For some time now, there has been some buzz around the forthcoming (2015) film by Darren Aronofsky called “Noah”. With Russell Crowe to play the titular role in this Biblical story, supported by a strong cast, there is a great deal of interest and excitement about the end result. However, some who have had the chance to see the draft script for the movie have expressed concern that the writer as appropriated the story for unrelated purposes- namely, that the Old Testament story places a strong environmental spin on the story. This possibility has already raised the hackles of many Christians for the liberties it would take with the sacred history. Interestingly, “Noah” is but one of several Bible-centered films slotted to hit the big screen in the coming few years. Undoubtedly several of them have/will raise the same concerns.
While I think such concern is too often handled very poorly by Christians, the underlying concern about the misappropriation of Scripture is a valid one. After all, the Bible represents a central and sacred text to Christians, so it is understandable that we should want it represented accurately, with respect and in keeping with the overall history of the text. However, this expectation requires that we, as Christians, face some demanding and uncomfortable truths ourselves.
First, Hollywood is not the first to misappropriate Scripture for their purposes. If history has taught us anything, Christians have a long and colourful track record ourselves. From slavery to the crusades, from the subjugation of women to the extermination of entire people groups, Christians have used the Bible to justify actions that are blasphemous distortions of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. And while these historical failures might be easier to point out, we are not short of current misappropriations, fueling state sanctioned murder, uncritical nationalism and economics systems of brutal exploitation.
Second, our expectations (and demands) that Hollywood treat our sacred texts with respect presumes that they have any interest and/or responsibility to do so. It was not long ago that the place of Christianity in Western culture lent an authority to our protests that could significantly influence and shape culture in this way. While vestiges of that privilege remain, it is increasingly deteriorating. As this happens, our protests will carry less power. In the end, filmmakers might even thank us for the marketing advantage that our response provides.
In light of these realities, then, it is important for us to respond appropriately. First, we must take responsibility for our own misappropriations. We cannot expect Hollywood to hold a standard of Scripture that we are not keeping ourselves. The challenge, of course, is that those who are misappropriating Scripture don’t believe they are doing so. Attempts from within the Body of Christ often results in polarization and division. While some of this is inevitable, as Christians we need to re-imagine better ways to challenge one another to faithfulness. Though not the only solution, I strongly believe that the best critique of the bad is the embodiment of the better. So those of us who see and reject these misuses of Scripture in the Christian community must radically embrace alternatives- something that will require humility and repentance.
Second, we need to rediscover what it means to be a people of God who are at the margins of society, not in the position of power. While such a shift will feel like failure and loss (and there is a degree in which that is fair and true), the greater reality is that Jesus often identified those marginal contexts as the places where we encounter Him most authentically. King Jesus, who we believe to be the absolute King over every other king, models His Lordship, not from positions of worldly authority, but from postures of servitude and humility. While this seems contrary to every concept of “power” that we see in the world, time and again He is proven to have the truest authority. In the same way, when we are weak, then we are strong.