Let’s assume everyone meant well.
There was no strategic attempt by Warner Bros Studios to win a broad Christian audience in order to drive up ticket sales. The prolific allusions to Superman as a Christ figure in the new movie – Man of Steel – actually represent a genuine artistic statement.
Convinced this movie would radically transform our culture for good, Warner Bros hired Grace Hill Media, a Hollywood-based Christian marketing firm, to reach out and enlist pastors in this worthy cause, offering them free early screenings of the movie.
There was nothing mercenary going on when ministryresouce.com created a “Man of Steel” ministry resource site for pastors. They were providing a genuine service to pastors when they made sermon outlines available for preaching Sunday sermons based on the movie, as well as a nine page pamphlet for pastors – Jesus the Original Superhero – designed to “educate and uplift the congregation.”
Here’s an excerpt:
“Superman‘s mythical origins are rooted in the timeless reality of a spiritual superhero who also lived a modest life until extraordinary times required a supernatural response… Jesus was sent by his Father to bear our burdens, to right our wrongs, to rise above our troubling circumstances.”
“How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the greatest hero who ever lived and died and rose again? Let’s consider how Superman’s humble origins, his high calling and his transforming sacrifice point us towards Jesus, the original superhero.”
Let’s assume Professor Craig Detweiler of Pepperdine University meant well when wrote the text for this pamphlet, as he explained after receiving some amount of criticism in it’s wake:
“I acknowledge that Superman sermon notes are definitely not for every pastor or church setting. But for those Christians trying to figure out how to respond to our cultural exile, Man of Steel creates a fascinating opportunity.”
Jesus and Superman? What’s up with this strange, Hollywood orchestrated, gospel blend?
There are hints at gospel themes here, for sure, but central points are at odds. As Ben Witherington notes: “Jesus saves the world by dying for it, whereas Superman saves the world by violence and mayhem and flying around.” Something doesn’t add up.
Here is an awkward mix of pop culture, hero mythology, altruism, and Jesus – with lots of ideas pulled from the gospel stories, but the central point of the gospel message is left out.
This isn’t the Jesus of the Gospels. This is the Jesus of Marvel Comics. This is Jesus imagined. This is how the gospel gets muddled.
Muddle: Mud / dle – verb. To mix up in a confused or bungling manner; jumble
If any figure who dies and returns; any figure who offers sacrifice in any way; any figure who comes from another world to do good, is a Christ figure, then how is Jesus all that different from so many of our movie heroes? At what point does Superman become less like Jesus and Jesus more like superman? What’s commonly lost in these glib associations is the difference between sacrifice and atonement. And atonement, is the main point.
Derek Rishmawy says of Superman:
The salvation he offers us is that of a shining exemplar, not a redeeming Savior. Yes, he sacrifices himself for us and fights the battle we could never fight, against a ruthless enemy we could not beat. And yet, like so many other popular Hollywood Messiah figures, the goal is that one day he can teach us, inspire us, when we’re ready, to live a new a better way. In a sense, he saves, yes by feats of strength and moral courage, but the redemption of mankind will come by way of imitation. There is no atonement, or conversion, for Superman is the heroic, morally-educative Pelagian Christ who teaches us to save ourselves.
When Hollywood starts writing Christ into Superman movies and giving free sermon outlines to pastors, something tells me the light of gospel truth isn’t about to shine any brighter.
So get your popcorn and drink, and settle in for a blockbuster blend of pop culture, generic spirituality and gospel themes: Hollywood style. Then shake it off and hang on tight to the full revelation of the gospel of Christ in God’s Word. Once again, you’re in that age old epic battle for your heart and mind: God revealed vs. God imagined. Through it all, may God help us to see Jesus for who he truly is, that we might love and trust him as we truly should.