Christians Don't Own the Copyright on Noah

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A few years ago, my daughter was in a church musical production of the Noah story (she was the cutest alligator you’ve ever seen). The thing is, the ark they had on stage wasn’t exactly 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. In fact, quite a few elements were downright unbiblical.

So it is the case with Noah, a big-budget Hollywood version from Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky - at least if you listen to the early naysayers. While some of the complaints have actually been about measurements, others have had more thematic concerns, accusing the movie of being a tale of “environmental paganism” with “an extremist environmental agenda.”  

I’ve seen Noah, and I’ll admit that it was a bit jarring when the rock giants showed up. (Where were they when I was a kid?) But I’ll also admit that I don’t care. Because even though I’m a Christian, that doesn’t mean I own the copyright on this or any other Bible story.

  A scene from Darren Aronofsky's Noah.

A scene from Darren Aronofsky's Noah.

Acting like we do is one reason Christians can have trouble being taken seriously in the public square, especially when art comes into play. Aronofsky and Paramount Pictures have just as much of a right to offer their interpretation of the tale as anyone (yes, even though Aronofsky is an atheist). The Noah story is only “our” story inasmuch as God gave it to all of humanity and we’ve chosen to hold it close to our hearts, to see in it a miniature version of God’s grand plan for redemption and restoration. If Aronofsky and his co-screenwriter, Ari Handel, see something else in it (an environmental parable, which their movie partially is, or a meditation on sin and second chances, which it is even more so), that’s no reason to start clicking our tongues or going into a panic.

Instead, why not embrace Noah – and any Bible movie, for that matter, no matter how biblically tenuous – as opportunities for conversation? This is art we’re talking about, not doctrinal statements. Rather than approaching such endeavors with defensiveness or fearfulness, why not let the art have the first word and then consider how it might be speaking to us? Aronofsky’s dark vision, for instance, made me consider for the first time how much a desperate prophet of doom like Noah needed the atoning grace of Jesus. It’s a Pentateuch movie aching for the New Testament.

As Christians, we don’t have to bear the burden of being cultural gatekeepers. If we make that a priority – if we want to play maître d’ and determine who gets to have a seat at one of our tables – we’ll soon realize that we’re talking to ourselves, while the rest of the world is deep in conversation outside the restaurant. This doesn’t mean we can’t speak with authority about our faith, it just means we need to be mindful of how and where and when we frame our testimony. Having a voice in the public square, after all, doesn’t mean setting the agenda for everyone else.

- Josh Larsen is editor of Think Christian. He also writes about movies at LarsenOnFilm and is the co-host of Filmspotting. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.