John Snowden, biblical adviser on Noah, addresses criticisms of the film and encourages Christians to embrace the film as it ultimately addresses a core theological question – does humanity deserve to be saved?
Audio – Biblical Consultant on Noah, John Snowden talks about the film
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OH: From the moment that Hollywood made their first biblical epic come to life on the big screen, there's always been an awkward relationship between people of faith and the way their biblical favourites have been translated to movies.
Russell Crowe's depiction of Noah, is continuing that rich tradition. When Noah producers were considering making this story as a movie, they approached a youth pastor, John Snowden to become their biblical advisor on the project.
John now lives and works in Kathmandu and joined us on Open House where we began our conversation around how his relationship first came to be with Paramount pictures.
John: I was a youth pastor in West Los Angeles in the heart of the entertainment industry community. I was working there as a full-time pastor for about four to six years and a man in my church community, an executive at Paramount Studios approached me about Noah as they really wanted to have a Christian voice in the production process.
OH: Had Noah been a passion for you prior to this point? To what extent were you the on-call professional?
John: My favourite part of scripture is Genesis 1-12:3. I love what it builds to, with the call of Abraham. So, Noah's square in the middle of that and so it does fit well with the part of the bible that I am particularly passionate about.
My role on the film was to be available to answer questions at various times, but more than that, early on in the pre-production process I was reading every version of the script giving thoughts and feedback, having phone calls, meetings, traveling to New York with the creative team, looking at all the art the team created for the film and making sure they didn't miss anything or have something in it that stood out.
OH: John, traditionally there's an awkward relationship between Hollywood and bible epics. Were you concerned at all when asked to come onto this project that this would draw more criticism than favour?
John: Absolutely. Once I heard that there was a Noah film I thought, oh, man, what are they going to do with that? I was sceptical before reading the script, but after reading it, I was so impressed with the filmmakers' and writers' exploration of justice and mercy and righteousness that I just couldn't say no.
I knew that as much as there might be some people who would react against it without seeing the film, that once they saw it there's such depth of theology in the film that it's really a delight.
OH: With any book that makes it to a movie there's inevitably some sort of artistic license particularly in Hollywood. What are your suggestions for those of us with really clear preconceptions about say, the shape of the arc or Noah's appearance or even some of his character traits?
John: We have this idea of Noah, but it's the storybook bible version of Noah, where Noah's this wonderful nice old man with a long white beard, there's a couple of giraffes behind him and a rainbow in the sky and all of those elements are part of the Noah story in the bible.
But, there's also other very important parts like God destroying all of humanity because of their wickedness and violence and Noah cursing his grandson because of the things that his son did. It's a complicated story when you really dig into it.
My advice when watching the film, is to drop some of those preconceived notions or expectations about what the personality of Noah is that you'd expect, and instead, look at the film for the meat of what it's offering. It's trying to answer the question: does humanity deserve to be saved? And that is an incredibly important theological question for us as a church.
OH: John, what's your perspective on the Noah in this movie speaking about the world in a more evolutionary timeline instead of the biblical creationist perspective?
John: The film very clearly says that God created man in his image and told them to multiply, fill and rule the earth. And that's the critical foundation of what I've been communicating with the creative team about creation and that's not in any way to make a statement about evolution or six-day creation, but the reality of where the filmmakers were when they made this film was that that was the most important theological aspect that I needed to bring to the film. God created humanity with a purpose.
OH: In the early reviews on this movie most critics agree that there are clear messages on the rights of women and the role of young people in our community. What are some of the other potent messages that might warrant us buying a ticket to see it?
John: The opportunities in this film are abundant, especially as they relate to youth. As I watched the film as a father, I relate to the character of Noah who's trying to hold his family together in this really end-time situation and balance justice and mercy with his kids just like God does with us.
But, I think teenagers will watch it and connect to the teenagers in the film, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth who are fantastic and there's themes of beauty and barrenness, healthy feminism and purpose and vision and values in life that I think they're going to really resonate really well.
OH: John, why are you so passionate about the Noah story? What's in it for the world in 2014?
John: For me, Genesis 1-12:3 explains the situation that the world is in and why we need the saviour and how it is that God came about through his story to share his true glory of the earth of Jesus Christ.
So, when God created Adam and Eve to reflect his glory throughout the planet, that got blemished with sin and so we were reflecting a broken image of glory rather than God's image of glory. We needed a saviour. We needed somebody to come and save us and I believe that the story of Noah is the story of salvation through grace, that Noah is given the idea and plans to build an arc as a function of grace.
Now, the bible does say that Noah found favour in God's eyes and when Peter says that he was a righteous man and actually Genesis says that as well, but that righteousness and that grace is a gift from God because of God's sovereign choice to save Noah and his family just like God's gift of Jesus is his sovereign gift to us to save us from our sin.
OH: John, after either contributing or even watching back the final cut of Noah the movie, was there anything that you learned that was new perhaps a fresh perspective on the story of Noah?
John: That's a really interesting question. The thing that I wouldn't have thought of leading into this film is how the mind of a man would have... what would benefit the psychology of the mindset of a man who was going through such extraordinary pain and watching everyone die around him while he sat on his arc to be saved and to repopulate the earth. And director Darren Aronofsky just hit that in such a powerful way.
Q: John Snowden, congratulations for all that you contributed to the movie. I can't wait to see the movie myself and criticism notwithstanding any dialogue that's opened around biblical themes and justice and salvation has to be worth pursuing. Thank you so much for all you've done.
John: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me and I really hope you enjoy the film.