I’ll admit, I’m still surprised at the outrage being expressed by many evangelical Christians over a Hollywood movie made by unbelievers.
One commentator noted how “dirty” the movie made him feel. Another railed against the deteriorating respect that people have for the Bible. Many have called it evil, and an abomination. More than one person has challenged me on how I, a pastor, could encourage Christians to see this movie.
To all of this, my response is: you guys know that it’s just a movie, right?
And as a fascinating side note, consider that the director, Darren Aronofsky, was raised Jewish, and was raised on this story. Although not an adherent to Judaism or Christianity today, he has great respect for the message of the story, and chose to tell it in the tradition of the Jewish “midrash” – a story-telling technique that rabbis have used for generations, where great embellishment is added to explore all aspects of the story, creating elements that read between the lines of the text, and allowing the message to be proclaimed in more memorable way.
(And by the way, fun fact, the idea of giant fallen angels watching over and interacting with mankind is a well-established theme of ancient Jewish religious literature – see 1st Enoch. Still not sure why they are portrayed in the movie as huge talking rock monsters, but hey...)
For all of the Christians up in arms about the movie, saying things like, “That’s not what MY bible says!”, they are forgetting that Noah was a Jewish story first, and the director has chosen to tell it in a particularly Jewish style. The story does not belong to evangelical Christians.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that we need to fully accept or be happy with the interpretation. But whenever something like this happens, and Christian outrage blows up, I always just feel like, if anyone outside the Christian camp were to look at us, they would think: “Man, those people are just angry ALL THE TIME. And over a movie?!” With all of the pain, suffering, and legitimate evil in the world, why are the loudest cries of indignation always over things like this? It’s a movie. A very public one, but still, just a movie.
When such things happen, we respond in very predictable ways:
- A boycott (“They’re not getting MY money!”)
- Angry self-protection (“We have to defend the Bible!”)
- Accusations (“This is EVIL!”)
- Exaggerations (“With this disrespect for God’s Word, pretty soon Christians will be in jail!”
- Generally unkind and unloving statements (“This is paganism at its worst, what horrible people made this, how can any idiot pastor encourage people to see it, etc.”)
Could there be a different way to approach this?
When Paul entered the city of Athens in Acts chapter 17, he saw many idols there, and was genuinely distressed. However, he didn’t scream about how wrong the culture was. He didn’t boycott the city. He didn’t tell everyone they were going to hell. He didn’t get together with other Christians and rail about how evil the city was. And he didn’t angrily complain that their spiritual expression didn’t agree with the truth.
What he did instead was pick one of their beloved idols, and use it as a jumping-off point to start a conversation about Jesus (v.22-31).
Now this was an idol – the epitome of evil for Jewish people – and yet Paul saw an opportunity to use it, evil as it was, in order to communicate truth.
Instead of getting angry or self-righteous as to where the culture was at, he met them where they were at, on their level, and then used their own sinful cultural expression to point them towards Christ.
And people got saved through the process. (v.34)
We can imagine how Paul might react as a modern-day evangelical:
- Boycott the city (“I will NOT spend my time and money in this idol-worshiping place!”)
- Angry self-protection (“I’m an APOSTLE, it’s MY JOB to defend the Gospel!”)
- Accusations (“You guys are just evil. Really, really evil.”)
- Exaggerations (“If I spend any time with these people, I’ll probably abandon Jesus and the entire Gospel will fall apart!”)
- Generally unkind and unloving statements (“You fools, are you REALLY praying to a hunk of stone, you ungodly pagans?”)
There are, however, people going to heaven from Athens, because Paul chose a different approach.
Does this need some wisdom and caution? Certainly. But there will always be parts of our culture that challenge us, that are unbiblical, and that are evil and sinful. Paul shows us that, with wisdom, and being led by the Spirit, we can find ways to connect with culture where they are at, and use the culture itself to start a conversation about Jesus.
The whole point of the Incarnation is that Jesus came down to our level, engaged with us where we were at, and loved us as the sinners that we are (Rom 5:8; Phil 2:5-8; 1Jn 4:19).
We still have some things to learn!