Why Hollywood can make a better ‘Noah’ film than Answers in Genesis

“Blessed are the petty, for they will never run out of things to complain about.” (Paramount Pictures photo)

“Blessed are the petty, for they will never run out of things to complain about.”

This extra-biblical Beatitude was running through my head as I perused one of Ken Ham’s most recent diatribes.

The post was just the latest in a long series about  “Noah” — the upcoming Hollywood film starring Russell Crowe, which Ham describes as not just “unbiblical,” but “anti-biblical.” I can’t say I’ve heard the latter description before, but I’m guessing it’s the worse of the two.

Now, it should surprise no one who’s familiar with their previous work to learn that Ham and Answers in Genesis are seeking to funnel the supposed masses of folks dissatisfied with Paramount Pictures’ “Noah” toward a film of their own.

I’m not really that interested in either project. But, given the choice, I’d probably prefer Paramount’s take, and here’s why.

First of all, the superficial details are more important to Ham than the deeper themes of the text.

Ham has all kinds of problems with the upcoming film — each one seemingly less consequential than the next. They range from the expanded, villainous role of Noah’s relative, Tubal-cain, to the “over-the-top” focus on sustainability and stewardship, which Ham believes is “meant to indoctrinate people into extreme environmentalism.”

That may all be true; I haven’t seen the movie, and I have no real basis for defending it. But ask yourself this: What are the most important parts of the flood story?

You don’t have to be an Old Testament scholar to address the question. The key themes are that God is just, people are bad and God punishes sin. And according to Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, writing in Christianity Today, “Noah” got this right.

“The concepts of sin and judgment are front and center throughout the whole film,” he writes. “In a country where the preacher Adrian Rogers used to say, ‘Most Americans are strutting their way to hell, thinking they are too good to be damned,’ Noah strikes a different, politically incorrect note.”

But that’s not even close to enough for Ham; in his mind, the fact that filmmaker Darren Aronofsky portrays Noah as having only one daughter-in-law, instead of three, is unforgivable. They say, “The devil’s in the details,” but Ham seems to take the opposite view: that the details are, in fact, where God resides.

I really don’t think I’m misrepresenting him here. After all, he said in his most recent blog post about the picture, “the ‘Noah’ film deviates so much from the Bible, that for non-Christians who will watch it, the movie will probably do more harm than good.”

It doesn’t matter that the film, according to Johnson, accurately presents a just God’s righteous hatred of sin and rebellion, and his merciful salvation of those who love and obey him. The fact that Aronofsky’s Noah is angrier than scripture’s version is a virtually insurmountable barrier to the Holy Spirit’s work.

Secondly, AiG’s “Noah” will not be as good because the organization’s staff lacks imagination when it comes to the word of God. They are too devoted to the letter of the text and seem to care little for its spirit.

It’s hard to imagine Ham being amongst the disciples, as they crowded around Jesus after one of his teaching sessions, imploring him to explain what his parables meant. More likely, he would have gone home long before, thinking, “Jesus talked about farming today.”

Yes, Aronofsky and his team have taken liberties with the text, as has anyone who has ever adapted scripture to a different medium, including AiG. Artistic liberty is why people make art, and why people watch it.

If we are interested in simply, “what the Bible says” — free from the influence or interpretation of any third party (including translators), then, well, that’s what we have the Bible for (though I must say, I hope you know Hebrew).

And finally, a rigid, hollow “faithfulness” to the source material is more important to Ham than the audience.

We have no record of Jesus ever fully recounting an Old Testament story. He mentioned some here and there (yes, he even referenced Noah, once), but always in the context of a larger theological point. Most of the time, he taught by making up stories out of whole cloth, using simple word illustrations about everyday life that he knew his audience would understand. Yet, hidden in these seemingly straightforward narratives were some of the weightiest truths the world has ever known.

The Apostle Paul understood this principle, too. He acknowledged “becoming all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some,” even to the point that he quoted pagan poets before his Greek listeners at the Aeropagus.

Modern filmmakers must walk a fine line between allegiance to their art and allegiance to their audience. “Art for art’s sake,” is all well and good, but if no one likes your art — and especially if no one wants to pay to see it — you might want to keep the day job.

For the Christian creative, the goal is different, but the basic idea’s the same. We want to share our message, these truths we believe are life-changing and of the utmost importance. Many people want to see movies that are well-made and entertaining. Ergo, if we wish to make movies that convey our message and that people want to watch, we better make darn sure that they’re good ones.

In what I’ve seen of their efforts, Ham and co. don’t seem to grasp this. For them, it’s, “This is what the book says. Take it or leave it.”

I imagine they would accept this last point as a compliment, a badge of honor. And that’s fine. But that’s not how Jesus taught.

Tyler Francke

  • Alan S

    Taking liberties with the Scriptural text when making movies is nothing new, and it’s hardly done only by “the world”. Not only do you have “The Ten Commandments” (loved by many Christians), but you also have “The Nativity Story”, “One Night with the King”, and “The Passion of the Christ”, to name a few films that many Christians like, but which veer from the text.
    This is what I’d say I could talk to Ken: “We agree, Ken, that Noah doesn’t agree with every detail of the Genesis text, any more than ANY movie agrees with every detail of a piece of literature upon which it’s based (think ‘The Hobbit’!). But how about not turning a molehill into a mountain, eh? What Christian should EXPECT their Hollywood movies to be completely accurate in their representation of the text IN THE FIRST PLACE? That’s a ridiculous expectation! How about just letting a movie be what it is…a MOVIE!…instead of expecting it to be what it isn’t…like a John Walton commentary on Genesis. How about just telling your constituency, ‘Look, I wish they would have changed some things in the movie, but go enjoy it if you want to, just remember that it’s just a movie’. Would that not have sufficed??? No, instead you have to turn this movie into yet ANOTHER battle in the culture war, and make Christians look like trifling nabobs.”

    • Hey Alan, good points! Thanks for sharing. But, you know what bothers me way more than the fact that there are people like Ken Ham, who are so petty and hypocritical in their self-righteous indignation? The fact that there are millions of Christians who give people like Ken Ham their whole-hearted support, without seeing through him as you and I can so clearly.

  • Levi

    I’ll freely admit I’m torn about seeing this movie.

    One huge point in its favor: Ken Ham hates it, so it can’t be entirely terrible.

    On the other hand, the last thing we need is more publicity for a global flood. How many Christians are going to see this movie and say to themselves, “It got a few details wrong here and there, but it sure did show that the Bible is right when it says the earth is only 6,000 years old!”?

    • It’s true: A good general rule of thumb is to ask WWKHD (What Would Ken Ham Do)? Then, do the opposite.

      And while I appreciate your concerns about the downside of such a film, I think we shouldn’t worry about it too much. After all, the theater has always been a place for crazy, out-there, imaginative escapism, and we’ve all been well-trained in the willing suspension of disbelief. In general, we intuitively separate what’s happening on the screen from what we know to be real.

      All of that’s to say, I don’t think the film will have much of an impact on the percentage of people who believe in a worldwide flood. Those who already believe in such a thing will see it as a vindication of their beliefs, sure; those who don’t will see it as just “part of going to the movies,” no more believable than “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter.”

  • Larry Bunce

    Information I have seen said they built a full-sized Ark fot the movie. Ken Ham could save millions by moving the movie set Ark to his museum. (Does anyone know if Ken has a wry sense of humor? Ham seems to be running such a sham operation, we only need to figure out how to work Japheth into this sentence.)

  • Alan Christensen

    You forgot the perfect response to Ham’s objections: “WERE YOU THERE?”

  • Larry Bunce

    The first big-budget, epic film about Noah was made in 1929. It drew parallels between Noah’s time and the post-WWI disillusionment of the 1920’s, so it didn’t just stick to the Bible, either.

    I found an interesting comparison between the new “Noah” movie and the 1929 “Noah’s Ark” on the USC Annenberg website.
    Here is a link to the article with clips from the 1929 movie.
    http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/gwynnewatkins/7696/noah_vs__1929_epic_noah_s_ark/

    I am somehow reminded of a story from the early days of cinema, when movies were denounced from pulpits as corrupting public morals. A minister finished his sermon by saying, “And we should seize all those evil films and projection equipment and throw them all into the river– good riddance to them.”
    After a dramatic pause, he continued, “And would everyone join in our closing hymn, ‘Shall We Gather by the River.'”

  • Dylan Cook

    I’ve seen the movie, and evolution was in it.