How Christians are Responding to the Noah Movie

 

Noah_Russell_CroweI didn’t get the chance to see Noah this weekend, but it appears the movie has done respectably at the box office, enough to fuel future biblically themed epics.

The intriguing thing about Noah is not the movie itself but the Christian response, particularly the evangelical response. I don’t ever recall seeing evangelicals so divided about a film. By and large, we stick together.

Evangelicals en masse rejected Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. I was just a kid then, but I remember hearing about this “blasphemous” movie. On the other hand, we flocked to Prince of Egypt, an animated though reverent portrayal of Moses’ story. And, of course, The Passion of the Christ stands out as the biggest biblically-themed blockbuster of all time. In the decade since Mel Gibson’s Jesus hit the screen, we shrugged at Evan Almighty, ignored the TV movie of Noah, and rallied around Sherwood Baptist Church’s films.

But then came Noah.

It’s a movie that’s made waves among evangelicals (pun intended), but let’s be honest: we’re not all in the same boat here. In fact, I struggle to remember any film that has drawn so much praise and criticism from churchgoing Christians.

Here’s the rundown of options as I see them, scrolling daily (hourly) across my FaceBook and Twitter feeds:

1. Cheers

I haven’t seen any evangelical leader claim that Noah gets the Bible right, but many have lauded the cultural opportunity this movie affords. Focus on the Family President Jim Daly and pastor Erwin McManus appeared in a video encouraging Christians to attend. Popular film reviewer, Phil Boatwright, pointed out the extra-biblical elements, but recommended it as a discussion-starter:

“Noah is an epic movie experience that engages not only the cerebral but the emotional. On the way to the car, people discuss it… That’s when you know you’ve experienced true art. It’s not just a time-filler before going to some other time-filler. It’s a film that demands debate.”

Christianity Today featured an extensive, seven-page review of the film. It begins with an encouragement for evangelicals to engage this film and then offers five reasons why:

  1. Noah is a good movie made by good filmmakers who pursue important questions and think of movies as art.
  2. Noah is a solid adaptation.
  3. Noah is visually and imaginatively compelling.
  4. Noah re-enchants the ancient world in powerful ways that counteract some of the worst excesses of modernity.
  5. You should actually see it for yourself.

Greg Thornbury, president of The King’s College in New York City, points out two major theological objections but believes the film is path-breaking and will help re-enchant a new generation with the biblical narrative:”

Aronofksy’s Noah is a way of putting ourselves before the Bible’s “dangerous question” as Barth put it. The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.

Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, offered 5 positives and 5 negatives, and then encouraged Christians to engage rather than boycott:

The main events from the Noah story are depicted in a powerful way on the big screen by name brand actors and quality production. Christians should be ready to engage moviegoers in conversation about biblical and cultural themes that are portrayed in this movie.

2. Jeers

Those who are critical of the movie fall into one of two camps. First, you have the Christians who think the movie fails at the level of storytelling. Brian Godawa (a Christian who’s no stranger to Hollywood productions) thinks the movie fails at fundamental levels:

“On the nose” dialogue. Flat characters that you just don’t care about. A sick twisted hero that you just don’t care about. Look, I know your hero has to have a character flaw, but this is so extreme that you can’t stand Noah, and you just want to leave the theater.

The second category of critics are those who believe it fails because of its unfaithfulness to the biblical story. Ken Ham didn’t mince words:

Friends, last night I watched the Hollywood (Paramount) movie Noah. It is much, much worse than I thought it would be—much worse. The director of the movie, Darren Aronofsky, has been quoted in the media as saying that Noah is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him.

Sophia Lee of World sees the film as missing the mark, primarily for being an epic that shows God’s judgment without His mercy:

Expressed only through dreams and nature, Noah‘s God is mythical, impersonal, and devastatingly involved. Any references to God are seen through Noah’s perspective. That’s a good sum-up for the film itself—a wholly human approach to figure out deep yet simple theology with great intellect, emotion, and creativity, yet somehow missing the crux of it. That’s the true tragedy of Noah.

Al Mohler’s response is similar:

The odd elements are not the problem, the movie’s message is. Furthermore, the way that message distorts the Genesis account is a far larger problem when it becomes clear that the misrepresentation extends to the master narrative of the Bible – including the character of God.

3. Mixed

While some are jumping out of their theater seats to applaud Noah and others are taking to social media to express their disdain for this film, a smaller number are greeting this movie with mixed feelings. They are neither ecstatic in support or categoric in their rejection. For example, Joe Carter sees his take as falling somewhere in between the cheers and jeers:

Noah is an art movie masquerading as a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, an incongruous hybrid that is unlikely to satisfy most movie goers. Yet despite all its flaws, Noah is a worthy addition to the deluge apocalypse genre. It’s not a great film—it’s barely a good one—and it certainly isn’t the biblical masterpiece many of us were hoping for.

And my friend Aaron Earls views the film from the perspective of the director, Aranofsky, who is a secular Jew. He concludes his review with an insightful analysis of a backwards-facing Noah, and why Christians are bound to see the film’s theological component as lacking:

Aronofsky can give us a Noah who longs for creation, but he cannot show us a Noah who looks forward to the cross. There is no covenant from the Creator to promise a future redemption. This time, the serpent’s head goes uncrushed.

The ark in this film can only remind us of what was lost and try to salvage as much as possible, it cannot point beyond itself to the place we can run into and find ultimate salvation and the eventual redemption of all of creation – humanity included.

The film raises tremendous and worthy questions about sin and grace, justice and mercy. I’m thankful any time we have a chance to discuss those in culture. We can enjoy it as a film and an opportunity for significant discussions.

But it cannot give us the right answers because this Noah is faced the wrong way. With only creation in view, Noah has its back to the cross, leaving viewers adrift in an ocean of opinions and wishes without any solid ground to provide true hope for what comes next.

Noah found salvation in the ark, but without turning our gaze to the cross, there is no room for us.

What about you? Who saw Noah this weekend? And would you recommend I go or wait until it’s out on DVD?

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