* * * (Spoiler alert: I’m not sure if it’s possible to spoil the story of Noah’s ark, but be forewarned…)
A great debate is taking place amongst Christians this week. The topic? Whether or not to go see the new Noah movie, starring Russell Crowe. If this sounds like a joke, it’s not. In fact, it may be a realization that pop culture matters.
Sides are being chosen. HotAir’s Ed Morrssey calls it “a mess,” while Steven D. Greydanus says it’s “deeply serious.” RedState’s Erick Erickson mocked the film on Twitter (his blog post is a bit more nuanced), while cultural critic R.J. Moeller noted that “biblical scholars [also] criticized Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments when they came out.” This is just a sampling of opinion.
So who’s right?
Everyone concedes the film is not an accurate biblical representation, but I’m fascinated with the question of whether or not it does more good than harm. Here are my thoughts:
What Christians should like…
– The spirituality. In a cynical, secular world, Christians should appreciate the (I would argue) positive portrayal of the concept of spirituality. Whether or not the theology is perfect, it is entirely possible this film will spark an interest in viewers who will explore these issues for themselves.
– Instead of hearing an audible voice, Noah mostly receives his instructions via dreams and visions (there are also some miracles.) In some cases, Noah clearly knows what his instructions are; in other cases, he struggles to find the correct thing to do (my guess is this is closer to the experience of most Christians than it would have been had there been an audible voice.) I also liked the discussion about why God used water instead of fire to destroy the earth. (Essentially, Noah says, it’s because water is for cleansing or purifying.)
– Unlike the cartoonish representations a lot of kids grow up with in Sunday School classes, this film depicts a truly wicked world (which, of course, was what necessitated the flood.) This struck me as more realistic and interesting than the sanitized version most children are taught (and let’s be honest, these early representations often stick around). There are also parallels for us today. On one hand, we also live in a fallen and corrupted world. On the other hand, this is an illustration of just how bad things could get if we descend into complete chaos where there is an almost complete breakdown of virtue and the rule of law.
What didn’t bother me — but deserves comment …
– The giant rock monsters: One has to allow for some artistic license, and, so long as there isn’t an attempt to represent the story as 100 percent biblically accurate, this doesn’t strike me as hugely problematic. Lewis and Tolkien, after all, also told fantastical stories, which held biblical truths. In addition to allowing for some artistic license, I think it’s important for Christians to recognize that perhaps not everything has been revealed. There very well may be some interesting parts of the story which simply have not been shared.
– The environmentalism. Some conservatives have voiced concern about the environmentalism portrayed in the film. There is a tension between the commands to be good stewards and to have “dominion” over the earth. This is a worthy debate, but it didn’t strike me as egregious, and it doesn’t strike me as a deal breaker.
– Many Christians, I suspect, will likely have fundamental problems with how the relationship between God and man is portrayed. For example, (as far as I recall) in the film, Noah never refers to Him as “Father” or even as “God,” but instead, as “The Creator.” To some degree, though, this is exactly as it should be. For Christians, the status between God and man after the fall was vastly different than in a New Testament paradigm — and even dramatically different than in a post-Abrahamic covenant world. The relationship would necessarily have been much less intimate.
What should concern Christians …
– For much of the film, Noah believes that it is God’s intention to end humanity, preserving only the animals on the boat. Ultimately, he cannot bring himself to do what he would have to do in order to guarantee this outcome. It is implied by one of the characters that God left this decision up to Noah.
– As such, it is never explicitly clear that using the flood was essentially part of God’s way of salvaging humanity — which, I think, most Christians would say is the fundamental point of the story. There seems to be a heavy focus on the fact that humans are inherently evil (which is certainly consistent with Christian theology), but not a lot of talk about how “for God so loved the world.”
– In fairness, there were some throwaway lines about this humanity having a “new start,” and there were the perfunctory rainbow scenes at the end. But I think the huge missed opportunity here was to have a slightly more optimistic message about how God loved humanity so much that He was searching for ways to redeem us. This theme wasn’t entirely omitted, but it was, I think, vastly underplayed and overshadowed by competing worldviews. And that was a huge missed opportunity that wouldn’t have diminished (and, in fact, would have enhanced) the film.
My take is that Christians should see this film as doing more good than bad. In a cynical, secular world, it presents spirituality as serious, and may be used as a conversation starter about theological issues not easily broached in our modern culture.