Hollywood’s Year of the Bible?

Earlier this year Hollywood released the Bible-based blockbuster Noah to the tune of $100 million in box office receipts. Christians gleefully anticipated the epic ark-building adventure. But glee quickly turned to ire once the movie premiered. The Noah character was wrong, God was misrepresented, and fallen angels were portrayed as good guys—a few heresy issues.

In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been terribly surprising. A self-proclaimed atheist wrote, produced, and directed the movie. Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker—a great one at that. But a theologian? Not so much. 

Another Bible-based movie is slated for release later this year—Exodus: Gods and Kings—which is based on, as you might have guessed, the story of Moses and the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt. An even bigger Hollywood talent is producing and directing this one: Sir Ridley Scott. He is not just a great director—he’s legendary! However, he is also a self-proclaimed atheist.

What’s going on here?

The question we ought to be asking here is, “What is provoking Hollywood moguls to produce Bible-based films?” Some suggest it’s for the love of money. After all, who in Hollywood doesn’t love money? But there are hundreds of movies that don’t mention God and still make a lot of money (you may have noticed this). There’s a trend in Hollywood to produce established, epic stories right now. What is more established and epic than the story of Noah’s ark? But I don’t think this is it either. The answer may not be what you think.

Think about this: The great flood is a testament. Four thousand years of literature across multiple cultures (plus archeology and geology) all indicate that something profound occurred. Aronofsky’s movie, in spite of artistic license and flawed biblical accuracy, is one more testament of the flood. Every testimony of God’s sovereignty is a strike against the enemy. One of two key factors in overcoming the enemy is “the word of our testimony.” Jesus put it more poetically, but He basically said the devil doesn’t do the work of God. So it doesn’t make sense to hold the position that the devil prompted the making of a movie that testifies against him. That would indicate a house divided.

Likewise, the Exodus narrative testifies of God’s faithfulness to deliver His people out of slavery from Egypt. God told the Israelites to remember this throughout their generations by writing it on their doorposts, talking of it often with their children, and setting up stones as a reminder of all that He had done. What is the enemy’s best strategy regarding this story? Deny, deny, deny! But make it a major Hollywood movie? Hardly. Any error caused by the enemy in these films is damage control, not strategy.

Are We Living in the Last Days?

The prophet Joel said in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh! How much flesh?  All flesh.  That possibly includes everything that has breath. Is God pouring out His Spirit on believers in these days? Of course He is. But everyone is eligible to hear the Spirit of God in the last days (this does not imply salvation.) If “all flesh” includes unbelievers, it would seem even they have the ability to pick up on the unction of the Holy Spirit.  Albeit they may neither recognize the source or properly steward the call. Atheists don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t believe in them. Could it be that God is planting the desire to retell these biblical stories into the hearts of Hollywood kings who don’t even acknowledge His existence?

Let’s interpret the times. Jesus compared the days prior to His second coming to the days of Noah. The ark underwent construction for the better part of a century, serving as a sign for that generation. The plagues of Egypt were signs to the Egyptians, but they serve as signs to us as well. God used Moses to demonstrate to Pharaoh that the Egyptians’ resistance to His will is futile. For some reason, God has chosen at this time in history to highlight these historical events once again as a testimony to the world. And He has made use of the multi-billion dollar worldwide distribution system of the film industry to help with this task.

God is Sovereign

Psalm 135 tells us that the Lord does whatever He pleases, in heaven and on earth. To use an atheist to accomplish His will is not beyond the scope and ability of God. Just ask Cyrus the Great. Over a century before the birth of Cyrus, Isaiah prophesied that he would perform all God’s desire; he would declare Jerusalem to be rebuilt and the foundations of the temple to be laid again (Isaiah 44:28). It all came to pass, just as God had foretold, but Cyrus was a Persian king, not a Hebrew. He worshiped false gods—Marduk, Bel, and Nabu—not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet God still chose to use him to fulfill His plans of restoration for that generation.

I can hear some Christians protesting, “What about the bad doctrine and biblical inaccuracy in these movies?” Thankfully God isn’t hung up on bad doctrine. We should all cultivate sound biblical doctrine, but we also must realize that everyone is in process. Nobody on earth has infallible doctrine, yet everyone seems to think of himself as the one person closest to it. Pope Francis recently said that if we try to build unity around doctrinal issues, we will only achieve it after the apocalypse. When the criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus said, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” Jesus didn’t respond with, “Well, first let’s examine your theology and see if you hold correct beliefs.”

In fact, the religious leaders in Jesus’s day were so hung up on correct doctrine that they couldn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah when He was standing right before their very eyes. They said, “No one will know where the Messiah comes from, but this guy is from Bethlehem.” “Nothing good can come from Nazareth,” others suggested. Some even asked, “Would the Savior touch lepers or heal on the Sabbath?”

What about today? Could strict adherence to doctrinal beliefs blind us from seeing the work of the Spirit as it did to religious leaders in Jesus’s day? Oddly enough, prostitutes and tax collectors didn’t have a problem with Jesus. They were open to His genuine love and divine wisdom.

The Bottom Line

I believe Noah and Exodus are modern-day testaments to a lost world at a key time in history. But I also believe God is trying to provoke His own people to jealousy through them. In the first century, God used Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles in order that the Jews might be provoked to jealousy. This was His wake-up call to break old mindsets and be open to the greater revelation of His purposes. New wine can only be put into new wineskins. And today is no different. God’s ways are still higher than our ways, and He shakes our beliefs once in a while to separate that which is divine from that which is human.

If we want to see Bible-based movies made by Christians that will more closely adhere to the biblical narrative, then we must stop cursing the film industry (which is essentially just handing it over to the enemy). Instead, we should bless it and pray for those God has placed in its midst. This will bring it back under His authority and move us closer to “on earth as it is in heaven.” Let him who has an eye keep watch. I believe God has much more to say through the film industry—hopefully through his people, not in spite of them.

Geoff McClelland is a filmmaker living in the Los Angeles, California area with his wife and three children.  He has a heart to create film entertainment that advances the Kingdom (sometimes covertly) and to influence the many people behind the screen in that industry as well. ​


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