Last week saw the release of the first trailer for Noah - a film, based on the very same Bible story, starring Russel Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins and a ton of CGI effects. It's due in the cinemas in March and it will without a doubt provoke a “flood” of internet debate. “Water” lot of fun that will be. Ahem, sorry for the puns I'll stop now.
I can already see how this is going to pan out. The charismatic church will embrace the film with open arms, arrange church trips to go see it and delight in the fact that we can at last pretend to be “relevant” and maybe even “cool” (as though Christianity could ever be cool). The broader evangelical church will probably recognise some of the problems with the film but will likely go watch it anyway as it's only a bit of “harmless entertainment”. This film could well become a staple for evangelistic film nights everywhere, for which I am tempted to deeply apologise for. In contrast, the Reformed church will largely produce thoughtful, intelligent, discerning articles about the movie and whether Christians should support or avoid it but there will be some more angry rant pieces as well. Oh yes, and the media will highlight any number of whacko fringe groups reacting against the Noah movie as though it's the biggest sin of mankind since the fall. Any intelligent discourse will be drowned out (this pun was unintentional, I promise!) and the general message that all Christians are either a) hypocritical or b) crazy will be safely maintained.
Ok, this is a very cynical response to the whole affair and I would love to be proved wrong about it. I would also like to put out my thoughts now, before the debate probably begins. Obviously, having only seen the trailer I'm not working from a position of full information so these are just early thoughts. But what I've seen is enough to raise some concerns; as such I have ten questions I want to ask.
Will the film add or subtract from Scripture?
I start with this question because it is the most important. In Revelation we read the following: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” Revelation 22v18-19
God's Word should not be dealt with lightly. It is a serious matter to either add or take away from it as the above passage describes. Even from the trailer it is clear that Noah is breaking this commandment by adding in stuff to the biblical narrative. This is not a good place to be in. Any representation of God's Word should be faithful because it should recognise the supreme majesty of the author: God. Who are we, the creature, to change the words of God, the Creator? Does poetic license give man the right to change the Bible in the name of entertainment?
Will it be respectful of the Christian faith?
Again, a simple but important question, will this film respect the Christian faith? Or will it mock and poke fun at it? Will viewers be left with an awe at the power and majesty of God or be left laughing at him? My initial impression would be one of false respect. It seems like the film will honour God on a basic surface level but it will not be respectful on a deeper one. For if it does add and subtract from the Bible how can the filmmakers be respecting God and his Word?
Will the film break the second commandment?
By this I mean, will they present the Trinity through an image? Be it Father, Son or Holy Spirit any attempt to portray God as a person or image falls foul of this commandment. God is a Spirit and has no corporeal form. Images of Jesus present him, not in truth, but often in the image of whoever is behind it. Like when Jesus is white, or handsome, or black, or anything other than what he actually looked like – which we don't know anyway so why are we even trying?
Will this affirm the Bible as God's infallible word or portray the story of Noah as a myth?
The answer to this question appears obvious from the trailer. It's a film just like Troy, an old myth like all other ancient myths, presented in true Hollywood style. It does not look likely that the film will affirm that the story of Noah is historical reality, the Flood happened, God's judgement was real and all of the biblical narrative about it is true. If this is so then it doesn't matter how respectful the film outwardly appears. Audiences will still go away with the impression confirmed to them that the Bible is just a bunch of old myths strung together. What better way to dismiss the Bible out of hand than to render it as entertainment?
Will Noah preach repentance to the crowds?
We know from 2 Peter 2 that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness”. This I would like to see in the movie – Noah preaching the reality of coming judgement and yet the salvation on offer by God. Indeed, if this happened it would be better than a large number of “evangelistic” services I've attended where the message is more like “Jesus makes you happy.”
Will Noah get drunk at the end of the film?
In the Bible at the end of Genesis 9 we read that Noah, after coming out the ark, planted a vineyard and got drunk. The Bible is very honest about the heroes of the Christian faith. No one but Jesus is perfect. The best of men are only ever men at best. This would be great to see in a movie – Noah being both a hero of faith but also a sinful man.
Come to think of it – will Noah's faith be highlighted?
Hebrews 11v7: “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.” What kept Noah building his ark? Faith. What made him a heir to righteousness? Faith. What led to his salvation from the Flood? Faith. Somehow, I can't help but feel we will get a works based Noah and not a faith based Noah because the world never understands the heart of the Christian message: salvation by faith alone.
Will this film carry a dodgy environmental message or the actual gospel?
I'm not too sure about this but according to internet rumours this film was shown to a focus group of Christians who then got very annoyed because it contained what was effectively a gospel of environmental salvation rather than a gospel of salvation from sin. Even if this isn't true the change that a secular company produced a film with a gospel message appears slim.
To what degree are we being sucked in by the “Hollywood Effect”?
Look, I get it, the film looks exciting. There's big CGI waves, Noah throws a spear, some great monologuing, a few Bible quotes, it all looks very flashy and Hollywood. Part of me wants to see it because of this. But to what degree is this distracting us from the real issues? Faithful to Scripture, honouring God and his Word, getting the narrative accurate, sending the right gospel message. If this film looks cool but teaches a false gospel will you still see it? If it looks epic but pretends the Bible is a myth shall we support it? When does principle give way to special effects?
If we see it what will we start?
This is quite a simple one really. If Christians all go see it the film makes money (especially in America). If we don't it will hopefully not make as much money. If makes a lot of money another biblical story gets turned into a film. If it doesn't then the buck stops with Noah. So the question is: do we want more films of Bible stories? More false gospels parading as the real thing? More scorn heaped on the historical reality of Scripture? More dishonouring of God and his Word? More of the secular world trying to tell a Bible story?
In conclusion, I don't have high hopes for this film. I don't have high hopes for the church's response either. It would be nice to see this film shunned for the reasons highlighted above. This seems unlikely. Most Christians don't care enough about the principle to care enough about not seeing the film. And yes, when I first saw the trailer I didn't react against it straight away. It is only in writing this and mulling over what is at stake that my opinion solidified into an active dislike. This then is my challenge: can you care enough to not see this? Can you care about how God's Word is handled and portrayed and abused? Can you care that the world is seeking to profit from a mis-telling of a bible story? Will you care?