call his own witnesses in order to refute the claims of both Strobel and Wallace regarding the historicity of Jesus Christ and the NT accounts. If skeptical scholars gave their testimony against the veracity of the NT, they would most likely offer arguments such as “the gospels contradict each other,” and “the mythical Jesus comes from pre-existing pagan myths.” Regarding these two skeptical arguments, I believe that I have successfully refuted them by showing that they do not rely upon accepted principles of evidence but merely conjecture (see blog articles).
So, all in all, I do believe that GND2 does offer good evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ from a historical vantage point. I also believe that hostility towards the free expression of religion on public school campuses, as portrayed in the movie, is a real and serious issue that Christians face today (as observed in the law suits listed at the end of the movie). Finally, even though an actual court would not operate like the one depicted in the movie, the makers of the movie were able to summarize some of the great evidence for the historicity of Jesus in an entertaining way.