Noah the movie–opportunities and issues from one pastor’s perspective.
Rev Stephen Thomas is an Australian pastor; the following is his edited report (sent to us unsolicited) of his experience with taking a group of young adults from his church to see the Noah movie soon after its release. (Age range 16 to 25; one non-Christian and some from non-church families.)
Others have given detailed analysis of the strengths and weakness of this movie from a biblical perspective, as here. I will focus on the discussion that I had with my young adults immediately after the movie and offer some thoughts on how you can make use of it and the things to be careful of. Obviously, if taking a group, pick your time well to maximise the opportunity for post-movie discussion. (It might be good to arrange to have them read Genesis 6–9 first.)
What I learnt:
1. Many Christians have a sanitised view of Bible history, conditions and the lost state of humanity.
The movie does bring the Flood to life in a way I have never seen before. It presents the story powerfully and makes it gritty and real. Many of our people have only seen the pretty Sunday School pictures of boat-shaped Arks with smiling animals and people on deck looking out over smooth waters. Even conservative, creationist images, though they tend to have the right dimensions, often have nice clean animals all lined up waiting to go on board. The Ark in the movie is realistic, harsh and although the main doors aren’t right it gets the idea across. I believe a similar sanitised view pervades all of our peoples’ understanding of Bible history; we need to correct this and make it real!
The movie powerfully portrays the effects, both corporate and individual, of sin, though it overdoes the environmental message in many ways. The biblical story is harsh; sin has a devastating effect on humanity, and in the West we really don’t appreciate what life is like. Our young adults can articulate that sin is real and the world is a messed-up place, but their experience of this is individual, not corporate.
We need to help our people grasp the truly terrifying nature of the effects of sin upon all creation, individually, corporately and environmentally. The Bible’s ‘big picture’ is of a once-perfect world ruined by sin.
2. Christians often do not have a great depth of knowledge of the biblical text.
The movie makes a lot of stuff up that is really extra-biblical. While I was pleased that my young adults picked that there was lots in the movie that is not in the Bible, most of them were not immediately able to identify what was ‘biblical’ and what was made up. Most understood that the family that went into the Ark in the movie didn’t match the biblical account (four couples in the Bible, not two couples and two sons without wives in the movie). They didn’t pick the shortened time frames represented in the movie. They did pick that the ‘Watchers’ are not part of the biblical account. They sort of got that the extra evil character (Tubal-Cain) wasn’t meant to be on board.
I was particularly pleased that the young adults immediately picked that the Noah of the movie is a very dark and disturbed character and that the Noah of the Bible was certainly in a much better state of mind and had a better grasp of what God required of him. They saw that the movie character had a very flawed understanding of God’s intention and acted accordingly in his intent to kill the babies on board the Ark.
Generally speaking, though, they didn’t make the link between what happened in the story of Noah and what the writer introduced from other biblical accounts into the movie (e.g. the sacrifice of Isaac parallels).
They got the need for intrigue and a dark story to make the movie work for a modern audience and that this is a major point of difference between the biblical Noah and the movie character. However I pointed out many of the prophets throughout the Bible could at times be called strange, even dark, in mood and behaviour. This gave me an opportunity to talk about the cost of obedience and that faith in Christ is not a bed of roses.
We need to invest more time in giving our congregations a greater biblical literacy.
3. Most Christians do not ‘get’ the sweeping story of redemption which flows throughout the Bible.
If familiar with the Bible’s theme of salvation, mercy and God’s plan, one can discern this background from the movie. But the young adults really struggled to see this story. In the scene where Noah first talks to Methuselah, there is mention of the world being destroyed by water this time. And Methuselah says that Enoch mentioned it would be destroyed by fire—a direct reference to the ‘Day of Judgement’. None of them picked the links between the story of Noah and Christ, as in e.g. 1 Peter 3. I got the ‘right’ answer out of them with a fair bit of coaching, but it left me with the conclusion that they don’t ‘get’ the full scope of the story of redemption.
We need to place more emphasis on the big story of redemption, the timeline of salvation history, and less on the narcissistic ‘ticket to heaven’ approach that has been a significant part of how we have presented the Gospel to this me-centred generation. [Ed.: CMI strongly recommends for this the superb ‘walk through the Bible’ books by Goodseed, i.e. Stranger on the Road to Emmaus (the version for today’s post-modern, new-agey person is By This Name, and for people of Islamic background, All That the Prophets Have Spoken) and for children the excellent book The Lamb.]
4. Theistic evolution is the common understanding of the general population
The movie clearly presents God as the creator but then in Noah’s story to his family onboard the Ark there is an obvious portrayal of molecule-to-animal evolution, though thankfully stopping short of animal-to-human evolution. The movie clearly showed Adam and Eve as specially created by God separate from the animals.
In my experience most people believe there is ‘someone out there’ and somehow this being must have started things off because they can’t accept that life just came from inanimate matter. But then from there they generally follow the evolutionary model.
I was pleased that my young adults got this and were able to talk about it a little. I hope this is because of our strong emphasis on biblical creation. However, while they generally understood that natural selection is not evolution and that natural selection can account for the variation within ‘kinds’, I was concerned about their lack of ability to articulate this clearly and that their choice of words indicated a level of confusion as to what is biblical creation and what is evolution.
Creation Ministries is right in saying that a correct understanding of Genesis is foundational to all we believe; we need to give people the tools to articulate what we say we believe. And of course evolution undermines that all-important flow of Bible history, putting death and bloodshed before the Fall of Adam, the forerunner of Christ.
5. Miracles are real but people are not clear on what is a miracle and what is ‘magic’.
The movie clearly shows miracles occurring, but it also gives mystical properties to some objects. The serpent’s shed skin may represent the shedding of innocence, I really wasn’t sure on that one. Some of the methods of medicine, healing and discerning shown in the movie were rather ‘mystical’. All in all, I felt that my young adults have a very shallow experience and understanding in this area.
We need to be open to what God can do, including the miraculous. But we need to help them based on the foundation of the teachings of Scripture and the application of the discerning of the Holy Spirit.
6. The Noah movie can be useful as a discussion starter from which you can teach and help people to take a step along the journey to salvation
There was one non-Christian in our group; our young adults went out of their way to invite him and he came along. Because of this movie we had an opportunity to talk about the Creator God, the fallen nature of humanity, the need for mercy and redemption, the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the need to make an informed decision about what we believe.
Will he become a Christian because of this movie? He may start the journey towards Christ because of the opportunity it gave us to invite him to something where it was easy to raise the issues of sin and salvation.
My conclusion is that this movie will certainly give us opportunities to share the Gospel, but be prepared to do some work!