Dave Barker is Vice President of Academic & Student Affairs at Heritage Seminary in Cambridge. In a recent discussion with Dr. Barker, I was surprised by some of his reflections on the movie Noah. He wasn't as negative as I thought he would be. "I wonder if the church does any better with its rendition of the Noah story!" he quipped.
The controversy may have peaked, but it's still worth considering the way we interact with popular culture, and even more importantly, with Scripture. Dr. Barker was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
There's been a lot of criticism of the Noah movie. What did they get right?
Yes, there has been a lot of criticism, but it is a product of Hollywood, not a biblical documentary. Too many Christians went into the movie looking for more than what could reasonably be expected. There were a few things in the movie that were really helpful:
- the picturing of the flood—it was massive and destructive,
- the death and despair of the drowning people,
- the portraying of the wickedness of the people at the time,
- the conflicted pictures of Noah and Noah’s wife—I thought this was done well even though the movie departed significantly here, and
- the portrayal of the actual ark and its construction.
Brian Mattson has argued that Noah is more influenced by gnosticism and Kabbalah than Scripture. Is he on to something?
Yes, he is. There is a strong extra-biblical influence, no question about it, including a strong “green” agenda, including opposition to eating meat. However, at the same time, pre-flood, evidently animals were not food for people. It was only after the flood that meat was approved by God. But I am not bothered by the extra-biblical influence. It is a Hollywood movie about a hero from the Bible named Noah and the Noah story. There has never been a movie made that adhered closely to the written text, just think of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies.
Why do you think Christians tend to soften the horror of stories like Noah's?
First of all, we need to affirm that we do. All we have to do is look at a children’s Bible story book and we see a happy Noah on a lovely boat bobbing on a placid sea with giraffes sticking out of the top of the ark, and lions, monkeys, and zebras contentedly populating the boat. Sometime have a look at the Veggie Tales rendition of Joshua and Jericho.
Second, we struggle with a God who would do something like this in response to humankind’s wickedness.
Third, we think that all stories in the Bible need to be made appropriate for children. The problem with this is that most of us never get beyond those Sunday School stories, even as adults. We need to understand that a lot of the Bible is violent, and not appropriate for children.
Fourth, we don’t know how to read the Bible in its full impact of judgment and hope (I think of the imprecations in the Psalms and from Jesus and Paul in New Testament).
However, I do think that we need to work a lot harder at understanding the hermeneutics of the narrative genre used in Scripture, including its use of hyperbole (cp. Egyptian and Babylonian literature). And so, in some ways, in softening the horror of stories like Noah’s perhaps we are inadvertently reading narrative more correctly than we know.
How can pastors and churches use the discussion in Noah without becoming reactionary?
I think that there are some talking points from the Noah movie. But we need to lessen our rhetoric on how the movie got things wrong, and talk about what it got right, and what that reveals about three critical things:
- What do we learn about God?
- What do we learn about the world?
- What do we learn about the people of God?
Thanks, Dr. Barker.