Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
From “Luck” to “God”. Its YouTube channel has scored over a million and a half hits. Now, God’s Not Dead, the Pure Flix movie inspired by the book of the same name by Rice Broocks is scheduled to open this Friday (5/21). While it may not answer the question to everyone’s satisfaction of whether or not God exists, the drama about a Christian student (Shane Harper) engaged in a classroom debate on the subject with his atheist philosophy professor should play well to its choir. The question is how much beyond the choir will its message be heard. More on that when I review the film on Friday morning. Till then, I had the opportunity to talk with three of the films principals, including the aforementioned stars and producer David A.R. White (who also plays a pastor in the film).
First up, Shane Harper. The multi-talented 21-year-old broke into show business when he was just 13 — as a principal dancer in Disney’s High School Musical 2 and Nickelodeon’s Dance on Sunset. Those led to an acting stint on Disney Channel’s recently-wrapped sitcom Good Luck Charlie. While he’s had supporting roles in two films (Flipped and My Name is Khan), in God is Not Dead he actually shares the lead with Kevin Sorbo.
JWK: How did the role of Josh Wheaton come to you?
SHANE HARPER: I just went got an audition for it. You know, I read for the roles and I audition for them…It interested me 1.) because it’s a faith-based movie. I don’t get a ton of those, honestly, coming down the pike…I grew up in church and I’m a Christian myself. And, then also, I found it interesting because of the premise. The premise is, basically, this kid in college that (is called on) to defend his faith and really kind of learn what it is that he believes. You know, the kind of foundation. A large portion of the movie skewed toward apologetics and the idea of really kind of knowing what you believe and being able to talk to someone who doesn’t believe the same thing.
JWK: Did your personal faith help you relate to the character of Josh?
SH: Yeah, I think so. I think a really cool thing about this whole process is that Josh and I have similarities in that we’re interested in (faith). I’ve always been a huge fan of apologetics. C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. I love Timothy Keller and Josh brings up John Lennox. You know, these people are influential and really exciting to read and to listen to. I did learn a lot actually. Some of the stuff I was kind of familiar with already. It’s kinda cool because it gave me a deeper connection to the character, I think. But a lot of it I did learn. In the movie these three presentations, if you will, have gotten edited down a bit just for time purposes. Originally, those three arguments were a couple of dozen pages worth of dialogue. I mean, that’s a lot of information. I had to memorize all of it through those scenes. So, it really did become a part of me — Shane, not just my character. I was rally informative and I got to learn a lot through the process…
…It was exciting anyway, just because I have a natural interest in that as it is which is so helpful especially when you’re trying to memorize that much material. It’s good if you’re interested in it anyway. It helps a lot.
JWK: What was it acting opposite Kevin Sorbo?
SH: It was great. Kevin is a wonderful actor. He’s a big, scary guy. You know, he’s a big dude and a deep voice. There’s a real intimidating factor to him which was just awesome because it helped me play my character the way my character needed to be played which was a little bit scared.
Kevin is very professional and really fun to do those scenes with because he brings energy to each scene. I mean, the guy is Hercules, come on! He can’t not be a bit intimidating which is awesome because the scenes needed that. You needed to feel that heaviness — like you’re a little scared of this dude. So, we had a good time.
JWK: Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty has a cameo in the film. Did you get to work with him?
SH: You know, I didn’t get to meet him (while filming).
JWK: Dean Cain is also in the movie. Did you meet him?
SH: Yeah, I met Dean. Dean Cain was great, a real good guy. I didn’t have any scenes with Dean but I did get a chance to meet him on set.
JWK: It must be fun to co-star in a movie with Superman and Hercules.
SH: Exactly! That’s what we’ve been saying, man! It’s funny. Me, Superman and Hercules. It’s a nice job. Hopefully I’ll get to play a superhero one day.
JWK: What do you want people to take from this movie?
SH: It’s a good question. I want all different kinds of people to see it. I don’t just want Christians to go see this movie — even though it’s a faith-based film. Obviously, the movie’s in favor of (faith in) God. But I hope that people of different backgrounds and beliefs will go out and see it and that will spark an interest in what’s being talked about in the narrative of the film but I also hope that Christians can take away from it the idea of not isolating themselves in the church and being in situations that always make them comfortable and make them feel supported for what they believe…Christians need to be tested…Sometimes the Christian community can get a little (too comfortable) in (our) church walls. This is where we feel the best because everyone’s kind of supporting each other. You know, honestly, that kind of ideology is not really conducive to the life that Christ has called us toward. I mean we’re supposed to be in our cultures and our communities and living passionately for the love of God and for the love of people as well. Love (God) and love you neighbor. That’s more or less the (message) of the movie.
So, I think the movie can hopefully kind of encourage persons to be a little bit more informed and maybe a little more loving, as well. We all need to kind of preach to ourselves. I grew up in church and I don’t think I necessarily understood what it meant to be called into the culture and the community in the city that you’re in or the town that you’re in and live effectively and be informed and be gracious with people.
JWK: Is it difficult to be open about your faith in Hollywood? Is Hollywood, in your interview, unfriendly toward Christians?
SH: I think, to be honest, it gets a bit overblown. Being in Hollywood and having a love for Christ, is hard. I mean it’s hard anywhere because Jesus is about the Upside Down Kingdom. You know, serve instead of being served, go last and don’t try to be first. I mean this is the kind of ideology and philosophy that really will change your life. And that’s what Christians are called to live like (but) that’s not how the world likes to live or how the world prefers to go about things. It’s usually about getting what you want and trying to get there as quick and as fast as possible and being rewarded for it. So, it’s not just Hollywood.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11