The Briefing 12-16-14

The Briefing 12-16-14

The Briefing


December 16, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Tuesday, December 16, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Exodus movie underlines significance of supernaturalism and historicity to biblical worldview

It is Christmas season and that means a blockbuster movie release season, and one of the ones most discussed is Ridley Scott’s new movie Exodus: God’s and Kings and it is a very interesting movie. I saw it along with some others over the weekend and I was ready to talk about it precisely because it raises so many of the issues related to how Christians look at Hollywood, and its products, and at the intersection of the Christian worldview, and the artifacts of culture.

The movie was timed for Christmas release and it knocked the latest Hunger Games movie off of its first-place ranking and yet the Exodus movie was an under seller in terms of what had been expected. It wasn’t a critical success and thus far it hasn’t been a popular success either. My response to the movie is well encapsulated by a statement made by Eric Snyder of the GeekNation. He said,

“This big dud isn’t blasphemous enough to be outrageous, emotional enough to be inspiring, or interesting enough to be good.”

That’s kind of a pithy way of analyzing the movie and I partly agree with his first two points – I actually don’t agree with the last. I think it is an interesting movie. It’s not a movie I would suggest that mature Christians should not see, but there are big concerns with the movie and they really are very big concerns.

You’ll recall the fact that earlier this year we talked about the Darren Aronofsky movie Noah and all the problems with that movie. Basically Aronofsky tried to present Noah as a hallucinogenic homicidal maniac and then he seemed to be surprised – along with the rest of Hollywood – when Christians were offended by the very notion. Furthermore Aronofsky presented a picture of Noah that was largely invented – one of the reasons for that by the way is that the actual biblical text on Noah is relatively short, including the entire account of the flood and the Ark, which meant that anyone making a major motion picture had to invent a great deal. That’s one of the issues that makes his movie, Exodus: God’s and Kings, a good deal more biblical than Aronofsky’s take on Noah. There is, after all, a tremendous amount of biblical material on Moses and the Exodus – including a lot of dialogue and an incredible volume of detail in the text itself. That means that if Ridley Scott was going to make a movie, he had a lot more he was accountable to in terms of Scripture.

But one of the things we discussed in terms of Aronofsky’s Noah movie was the fact that Aronofsky himself described his movie as “the least biblical, biblical film ever made.” Viewing the Noah movie I felt that I simply could not recommended it in any sense for Christians, but when it comes to the Exodus movie, I’ll simply say, I think mature Christians would find it very interesting. But it also should lead to some very interesting conversations, especially among Christians, especially about not only what is in the movie but what is absent from it.

In terms of the movie being interesting and compelling, I’ll simply tell you that it was a pretty fast two hours and 20 minutes. I found myself rather surprised when the movie came to an end and it’s not a short movie. Certain parts of the movie are simply very compelling and very moving. In particular the depiction of the 10 plagues by Ridley Scott in this new movie is far more interesting and far more dramatic than anything that Cecil B. DeMille could’ve imagined in his fame movie, the classic, The 10 Commandments. That’s especially true of the last of the plagues, the death of the firstborn sons. It is not only moving, but it’s a fairly horrifying scene of divine judgment.

The critics are piling on – a couple of things to note. Critics are a rather eccentric sort, movie critics that is, and they’re not always easy to please, nor often even to predict. The second thing you need to note is that the link between the public popularity of the movie and its critical acclaim is not a one-to-one equation. Oftentimes the public likes movies that critics hate and critics love movies that the public simply doesn’t go to see. But the critics are piling onto some interesting points in terms of the Ridley Scott movie; for one thing, a racial angle. Public Radio International, published a review noting that Hollywood has a race problem in which the reviewer said this,

“Virtually all the leading roles are played by white actors, even though the ancient Egyptians were certainly not Caucasian. Ramses, the Egyptian pharaoh who enslaved the Jews in the Old Testament, is played by a white actor. In fact, the entire lead cast of ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ is white. Moses is white. Moses’ mother is white. The Egyptian prince is white. The African queen is white, too.”

I think it’s quite a legitimate point and it’s something that is quite common to Ridley Scott movies. One of the other things noted by at least some reviewers is that the lead characters in his movie sound as if they were educated at Oxford or Cambridge. One of the things Ridley Scott seems to do to try to add gravitas to his main characters is to make them sound as if they were educated in Britain. Needless to say, the skin tones and the accents simply don’t match the actual story but that’s the big issue because the movie itself doesn’t match the actual story as found in Scripture. That’s a bigger point and it’s important to see that this movie fails as a whole even more than it fails in its parts. What’s missing is the very point of Exodus in biblical history and theology, what’s missing is the truth that God acted in history in faithfulness to the covenant he had made with Abraham, rescuing Israel from captivity in Egypt. In Ridley Scott’s version, God is actually hidden from view and you don’t have any idea from this movie as to God’s purposes, motivations, or character. Instead of hearing from God, we have the vision of an 11-year-old boy – one of the most controversial aspects of the movie – who repeatedly appears to Moses as a theophany or divine appearance. God’s presumed words flow from the mouth of this 11-year-old who appears as something of an unmoved mover, that is to say he doesn’t appear to be highly emotionally involved in the entire story himself.

As for Moses, the depiction offered by actor Christian Bale grounds Moses’ sense of divine call in a severe knock to the head from a rockslide; rock hitting him in the head, leading to what might be described as an hallucination in which the 11-year-old boy speaks to Moses beside the bush that burned but was not consumed. Completely missing from the entire movie is any explanation that has God’s chosen Moses as his instrument for bringing Israel out of captivity and that God was acting in faithfulness to the covenant that he had made with Abraham. Moses instead appears as something of a tribal chieftain, a cunning general and a killing machine rooted in what Scott presents as Moses’ experience as a great general during his life as a prince of Egypt – something by the way that simply isn’t found in the Scripture whatsoever. Moses never in the movie seems to understand a divine purpose beyond his military exploits, and his relationship with God is troubled to say the very least. But wait just a minute, even in the Bible Moses’ relationship with God is troubled we might say, to say the very least. And yet in the Bible Moses is always placed within the context of his calling and his calling is always placed within the context of God’s covenant. Even though Moses is judged by God and unable to leave the children of Israel into Canaan, into the Promised Land, he is honored as one who in the end followed God and did what God called and commissioned him to do. The entire story of Moses is revealed in Scripture as one of God’s providential plan to rescue his children Israel from their captivity to Pharaoh in Egypt. The movie eventually leaves viewers with a view of Moses riding alongside what must be the Ark of the Covenant as Israel moves on from the parting of the Red Sea. But the Ark is never identified, nor, by the way, is the covenant itself.

Before the movie was released we already had advance warning of exactly the kind of approach that Christian Bale, and more importantly Ridley Scott, were taking in terms of the movie. Ridley Scott made clear that he didn’t believe that Moses had ever lived and that the Exodus account was not to be taken as historically true. He told Religion News Service that he looked at the film much as he looked at the entire genre of science fiction:

“‘Cause I never believed in it, I had to convince myself every step of the way as to what did make sense and what didn’t make sense and where I could reject and accept. And therefore I had to come to my own decisions and internal debates.”

Accordingly Ridley Scott presents the plagues and miracles as non-supernatural events with a naturalistic explanation. Unlike Cecil B. DeMille, Scott offered no vision of a supernatural miracle of the Red Sea. He described his own dilemma in these words,

“So I have to part the Dead Sea and I’m not going to part the Dead Sea because I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I can part the Dead Sea and keep shimmering water on each side. I’m an absolutely very, very practical person. So I was immediately thinking that all science-based elements placed come from natural order or disorder–or could come from the hand of God, however you want to play that.”

Presumably Ridley Scott meant Red Sea not Dead Sea, but in the end he played it all in naturalistic terms – or at least he did his very best to do so. The most interesting aspect of the film in this respect was the role played by the nervous vizier in service to Ramses. This character does his very best to offer a strictly naturalistic explanation for the succession of plagues; trying to calm the Pharaoh about his fears that something even worse might be coming. This vizier appears as something of an ancient demythologizing; trying to say I know that’s what it looks like but let’s not read this is as a supernatural event. He offered natural explanations involving red clay in the Nile, and a complicated series of basically environmental plagues that followed. Those explanations, I would say, would be familiar to anyone versed in the liberal Bible scholarship of the last 200 years.

As Ridley Scott tells the story, the real event at the Red Sea was the receding of the waters due to a tsunami after an earthquake. Let’s just say that’s not exactly what you read in the book of Exodus. But Scott simply can’t be as anti-supernatural as he wants to be and that becomes apparent in the film especially in terms of the 10th and final plague – the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt. Because even as he attempted some kind of naturalistic explanation for those other plagues, when it came to the death Angel he had no choice but to play it supernaturally – to use his own phrase – and played it he did. And it is, I must tell you, one most compelling scenes I think I’ve ever seen on film. Seeing it not only as a viewer and as a Christian but as a father, it is a horrifying scene of divine judgment. No one in the film, nor does the goal itself, try to offer any demythologizing understanding of that final plague.

As much as Ridley Scott wanted it to be non-supernatural when it comes to telling the story of the Exodus he actually can’t help bringing in the supernatural elements and Christians understand why. When it comes to Moses as the character in the film, of course he was played by actor Christian Bale, he told ABC’s Nightline program stunningly enough that Moses in his view was, “one of the most barbaric individuals that I’ve ever read about in my life.” That leaves with some obvious questions, including the question, what exactly does Christian Bale read? Evidently not much because when it comes to Moses what is presented in the Scripture is not barbaric at all. But always becomes clear later in the interview that Christian Bale did with ABC’s Nightline when it’s clear that he thinks that Moses was behind the plagues rather than God. And that’s a rather confusing thing because in the actual movie the 11-year-old boy who appears as the theophany or appearing of God simply express frustration with Moses that he’s not leading the Exodus fast enough and with reference to the coming plagues tells Moses simply to watch.

Christians looking at the movie will also want to understand that this movie is put in terms of our cultural conversation the issue of the historicity of Moses and the trustworthiness of Scripture right front and center. We’re looking at those questions and the culture now can’t escape them because this movie presents them. The movie presents them both by how it tells the story and how it miss tells the story. And interestingly the conversation in both the United States and Great Britain, where the movie is already out in release, has brought these issues to the fore.

Andrew Brown writing in The Guardian, that’s a liberal London newspaper, wrote an entire essay on how the movie demonstrates that even though Moses, according to him, didn’t exist and the Exodus didn’t happen, what we have to do is to separate truth from history. Brown simply wrote,

“There is no historical figure of Moses, and no reason from archaeology or history to suppose any of the exodus story is true.”

Now before we go any further, let’s just stipulate this: we are not dependent upon external historical or archaeological corroboration for the historicity of the biblical accounts. That’s especially true in the Old Testament where quite frankly the historical and archaeological evidence for everything that happened in the ancient world is very scant and sparse. That’s a good thing for evangelical Christians to keep in mind. We believe in the authority of Scripture not the authority of Scripture after it’s been corroborated by some effort of historians or archaeologists. In his article Andrew Brown wrote,

“Since the central rite of Jewish identity is the Passover festival, which commemorates the moment that Moses freed his people from slavery in Egypt, the absence of evidence outside the Bible story is potentially embarrassing, [that was said by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner], who leads Reform Judaism in this country [the Rabbi said]: ‘When I heard for the first time that the exodus might not have happened, I did want to weep … then I thought, what does this matter? You have to distinguish between truth and historicity.’”

Well that’s the great liberal conceit, that you can – much less must – separate truth, in this case, from historicity. Not when the Bible is making very clear historical claims, the Bible essentially, unavoidably, irrevocably, makes the historical claim that Moses was a real person and that the Exodus really happened. The entire history of the Bible, especially the history of Israel, makes very clear the historicity of the Exodus and of Moses is front and center; it’s paramount and nonnegotiable.

Andrew Brown goes on in his article to cite an entire realm of Jewish authorities as arguing that it really doesn’t matter to Judaism if Moses ever existed. Now he cites even an Orthodox rabbi who said that he’s not sure that Moses did exist but he is sure that the giving of the law happened. Andrew Brown notes that Orthodox Jews have to affirm the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible. That raises the obvious question, at least it would seem to any fair-minded viewer or reader, and that’s this, how can you have Mosaic authorship without Moses? But I’ll let Jewish authorities debate that one. I think it’s probably fair to say that that Orthodox rabbi is not fully representative of Orthodox Judaism.

The fact remains that even if the historical Moses is not central to contemporary Judaism, at least by some Jewish accounts, the historical Moses is vital and essential to Christianity. Moses is a central character in the Bible’s narrative of Israel and the metanarrative of the gospel itself. Jesus, we should note, is presented in Scripture as the new Moses – leading his people out of captivity to sin. Moses is a divinely commissioned lawgiver; Christ Jesus is the divine Savior who perfectly fulfills the law and redeems sinful humanity. The Bible clearly presents the Exodus as history and the history of Christianity is built upon that historic foundation.

In the final analysis perhaps the best way to understand Ridley Scott’s movie Exodus is to understand Ridley Scott’s own words because he also told RNS,

“Any liberties I may have taken in terms of how I show this stuff was, I think, pretty safe ground because I’m always going always from what is the basis of reality, never fantasy….So the film had to be as real as I could make it.”

As real, in other words, as Ridley Scott’s version of “this stuff” as he says could have been presented “from what is the basis of reality” in so far as Ridley Scott defines reality. What we see in the film is Moses without the supernatural, in his own words, that is Ridley Scott’s own words, that’s how he decided to ‘play it.’ It turns out the real vizier is none other than Ridley Scott.

2) Lack of controversy over atheist billboard campaign in Deep South positive sign of Southern piety

Speaking of demythologizing or trying to secularize the culture and its narratives, a very interesting article appeared in terms of several newspapers both in the United States and United Kingdom about the group known as American Atheists, launching what is described as a provocative billboard campaign in the deep South in the United States. Peter Foster reports,

“Atheist activists are taking their campaigns to the Bible Belt this Christmas with a provocative billboard campaign that is expected to stir controversy in America’s religious heartlands.”

Now I chose this particular source to look at this story because The Telegraph has published in Great Britain, which in its highly secularized state doesn’t have any region like the American South which might be compared to it, thus Britain’s reading this news article must find it something of a puzzlement. Peter Foster’s report continues,

“The giant advertising hoardings in the Tennessee cities of Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Fort Smith, Arkansas show a mischievous-looking young girl writing her letter to Father Christmas: ‘Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales,’”

According to Foster the advertising campaign by the atheist group, again known as American Atheists will run until Christmas Eve and is,

“…the first time the group has aimed its anti-God adverts directly at residential religious areas, having previously targeted urban audiences in big venues such as Times Square in New York.”

In other words, leaving the more secular city of New York for the more deeply inherently evangelical regions of the Deep South.

There are a couple of interesting little tidbit in this article. For one thing, the atheist group is unable to find a single billboard site in Jackson, Mississippi – no one as willing to rent them the billboard space. They called this hostility,

“The fact that billboard companies would turn away business because they are so concerned about the reaction by the community shows just how much education and activism on behalf of atheists is needed in the South,”

That was said by Danielle Muscato, identified as the head of American Atheists. Completely missing from this analysis is the fact that perhaps these billboard companies simply didn’t want to rent space to atheist for this kind of message. Again the British context is shocked by the religiosity, not only of the American South but of America. As the article cites,

“America remains deeply religious relative to Europe, with not a single self-professed atheist among the 535 members of the US Congress. US presidential candidates are also expected to believe in God.”

The most interesting aspect of this article, from a worldview perspective, is the fact that the atheists are looking for controversy and they’re not finding much. The articles about the controversy are appearing more in secular Europe and in secular American cities than in the Deep South where the American atheist group had the intent to outrage. That probably says something good about piety in the American South where even though there are very few atheists it turns out that most Southerners aren’t intending to do anything dramatic about billboards that appear trumpeting an atheist theme even a Christmas. It does tell us a great deal that European observers are shocked by the fact that such a thing might be controversy in the first place and they seem to be somewhat disappointed at the lack of any kind of actual controversy on the ground where the billboards have appeared.

And that leads to the last observation. Should we fight fire with fire? From the Christian worldview perspective, as we are ordered in Scripture always to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us, we should be always ready with a bold and compassionate winsome witness to the gospel, we should always be ready with arguments for the faith that is the ground of our hope. But there is no Christian insistence; there is no biblical mandate, to go picking fights with those wanting to pick fights with us. And when it comes to war of the billboards, quite frankly, it’s probably not very conducive to either side of the argument. One of the interesting things about this is that the American atheist group evidently, according to this article, thinks they’ll make some headway with this kind of a billboard, even appearing in the Deep South.

But the reality is there not making a great deal of headway elsewhere with this kind of billboard either. This really isn’t just a southern thing, even as The Telegraph notes, there isn’t one single openly atheist member of the United States House of Representatives or Senate – whether from the South or from the north or any spot from the East or West or in-between.

3) Widespread acceptance of nativity story reveals Americans not as secular as they believe

But that leads to another great distinction between the United States and Europe, or the United States and Great Britain in particular, as is made clear by report from Pew Research Religion in Public Life Project that came out just early this week. It has to do with the fact that over 60% of Americans believe all of the Christmas story to be true, historically true, true as if it took place in space and time and history.

According to the report and I quote,

“The new survey also suggests that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.”

Now looking at those statistics there is a stunning gap between United States and secular Europe on these issues. Even though it is accurate to say that there are deep and abiding secularizing trends in the United States, even as those secularizing trends appear to be increasing in terms of velocity, there is still a deep commitment to the Christian worldview that becomes apparent even amongst those Americans who are not confessing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the most interesting portion of the Pew Study, 65% of all US adults surveyed believe that all of the historical aspects of the Christian story are true: the virgin birth, the journey of the Magi, the Angels announcement to the shepherds, and the manger story – they are all according to pew believed to reflect events that actually happened. Now how should Christians armed with a Christian worldview look to this? A couple of quick things; In the first place we should not gain false assurance from this. The fact that eight out of 10 Americans believe that Jesus Christ was conceded to a virgin, the fact that six out of 10 Americans believe that all the Christmas story is revealed in the Gospels took place does not mean that outside of the Christmas season that Americans are giving a great deal of thought to these truths in which they say they believe or that they’ve had any effect on them to the point of a personal confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

But the second thing that also needs to be said, even in an increasingly secular America, Americans aren’t nearly as secular as many actually claim themselves to be. The economist often speak about rent seeking, in which people gain advantages from other people who are actually carrying the freight and paying the costs. That’s exactly what’s taking place in terms of American culture. Where the vast majority of Americans say they at least believe in the truth of the Christian faith, even if they don’t consider themselves Christians, they apparently have some sense in which they are dependent upon the truth of Christianity even if they’re not themselves committed to the Christian faith.

Christians looking at this kind of research shouldn’t have an overconfidence in the fact that this means that the vast majority of Americans are believing Christians – it just means that the vast majority of Americans believe in the truth of something about Christianity. But this does point to an enormous chasm between America and our European cousins. There is a true secularism that is deeply infected and is now shaping the culture there pervasively and comprehensively. It isn’t taking place here yet. Thoughtful and intelligent Christians understand the importance of this kind of research and understanding it in truly gospel terms.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at There you’ll find for example a full written version of my review of Ridley Scott’s Exodusmovie. You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Exodus movie underlines significance of supernaturalism and historicity to biblical worldview

Moses Without the Supernatural — Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings”,

Hollywood has a race problem — and it’s on display in Ridley Scott’s new movie ‘Exodus’, PRI (T.J. Raphael)

Christian Bale and Ridley Scott talk religion and ‘Exodus’: An RNS interview, Religion News Service (Jonathan Merritt)

Christian Bale on Studying Moses: He Was a ‘Freedom Fighter’ for Hebrews, ‘Terrorist’ to Egyptian Empire, ABC Nightline

Man versus myth: does it matter if the Moses story is based on fact?, The Guardian (Andrew Brown)

2) Lack of controversy over atheist billboard campaign in Deep South positive sign of Southern piety

American Atheists launch provocative campaign in religious Deep South, The Telegraph (Peter Foster)

3) Widespread acceptance of nativity story reveals Americans not as secular as they believe

Most Say Religious Holiday Displays on Public Property Are OK, Pew Research Center

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).