“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.