Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

A Flood of Controversy


Noah has created a flood of controversy. Some Christians have called it insulting, blasphemous, and unbiblical. Others have praised it for its faithfulness to Scripture, artistic value, and focus on justice and mercy. After reading reviews and comments from both sides one has to wonder whether or not they were watching the same film. How can Christians who read the same Bible, profess belief in the same doctrines, and some who even attend the same church have such different views about this film? I would like to explore this question and offer some ways forward. The last thing Christians need is for a Hollywood movie to divide us and stand in the way of the stronger bond that we share in Jesus.

What is truth?

Some Christians see Noah as a rejection of truth, while others see it as a very truthful film. It sounds like these two camps are opposed to each other, but I do not believe they are. I think the problem is that we are talking about different truths. One side sees Noah as a rejection of historical truth. What they see is a film that departs from the Biblical text in several different ways and in their minds this is a compromise of the Biblical truth one finds in Scripture. They are right. Noah does go beyond Scripture and makes certain changes to the story we find in our Bibles. The other side understands that Noah is not going to follow the Bible exactly. They do not go into the film expecting to receive historical truth from it, but instead they are looking for other truths. Rather than looking for historical truth, they are looking for things like Biblical themes (justice and mercy) and whether or not it remains true to the spirit of the text. Each side highly respects truth, but they are looking for different truths.

I fall on one side of this divide. I do not believe we should be looking for historical truth or accuracy in a medium like film. No film is able to accurately capture historical truth, but it is able to point to other truths. Comparing a movie to a historical account is like comparing a painting to a photograph. The photographer takes a picture which shows a two dimensional exact representation of whatever is being photographed. The painter on the other hand cannot do what a photographer can do. Instead the painter takes certain liberties. He or she can make colors brighter or reimagine a part of the photograph that is out of focus. Film and written history are two different mediums that convey truth in different ways. I believe film can point us to historical truths, but it is not itself historical truth. When we see a film that is based on a true account, we should not take the film as being historically accurate, but we should be encouraged to go and read the historical account ourselves. Interestingly, Noah has done exactly that. It has caused people to turn to Scripture (See The Data Is In: Noah Is Driving People To The Bible). People going into a film seeking to be historically informed I believe will always be disappointed, or will blindly accept a historical truth which is not completely accurate.

This does not mean we should abandon film. I think films teach us different truths. They often teach us about ourselves and the world we live in. Films pull on our heart strings. They sometimes ask us to see the world from a different point of view. They explore ideas and concepts that are often hard to get across in other mediums. Although Noah went beyond the text and altered certain historical truths that we find in the Bible, it also helped people better understand the Biblical truths of justice and mercy. It took sin very seriously and explored its affect on creation and humanity. People who were not looking for historical truth, saw these other Biblical truths and were quite pleased with the film.

I Can Only Imagine

Every film based on the Bible uses imagination. Some use it more than others, but they all use it. This should not be too surprising since this also happens in sermons, Sunday school, and other places where the Bible is used. The most detailed part of the flood story is the measurement of the ark (Gen. 6:15), and yet the images in Sunday school material nearly always get this wrong. The artists who imagine it often ignore these measurements and it ends up looking like a boat, rather than an ark (The film Noah actually gets this part of the story right). We imagine other things as well. We imagine the backgrounds and contexts of certain psalms even though we are never told in Scripture what the background and context are (Psalm 51). We imagine what Jesus, Moses, David, and other Biblical figures were like. We often imagine what heaven will be like. We sing songs almost every Sunday that imagine this, and some of them are not based on Scripture at all (Mansion Over the Hilltop).

I do not believe we should be concerned about imagination, as long as it does not compromise the spirit and intent of Scripture. One of the best scenes in Son of God was a scene at the end of the film where Peter and the disciples partook of the Lord’s Supper on the day Jesus was raised from the dead. This account is not found anywhere in Scripture, but it doesn’t go against Scripture and we can imagine something like this happening. Although we do not need to be overly concerned about imagination, we do need to recognize the vast difference between imagination and Scripture. Scripture is God’s holy word. Our faith is founded on God and what we read in Scripture, and not on what we imagine.

Films are based on imagination even more so than Sunday school pictures or sermon illustrations. Films based on the Bible must imagine what someone like Jesus or Noah looked like. They must imagine how they talked and the tone that was used in speaking certain famous passages from Scripture. Films also imagine what happens in the gaps we find in Scripture. We are not told everything about the life of Jesus and Scripture acknowledges this (John 20:30). We are even told less about the life of Noah. The makers of the Noah film imagined a lot and I believe many people had more problems with the imaginations of the filmmakers than with anything else. I admit that some of it was pretty far fetched, but should we become upset and angry with someone because they imagined things differently than we did? I don’t think this is a place where we should take our stand.

The Power of Images

We live in a culture that is rapidly changing. More and more people are receiving information through a screen, rather than the written word. Images are powerful and they are becoming more powerful with each passing day. Although imagination takes place every Sunday in pulpits and Sunday school classes across this country, there is something about it taking place in the form of an image that resonates more with people. It is one thing to imagine in a Bible class who the Nephilim were (Gen. 6:4), but it is a completely different thing to portray that imagination on the big screen. They are both imagination but they take on different forms.

There has been a long history of images in Christianity. The most famous of these being the icon controversy which took place in the 8th century. James K. A. Smith puts forth an interesting theory in his excellent essay “Faith in the Flesh in American Beauty: Christian Reflections on Film.” He traces our view of images all the way back to Platonism and because of this he believes we are always somewhat leery of them. I have found it interesting that in some negative comments on Noah people have equated images and film with the written word. They have attacked the film for not accurately conveying the details of the Biblical account to an audience who may never read the Bible. Although I hope films like Noah point people to God and Scripture, I am somewhat taken aback by this argument. I do not believe we should ever expect film or images to take the place of Scripture, or to do what Scripture does. Film can point us to Scripture. It can elaborate and expound on truths we find in Scripture, but it is not Scripture. We should not hold out extraordinary expectations for film, but accept it for what it is.

How Should We Respond to Noah

Recommend Not Condemn – Instead of condemning people for seeing this film or encouraging everyone you know to see it, we should probably just recommend. I enjoyed the film and wrote about it on this blog, but I will not endorse it from the pulpit or write about it in the church bulletin. I recognize that it is not a film for everyone. If you happened to not like the film, then tell people why. Don’t accuse people of sinning or not being Christian for seeing this film.

Be Respectful and Open – If someone finds truth in this film, especially if they are not a Christian, then be open to that and begin a conversation. Listen to people who may have a different take on the film. Be open to what they have to say and share with them your ideas about the film. These conversations often lead to Scripture and what the Bible actually says.

Don’t Take it Too Seriously – At the end of the day remember that this is a Hollywood movie. It is not something that should divide Christians. People are going to have different opinions of it just as they have different opinions of other films produced by Hollywood. I am personally glad that a film like this was made by a Hollywood studio, but I am not going to allow this film to stand between me and any of my fellow Christians.

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