Should Christians Watch A Bible Movie Directed by An Atheist?

While there are many issues (both good and bad) about the recent Noah movie, one of the biggest criticisms that Christians have leveled at the film is that it’s director is an avowed atheist. The understandable implication is that Christians shouldn’t trust a film about a Bible story directed by a non-believer. But looking back on the history of treasured Bible films the Church has enjoyed and valued for a lifetime, it’s difficult to find much evidence that many people associated with those films were actually Christians.

The classic case is the Jesus Film produced in 1979. It’s co-director, Peter Sykes also directed horror films like “The House At Nightmare Park” and “To the Devil a Daughter.” The latter movie involved an occult novelist, a group of Satanists, and an excommunicated priest, who plan on using a young girl as the representative of the Devil on Earth. The Jesus film’s writer, Barnet Bain, also wrote the new age movie “The Celestine Prophecy” as well as a film on Buddha.  Not to mention Brian Deacon, the actor who played Jesus also acted in a supernatural film called “Vampyres” that many would call pornography.

And yet the team at The Jesus Film Project in Orlando acquired the film after it’s theatrical release and is currently reporting more than 6 billion viewings worldwide for the purpose of evangelism. They have also documented more than 200 million people who have indicated decisions for Christ after seeing the film.

Other classic Bible films are no different.  According to one film historian, Cecil B. DeMille  – director of “The Ten Commandments” was pegged as a “sentimental Salvationist, a warm-hearted man-of-God and a cinematic lay preacher, but also as a salacious cineaste who proffered epic sex-and-sin behind a moral façade. He was a Freemason, profoundly religious but a non-church-going Christian with a strong belief in reincarnation.” Multiple sources confirm his mistresses, and film historian Terry Lindvall reports that one mistress – Jeanne MacPhearson – was the screenwriter for “King of Kings” (1927) and adapted the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.  Other writers have reported he had a “raging foot fetish.”

During the filming of Romeo and Juliet, a male actor accused film director Franco Zeffirelli, director of “Jesus of Nazareth” of making unwanted sexual advances during filming.  The list goes on.

This isn’t meant to disparage any of these men, but to point out that God uses more than we imagine to tell His story.   As Robert Johnston, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of the new book “God’s Wider Presence” asks: “Can God speak through an unreliable source?  Surely the answer is yes as King Josiah learned the hard way when he rejected King Neco’s words about God in 2 Chronicles 35 and was killed as a result. And what about King Abimelek who was not a believer in Abraham’s God but nevertheless heard God speak to him and reported that honestly to Abraham (see Genesis 20)?  Or what of the four true oracles from the false prophet Balaam in Numbers?  And do you recall the story of Jonah?  Who had a better handle on God’s revelation, God’s prophet Jonah or the “pagan” sailors in Jonah’s boat?”

As a result, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to limit God – particularly when it comes to artistic expression.  Theologians call it “General Revelation,” and although it obviously doesn’t carry the weight of scripture, it can still be significant. As Rob Johnston describes it: “The reality is that the Spirit of God can and does speak to humans through creation, conscience, and human creativity. Such revelation is not sufficient to know God’s saving grace, but neither is it absent of significance or power. Surely any revelation from God is significant and not to be despised. Those persons who encounter God in the stuff of life rightly describe these experiences as foundational and life enhancing. How sad and mistaken that many Christians ignore or discount such transcendent experiences, calling them only a “trace” or an “echo”, as if some divine encounters were of little or no worth. If you were fortunate enough to have been able to meet Mother Theresa, even for a brief moment, would you discount such an encounter because you didn’t know her intimately? Surely not. You would remember being in the presence of such a person for your whole life. And if this is true of a “saint,” how much more should this be true of God.”

We are all flawed vessels, and often unreliable.  As a result, the world sometimes picks up a task that – for whatever reason – we didn’t have the vision to complete. But when we fail to speak, God can make stones cry out in praise.  When it happens, should we be discerning?  Of course.  In Noah – and other Bible movies as well – there is much to be concerned about and argued against.

But just as important, rather than reject it out of hand, perhaps we should be listening in the unexpected places – where God sometimes speaks in whispers.

 

This entry was posted on Monday, March 31st, 2014 at 7:31 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

58 Responses to “Should Christians Watch A Bible Movie Directed by An Atheist?”

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  1. Well said!

    I just saw the movie tonight. And I think it’s really worth seeing. Not for accurate or inaccurate it is. But for how thought provoking it is. It’s a brutal character study of what it means to be faithful. It’s forcing me to ask some tough questions about my own faithfulness. And that’s worth the price of admission. Here’s my short review: http://www.itsscottwilder.com/post/81345600398/movie-review-noah-60-seconds-into-the-movie-i

    • M.E. says:

      Character study? Certainly not of the actual Biblical character, Noah. Maybe a character study of his made up Noah because the Noah in the movie bears no resemblance to the Biblilcal Noah except that they share the same name!

    • CLS says:

      I totally agree. I read the account before I went and afterward and learned so much more about the story. I feel the movie touched a lot on the confusion Noah was feeling knowing all those people died because of their sin but he and his own family were also sinful. I think it stirred alot of thought that Sunday School stories tend to leave out. However, God’s Word will survive no matter what films come out!
      CLS

  2. Rosemary says:

    Evangelicals need a monster to slay so that they can feel self-righteous. Personally, I’d rather they focus their hatred on boycotting a Bible movie directed by an atheist so that their usual targets can take a breather.

  3. KarlUdy says:

    Unfortunately too many Christians with megaphones have no understanding of either art or the world and so the possibility of using art as a connection between the church and the world ends up being severed in multiple places.

  4. Josh Reid says:

    I’m not sure why, but that made me a little teary. That was beautifully written. This thought keeps coming to my mind, that creative, artistic types are a ‘special breed’ of person who often simply don’t ever ‘fit’ into the normal world – they see things differently, which can often be viewed as a curse. But harnessed correctly, even for a moment, the creative mind can produce something which captures the beauty of God. (PS: I am not a girl).

  5. Lisa Swain says:

    Well said, Phil. Maybe we should take a lesson from Methuselah and just be grateful when we find the berries – no matter who grew them.

  6. Simon Dillon says:

    In my opinion, if anything non-Christian credentials actually mean the film is less likely to be a tubthumping, preachy bore, and more likely to have fascinating insights.

    It isn’t just true for Bible films either. Christians rave about Chariots of Fire, but that was directed by an atheist, produced by a Muslim and starred a homosexual.

  7. C says:

    I think we ask the wrong questions sometimes. The real question is are we being pacified and fanned to ‘sleep’ by our entertainment choices? God can and does use anyone, but sometimes we’re fanned to sleep so gently by the enemy we are unaware of how he uses men to profane the things that are sacred, and stir irreverence in the heart of men.

  8. I think the moral of the story is that God isn’t limited by broken people (which we all are) and uses us in spite of ourselves.

  9. My issue is that there is a such an outcry over this movie but many Christians will gladly go see movies that clearly glorify anti-Biblical principles and claim, “It is just a movie.”

  10. Aradia_Cloud says:

    Honestly.
    I’m a Christian and I don’t have a problem with the movie because he’s an Atheist. This even being an issue is utterly ridiculous, in my opinion. *sigh*

  11. Dana Harding says:

    As a Christian, the movie made me think about aspects of the story in a way I hadn’t before, and I am grateful to Mr Aronofsky and Mr. Handel for that. Truth is truth, regardless if the messenger is a Christian, and atheist, or a donkey (and sometimes it’s difficult to tell any of them apart). The
    movie, for any of it’s inaccuracies, clearly conveys the message of
    sin, judgement, and redemption. THOSE conversations bourne out of the
    movie are far more constructive than the rhetoric and vitriol of people
    (Christians) saying the makers of the film are going
    to “burn in Hell”. The fact is, if they do, it will be because they
    rejected Jesus, not because they made a film (just like the rest of us).
    We are called to be “salt and light”. It’s hard to illuminate anything when you
    won’t light a candle, and it’s worthless to be salt that is laced with
    cyanide.

    • bryhudso says:

      “… Truth is truth, regardless if the messenger is a Christian, and atheist, or a donkey..” Wow!

      • Dana Harding says:

        Just curious… is that an “I agree” wow, or a “That’s crazy” wow?

        • bryhudso says:

          I don’t agree. If it does not matter who or what brings truth, what you do with people like Jim Jones? Why bother going to church. Just watching on TV. Why do we honor a great man like Billy Graham?

          • Phil Cooke says:

            In a perfect world, it would be great if these Bible movies were all produced and directed by Christians. We SHOULD encourage that. However, I get a kick out of all the people who won’t see Noah because an atheist directed it, and love The 10 Commandments or The Jesus Film. Well….

          • bryhudso says:

            Yes, but we make choice whether or not to encourage people to see this unbiblical film, or not

          • bryhudso says:

            Where I come from, we call this a “hot mess!” :-)

          • Dana Harding says:

            Just so I understand… What you appear to be saying is that, if a non-Christian stands up and quotes John 3:16, by virtue of the messenger, it ceases to be true?
            Your comments make some inferences that, quite honestly, surprise me just a little since you have apparently seen the movie.

          • bryhudso says:

            If he’s quoting John 3:16 while holding a beer in one hand and a marijuana joint the other hand, and has an arrest warrant out, is he still speaking truth to you and your family?

          • bryhudso says:

            Oh yes, I saw the whole movie! More importantly as a pastor and Bible teacher, I clearly understand what the Bible says in contrast to what Mt Aronofsky said in his film. I will post a link to my blog post later

          • bryhudso says:

            There is a term for people who say things to other people that they don’t believe in their heart. There is also a term for people who believe people who are not sincere concerning their true convictions.

          • Phil Cooke says:

            I think I see your very stretched point, but that means you’re implying that God’s Word might not be actually true based on the character of who’s saying it? You seem a little more comfortable than me pronouncing judgement on when God’s Word is true and when it isn’t. I think I’ll leave that up to Him.
            If you need to pick a fight beyond this, I’m sorry but I’m out of time for this one.

          • bryhudso says:

            No sir, not picking a fight! Just answering a question. I’m saying that we get in trouble only responding to things that sound/look good without discernment or consideration of the source. I actually know people who followed Jim Jones because he spoke “truth.” I know that’s a little heavy for this forum, but important principles are in play. I’ll back off…

          • Dana Harding says:

            I’m out, too.
            Thanks for a really thought-provoking blog, Phil… I enjoy it.

          • Dana Harding says:

            Actually, at that point, he has become an excellent case study for John 3:16.

            Is he speaking truth… yes.
            Is he the best spokesperson for me and my family… probably not. However, it could be that someone might look at a drunk stoner (which I don’t recommend) who is quoting John 3:16, and come to the conclusion that, “If God loves this guy, and Jesus died for him, there is probably hope for me, too.”

          • bryhudso says:

            Okay, I understand.

          • bryhudso says:

            This is one of the interesting “aftershocks” of the Noah film. Folks are just throwing their minds open to entertain any and all types of thoughts and concepts, just like their new spiritual leader Mr Aronofski.

    • Yolandi Strydom says:

      I like your point of view. Donkey…. Hahaha. We have a lot of salt with cyanide, don’t we?!!! I must say though that the distortion of the true and wonderful Noah story somewhat upsets me quite a bit. It’s like making a movie about Adam and Eve and in this movie Adam tries to kill Eve for eating the apple. And during the movie you realize that God never created them or the garden of Eden. But Eve is in fact an alien from Neptune, and fallen angels created the garden of Eden. I get what you are saying about the main message…. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Just wanted to say. God bless you. Xxx

  12. bryhudso says:

    Wow! That’s an interesting question and response. I guess we’ll have to live with double standards. That is, producers and consumers of movies and entertainment will not be burdened by expectations of godliness, discretion, and accountability to a biblical standard–whatever that means
    Reminds me of preachers, musicians (and all who “perform”) that get to live any kind of lifestyle so long as one performs well.
    When we make a popular and profitable end product the basis of acceptability, we diminish all voices that call for a higher standard. (Whatever that this)

  13. Mark Owens says:

    You, know we all loved “The Passion Of The Christ”. We all should have known that Mel Gibson’s life has had some very unsavory elements. I beleive that God will use whoever will take the time to make a film with some real skill. Even though I an not going to go see the Noah film, I believe that people who vaguely remember the story in the Bible will go to read the Bible since they don’t remember it quite that way. God can use full on blasphemy to bring Him glory. We should use discernment oursleves in what we watch, and not throw stones at those actually trying to make a good film.

  14. Watchman says:

    Article: Why ‘Noah’ Matters
    http://patriotpost.us/articles/24493

    It’s rare that a movie becomes a cultural event, but that is seemingly
    what “Noah” has achieved. The movie opened this past weekend to very
    mixed reviews but also very good box office numbers. So is the movie worth seeing?

    There’s not a clear-cut answer, but we thought it was worthwhile
    because it provokes deep thought about the subject matter. For those of
    faiths other than Christianity, bear with us because there’s a lesson
    here for constitutional conservatives too.

    *** Spoiler Alert ***

    The movie is well made and features solid acting with beautiful special
    effects. But it’s not the Noah from your Sunday School classes. There
    are some oddities such as the “Watchers” that are brought in from the
    Book of Enoch, but we won’t go further down that road. The movie doesn’t
    suffer most because of the content that was added to the biblical
    account; it suffers because the meaning of that account is swept away
    with so much CGI water. Considering that director Darren Aronofsky is an
    atheist who grew up culturally Jewish, it’s not hard to imagine that
    he’d miss the entire point of Noah’s story – even if he did write a poem
    about it in seventh grade. Indeed, he himself called it “the least
    biblical biblical film ever made.”

    The Genesis account tells
    us, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked
    with God.” The writer of Hebrews likewise says that Noah acted “by
    faith” and “in reverent fear.” The movie, on the other hand, depicts him
    as a stern, sullen and morose man who never actually hears from God but
    rather has a bad dream that the whole world will be flooded because man
    has destroyed the planet. Other sins are depicted, but this one is
    primary. A subsequent drug-induced vision leads him to believe that an
    ark is the solution – though only for innocent animals. He determines
    that “the Creator” (the only way God is referred to) means to destroy
    all mankind to achieve “justice.” Therefore, with the exception of Shem
    and Ila, who is barren, he refuses to let his sons take wives – even
    sacrificing the life of a girl Ham tries to save. Japheth is only a
    child. Noah believes that his family’s task is merely to save the
    animals and, once completed, they will die one by one, leaving a
    pristine world unmarred by human hands.

    Make no mistake,
    justice is a key part of Noah’s story. Genesis records, “The Lord saw
    that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every
    intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And
    the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him
    to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have
    created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things
    and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” The
    film certainly captures that men are deserving of justice.

    But
    mercy is also key. God makes a covenant with Noah to spare his family,
    and thus humanity. He tells Noah the plan, and includes his wife, his
    sons and his sons’ wives. In the movie, Noah believes the Creator
    intends justice without mercy. The only “mercy” shown is when, in the
    end, Noah can’t go through with what he believes to be God’s command –
    killing his own two granddaughters to prevent humanity from beginning
    anew. But even that mercy causes him to believe he’s a failure, which
    leads him to become a drunkard.

    The flood story is meant to
    tell us that God is just, but that He is merciful as well. His covenant
    with Noah and the renewal of the earth through cleansing water show
    that. The story of the flood is also part of the story of Jesus, who
    came to bear God’s justice so that we could have mercy. The film doesn’t
    even come close on this count. And any story that contains only justice
    without true mercy and grace leaves us feeling somewhat empty and
    unsatisfied.

    ….. As a moviemaker, Aronofsky is certainly free
    to take whatever liberties he chooses. He is free to alter or
    completely discard source material in favor of his own vision. But the
    church is in danger if it does the same thing, ….. no longer on solid
    ground. …..
    =========

  15. Inquiring Mind says:

    Just wondering if Phil Cooke has received ‘anything’ that could be considered payment or gifts from the company making the movie? As a consultant maybe? If yes, It would be an unfortunate blow to his credibility.

    • Simon Dillon says:

      What a ridiculous question. As an industry professional if he made promotional videos for them of course he got paid. That doesn’t make his view invalid – I have been professionally involved with many projects I don’t particularly care for. Phil is under no obligation to promote every film he makes on his blog, nor does he. He promoted this film, however, because it is of wider interest to his readership. He was certainly right – look at all the “fun” people have had with this topic…

    • Phil Cooke says:

      No worries Inquiring Mind. I’ve written these articles on my own. No payments from the studio to do it.

    • Kelsey Guerra says:

      Seems like he cares more than someone who just “got paid”. If I got paid, I’d do my job and then be done with it. You can tell Phil actually cares about this stuff because not only does he continue to write about these things after the movie is released, but he is constantly responding to his followers’ comments. Seems pretty obvious to me where his loyalties are… and they are NOT to Paramount.

  16. larsonjs says:

    I don’t look so much at who directed it as I do the intent and message of the film. I never confused DeMille for a Christian and his movie 10 commandments was FAR from Biblically accurate. However, I loved the movie because there was a basic respect for the story being told. I’m in China so I haven’t had an opportunity to see the movie, but if the theme as I’ve heard is one of environmentalism and Noah, as I’ve heard actually tried to kill his grandchildren, and if, as I’ve heard the God of the Bible is strangely missing from the film. I would say that it lacks that basic respect for the story. You are correct that any movie of Noah would have to add a lot to the story to make the movie. But the fundamental story of man’s sin growing to epic proportions and Noah being a man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord – should be respected and told where the story is based on, inspired by, or whatever terminology you want to use.

  17. Janet says:

    “For a Christian to say, ‘I will not have anything to do with the great and worthy works of artists whose lives were not good’ is to fall into the impiety of questioning the wisdom of God in bestowing the gifts of grace where he will.” –Frank Gaebelein

  18. Sean Armstrong says:

    Phil, as a Christian I ask myself the question, would Jesus come watch that film with me. He is with me where ever I go, so in reality He is with me!
    I doubt he would.

    These films you have quoted above, you should ask, how many dedicated Christians have really seen or at least sat through the whole movie!

    My question to you is, “why do you feel the need to use an atheists view of the bible to promote God?

    • Simon Dillon says:

      If you feel Jesus doesn’t want you to watch something, fair enough. That is entirely a matter between you and God.

      However what irritates me is when people try to make a theology out of personal revelation that might only be relevant to them. We are all different. What might not be fine for one may be fine for another.

      As Christians, we are free to do anything that is not explicitly prohibited in the Bible, but we all need the Holy Spirit for the grey areas. That’s why so many resort to legalism, because rules and regulations are so much easier than the pesky business of actually maintaining a relationship with God.

      Example: do I drink booze? Absolutely, but I don’t get drunk. However, if I was a recovering alcoholic, that would be a no-no.

      To return to your original point,with the above in mind, personally I can think of loads of violent, sweary, 18/R-rated movies I would be quite happy sitting next to Jesus and watching. But that again I stress is down to my personal relationship with God, and what is fine for me might not be fine for others.

    • Phil Cooke says:

      Obviously Sean, as you’ve posted over and over, you and I live in two different worlds. I’m thrilled the Holy Spirit uses you wherever you are, and I’ll continue following His leading here in Hollywood. I think we’ll all be surprised who we meet in heaven.
      God Bless.

  19. Drew says:

    How many programs do we ingest on television that Jesus watches with us? How about the music we listen to? The Disney movies our kids watch? Was that car you drive built by Christians? Steve Taylor penned it best; “can we only drink milk from a Christian cow?” I think one of God’s purposes has been reached through this film….we are all aware of Him and His Word. Now is our opportunity to share His message accurately and with love.

  20. Free Expression says:

    “… Do we know of no other way to share our faith than to marginalize those who in good conscience are standing for biblical truth?”
    - Capt. Bob Schmig

    • Phil Cooke says:

      It’s not about marginalizing people Bob. But I do think it’s important to point out that people’s expectations aren’t accurate. The vast majority of Bible movies haven’t been directed by Christians, and yet millions of Christians have enjoyed them for years.

      • bryhudso says:

        We’ve not seen a film go this far away from biblical truth that was not called “Last Temptation of Christ” or “The Da Vinci Code.”

    • bryhudso says:

      Good quote…

  21. bryhudso says:

    Phil, what have heard regarding Mr. Handel’s and Mr. Aronofsky’s decision to leave blacks and people of color out of the Noah movie’s narrative-midrash-story?
    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/culture/7739/noah_s_all_white_ark__and_other_odd_directorial_choices/

  22. bryhudso says:

    One more thing….

    It appears that Mr. Aronofsky is mocking Bible-believing Christians. From published Interview April 5, 2014 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/10739539/Darren-Aronofsky-interview-The-Noah-story-is-scary.html

    “The problems arose because the studio were trying to serve religious literalists,” says Aronofsky. “Because there is a big part of the population in America who don’t want anything to contradict their view of the Bible, and are never going to be open to this type of interpretation.”

    For him, the Noah story is something metaphorical and mythic, a beautiful fiction that points towards truth, rather than simply reporting it.

    “To argue about it as if it was a historical event is ridiculous. Which, by the way, goes for atheists, too – the people who do the math and say, ‘Well, all of the animal kingdom couldn’t fit into one boat.’ The whole conversation is ridiculous.”

  23. […] was raised Jewish but now considers himself a non-believer.  Phil Cooke asks whether Christians should watch a movie directed by an atheist.  The answer is yes.  ”God uses more than we imagine to tell His story…As a result, […]

  24. […] then… ”The names I’ve been called since I started writing about Noah“; “Should Christians watch movies directed by an Atheist?’; and why Christians should run for the hills when the movie opens; and finally, the result of why […]

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