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Does the church need Superman?

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Man of Steel
Zach Snyder, director

Superman is not a newcomer to pop culture. This displaced super-powered alien made his first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938. (Looks pretty good for his age, doesn’t he?) Over the years, writers have depicted Superman differently depending on current trends: he has taken on Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, even world hunger. There’s no doubt modern audiences will go see the new film Man of Steel (Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures) to be wowed by the action and larger-than-life scenarios, but superhero franchises have learned that audiences also expect comic movies to reflect meaningful social themes.

Past movies have insinuated that Superman is a Christ-like figure. This film, however, is marketed directly to Christians as a tool to engage in spiritual discussion. Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. actually invited pastors to free screenings, and created a sermon outline and conversation guides.

Parallels to Christ

This is a story of a child of special birth, with immense power, raised in a humble setting by surrogate parents. At age 33, he willingly surrenders his life to save humanity from evil at the direction of his true father. In an article featured on CNN.com one pastor said, “When I sat and listened to the movie I actually saw it was the story of Christ, and that the love of God was weaved into the story.”

However, there’s a humanistic vein running throughout this film. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is surrounded by self-doubt, wandering around in various jobs trying to find his place in the world. Hesitant to use his supernatural abilities out of fear of being rejected, he wonders, “Why would God do this to me?”

Living into identity

Eventually, he discovers his true identity (Kal-El from the extinct planet Krypton) and is introduced to a holographic projection of his real father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe). Clark returns to Kansas, in turmoil over a memory of his earthly father’s (Kevin Costner) advice, “You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be because whoever that man is, good character or bad, he is going to change the world.”

When other survivors of Krypton threaten Earth, Clark must decide who he will be. Will he remain hidden or surrender himself to save humanity? While contemplating this decision, he visits a church. With an image of Christ in the background, he asks: “If there is a chance that I can save the world by turning myself in, shouldn’t I take it? [General] Zod (Michael Shannon) can’t be trusted; the problem is I’m not sure the people of Earth can be either.” Receiving advice from a priest and Jor-El, Superman is left to choose between saving the remnants of Kryptonian civilization or the people of Earth. Which kingdom is more deserving of being saved?

A message to Christians?

Whether accurate to the identity of Christ or not, spiritual parallels are embedded in the film. Why would filmmakers address such ideas in the first place? Has society finally realized its need for a savior? Is this merely crass marketing to a lucrative Christian demographic?

Both ideas have merit, but here is another thought. Do the filmmakers intend to communicate a subversive message to Christians? Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.” Christians are often perceived to be judgmental, especially in recent social debates, whereas Jesus is perceived to be a friend of sinners. In a sense, this film could be asking Christians why they are not more like their Saviour. It’s not a bad question. As followers of Christ, all of us could stand to be more like Jesus: known by what we are for, rather than what we are against; better friends to those around us.

Clark Kent can barely cope with the emotional trials of his own life, let alone the sin of the entire world. In that, he is as powerless as the rest of us. Are we content with someone that may save our lives, or do we want someone who can save our souls?

We have a responsibility to show the world that Jesus is not just a Saviour, but also a king. He will address sin and ultimately hold us all accountable. That is the only way the world can be truly saved.

Danny Ferguson is the area director for Youth Unlimited (Youth For Christ) in Langley, B.C. He is a graduate of Columbia Bible College, attends Jericho Ridge Community Church, and is an avid comic book reader. He loves being a husband to April and father to Joe, Avery, Micah, and Caleb. Danny blogs at www.proyouthworker.com.

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