Superman: Sermon Notes from Exile
Why I wrote sermon notes for a blockbuster Hollywood film.

I wrote the Sermon Notes for the recent Man of Steel blockbuster film. Thousands of pastors took the time to visit a website, enter their address, and download the notes. I am glad that many have found the parallels (and distinctions) drawn between the life of Jesus and the myth of Superman helpful. Countless moviegoers from different faith traditions (or lack thereof) noticed the rather obvious connections between Jesus of Nazareth and Kal-El of Krypton. Hopefully, such comparisons do not detract from either story. My sermon notes were designed to connect (and separate) the superhero film from the enduring testimony regarding Jesus.

Nevertheless, some see the structuring of a sermon around a blockbuster movie as everything that's wrong with church in the 21st century. It is compromised and compromising. Why would we surrender a sacred service to a secular movie?

As someone who likes his church services slow, low-fi, and ancient in origin, I can see why the inclusion of clips from any upcoming movie might be distracting and disturbing. I don't think my sermon notes are appropriate for all congregations and contexts.

I appreciate the desire to keep our churches pure, to keep out foreign idols, to resist the influence of Hollywood. I respect what I see as an Amish commitment to keep things simple. While many churches discuss evangelistic strategies, I always smile when I think about the Amish method. How much do they spend on advertising or outreach activities? The Amish live out their faith so distinctively that tourists make special trips to Lancaster County to photograph them! How cool to think that Christians could be so unique that others will take vacation time just to watch us practice our faith.

I also value the sacramental church tradition that connects worshippers with the otherworldly, sensory aspects of our faith. In Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox settings, the "smells and bells" are designed to take us to a higher plane, to follow a church calendar connected to eternity. Everything builds towards the Eucharist—all is in service of that wondrous "foretaste of glory divine."

The vast majority of Protestant churches are designed around a message. They build not towards the table, but towards the sermon—where the text of life is put into dialogue with the norming norm provided by the word of God. Some pastors place themselves under scripture by adhering to a lectionary. Plenty have decided to create sermon series connected around a particular book of the Bible or maybe a theme. They may preach about a contemporary issue in an effort to connect the truth of scripture to the situation of their congregation. Contextualization and cultural interpretation are essential skills for pastors adopting this approach.

June 18, 2013

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

Chris Oakes

June 24, 2013  9:09am

Here's a different reason for not buying in to the Superman Sermon fad: Movie gross (USA) through 6/23: $210,006,000 Average price of movie ticket: $7.96 Est. # of attendees: 26,382,663 Est. population of USA: 316,115,511 % of USA pop. attending: 8% So, for every 100 people sitting in the congregation - better yet, out of every 100 people in your city - only 8 people on average have seen the new Superman movie. Even if you assume that for every person who has seen it, 2 more people would have liked to see it and another 2 people even remotely care about it, you would be preaching a sermon about a topic which 3 out of 5 people care nothing about. Surely there's a better sermon with a better chance of connecting.

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Tim Herndon

June 20, 2013  2:03am

I think what you are doing is wonderful. How can the Church be salt and light if we are too afraid of becoming like culture to engage it with the very real kingdom of God that Jesus himself says we are part of? God is not in a box & our western view of church & Jesus in many ways is more religion than reality of the person & work of Jesus & his kingdom. I'm excited that there are others who love Jesus & therefore love culture enough to engage it from within its own art and ideals while at the same time letting the truth of the gospel reach people as God opens up people to the truth. If there is any resounding truth I've learned in my short, mistake-laden, grace-filled 30 years on planet earth, it is this: NEVER LIMIT GOD.

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Esther O'Reilly

June 19, 2013  10:50pm

Your "Amish" comments are amusing, albeit hopelessly condescending. Do you really think this is about warding off the evil impure outside worldliness of a dumb popcorn flick? It's not. This is about having an artistic tin ear. Bluntly put, the idea of writing serious sermons structured around Superman... is silly. I could understand working _Chariots of Fire_ or _Schindler's List_ into a sermon. But Superman? You have got to be kidding me. Just because we're Christians doesn't mean we can't tell good art from bad art.

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June 19, 2013  1:34pm

"For from him and through him and to him are all things." Surely, "all things" includes Superman.

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