Category: Cultural Commentary Written by Jim Denison
The movie Noah is coming soon to a screen near you, unless you live in a Muslim country. A "fatwa" (religious injunction) was issued against the film last week by Muslim authorities. Censors in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have now concluded that the film "contradicts the teachings of Islam." Other Muslim nations are expected to follow suit.
The problem is not that Muslims do not believe in Noah—he is mentioned throughout the Qur'an, and an entire chapter (Surah 71) is devoted to his story. It is that they are opposed to representing sacred figures in art. The fatwa declares that such movies "are forbidden in Islam and a clear violation of Islamic law." Depictions of the Prophet Mohammed have sparked deadly protests across the last decade. A similar reaction could ensue if Noah is shown in Muslim cultures.
Here's my question today: as we seek to engage our culture, how far is too far?
Richard Niebuhr's classic Christ and Culture describes five ways Christians relate to society:
Except for the third option, which seems clearly to be hypocritical, there are times when each of the others is appropriate. With pornography, substance abuse, and other sinful behavior, we should choose "Christ against culture." With appropriate technology, we should choose "Christ of culture." With popular but not sinful media, we should choose "Christ and culture in paradox." And at all times we should embrace "Christ transforming culture."
So, where do we draw the line? We are not to offend our brother (1 Corinthians 8:4-13), but nearly anything we do might offend someone. For instance, the movie Son of God condenses Jesus' story so that Peter's declaration, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:18) is not clearly in Caesarea Philippi, where the Bible says it occurred (v. 13). Most viewers won't notice, but I've visited both sites more than 20 times and know the difference. Now I might wonder what else the movie changed. But believers are using it as a wonderful evangelistic tool, inviting their friends to watch it with them and talking together about Jesus afterwards.
When do we engage culture, and when do we endorse it? Are there fixed lines, or do they move with the person and situation? Should we prescribe our beliefs for others, or trust believers to find and follow God's will for themselves? Please share your thoughts in our comments section.
And remember that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15), but he never became one (Hebrews 4:15). How will you follow his example today?