7 Rebuttals of Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker

I. Truth can always be tainted by throwing in a little falsehood. And, anyone can be deceived by half-truths or a mixed truth or by the Bible not being taken in context. This is what false conversions and deceptions are all about.

II. Jewish Legend must not serve as a Christian prayer model, even if it does somewhat “overlap” with biblical themes… especially of a legend who is said to have slept 70 years under a tree and planted trees all across Israel. Sound familiar to Rip VanWinkle or Johnny Appleseed?

A. Even though Josephus and the Talmud record Honi as a real man that lived, and as a “righteous man” (whatever that meant to Josephus), we must limit our authority for faith and practice to the Bible.

1. In Jospheus’ account, Honi cries out to “god, the king of the whole world,” & “lord of the world” NOT “God, the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 134:3; 146:6; Ps.121:2; Gen. 1:1) as other biblical intercessors.

2. Honi is not even considered apocryphal to OT and NT scholars. He is therefore classified as legend to the Jews and in their Talmud (stories) much like Rip Van Winkle or Johnny Appleseed are to annals of Anglo fable.

3. It is fact that during the inter-testamental period, many Jews began synagogue worship, or else they became “Bablyonianized,” taking on near-eastern mysticism or magic (the root word magi or ha-M’agel — as seen in the name Honi ha-M’agel) which included circle making and a lot of geometry and astrology that the Greeks borrowed. [see: The Commerce of the Sacred: Mediation of the Divine Among the Jews in the Greco-Roman World pg. 18]

4. Though Josephus records miracles of Honi’s life or supposed vindications of Honi, Josephus was not (as we can tell from his Roman allegiance and unsympathetic accounts of Jesus Christ) a believer in the one true God. Magic (as opposed to God’s power) is powerful but not good. We are not to model prayer after extra-biblical examples.

5. Honi called himself THE Son of God… not “a son of God” but “the.” [see Examining Honi the Circle Drawer: History and Legends for a quote by Bart Ehrman: “Later sources indicate that Honi was a revered teacher and a miracle worker, who called himself the son of God.”

B. “It was the legend of Honi the circle maker. And it forever changed the way I pray.” – pg. 21 [Mark Batterson says it was the legend of Honi that changed the way he prays, not the Bible.]

C. “It is possible for a man to dream continuously for 70 years.” – pg. 43 [This is a direct reference to the legend that Honi slept under a tree for 70 yrs. Not cool. What does Josephus say about Honi in this regard? NOTHING. Does Josephus record anything about Honi planting trees all over Israel? NOTHING. Yet, these stories are in the same passages in the Book of Legends. In the context of Mr. Batterson’s chapter, he goes on to write: … next point]

D. “Instead of creating the future, we start repeating the past. Instead of living by faith, we live by logic. Instead of going after our dreams, we stop circling Jericho.” –pg. 43 [But wait, do we “create our future” by imagining it, or does God guide us by His Word through all life’s circumstances? Yes, we are born with a God-given personality and interests, and these are exercised by goals. But, this is poor wording at the least, scary theology at the most. Moreover, logic IS NOT the opponent of faith!! “All God’s ways are perfectly reasoned” (Dt. 32:4). For example, Jericho was to be “circled” for a set amount of days and for set revolutions in that day to signify God’s resting on the 7th Day of Creation–that all of the works of God are completed already, and that, Israel should allow God to fight for them, as He promised He would. Again, maybe this is just poor wording choice for saying, “don’t get into a rut and put yourself or God in a box.” But, wow. It did not come out that way. And, going after our dreams emerges again… just like on the cover and in confusing contrast to the things he writes on pp. 28-31.]

III. Using “circling” and as an organized metaphor for focusing our prayers and not relenting until we see the answer (praying through) was not wisely chosen; because “circle casting” is undeniably occult practice.

A. Mark does a thrice-round circle in every DVD video, according to occult prescription, as opposed to just once around.

B. “A faction believed that drawing a circle and demanding rain dishonored God.” – pg. 13 [uh, ya. especially if the circle casting was an occult like practice, even in Honi’s day. Do occult members see real answers to their prayers, even rain? Did my great grandparents find a well when they used to “witch water?” uh, ya. BUT, Elijah made no circles. He simply went off of the prayer based on the promise (Covenant) he found IN CONTEXT, not narcigesis.]

C. “Maybe it was those same members of the Sanhedrin who would criticize Jesus for healing a man’s shriveled hand on the Sabbath a generation later.” – pg. 13 [Here we have a rhetorical appeal to emotions built on a hypothetical, which equates Honi with a well-established and accepted figure–Jesus. But, Honi is not authoritatively factual or biblical. He is legend. And, the people that stood by are not authoritatively factual or biblical. They are legend. This is an emotional appeal to defame anyone who disagrees with the book. And, its being presented at the end of the 1st chapter is no coincidence.]

D. “The prayer that saved a generation was deemed one of the most significant prayers in the history of Israel.” – pg. 13 [History? History of Israel? No… this is LEGEND, not the course of truly important Israeli history, as marked by God in the Bible. And, sorry, but one rain storm cannot save an entire generation. Hyperbole! Either Mark Batterson has ignorantly taken this legend and placed into the realm of truth and authoritative history, or he has done it on purpose.]

E. “The circle he drew in the sand became a sacred symbol.” – pg. 13 [what kind of sacred symbol – geometry, astrology, near-eastern mysticism?]

F. “And the legend of Honi the circle maker stands forever as a testament to the power of a single prayer to change the course of history.” – pg. 13 [Once again, Honi is legend. He is not even on the level of Apocryphal history. He changed no God-recognized history. Now, Elijah–there is a man whom God used to change history in turning God’s people away from idols.]

G. “Like Honi, you refuse to move from the circle until God moves.” pg. 35 [I will not comment again on the use of the Honi legend instead of Scripture, but I will say that we must be careful with this kind of “persistence.” Yes, God does want us to be persistent with Him (ex. Daniel’s prayers, the parable of the unjust judge, the parable of the neighbor needing bread). However, we had better be sure that we are most definitely on God’s will, as revealed in the Scriptures and not narcigeting promises. If we are committing eisegesis, then our prayers and “staying in the circle” become tantamount to occult ritual.]

H. Praying Through, especially Praising Through (pp. 39, 164) are also very familiar concepts to me, which I find refreshing to see mentioned in Mr. Batterson’s book. But again, these must be preceded by one’s having located assurance of God’s promise within all its proper contexts. The unstudied and non-surrendered cannot possibly point their finger to a Bible passage with a selfishly delusional fervor and expect God to honor their wishes. There does come a time when the diligent searcher is convinced of a reality he sees in God’s Word through illumination, and that, it is applicable to his own situation. At that point, praying through/praising through are simply the exercise of diligent patience and thanksgiving in faith, in order to obtain what GOD promises (Hebrews 6:10-20). Let’s not make it mystical.

I. “Your job is to draw circles in the sand. And if you do the geometry, God will multiply the miracles in your life.” – pg. 55 [In context, Mr. Batterson is talking about God exceeding our anticipations. But, “GEOMETRY”? Again, this is either poor word choice or occult-like word choice based on mere Jewish legend. I will give Mr. Batterson the benefit of the doubt, because he states other places that “prayer circling” isn’t a trick to get what you want.]

J. “Before the first raindrop fell, Honi had to have felt a little foolish. Standing inside a circle and demanding rain is a risky proposition. Vowing that you won’t leave until it rains is even riskier. Honi didn’t draw a semicircle. He drew a complete circle. There was no escape clause, no expiration date. Honi backed himself into a circle, and the only way out was a miracle.” – pg. 47 [Unless Honi was invoking the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on the basis of the same covenant that Elijah invoked, then Honi was NOT God’s servant. No reference is made to the covenant stipulations or the waywardness of God’s people in the legend. No comment is made about who the people were serving or why they were in exiled silence during the inter-testamental period.]

If Honi was God’s servant, then why did he have to draw a circle? Why did he have to “back himself into a circle” by making what could be a very unbiblical vow? If we back ourselves irrevocably into unbiblical vows, what can Christians expect but ruination? Jesus said: (Matthew 5:33-37)

 33“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ 34“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. 36“Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

Jesus said not to make an oath at all, and so does James (Matt. 5:34; James 5:12).]

K. “Drawing prayer circles often looks like an exercise in foolishness. But that’s faith. Faith is the willingness to look foolish.” – pg. 47 [Faith is NOT foolishness, though it may appear to be so in the eyes of the unbelieving. Faith IS NOT the willingness to look foolish. Many who exercise faith do not wish to look foolish even though they appear foolish. But, they realize that Faith is the stuff that comes from expecting things that God has promised; Faith is the evidence of the the true but unseen realm (Hebrews 11). Again, maybe this is just Mr. Batterson’s style and word choice, but he is dealing with very important spiritual concepts. Accuracy and precision pay the surgeon. Sloppiness and “style” kill the patient and the surgeon’s career.]

IV. Even though Mr. Batterson states early on in the book it is God’s will that we seek, the cover explicitly says: “praying circles around your biggest dreams and greatest fears.”

A. The surrender of one’s own will and desires is paramount in prayer, according to the Lord’s prayers in Luke 6 and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sometimes God’s plan for us looks nothing like our “biggest dreams.” It looks more like death and the cross.

B. The greatest belief by Satanists and New Age philosophy (exemplified in books like “the Secret”) is the promotion of “self” and finding our “own way” to spirituality. When we speak about “praying through” (staying in the circle or keep circling), we need to remember that without the surrender of our will in order to submit to God’s via the Word, we are either demanding from God–not cool–or praying to another god entirely, especially if we have drawn literal casting circles.

C. Most of the prayer stories in the book are about obtaining buildings, jobs, money, contracts, etc. There are a few stories about overcoming sin, but these are few. Most of the book is about defining, focusing on and obtaining one’s goals. The majority of the stories reflect the following teaching:

1. “God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers.” – pg. 15 [umm. yes he is, if my dreams are fleshly and carnal or against his revealed will of my Christ-likeness, or if I just want to consume them on my desires, or even I am just not allowing full sway of His will–timing, way, change in me.]

2. “God is for you” – pg. 15 [ok. I get that, but what about my seeking out and being for God’s plans first? (Matthew 5:25-34)]

3. “The bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory.” – pg. 15 [Not true. We glorify God best when our prayers align us with God’s will, when we rejoice in Him, whether that means we must abound or be abased, have much or suffer for his name (Phil. 4). Yes, we should seek to advance His kingdom, but we should do it his way–which from all indications, does not require buildings, land, great conventions/organizations or money. It just requires the church being the church, following the leadership of the Spirit of Christ (Acts).]

4. “Prayers are prophecies. They are the best predictors of your spiritual future. Who you become is determined by how you pray. Ultimately, the transcript of your prayers becomes the script of your life.” – pg. 16 [Prayers are NOT prophecies. One’s pattern or lack of prayer may be “like” prophecy (indicating one’s spiritual health), but they are not prophecies themselves. I agree that who we become is determined by how we pray. Are we becoming more Christ-like (“not my will but yours”) or satanic (“I will …”)? If the transcript of my prayers (literally, what I say in my prayers) is so important, then why did Jesus say, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)]

5. “You will learn how to draw prayer circles around your family, your job, your problems, and your goals.” – pg. 16 [Ok. But, what about my sin or my growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus? Is that what you meant by problem? ok. I’ll give that one to you. By the way, your goals emerges once again, confusing the issue.]

6. “Drawing prayer circles starts with discerning what God wants, what God wills. And until His sovereign will becomes your sanctified wish, your prayer life will be unplugged from his power supply. Sure, you can apply some of the principles you learn in The Circle Maker, and they may help you get what you want, but getting what you want isn’t the goal; the goal is glorifying God by drawing circles around the promises, miracles and dreams He wants for you.”  – pg. 16 [This is actually a very refreshing statement, and it is reinforced on pages 28-31. But, notice he does say that this book is not just about prayer when he states it contains principles that will help people achieve. This is a book that mixes teaching on prayer and teachings on personal goal achievement. There is nothing wrong with personal goals. There is nothing wrong with prayer. Those are two teachings which apart and under biblical prescription are fine, but to set them on par in the same book, as if they are equivalent and reciprocal is very dangerous… because it makes it hard for the learner to tell what is mere personal goal setting and what is true (surrendered) prayer and supplication for sanctification, and prayer that is needs based. Food and clothing is all that God guarantees to supply, and Jesus and Paul said to be content with that! 1 Tim. 6:8; Luke 12:31]

7. “God isn’t offended by big dreams; He’s offended by anything less.” – pg. 57 [This is a restatement of pt. 1 above but with a twist. God cannot be offended by “small dreams,” if they are His will. The grandiose size of a dream offends God if it is full of self and unholy motives (which are admittedly hard to discern on our own). Let’s avoid making universal and superlative statements without contextual backing from well-interpreted Scripture. Why is this important? Because even if one’s motives are pure to begin with, the false notion that one must somehow become bigger-visioned in order to please God subtly starts to sow the seeds of discontent, feelings of insignificance, comparison, an egocentric view of God’s work (you at the center of God’s plans), narcissistic interpretation of others’ corrections and of Scripture, and exaggerated focus on desires. These are the wiles of the devil.]

V. While Mark Batterson literally applies the legend of Honi the Circle Maker, he allegorically applies the Bible’s true and historical Jericho account and the Promised Land & misinterprets Numbers and Exodus as well as parables to further advance/or confuse “self” interests with prayer.

A. What is your Jericho? What promise are you praying around? What miracle are you marching around? What dream does your life revolve around?” – pg. 24, 38 [A consensus on the proper interpretation of the Conquest of the Promised Land for NT believers, according to evangelical protestant theologians (and withstanding varying covenantal or dispensational views), is overcoming Canaan is SPIRITUAL warfare for spiritual blessing in order to enter into either grace-based salvation or grace-based living–NOT “dreams that our lives revolve around” or even promises that we are ‘naming and claiming.’]

B. “Now, here’s the problem: most of us don’t get what we want simply because we don’t know what we want.” – pg. 24 [WHOA! The whole Bible, but particularly the book of James, indicates that humans know what they want all too well. Furthermore, God reveals that we don’t get what we want from Him for 2 reasons: we don’t ask at all–faithlessness; or, we ask based solely on our own will and desires. And, James calls those two things spiritual adultery and friendship with the world, because all they do is produce comparison, fighting and warring with one another and a state of opposition to God (James 4).]

C. “We’ve never written down a list of life goals. We’ve never defined success for ourselves. Instead of drawing circles, we draw blanks.” – pg 24 [nope, same as “B” directly above: success to every natural mind will look like: “affluence & influence.” One may be guilty of not actually sitting down and writing down personal goals, but we need to be sure that when we do write down goals and define success, it is biblical. Mr. Batterson does a good job of this on some pages but confuses the issue on others like:]

1. “What do you want me to do for you?” pg. 24-27 [It is not safe to leave this question open-ended. We must take the miracles Jesus (or Apostles) performed (i.e. healing the blind man) IN CONTEXT of how and why and the writers present them. Only then can we expect the same miracles in our own lives.]

2. “If you have cancer, it is spelled healing.” [well, maybe, maybe not: ex. Paul] If your child is far from God, it’s spelled salvation. [definitely! we ought to pray that all come to the knowledge of the truth.] “If your marriage if falling apart, it’s spelled reconciliation.” [Ok] “If you have a vision beyond your resources, it is spelled provision.” – pg. 25 [Perhaps. It depends on the vision being the exact plan of God for you and His kingdom. You can always dream, like David dreamed the Temple in order to bless God, but like David was corrected by Nathan, we must submit to God’s redirection if some aspect or the entire plan is not His will. It all comes down to surrender and His glory and His way above what I can desire or dream up.]

D.  I must say that pages 28-31 is very refreshing. One word needed, though… Consistency.

VI. The whole premise of Chapter 5, “Cloudy with a Chance of Quail” is sorely misleading.

A. The miracle of the quail is cited without reference. It could be that the author refers to Ex. 16 or Numbers 11. When one checks the references and reads them in context, he comes to a shock. In Numbers 11, THE QUAIL WERE NOT A BLESSING. THEY WERE A CURSE TO THE COMPLAINING AND GREEDY ISRAELITES. (see pt. IV, C, 7 above)

B. The take-away here is: God may just give you what you want. You may not always like it… which is rather like what C. S. Lewis was trying to tell us about in The Magician’s Nephew: “All get what they want; they do not always like it.” No, seriously. When we complain about what we do not have or what blessings we want to have, then God is not “honored” or even amused. He is displeased. (Numbers 11:31-35; Ps. 105:40)

C. Mr. Batterson should have at least cited the source, if not given a balanced teaching/warning that one can obtain by comparing the two accounts of miraculous quail provision.

D. On pg. 54-55, the author directly quotes the wording of the Numbers 11 passage, but he makes no mention of God’s according judgement on greed and complaining.

E. On pg. 56, Batterson lifts the Parable of the Sower & Soils out of context and inserts narcigesis, in direct opposition to what Jesus says the parable teaches. Again, he does not reference his passage. But, this parable comes out of Mark 4:8 and is explained BY JESUS in vv. 13-20. It has nothing to do with God’s promising a building. It does have to do with whether one’s own life receives the Word and allows the Word to produce fruit (like the Word, Jesus) in one’s life… or, does one let TRIALS and CARES and PERSECUTION and WORRIES OF THE WORLD and DECEITFULNESS OF RICHES and the DESIRES FOR OTHER THINGS enter in and choke the Word, rendering it unfruitful. Given the curse of the quail, the parable of the soils, and warnings by Paul to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:6-10) about desiring to be rich, I find it hard to accept Batterson’s teaching.

VII. Chapter 7 largely misrepresents Number 11:23 and A. W. Tozer on a “high view of God.”

A. “Is there a limit to my power?” – pp 73-75 [There is no limit to God’s power. But, this is not an invitation to exploit or tempt God. It is written, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” This was Jesus’ saying when the devil “commanded” Jesus to turn stones into bread in order to meet even his most basic need–hunger. Oh, that we would be like Jesus and realize that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The man of God, like Jesus, fears to step out of God’s Word, God’s ways, and God’s timing.]

B. “A. W. Tozer believed that a low view of God is the cause of a hundred lesser evils, but a high view of God is the solution to ten thousand temporal problems.” – pg. 73 [Again, Batterson does not cite or footnote. Actually the context of the teachings and the quote from Tozer goes something like this:]

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God. –A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

 Quite the opposite affect, don’t you think?

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[Note: with all of the corrective teaching that Jesus had to do in Matthew 5-7, and with all of the hatred of Jesus’ claiming to be the Son of God, it seems like a good portion of Jesus’ teaching flies directly in the face of Honi the Circle Maker’s teaching (by example) and by Honi’s self-proclamations as the son of God. And this would be reasonable, because Honi lived around 65 B.C… just one generation before Christ.]

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Complementary Videos:

http://youtu.be/ou1yZxxJWp4

http://youtu.be/g-cckw-huxM

http://youtu.be/UUUnDnBpEGA

http://youtu.be/q38mzYnI8Bs

Counseling that Contradicts*

Have you ever found yourself caught in the crossfire of contradictory Christian counsel? What do you do when the counsel of a Christian friend or minister is in conflict with a decision that seems best? Does everyone always agree about the “will of God?”

As recorded in Acts 21, we find the Apostle Paul en route to Jerusalem. The decision to travel to Jerusalem was painful (20:16, 22), perplexing (21:3-4) and not popular (21:11-14).

Christian counsel ought to be one of our most valuable assets (Prov. 11:14; Heb. 10:25). But what is a Christian to do when the counsel received is a contradiction? Our answer is 3-fold.

Some Counsel is to be Flatly Rejected

When it violates biblical principles (Ps. 119:9-11) and patterns (1 John 4:1), counsel should be flatly rejected. In regards to biblical principles, there is only one opinion that really matters, and that is the opinion of God (Rom. 3:4). Concerning biblical patterns, there are 4 situations which should raise caution flags in the minds of believers.

  1. Is the Christian counselor serving on a financial basis (1 Cor. 9:18; 1 Pet. 5:2)?
  2. Is the Christian counselor under the authority of (sent out by/commissioned by) a local church (Gal. 6:1; Prov. 27:6)?
  3. Does the Christian counselor have a good relationship with said church leaders (1 Pet. 5)?
  4. Does the Christian counselor work alone, or is there a restorative team (Gal. 6:1)?

Some Counsel is to be Reflected Upon Carefully 

While it is possible that the Apostle strayed from God’s will, as some commentators think, along with those recorded in Acts for their confrontation of Paul; we should note:

Paul lived by the leading of the Spirit (19:21; 20:22-23). And, Paul’s life offers us some insight into knowing the leading of the Spirit today?

  • Paul’s conscience was clean (Acts 23:1, 24:16)
  • Paul’s motives were right (Acts 24:17-21)
    • He wanted to bring an offering (v. 17)
    • He wanted to live in harmony (v. 18-20)
    • He wanted to testify of Christ (v. 21)

What could have caused Paul’s fellow-servants to provide counsel that was contradictory? Their opinions were formed:

  1. Through personal involvement (21:1 – “we were torn away”).
  2. With only partial knowledge (21:3-4).
  3. Through pragmatic concerns (21:10-12).

Some Counsel is to be Received Gladly and Heeded

Regardless of the situation or circumstance, there is some counsel that ought to be followed by the believer:

WHEN THE COUNSEL IS BASED UPON THE WORD OF GOD (Ps. 119:105; John 17:17). Our conscience and our conduct must be bound and tethered to the Bible (Is. 8:20).

WHEN THE COUNSEL IS CONFIRMED BY THE SPIRIT (Acts 21:13-14). Remember, the one mark (fruit) of Spirit is selfless Love; and this love will be seen in things like joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, meekness, faith, self-control, patient endurance, kindness. When counsel is given but no hope, faith or love are instilled, then one can be sure the counsel is not from God’s Spirit.

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*I acknowledge the following study is not my own. The author is Chuck Phelps; but I quickly add that the reader should remember the Disclaimer on the “About” page of this blog. Not all persons or ministry philosophies are condoned and/or promoted by their being posted here at Lamb’s Harbinger. The study has been slightly modified from its original wording and format.

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OTHER RESOURCES:

Exposing the “God’s Perfect Will” and “Be Not Conformed” Lies

What Christians Mean by “God Said to / Led Me to / Told Me to…” parts 1-3 

From Dr. Brian Mattson: “Sympathy for the Devil” — A Theological Analysis of Noah, the Movie

[The following directly copied from drbrianmattson.com]

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL

In Darren Aronofsky’s new star-gilt silver screen epic, Noah, Adam and Eve are luminescent and fleshless, right up until the moment they eat the forbidden fruit.

Such a notion isn’t found in the Bible, of course. This, among the multitude of Aronofsky’s other imaginative details like giant Lava Monsters, has caused many a reviewer’s head to be scratched. Conservative-minded evangelicals write off the film because of the “liberties” taken with the text of Genesis, while a more liberal-minded group stands in favor of cutting the director some slack. After all, we shouldn’t expect a professed atheist to have the same ideas of “respecting” sacred texts the way a Bible-believer would.

Both groups have missed the mark entirely. Aronofsky hasn’t “taken liberties” with anything.

The Bible is not his text.

In his defense, I suppose, the film wasn’t advertised as such. Nowhere is it said that this movie is an adaptation of Genesis. It was never advertised as “The Bible’s Noah,” or “The Biblical Story of Noah.” In our day and age we are so living in the leftover atmosphere of Christendom that when somebody says they want to do “Noah,” everybody assumes they mean a rendition of the Bible story. That isn’t what Aronofsky had in mind at all. I’m sure he was only too happy to let his studio go right on assuming that, since if they knew what he was really up to they never would have allowed him to make the movie.

Let’s go back to our luminescent first parents. I recognized the motif instantly as one common to the ancient religion of Gnosticism. Here’s a 2nd century A.D. description about what a sect called the Ophites believed:

“Adam and Eve formerly had light, luminous, and so to speak spiritual bodies, as they had been fashioned. But when they came here, the bodies became dark, fat, and idle.” –Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, I, 30.9

It occurred to me that a mystical tradition more closely related to Judaism, calledKabbalah (which the singer Madonna made popular a decade ago or so), surely would have held a similar view, since it is essentially a form of Jewish Gnosticism. I dusted off (No, really: I had to dust it) my copy of Adolphe Franck’s 19th century work, The Kabbalah, and quickly confirmed my suspicions:

“Before they were beguiled by the subtleness of the serpent, Adam and Eve were not only exempt from the need of a body, but did not even have a body—that is to say, they were not of the earth.”

Franck quotes from the Zohar, one of Kabbalah’s sacred texts:

“When our forefather Adam inhabited the Garden of Eden, he was clothed, as all are in heaven, with a garment made of the higher light. When he was driven from the Garden of Eden and was compelled to submit to the needs of this world, what happened? God, the Scriptures tell us, made Adam and his wife tunics of skin and clothed them; for before this they had tunics of light, of that higher light used in Eden…”

Obscure stuff, I know. But curiosity overtook me and I dove right down the rabbit hole.

I discovered what Darren Aronofsky’s first feature film was: Pi. Want to know its subject matter? Do you? Are you sure?

Kabbalah.

If you think that’s a coincidence, you may want a loved one to schedule you a brain scan.

Have I got your attention? Good.

The world of Aronofsky’s Noah is a thoroughly Gnostic one: a graded universe of “higher” and “lower.” The “spiritual” is good, and way, way, way “up there” where the ineffable, unspeaking god dwells, and the “material” is bad, and way, way down here where our spirits are encased in material flesh. This is not only true of the fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, but of fallen angels, who are explicitly depicted as being spirits trapped inside a material “body” of cooled molten lava.

Admittedly, they make pretty nifty movie characters, but they’re also notorious in Gnostic speculation. Gnostics call them Archons, lesser divine beings or angels who aid “The Creator” in forming the visible universe. And Kabbalah has a pantheon of angelic beings of its own all up and down the ladder of “divine being.” And fallen angels are never totally fallen in this brand of mysticism. To quote the Zohar again, a central Kabbalah text: “All things of which this world consists, the spirit as well as the body, will return to the principle and the root from which they came.” Funny. That’s exactly what happens to Aronofsky’s Lava Monsters. They redeem themselves, shed their outer material skin, and fly back to the heavens. Incidentally, I noticed that in the film, as the family is traveling through a desolate wasteland, Shem asks his father: “Is this a Zohar mine?” Yep. That’s the name of Kabbalah’s sacred text.

The entire movie is, figuratively, a “Zohar” mine.

If there was any doubt about these “Watchers,” Aronofsky gives several of them names: Semyaza, Magog, and Rameel. They’re all well-known demons in the Jewish mystical tradition, not only in Kabbalah but also in the book of 1 Enoch.

What!? Demons are redeemed? Adolphe Franck explains the cosmology of Kabbalah: “Nothing is absolutely bad; nothing is accursed forever—not even the archangel of evil or the venomous beast, as he is sometimes called. There will come a time when he will recover his name and his angelic nature.”

Okay. That’s weird. But, hey, everybody in the film seems to worship “The Creator,” right? Surely it’s got that in its favor!

Except that when Gnostics speak about “The Creator” they are not talking about God. Oh, here in an affluent world living off the fruits of Christendom the term “Creator” generally denotes the true and living God. But here’s a little “Gnosticism 101” for you: the Creator of the material world is an ignorant, arrogant, jealous, exclusive, violent, low-level, bastard son of a low level deity. He’s responsible for creating the “unspiritual” world of flesh and matter, and he himself is so ignorant of the spiritual world he fancies himself the “only God” and demands absolute obedience. They generally call him “Yahweh.” Or other names, too (Ialdabaoth, for example).

This Creator tries to keep Adam and Eve from the true knowledge of the divine and, when they disobey, flies into a rage and boots them from the garden.

In other words, in case you’re losing the plot here: The serpent was right all along. This “god,” “The Creator,” whom they are worshiping is withholding something from them that the serpent will provide: divinity itself.

The world of Gnostic mysticism is bewildering with a myriad of varieties. But, generally speaking, they hold in common that the serpent is “Sophia,” “Mother,” or “Wisdom.” The serpent represents the true divine, and the claims of “The Creator” are false.

So is the serpent a major character in the film?

Let’s go back to the movie. The action opens when Lamech is about to bless his son, Noah. Lamech, rather strangely for a patriarch of a family that follows God, takes out a sacred relic, the skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden. He wraps it around his arm, stretches out his hand to touch his son—except, just then, a band of marauders interrupts them and the ceremony isn’t completed. Lamech gets killed, and the “villain” of the film, Tubal-Cain, steals the snakeskin. Noah, in other words, doesn’t get whatever benefit the serpent’s skin was to bestow.

The skin doesn’t light up magically on Tubal-Cain’s arm, so apparently he doesn’t get “enlightened,” either. And that’s why everybody in the film, including protagonist and antagonist, Noah and Tubal-Cain, is worshiping “The Creator.”They are all deluded. Let me clear something up here: lots of reviewers expressed some bewilderment over the fact there aren’t any likable characters and that they allseem to be worshiping the same God. Tubal-Cain and his clan are wicked and evil and, as it turns out, Noah’s pretty bad himself when he abandons Ham’s girlfriend and almost slays two newborn children. Some thought this was some kind of profound commentary on how there’s evil in all of us. Here’s an excerpt from theZohar, the sacred text of Kabbalah:

“Two beings [Adam and Nachash—the Serpent] had intercourse with Eve [the Second woman], and she conceived from both and bore two children. Each followed one of the male parents, and their spirits parted, one to this side and one to the other, and similarly their characters. On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial — good wine mixed with bad.”

Sound familiar? Yes. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, to the “T.”

Anyway, everybody is worshiping the evil deity. Who wants to destroy everybody. (By the way, in Kabbalah many worlds have already been created and destroyed.) Both Tubal-Cain and Noah have identical scenes, looking into the heavens and asking, “Why won’t you speak to me?” “The Creator” has abandoned them all because he intends to kill them all.

Noah had been given a vision of the coming deluge. He’s drowning, but sees animals floating to the surface to the safety of the ark. No indication whatsoever is given that Noah is to be saved; Noah conspicuously makes that part up during an awkward moment explaining things to his family. He is sinking while the animals, “the innocent,” are rising. “The Creator” who gives Noah his vision wants all the humans dead.

Many reviewers thought Noah’s change into a homicidal maniac on the ark, wanting to kill his son’s two newborn daughters, was a weird plot twist. It isn’t weird at all. In the Director’s view, Noah is worshiping a false, homicidal maniac of a god. The more faithful and “godly” Noah becomes, the more homicidal he becomes. He is becoming every bit the “image of god” that the “evil” guy who keeps talking about the “image of god,” Tubal-Cain, is.

But Noah fails “The Creator.” He cannot wipe out all life like his god wants him to do. “When I looked at those two girls, my heart was filled with nothing but love,” he says. Noah now has something “The Creator” doesn’t. Love. And Mercy. But where did he get it? And why now?

In the immediately preceding scene Noah killed Tubal-Cain and recovered the snakeskin relic: “Sophia,” “Wisdom,” the true light of the divine. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Okay, I’m almost done. The rainbows don’t come at the end because God makes a covenant with Noah. The rainbows appear when Noah sobers up and embraces the serpent. He wraps the skin around his arm, and blesses his family. It is not God that commissions them to now multiply and fill the earth, but Noah, in the first person, “I,” wearing the serpent talisman. (Oh, and by the way, it’s not accidental that the rainbows are all circular. The circle of the “One,” the Ein Sof, in Kabbalah, is the sign of monism.)

Notice this thematic change: Noah was in a drunken stupor the scene before. Now he is sober and “enlightened.” Filmmakers never do that by accident.

He’s transcended and outgrown that homicidal, jealous deity.

Let me issue a couple of caveats to all this: Gnostic speculation is a diverse thing. Some groups appear radically “dualist,” where “The Creator” really is a different “god” altogether. Others are more “monist,” where God exists in a series of descending emanations. Others have it that the lower deity “grows” and “matures” and himself ascends the “ladder” or “chain” of being to higher heights. Noahprobably fits a little in each category. It’s hard to tell. My other caveat is this: there is no doubt a ton of Kabbalist imagery, quotations, and themes in this movie that I couldn’t pick up in a single sitting. For example, since Kabbalah takes its flights of fancy generally based on Hebrew letters and numbers, I did notice that the “Watchers” appeared to be deliberately shaped like Hebrew letters. But you could not pay me to go see this movie again so I could further drill into the Zohar mine to see what I could find. (On a purely cinematic viewpoint, I found most of it unbearably boring.)

What I can say on one viewing is this:

Darren Aronofsky has produced a retelling of the Noah story without reference to the Bible at all. This was not, as he claimed, just a storied tradition of run-of-the-mill Jewish “Midrash.” This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources. To my mind, there is simply no doubt about this.

So let me tell you what the real scandal in all of this is.

It isn’t that he made a film that departed from the biblical story. It isn’t that disappointed and overheated Christian critics had expectations set too high.

The scandal is this: of all the Christian leaders who went to great lengths to endorse this movie (for whatever reasons: “it’s a conversation starter,” “at least Hollywood is doing something on the Bible,” etc.), and all of the Christian leaders who panned it for “not following the Bible”…

Not one of them could identify a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the biblical story when it was right in front of their faces.

I believe Aronofsky did it as an experiment to make fools of us: “You are so ignorant that I can put Noah (granted, it’s Russell Crowe!) up on the big screen and portray him literally as the ‘seed of the Serpent’ and you all will watch my studio’s screening and endorse it.”

He’s having quite the laugh. And shame on everyone who bought it.

And what a Gnostic experiment! In Gnosticism, only the “elite” are “in the know” and have the secret knowledge. Everybody else are dupes and ignorant fools. The “event” of this movie is intended to illustrate the Gnostic premise. We are dupes and fools. Would Christendom awake, please?

In response, I have one simple suggestion:

Henceforth, not a single seminary degree is granted unless the student demonstrates that he has read, digested, and understood Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies.

Because it’s the 2nd century all over again.

Postscript

Some readers may think I’m being hard on people for not noticing the Gnosticism at the heart of this film. I am not expecting rank-and-file viewers to notice these things. I would expect exactly what we’ve seen: head-scratching confusion. I’ve got a whole different standard for Christian leaders: college and seminary professors, pastors, and Ph.Ds. If a serpent skin wrapped around the arm of a godly Bible character doesn’t set off any alarms… I don’t know what to say.

Update – 4/2/2014

I’ve posted a short follow-up video here.

And an important follow-up post here.

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself?

With his face and a fist to the air, I watched a young man (whom I’ll call Devon) challenge God. “If You are real, show up right now!” He yelled. And then, … “See, nothing!”
It was 2005, and I was in Green River, Wyoming with a youth outreach group. Devon was a high schooler; I was inviting him to the week’s upcoming event. Suddenly, the invitation turned into an opportunity for Devon to vent.  
“I’ve urinated on all the churches in this town,” Devon unashamedly proclaimed. 
I took his admission as an attempt to shock me. It worked briefly, but the underlying issue was more my concern than his alleged exhibitionism. Eventually I got to the root of it:  a wreck of a home life, a dad who didn’t care, and almost no biblical knowledge of God – just what he thought he knew. Devon admitted that he was a younger teen when he decided to not believe in God. All the same, he certainly did display anger toward God. 
Many people like Devon bring up a challenging question, especially since the God of the Bible presents himself as everywhere present all the time. Why doesn’t God show himself, if he is real? 
I’ll try to be as straight forward as possible. My aim is not to present proofs of God’s existence but to supply the means by which one may himself experience God. Besides, nothing is as convincing as experiencing a subject first hand. 
Consider the real possibility that God is revealing himself, but one may not recognize it. “Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet man does not notice it” (Job 33:14). God may not reveal himself in the way you want him to or in the timing you want. However, that does not mean God is absent and silent. It might mean that you’re missing his communication to you. According to biblical and historical accounts, God has revealed himself in the past by many means (including physically and bodily). In fact, his name Jahweh communicates the idea he is always revealing himself, wanting to be known. And, there are reports in the Middle East that Jesus is appearing to those who would otherwise never hear, implying that if one has access to the Bible or to a Christian, then God expects one to realize He has already provided a witness of Himself. [Please see What About Those Who Have Not Heard?]
Also, since He is God, should he bow to your commands, as if you are greater than he? 
Thirdly, the reason mankind “misses” God’s communication is not God’s fault. God states in various ways throughout biblical passages that he wants to be accurately known by mankind, not for the false concepts mankind has of him. The real reason mankind in his natural state does not know God’s presence and communication is that mankind’s natural state is faulty. 
Man received a spirit from God (Genesis 1 & 2). That spirit is part of (if not all) the reason man is said to be in the image or likeness of God. Having a spirit allows mankind to interact with God and know him, even though God may not physically appear. Should that spirit receive damage, mankind would be cut off from God, or “die” (Genesis 2:17); and, sin (breaking God’s revealed will) damages the spirit irreparably. Again, God equates it to death (Genesis 3; Ezekiel 18:4; Ephesians 2:1), because a sinful soul cannot know God, since evil and goodness are like oil and water. They do not mix. What is more, sin infuses man’s nature to such a degree that mankind cannot rightly understand God when God does reveal himself. He either views God as a threat, or believes his own misconceptions of the true nature of God (Romans 3:11).
So, we have come to it.  A person who is in disbelief cannot realize God’s presence, even though He is there, because his nature and God’s nature are incompatible. Since “God is a spirit,” (John 4:24) an individual in the natural state of spiritual deadness is cut off from God as much as one dimension is cut off from another. The erroneous conclusion of the natural man is: “God is not here” or “God is not as He claims.” Yet, he does not realize he is completely wrong, nor that the problem is with himself.  As Dr. A. W. Tozer writes in his book, The Attributes of God – Ch. 7, Our Remoteness from God:
Two creatures may be in the same room and yet be millions of miles apart. For instance, if it were possible to put an ape and an angel in the same room, there would be no compatibility, no communion, no understanding, no friendship; there would be only distance. The shining angel and the slobbering, gibbering ape would be far, far removed from each other.
The reason we sense that God is remote is because there is a dissimilarity between moral characters. God and man are dissimilar now. God made man in His image, but man sinned and became unlike God in his moral nature. And because he is unlike God, communion is broken. … There is an alienation there—and that is exactly what the Bible calls that moral incompatibility between God and man. God is not far away in distance, but He seems to be because He is far away in character. He is unlike man because man has sinned and God is holy. The Bible has a word for this moral incompatibility, this spiritual unlikeness between man and God—alienation. 
Since the problem is spiritual deadness from offenses and since the result is alienation, then what is the answer except RECONCILIATION and REGENERATION? A starfish can regenerate its own body parts after their being severed, but a member of humanity cannot regenerate his own spirit once cut off from God. Thankfully, God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ provides both reconciliation and regeneration. By his death on the cross, Jesus provides pardon for every offense that every one has committed against God. One must believe on Christ’s ability to provide it, and so, proclaim Him as the Savior (Romans 5:10). Furthermore, Jesus spoke of being “born again” (John 3). That new birth is actually a resurrection of one’s dead spirit, and it happens when one is reconciled to God. The life-giving Holy Spirit takes up residence in the new believer (John 14:17; Ephesians 1:13) and provides His very own life there in a perfect spiritual union (1 Corinthians 6:17, 19; 2 Corinthians 5:17).  
I had little time that night in 2005 to say to Devon what I write here. Unfortunately, Devon never came to the event that week, even though he was invited. Similarly, Jesus will not turn away anyone who comes to him (John 6:37). And, God says he is not far from every one of us, if only we would “feel” for him (Acts 17:27).
God does reveal himself, even today. He is constantly using life, circumstance, the voices of believers, and seeds of truth to speak to everyone. Particularly, God declares that he speaks to us these days through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1). A voice came from Heaven when Jesus once revealed himself in his glory on a mountain top. The voice thundered out, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). And, I write as an ambassador for Christ, … “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).