Today we celebrate (mourn, think about, reflect upon, take your pick) the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With this momentous event upon us, numerous people have turned their attention to the various historical and contemporary implications of the Reformation. You can see this in the number of books, articles, and blogs that have been devoted to treating either the background of the Reformation, Reformers, and Protestant-Catholic relations.
Among those books these stick out to me as being really interesting:
But there is another book that recently caught my eye. A book that was written by a Roman Catholic theologian whom a lot of protestants really like: Matthew Levering (Professor at Mundelein Seminary). Levering, just published a book with one of the foremost evangelical publishers, Zondervan. It’s titled Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbliblical. If that doesn’t catch your eye then maybe the fact that it includes a Protestant response by Kevin Vanhoozer will!
Enough about the background of the book. What is this Roman Catholic theologian’s answer? Was the Reformation a mistake? According to Levering – Yes and No.
No, because the Reformation has reminded the Church of things that have been neglected by Roman Catholics, namely, love for Scripture, the authority of God’s word, salvation by God’s grace, gospel, preaching, Bible study, and personal faith and relationship with Christ. (16) Levering is grateful for these thigns. However, in another sense, he does in fact believe the Reformation was a mistake. How was it a mistake? Well he says, the Reformation was built on a mistaken assumption that Catholic views of Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, Justification, etc. are unbliblical. In light of this he attempts to show that Catholic doctrine is in fact not unbliblical (note he doesn’t say biblical, rather he says not unbiblical).
In order to make his case, he argues that catholic doctrine is based upon biblically warranted modes of reasoning about biblically revealed realities. (21) Essentially this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a way of thinking about the bible and its truths in a communal and liturgical way. Or to put it in a slightly different way,
The reasoning prescribed by the Bible for interpreting biblical texts is hierarchically and liturgically contextualized, in the sense that the Spirit communicates the word of Christ to the people of God who are gathered for worship by “the apostles and elders,” and by those like Timothy whom the apostles (whose testimony to the gospel of Christ remains uniquely authoritative) appointed as their successors. (24)
To put it more plainly, when we think about doctrine, we must come to the text of Scripture and read it through the lens of tradition. Tradition tells us what the text means and what the text is about. To read Scripture outside of this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a wrongheaded way of reading the text.
Given his definition of biblically warranted modes of reasoning, he proceeds to treat the scriptural background of numerous Roman catholic doctrines, including Scripture, Mary, the seven sacraments, justification, purgatory, saints and the papacy. The result is essentially him saying “well, scripture doesn’t exactly teach purgagatory or the papacy, etc.; but through the mode of reasoning we apply to the text, the doctrines are not unbiblical.”
If protestants are not convinced by his conclusions, according to Levering himself, that is okay! He isn’t trying to convince them to accept Catholic doctrine. Rather he simply wants to show them that Catholics aren’t unbiblical in their thinking. I will leave it to you, the reader of this blog, to pick up the book and decide whether you are convinced by him.
However, I do want to throw in my two cents…
Not being unbiblical is not enough. We aim to say what scripture explicitly and implicitly teaches, nothing more and nothing less.
Tradition is not a second source of revelation – it is a helpful external guide.
Both of these are at least in part two of principles we reflect upon on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Anyone who holds to these principles simply won’t be able to buy into Levering’s account, and thus won’t be able to say that Levering’s account of a “not unbiblical” account of Roman Catholic doctrine is adequate.
All in all, despite this criticism, I do have to commend Levering for writing this book. At the very least, it will dispel caricatures that some protestants have about Roman Catholics, namely that they simply make stuff up as they go or that they don’t care about the Bible. That, it seems to me, is a worthwhile result.
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – St. Paul
Without a doubt Aaron Aronofsky’s rendition of the Noah story falls short of the glory of its telling in the book of Genesis. At times it cheesy, at times its confusing, at times it doesn’t make sense, and at times it feels like I am watching a 1980’s claymation film (the Watchers were rendered horribly). However I (unlike many Christians writing about this movie) understand that Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel aren’t trying to stick with the biblical story. Both of these writers take creative liberties by including accounts from pseudepigraphal Jewish writings and on top of that they consider themselves to be engaging in the Jewish practice of Midrash while telling this story. All that to say, I don’t care if they added stuff, I care that they did a poor job carrying out some of these additions.
Most Christians out there are bashing this film. It seems like they really hate it. I on the other hand loved the movie. Was it biblically inaccurate? Heck yes! Was it theologically true? At its deepest core it was.
Noah is theologically accurate.
Let me go ahead and share with you two reasons why I think Noah theologically accurate and let me conclude by sharing why I think this film will actually do more for the sake of God’s mission than many Christian movies do.
Two theological truths that I think the film portrayed accurately.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We evangelicals have done a good job of emphasizing this truth. Our liberal friends haven’t done such a great job – they tend to have a more positive view of human nature – and our secular friends, well…. They don’t have any conception of the innate sinfulness of human beings.
Throughout the movie, Noah tries to get people to understand that human beings really are sinful. He tries to show his family that we really have turned out back on our creator, that we really have decided to set ourselves up as kings and queens over and against the creator. Noah really understands the depths of our sins, even while his family refuses to see it. One key scene that shows this is when Noah refuses to rescue Na’el and lets her get trampled. Ham is understandably upset, because this girl was going to be his wife. He doesn’t understand how Noah could be such an evil man. He yells at Noah telling him “how could you let her die, I know her, she was good!” But Noah knows better, all have sinned. All are worthy of God’s wrath. None are good and none seek God. Even though she might not have been as blatantly evil as the rest of the humans, Na’el certainly was not good. She was sinful and she is part of the reason why God had to start over with the human race.
There is another scene that perfectly captures this truth. Naameh goes to Methuselah and asks him a favor (don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you). She pleads with Methuselah, telling him that her sons really are good, she can see it in them, yes they have some flaws, but deep down inside they are good people. Methuselah gives her a cryptic response to her request – essentially he tells her that she doesn’t know what good really is. Interestingly enough, Methuselah doesn’t call the kids evil, but he doesn’t call them good either.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Noah knows this, he sees Romans 1:18-32 on full display when he goes into the human camp. And in a Black Swan type moment, Noah sees himself in the humans and their actions. This is a turning point in the movie, some want to say that Noah snaps and has gone crazy. I like to believe that he has seen the depths of our depravity and knows that the only thing we deserve is death. While on the Ark, Noah explains to his family that they all must die, he isn’t going to kill them, but once they land they must all bury eachother. Maters get complicated when Shem and Ila have twin daughters. As a result Noah believes that his responsibility is to kill the two girls. This is probably the most intense gut wrenching part of the movie. Noah seems crazy, the viewer begins to dislike Noah, he has gone from being a hero to being a villain who desires to kill babies. Much like Pharaoh or Herod the great, Noah has joined the ranks of those who practice infanticide. Naturally the audience will turn their back on him – babies are good, they haven’t sinned, they are innocent – yet Noah has seen something that everybody else has not yet seen, that evil lies within all of them. Naameh is selfish, Ham is disobedient, Japeth is covetous. Essentially, some people have their behaviors under control, but at our depths we are depraved. Original sin lies in all of us. And we deserve death. Yet something happens to Noah and he refuses to kill the two girls. Later on, he is asked why he didn’t kill them. How does he answer that question? Does he say that he finally realized that there was good in all of us? No. Does he say that he saw that they had not yet sinned? No. He says he felt love. Love! Love was the reason why he had mercy on them. It wasn’t because they deserved it. It wasn’t because they were actually good deep down inside. His love made them worthy of living.
Noah paints a beautiful picture of the gospel!
This is the gospel at its core! Humans are totally depraved, we are infected with Original sin, and we deserve to die. Yet God loves us and has mercy on us. Its God’s love for us, and his love alone that motivates him to rescue and redeem us. Sin still deserves death, but instead of us having to die. God sends his son to die in our place.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.
Mercy is the result of God’s love. Mercy is not based off anything within us. That is why God’s mercy is an act of grace.
We need to take care of creation.
I have heard some people complain that Noah was one long, big budget PETA add. Maybe they are right. But what is wrong with that? The director knows that evangelical Christians are going to flock to this movie – even if they don’t like it – here is his chance to speak to this particular audience, which traditionally has been averse to any sort of message that implies we ought to take care of creation. Sorry fellow evangelicals, but its true – thankfully it’s beginning to change, even Gospel Coalition is moving in this direction!
Throughout the film we are presented with two opposing camps – Noah and his family vs. Tubal Cain and the humans. They both hold to opposing ideologies – Noah thinks humanity’s purpose it to take care of and preserve the creator’s work. You see this in early in the movie, where Noah is collecting lichens and when he teaches his son not to unwisely pick the flowers. He mentions that the flowers aren’t simply there for our sake, they have inherent value. On the other hand Tubal Cain and the humans see creation as an endless bag of resources to be exploited and used. Everywhere they go, the humans strip the land clear of resources, making the land incapable of future production. Much like 18th and 19th century colonizers (even 20th century corporations) there is no regard for human life and human practices – the bottom like is “you have something we want” and we will get it at all costs, even if that means the destruction of another group of people’s way of life. Thankfully some people have drawn attention to these evil practices (at least when it comes to human beings) but companies continue to trample over other parts of creation in the name of development i.e. corporate greed. In the movie this ideology is most clearly articulated when Tubal Cain is having a conversation with Ham while on the Ark. Tubal Cain tells Ham that the Creator has commanded humans to “be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the creation” – creation was created for humans, they must make creation submit to their purposes. In addition to this, Tubal Cain says that the creator has left humanity to fend for itself – Tubal Cain and his humans live in a deistic world.
I find it fascinating that Tubal Cain uses explicit biblical language – he quotes the cultural mandate – and he twists it be an excuse for the way they are treating the Creator’s work. I cannot count how many times I have heard Christians say similar things; creation was made for our sake, we need to take dominion, creation is unruly we must make it submit, etc. Honestly I believe that dispensationalism is one major reason why this sort of belief has flourished, but more importantly (and I think Aaronofsky really is on to something) it is a deistic and now atheistic worldview that set Christians up for a lack of compassion towards creation. I find it historically fascinating that the rise of deism coincided with the rise of colonization, exploitation of native peoples in the name of “civilizing” them, and the industrial revolution. In a world where there is no sense of responsibility towards God, in a world where we think God has left us to our own devices, everything become acceptable – the first thing that goes from our sense of morality is our duty and responsibility towards other parts of creation, the second thing that goes is a respect for human rights, the last thing that goes is belief in God.
All this to say, Aaronofsky and Ariel correctly interpret the cultural mandate – Creation was not made for humans, humans were made to take care of and cultivate creation so that all of creation might be offered up as a sort of “living sacrifice” bringing glory to God. As John Walton has pointed out, creation was one big cosmic temple, our job as priests and kings is to take care of that temple, making sure that it is developed in a way that brings God the glory he deserves.
The Missional Implications of this Movie
Without a doubt culture in general has lost its belief in the concept of original sin. I venture to say that American culture in general has lost the concept of sin in general. Yes people make mistakes, people err, but deep down inside people are actually good. That seems to be the prevailing view of our culture. Even in preaching, some Christians refuse to use the word sin – they call sin being dysfunctional. (Sin is no less than dysfunction, but it surely is way more than just dysfunction). Noah is countercultural in this sense – American culture tends to believe that people really are good on the inside and that the most important thing is “love.” Noah destroys this worldview. In the movie there are three positions regarding sin –
Tubal Cain & the Humans who revel in their sin and see themselves as simply being humans. Their sin has almost reached an animal like state. They rape they pillage, they have no regard for human life or for creation. Their animal like state is graphically portrayed in the scene where they slaughter an animal and feast on it like a pack of rabid heyenas.
Naameh and her family who know that there is evil out there, but don’t seem themselves as a part of it. Naameh and her family believe that love is the bottom line, and that everybody has the capability to be good. This is the prevailing belief in our culture. Sadly though “love” is not the full orbed biblical sense of love, its more like feelings of benevolence. Naameh loves her children, but even then, her love for them is more about her than about what is best for her kids. In this worldview, the moral thing to do is the thing that is most kind (aka “loving”).
Noah who sees how low human beings can go when they pursue sin and when they forget their creator. As I argued for above, Noah has a biblical understanding of sin.
So what is the missional impact of this film? It vividly portrays human sinfulness. In a culture that has forgotten what sin is or has chosen to believe that sin is merely some outdated religious concept we need more art (film, books, stories, songs) that reminds us that sin is real and that the capability for doing terrible things lies dormant within all of us.
What Noah does, is that it opens up a conversation about sin with non-Christians. Non-Christians will be forced to ask themselves – why does Noah believe that even the kids are sinful? Is he some religious fanatic? Or are there reasons why he holds on to this strange belief? Are we capable of being like Tubal-Cain and the humans?
When they see the movie, Non-Christians might not understand why Noah takes such an extreme view regarding sin. Yet Non-Christians will certainly be moved by the scene where Noah enters the human camp. That scene is graphically brutal – it portrays how hideous human immorality (sin) really is.
All that to say, I think that the major value in this film lies in the conversation it creates about human sinfulness. This film is also capable of helping non-Christians believe in a concept of sin.
Finally, this film also has apologetic value. It shows that care for creation has a biblical basis. It shows that the destruction of creation is a distortion of biblical truth.
I know that this review was sinfully long, but I think we Christians need to do more than asses a movie based upon whether or not it is “biblically accurate.” When evangelicals think about the Bible they often stay very surface level (I immediately think of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology), this means that they ignore deeper philosophical and worldview issues. We tend to do the same thing when thinking about cultural artifacts (movies, books, music, etc.) We need to do some deeper thinking – we can’t simply judge a film on whether it followed the biblical passage – we must ask ourselves “does this film portray something true about our Christian worldview?” If so then we must be open to admit that that film has some sort of value.