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Evangelizing Entertainment

I’d tend to evaluate the movie Noah like any speculative fiction story in relation to my faith: What picture of God and man is painted for me when taken as a whole?
| Apr 1, 2014 | 11 comments |

Noah and WifeSince the movie Noah debuted this past week, the reactions among Christians have varied widely.

Ken Hamm, in a Times article, said:

Ultimately, there is barely a hint of biblical fidelity in this film. It is an unbiblical, pagan film from its start.

He pretty much trashes the film. So does Matt Walsh who said:

On Friday, my wife and I had a very rare date night.

Naturally, we decided to spend it being pummeled by the blaring condescension of the most insipid, absurd, unimaginative, clumsily contrived piece of anti-Christian filmmaking to come along since, well, probably just last week.

Based on reviews like that, you’d think this was The Last Temptation of Christ II, which was also roundly condemned by Christian leaders when it hit the big screen in 1988. In reality, there is a striking similarity in that neither film pretends to be faithful to the Biblical narrative, but both are condemned for not being faithful anyway.

But not by all Christians. Some don’t seem to be phased by it. Charity Bishop, for instance, writes:

Nothing about this movie is simple; everything has the potential to divide viewers. Those who like movies straight out of the text are going to struggle to accept the many changes, expansions, character development and inventive ideas that flesh out the plot, create drama, explain Ham’s relationship with Noah, and include miracles not mentioned in scripture.

But concludes:

It’s uncomfortable to watch at times because it doesn’t involve perfect characters — all of them are human, make mistakes, and even, on occasion, do evil things. Its truths are profound but unsettling, and the actions of Noah at times don’t fit our idea of “godliness,” but that’s the point. It makes a blatant statement that the flood didn’t eradicate evil — it lives on, in us. And that’s why we need a savior.

Our own Austin Gunderson in his recent review of the movie also makes the bold statement on SpecFaith concerning his experience of the film:

What I witnessed over the course of the ensuing 138 minutes was the greatest work of Christian speculative cinema I’ve ever seen.

And concludes:

Aronofsky’s Noah isn’t a faithful retelling of an historical event. Instead, it’s something far more ambitious and terrifying: an epic fantasy which dares to examine the impartiality of divine justice without taking salvation for granted.

The opinions vary widely about its Christianness. This isn’t a review of the film, or even the reviews of the film. Rather I point out this divergence because it illustrates two visions of fiction, specifically Christian fiction.

One view is that fiction is a teaching tool.

In that understanding, Christian fiction’s primary goal and purpose is to relate Biblical truths (as interpreted by a specific community of faith) in a systematic and accurate fashion. Ultimately, it should convey the Gospel message. The fear is that if it doesn’t do so, it will teach people untruths and lead them away from God, not to Him. Thus, any deviation from their perception of Biblical truth is cause for alarm and condemnation.

The other view is that fiction conveys an emotional experience of Christian themes.

Unlike God, who is infallible, authors are not writing the Bible, nor a systematic theology, but a story about fallible characters who may believe the wrong things, misunderstand God, in short, sin. It is a story depicting theology lived out, and thus like real life, messy. Not every question gets answered. Not all resolutions are in tidy, neatly wrapped packages.

The purpose of this type of Christian fiction is to wrestle with Christian themes in an emotionally engaging manner. To help people encounter and incarnate the truth within themselves. The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.

The first view focuses on accuracy of any apparent teaching and its details to a group’s perception of Biblical truth. The second focuses on accuracy in conveying Biblical and Christian themes lived out either wrongly or rightly, in a realistic fashion, that causes the reader to examine their own relationship to God.

In my opinion, the error of the first is in shoehorning a speculative story of life, which is messy, into the goals and expectations of a systematic theology text, expecting a speculative fiction title to be “The Bible: Reloaded.”

As I’ve said before, the biggest problem Christians have with speculative fiction, especially the Christian variety, is in treating it like it is non-fiction.

This is true whether it is the author writing a story or a reader who misses the grandeur of the forest because they are too busy noticing the imperfections of the trees.

Recently, I received a private message about my book, Reality’s Dawn. It is a book open to some criticisms from the first group. One such review is on Goodreads. But this reader saw the forest, and was affected by it:

Thank you for writing Reality’s Dawn! It’s one of the most inspiring things that have come to mind today!

That is why we write as authors, and what we hope to find when we read a story. To struggle with and be inspired by God’s reality.

The movie Noah is not a retelling of the Biblical story even though it matches the broad outline of the story. But I’d tend to evaluate this like any speculative fiction story in relation to my faith: What picture of God and man is painted for me when taken as a whole? Is that Biblically true and worth challenging my assumptions and complacency? If so, they succeeded. If and when I go see the movie Noah for myself, I might have an answer.

 

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Leah Burchfiel
Member

[Insert blahblahblah, YEAH! CONTEXT, SNITCHES, blahblah.]
Copple, you’re a relief to my blood pressure.

Austin Gunderson
Member

I concur.

Adam Graham
Member

I think you said something here that really hit the nail on the head for me:

 What picture of God and man is painted for me when taken as a whole? Is that Biblically true and worth challenging my assumptions and complacency? 

I think that’s really the problem with Noah. It’s not that the movie plays with facts.  Every version HAS to,  but it’s the movies portrait of God and man that comes across as troubling.  Because it portrays a God who Doesn’t even want to show mercy, and man as more of a pestilence. It slanders Noah and it slanders God. It’s the JFK of movies about the Bible. 
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Because it portrays a God who Doesn’t even want to show mercy, and man as more of a pestilence. It slanders Noah and it slanders God.

I’ve actually heard (from Austin Gunderson’s review and many others) that this isn’t what the film does. In fact it does risk “slandering Noah” but for the purpose of showing that Noah has the capacity to be as much a sinner as those whom God destroyed. I’ve read that the film goes out of its way to show how nasty mankind was so that God does not come across as ridiculously wrathful — and that the story even ultimately shows that it was God all along showing mercy, though not revealing it up-front. In Scripture God was clear about His covenant to save Noah and his family, so this is indeed a drastic departure from Scripture. But I’m not sure (I haven’t yet seen the film) if it’s as bad as intentionally slandering God.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I think the problem is that Christians don’t like speculation so close to Biblical events. Speculation that alters Biblical accounts instead of being merely additive to them. So something like The Robe is okay because it’s just adding side stories to the tale of Christ, but something like Michael Moorcock’s Behold the Man isn’t. Even granting Christian themes, we don’t like the Biblical accounts changed.

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

Funny how something is being lost in all this discussion — God’s reason for destroying all of mankind except for 8 who found His favor, and that is that when God looked down and saw, He saw that man’s every thought, act and deed was only evil continually.  This was not “genocide.”   I would expect a word like that to come from Richard Dawkins and not from people who actually believe the Bible.  “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy,” God declares.  And He was sorry He made man.  Why?  He tells us.  Because everything man was, was only evil, all the time.  There is no “perception” here.  God tells us what He wants us to know.  If something needs to be said in scripture, it will be clearly said.  No one likes to speak of God being angry with sinners who spit in His face and live as they please.  No one likes to speak of such sinners actually deserving, like the people of Noah’s day, what they ought to receive.  But we can’t speak of the Cross without declaring the Truth as to why that Cross was raised in the first place.  God did not commit genocide, nor should we speak of Him in such terms.  He judged sin.  Let’s keep our “perceptions” biblical, shall we?