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Why this Bible teacher thoroughly enjoyed 'Noah'

Hollywood take on the Biblical epic has more theological depth than many Christians realize
Hollywood take on the Biblical epic has more theological depth than many Christians realize
Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

This past Fall I spent a month translating and teaching through Genesis 6-9 in the Hebrew Bible. This is where the Biblical story of Noah is found. And it's a story that most people, whether church/synagogue-goers or not feel that they know.

However, having taught the book of Genesis for the past decade or so, I've found that most people are actually quite unfamiliar with the text itself...and even less familiar with its history of interpretation throughout the centuries. The versions we hear as children, often displayed on countless nursery walls, Vacation Bible School flannel-boards, or DVDs with featuring talking vegetables bears very little resemblance to what is actually found within the text of Genesis 6-9.

The main reason for this, I would argue, is simple: the text itself is remarkably short on all the details and doesn't answer the majority of our questions. As a result, we have to fill in the gaps when we retell it...and even the supposedly "literal" recreations and interpretations (such as those put forth at Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham's famous Creation Museum in Kentucky) are filled with imagination, conjecture and additional hypothetical miraculous details not found in the pages of Scripture...such as this.

So, when I saw the preview for Darren Aronofsky's new 'Noah' film a few months ago, I was very interested in seeing how the director (who, despite being an atheist, was raised in Judaism and had a fascination with the story from a young age) would tell the story. And given the $125 million budget, I knew this would be much closer to "The Passion of the Christ" in terms of artistry and technical quality than the latest 'Christian' straight-to-DVD end-times thriller.

I also knew that the film would be immediately panned by many Christians for not being "Biblical" (Side note: it remains to be seen whether these same critics will be consistent in their cries of "unbiblical" when the new "Left Behind" reboot comes out later this year...but that's another post entirely!).

Of course, it was.

The aforementioned Ken Ham declared the movie to be "so antibiblical that it will do more harm than good in relation to the Christian faith and the word of God."

Conservative shock-blogger Matt Walsh (in full-on Matt Walsh mode) was even more blunt regarding "this steaming pile of heretical horse manure"...even questioning whether any Christian leader who encourages people to see it is "being cowardly, dumb, or dishonest."

Of course, no publicity is bad publicity; and reviews like these, along with my own study and teaching of this text over the past ten years, only made me want to see it more.

I wanted to decide for myself whether or not it is worth the price of admission. So this afternoon, I headed over to Ayrsley Grand Cinema (where matinees are still $5! Score!) and saw Aronofsky's version of Noah. And at the risk of incurring Walsh's 'cowardly, dumb or dishonest' monikers...I have to say, I THOROUGLY enjoyed it--both as a movie-goer as well as an evangelical Bible teacher who believes Genesis (and the rest of Scripture) to be both Inspired and Authoritative. I may be a United Methodist...but my view of Scripture is very much that of Wesley's. So when someone starts to take artistic liberties with the text, my Spidey-sense does indeed start to tingle.

Yet...I still really enjoyed Aronofsky's 'Noah.'

And in the next few posts I'll go through a few of the reasons why.

But first to answer a question posed by a friend on Facebook: "Was it Biblical?"

I would have to say: "Yes...No...and Almost!"

I'll explain what I mean by that in the following posts, of course. But I want to note up front that more than the degree of fidelity to the text which the film possessed, I was most surprised and impressed by the deeply nuanced and profoundly reflective Biblical & theological elements captured onscreen in a big-budget Hollywood movie by a secular studio and an atheist filmmaker.

Of course, unlike many low-budget Christian movies, this was not a 2-hour sermon...nor was it intended to be. Rather, it was a work of art intended to raise as many (if not more!) questions as it answers about a story so well-known that it has literally remained in the residual memory of humanity for thousands of years (almost every ancient Near East culture whose literature has been preserved has a version of the flood of Noah in some form or another).

So, had I gone in expecting a detailed retelling of the text of Genesis 6-9 and nothing more, I would surely have been disappointed. But since I went in expecting a Tolkien-esque epic inspired not only by the Biblical account, but also by other ancient Jewish writings which predate even the New Testament (and to which at least one New Testament author, Jesus' own half-brother Jude, alludes!), I was not only entertained, but I also found myself extremely impressed overall.

This is not to say that I agreed with or approved of everything in the film. On the contrary, I strongly disagreed with the portrayal of more than a few characters and subjects it touched upon. But agreement or disagreement with a film does not determine my level of appreciation for what the filmmaker has put forth. So stay tuned (by clicking the "subscribe" button on this page!) for why it is that even as an evangelical Bible teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed 'Noah.'

[to be continued]