Evangelizing Entertainment

Blog | | Tuesday, April 1, 2014
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?

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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As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and Mind Game, Hero Game, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines. In his Texas Hill Country residence, he continues to create and give wings to new realities so that others might enjoy and be inspired by them. Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following: Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.

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11 responses

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

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  2. 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. 
     

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    • 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.

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    • Within the context of the Biblical story of Noah, I don’t know that the picture of God you’ve given isn’t more accurate. Yes, we know from the Gospel of God’s mercy, and He demonstrated it plenty of times after the flood as well as His judgment.
       
      But taking the story of Noah itself, whereas He showed mercy to Noah and his family, but showed zero mercy and unbending judgment to who knows how many thousands, millions, or billions of men, women, children, and babies. God practically commits genocide. A picture of a God of judgment is inherent in that story. For most of the world, God showed no mercy. Only judgment.
       
      His mercy is demonstrated in both stories by not completely wiping out the human race, and promising never to do that again. I’m not so sure that paints an unBiblical picture of God within that story. That the story of Noah even in the Bible does not paint a complete picture of God by itself, I hope would be self-evident. A Christian filmmaker might be motivated to tack that onto the story in some fashion.  I wouldn’t expect a “pagan” director to do that. From the descriptions I’ve read, on that specific point of God’s judgment and mercy, within the context of the Biblical narrative, it sounds like he got it more right than wrong.
       
       

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  3. Rebecca LuElla Miller has posted a response to this article on a different blog. You may want to see what she has to say. I commented over there.
     
    http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/the-place-of-truth-in-fiction/
     

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  4. 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.

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    • True. But I would qualify that to say a certain segment of Christians don’t like that, and it also depends upon what is being changed for many.
       
      But it is often the perception/interpretation (even within context of all Scripture) that is being changed, not necessarily the Biblical account.
       
      For instance, if a movie were to show Jesus telling Thomas to touch the nail prints in his hands and place his hand in Jesus’s side, and Thomas didn’t do it, some would no doubt complain it wasn’t following the Bible. That is, until someone pointed out that the Bible never says Thomas did that. It has Thomas immediately falling down saying, “My Lord, and my God.” But it is a very common belief, based on tradition, that he did do it, even among most Protestants.
       
      That probably wouldn’t create that big a ruckus, but points out that often we are reacting to our perception of what is Biblical, rather than what is actually in there, and/or not taking the whole of Scripture into account.
       
      I’m refraining from making a judgment on Noah until I’ve seen it. But yeah, when you go to speculating with Scripture, whether openly or not, many Christians are going to have problems with it. Some even have a problem with additions.
       

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  5. HG Ferguson says:

    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?

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    • gen·o·cide
      ˈjenəˌsīd/
      noun
      noun: genocide; plural noun: genocides
      1.
      the deliberate killing of a large group of people, esp. those of a particular ethnic group or nation.
       
       
      This says nothing of what the motive is, or even whether God “sinned” by doing so. Obviously He didn’t sin and though it goes against modern sensibilities, He was justified to do so. That said, what God did fits the definition. It is not a statement on the morality of what He did. But He did wipe out whole nations of people.  He instructed the Jews to kill all people in the land they were entering. That’s genocide. The motive or moral rightness/wrongness has nothing to do with the definition of the word.
      Rather, you’re reacting to the connotation often placed on the word because in a majority or most cases, we’d consider doing that to be an evil act. God’s an exception in that case, because His reasons are righteous. The Potter can do with the clay what He wills. Using that word does not deny that, it only points to what God did: wipe out whole nations of people.
       

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