Using Noah to share the Gospel
Biblical blockbuster Noah is set to hit the silver screen at the end of this month, but it has already been causing controversy among faith communities.
Based on the original story from the book of Genesis, the film stars Russell Crowe as the titular character with supporting roles from Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson.
It has cost Paramount a whopping $125 million to make and has attracted rather a lot of attention ahead of its release - not all of it positive. In fact, many Christian organisations have criticised director Darren Aronofsky for the artistic licence taken with the events of Noah's story as played out in the film, not all of which fall in line with Scripture.
Underpinning the film is apparently a clear message about the detrimental effects of environmental damage, as opposed to God's judgement against sinful humanity. Faith Driven Consumer launched an online survey to get the Christian reaction to a Biblically themed movie that replaces the core message with a Hollywood agenda, and 98 per cent of respondents said they wouldn't be satisfied with this.
With 238 million Americans alone counting themselves as Christian, it begs the question what they will make of Aronofsky's interpretation - and how many will go to see it.
Paramount and the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) have responded to the controversy with a statement revealing that they will be adding "an explanatory message to future marketing materials for the upcoming film Noah".
The message, which can now be found on the official Noah website, reads: "The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe this story is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The Biblical story of Noah can be found in the Book of Genesis."
Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone has praised this decision, thanking Paramount for "taking steps to respect, connect with and reach out to the core faith audience of this film".
Christian film review site Movieguide says the movie reveals the "good will on Paramount's side to reach and work with the Christian evangelical community [and] is a testament of the positive steps toward uplifting entertainment that are being made in Hollywood".
With the film causing a stir before it's even hit cinemas, Dr Jerry Johnson, President and CEO of NRB is advising Christians not to avoid it but enage with it.
In an article for Christianity Today magazine in the US, he says Christians too often "are in knee-jerk reaction mode when it comes to popular culture. If the world made it, we are against it."
This is particularly the case where Hollywood is concerned and he reasons that it is important for Christians to look at the positive characteristics of Noah before they write it off as heretical.
Johnson, who has seen the film, is of the opinion that it takes some key biblical doctrines and beliefs seriously, and follows the basic plotline of the Genesis story well. He insists that Christians should at least go and see the film before making up their mind, though he does note some concerns – particularly about the way that evolution is addressed in the opening sequence.
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Another Christian who has welcomed the Hollywood adaptation of Noah is Jonathan Snowden, who served as Biblical Advisor to the production team. He believes the film will be valuable in opening up conversations and reflections on the Biblical narrative and issues like mercy, faith and intimacy with God.
"We can have fun, spirited debates of how you'd do it differently if you had $125 million to make your version of Noah's ark, but let's focus on the opportunity for now and use it as a springboard for holy conversations," he says in an article for the Christian Post.
No doubt the film will entice millions when it opens later this month, at least partly due to sheer curiosity sparked by the ongoing debate. Not to mention the promise of lots of action and an all star cast.
But as Hollywood officially enters "The Year of the Bible" , it will be interesting to see how churches and individuals will be able to use this new cultural context to share their faith.
"Stories are the vessels of meaning," says A Larry Ross, who has been responsible for the PR of several megapastors including Billy Graham and Rick Warren.
"For many faith and family films, the impact on the screen is less the answers given than it is the questions asked that you could discuss over coffee with someone who would never go to church with you, but go to a movie with you."
Damaris Trust will be offering free community resources to accompany the film's release at www.damaris.org/noah
Its founder Nick Pollard is equally enthusiastic about the film. After reading the entire script and being shown large parts of the film, his verdict is powerful, inspirational and has "great potential to draw people into the Bible".
"Of course it is not a word-for-word retelling of the biblical story - it is far more than that," he says.
"Whilst faithfully telling the core story, this film brilliantly takes us into the mind of Noah and sets his task and the flood in the wider context of the whole biblical narrative.
"As someone who loves the Bible and has read (and preached on) the Noah story very many times I am sure that this film has a marvellous potential to encourage people to think about questions of faith and doubt, righteousness and wickedness, judgment and mercy, and the relationship between humanity, the world and God.
"It can stimulate people to look at the original story for themselves. It can provoke a national conversation about the Bible."