Using specifications from the Bible, Answers in Genesis—a Christian apologetics ministry— has built Noah’s Ark. Spanning 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high, this reproduction is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. It rests in Williamstown Kentucky, serving as a center for education concerning Biblical history.
It cost more than 102 million dollars to build.
The project hasn’t been without criticism, with the heaviest jabs coming in from the scientific community, which challenges the literal interpretation of the Bible that the Ark Encounter espouses. An equally large part of this criticism, though, focuses on the cost of the project, and where that money could have gone rather than into the enormous wooden structure.
The financial decisions of the Christian church are under more intense examination than ever. When constructive, this criticism culls excesses and corruption, highlighting and removing that which doesn’t contribute to the Church’s mission—to represent Christ and His values, and in doing so, serve and bring healing to the world.
This outside criticism can sometimes present something of a double-standard, however.
The Christian Church, as a whole, is the largest charitable organization in the world. With that mantle comes heavy responsibility, and heavier scrutiny. From an outside perspective, it simply doesn’t make sense to spend millions of dollars on a themed attraction when those dollars could have been converted into food and shelter and medicine for the homeless, and for those suffering in third-world countries.
But what must be remembered is that these financial decisions are consistent within the Christian worldview. The problem, then, is not problematic spending, but of two separate worldviews.
Seen through the secular humanist worldview, spending 102 million dollars on a giant boat might seem ludicrous. But let’s take a deeper look at the ideology behind this decision.
Within the Christian faith, Christ teaches that the Church has a mission. Part of that mission is serving those in need—showing God’s character through love and service. Christ, in Luke 14:12, teaches that “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Service to the needy is the very heart of God, but it is only half of the Church’s mission.
The Church must also attend to those in spiritual need. In Matthew 28:19-20, Christ says to His disciples, “Going into all the world, make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you.” The Church is to not only serve those in spiritual need, but those in spiritual need, as well. This simply means acting as Christ did—allowing others the opportunity to know God. The building of the Ark Encounter attraction is simply Answers in Genesis’s way of following this edict, and within the Christian worldview, it is just as important as other kinds of outreach. While such projects may, at times, not seem practical to secular eyes, it is a vital part of the Christian mission. Founder of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, explains, saying that, “The reason we are building the ark is not as an entertainment center…it’s because we’re Christians and we want to get the Christian message out.” It’s a Biblical learning experience—a way to create disciples, as Christ commanded. For Christians, this is a command from the creator of the very universe, and not one to be ignored.
To highlight this kind of spending as a sort of cultural crime is to apply a double-standard to the Church. Millions of Americans spend money on vacations or hobbies each year rather than using that same money for charitable giving. Corporations pay for Christmas parties and social gatherings. Charitable organizations place their money into those areas they feel need the most support. And for the Christian Church, one of the greatest areas of need is a spiritual one.
If we were to take this sort of criticism to the extreme, we would all be guilty each time we went to the movies or went out to eat or bought a new book. But it doesn’t work that way—the unique missions we all have as individuals, as well as those held by larger organizations, are what make the world beautiful and diverse. The curse of utter practicality is the lack of choice—with the only path being the most “optimal”.
Humans are strange creatures. We don’t always want what’s optimal. We want to try things just to see what happens. We want to explore the stars. We want to explore the spirit. We crave choice, however impractical, and the pursuit of these choices improves the human race. To this end, when Answers in Genesis allows people the opportunity to discover Christ, whose teachings are both wise and useful, even from a secular perspective, they allow people the potential to discover joys they never knew existed. The Ark Encounter fills a niche—perhaps not a niche everyone agrees with, but one that offers much to certain populations.
This issue, though, highlights a greater problem—the growing sense of hostility between the religious and secular communities, and the misunderstandings that arise because of it. Many feel that such disparate worlds as science and religion could never mingle, but this isn’t true. They can, and do. But this false cultural war blinds both sides, and the battle rages on, each side dehumanizing and infantilizing the other, each group holding to the idea that their opponents are somehow broken and unable to comprehend the truths of the universe.
It’s time to look past that. Get to know your enemy. Strip from him the veneer of mystery and realize the truth—that he is human, just as you are. The ability and willingness to understand the worldview of others, to empathize with them, is an increasingly rare skill. With understanding—which is different from agreement—comes the ability to dialogue, and with dialogue, comes a greater sense of peace.
The controversy concerning Answers in Genesis’s spending on the Ark Encounter project can, I hope, be put to rest when the mission of the Church, and the beauty inherent to mankind's diversity, is considered. Without such spending, thousands would be deprived of the opportunity to explore their spirituality and find joy and meaning in the non-material.
I think that’s money well-spent.