Ok, the news is mixed from professional reviewers, pastors, bible scholars, and bloggers regarding the Noah movie. Some hated the film…called is “distortive,” “fanatically wrong”…others, a “masterpiece,” or “compelling.” For the average person, confusion reigns. Why? Something that Christian Smith called, “interpretive pluralism.” Smith, in his challenging but brilliant book, The Bible Made Impossible, tells the “story” of a person(s) we’ve all known (or are, or been at one time or another in our lives) called the “Biblicist.” Here is a summary of Smith’s definition of a Biblicist…a Biblicist is one who sees the bible as:
1. Divine Writing: the Bible is identical to God’s own words.
2. Total representation: it is what God wants us to know and all God wants us to know.
3. Complete coverage: everything relevant to the Christian life is in the Bible.
4. Democratic perspicuity: reasonable humans can read the Bible in his or her language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.
5. Commonsense hermeneutic: again, plain meaning; just read it.
6. Solo [not sola] Scripture: we can read the Bible without the aid of creeds or
confessions or historical church traditions.
7. Internal harmony: all passages on a given theme mesh together.
8. Universal applicability: the Bible is universally valid for all Christians, wherever and whenever.
9. Handbook model: the Bible is handbook or textbook for the Christian life.
Now, without getting into a debate or “falling into a ditch” as many of you mock me, let me say this…you and me can talk and discuss the authority of scripture all day and I won’t waver – I cherish the Bible. I have read it, studied it, and sought to apply its transformational, sacramental power to my life and heart. But the truth is, I’m not a Biblicist. OK, I’m a recovering Biblicist…but you get my drift. The PROBLEM that haunts the Biblicist is what Smith points out in his book – what ultimately defeats Biblicism is “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” The Bible says and teaches different things — and many times, the interpretation of the text is up for grabs. It’s just true. Have you ever wondered why we have so many denominations? Interpretive pluralism! Have you ever wondered why we have so many books or commentaries on the bible? Interpretive pluralism! Have you ever wondered why one set of Jesus followers will affirm or condemn certain aspects of life while others will embrace them? Interpretive pluralism! Have you ever wondered why we have books like "Five Views of Law and Gospel," "Four Views of Atonement," "Five Views of Justification," and "Five Views of Jesus" (and those are just a small sampling of those types of books)? Nobody can completely agree on what the text means! Yes, there are some general agreements about the NON-negotiables – the nature of God, the Trinity, Salvation history, among other topics that make up the “core” of Christian teaching. Even so, many subjects and many parts of the text can still be viewed in multitudinous ways. People who love Jesus and seek to honor Him in their lives differ in honesty and (hopefully) in love about a variety of biblical subjects and specific texts. Judaism, by its very nature, has more of a “large tent” view of interpretation of the bible. They’ve always welcomed “theologizing” on the text…in fact, for many Jews historically, “midrash” or open-ended conversation and exploration of the text was not only practiced but also encouraged. I wish Christians could do the same.
That’s what brings me back to biblical movies (viz the NOAH film). Well-meaning followers of Jesus disagree about the movie. Some find it exciting and bold…some find it demeaning and destructive. So, what is it? I guess it all comes down to an interpretation of “art”…spin a piece of art, a novel or a film around and view it from multiple perspectives and multiple viewpoints will emerge. That’s why I don’t believe there will EVER be a biblically based movie that will completely please the crowd. It will either be too superficial, too “western” (in terms of capturing more of western culture than eastern, biblical culture), too “21st century” in terms of social values and ethics, too literal, not literal enough, etc. If Jesus looks too white or too dark…if he has teeth that look like he just emerged from a Cosmo magazine cover or if he was too ragged (resembling Brennan Manning’s image of a ragamuffin) there will be uproars. If someone tries to be imaginative with the text, they are accused of inaccuracy. Yet if accuracy is the only goal, the question becomes, “whose accuracy?” Or sometimes literalism leads to superficiality because the text doesn’t always tell us details. That’s where imagination comes into play. And, trust me, once human imagination is at play, watch out! Someone’s getting ticked! Every biblically based movie I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen from Godspell and King of Kings to Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ) ALL had their problems. Every one was in some way called damaging, spiritually shallow, too human, too “other worldly,” or just plain heretical.
I told my friends to embrace art and, as John Fischer wrote, take advantage of the fact that Hollywood just laid a HUGE gift for us as faith based, biblically centered people by telling a story that WE know. The Noah movie made 45 million dollars its opening weekend…people are talking about it…others are reading the bible to check its details…isn’t that a good thing? I’ll tell you this…I’d rather have people taking a shot at trying to capture the life of Noah on screen than see another ridiculous Ron Burgundy film, or hear about another “Hangover” or slasher film. I have read interviews with both the director and producer of “Noah.” Put it this way, they took their best shot. Good for them. I don’t think there were subversive conspiracies by the filmmakers to attack Christianity or the bible. Did they see the story in “new” ways? Yes….some good and some not so good. But why would any follower of Jesus be intimidated by that! Remember that section in Corinthians where Paul writes that we take “captive every thought” in obedience to Jesus? Let’s not be scared of a movie! Come on! If a movie is an “attack” on faith, then we are missing the REAL attacks that are much more sinister and purposely and subtly destructive. Let’s keep our eye on the ball, OK? Secondly, I want people to engage in culture conversation about biblical topics! And Noah laid it right down the middle of the plate for those who love God. What a great opportunity! For example, at our dinner table on Friday night at a local diner, people all around us HAD TO listen to our lively debate on the movie! When was the last time that happened to you? When was the last time you had a energetic discussion in public about the bible without feeling like people were condemining you for trying to shove something down their throats. This movie is a cultural phenomenon for only a short period of time…take advantage of that to start conversations. Hey, what the movie ultimately talked about was God…powerful and gracious and just. Lastly, I want people to think – I want Christians to click their brain to “on” and engage another person’s view of the bible. We need to encourage people not to be fortressed or closed off from culture but to redemptively engage culture. I told people Sunday, I’m not going to tell them to check their brain at the door or prohibit them from seeing something because it could damage them (now, don't go there…I'm not talking pornagraphy and stuff like that). I want all the people who share in my faith journey to think, to own, to dare to doubt and be challenged as a means of growth. Putting our heads in the sand will not gain us anything except a mouth full of sand.