A current article in Relevant suggests that Christians are skeptical of modern treatments of the Bible by Hollywood because we fear art. This is in the context of new projects that promise to tell the story of Moses and David, and perhaps the recent Noah movie. Actually the writer says that we are “afraid” of Hollywood.
Briefly, let’s consider the word “fear.” Some have obviously lost their dictionaries and believe that the word means “disagree with” or “fail to fall all over oneself in breathless affirmation.” Overuse of words like “homophobia” also demonstrate this misunderstanding. That aside, the article indicates a deep misunderstanding of Christian doctrine by even a hipster Christian magazine.
Art, we are told, says true things rather than merely factual ones. I agree. Metaphor, parable and allegory were used throughout Scripture to convey true things that transcended a mere chronology. I believe things that touch our emotions like music or poetry or other forms of art can bear content beyond facts without denying the facts of a chronology—they actually can add meaning and understanding to a literal subject. I’m a fan of such efforts. Mel Gibson did a stellar job in the Passion of the Christ. The art was striking as he showed Jesus crushing the serpent’s head walking out of Gethsemane and as he showed Satan tracking Jesus on the path to Calvary. These were nice touches that rang true rather than factual.
But, a lot of silly things are swept into the tent of “art.” In the recent Noah movie, the addition of rock monsters to represent fallen angels and their redemption by helping Noah’s family is beyond metaphor; it is revisionist theology done in a way to suggest that the screenwriter or director was theologically deaf rather than deft. Other elements of the movie appeared to be pandering to various audiences who might not consider the destruction of the earth sufficiently dramatic. I wasn’t afraid of it; the response was more derision.
Who will be the hero of the Moses movie, the Lord or Moses? Will any remnant of David as the king whose line will continue forever through the Messiah or David as the man who was the best repenter in the Bible remain? I’ll be surprised, but pleasantly surprised. Frankly, I favor Hollywood’s efforts to turn biblical stories into cinema. If they’ll treat the content of the story as respectfully as most directors have treated Shakespeare then we’ll be thrilled. They do not understand enough of the truth to be able to convey it though metaphor. They are just unqualified to play artist with the storylines.
Those of us who like this sort of thing hope that those who make movies will stick to what they know. Make the images dramatize a good story. That’s an art that many of us admire and recognize. If you don’t do that we’ll critique the effort and perhaps suggest to others that they stay home and read the book. We won’t riot or threaten the artists and most of us won’t abandon the medium of film. But we won’t praise a half-hearted effort or a ham fisted handling of the greatest story ever told. We’re not stupid and for crying out loud we’re not afraid of you—perhaps we’re discerning. It’s conceivable that some who fancy themselves artsy consider a discerning consumer the most fearsome thing of all.