Jesus Is The Man Of Steel?


This weekend I went to see Man of Steel.

I liked it. Didn’t love it.

Actually, I was kind of disappointed.

Going in, I heard over and over again about how much Jesus imagery there was in the movie. So, naturally, being an ordained minister, I prepared myself to lead the audience in an altar call following the movie.

Unfortunately, Man of Steel didn’t turn out to be quite the modern reinterpretation of the gospel I was led to believe, or which Warner Bros. hoped pastors would believe to help them sell more tickets.

Was there some Jesusy stuff in the movie? Sure. Superman has a unique birth, he sort of sacrifices himself to save the world but not really, there’s a not so subtle moment where he’s sitting in church in front of a stained glass image of Jesus, and there’s another scene where he hovers in a sort of crucifix position.

Past that I didn’t really see the Jesus connection.

Ok, that’s not exactly true. I didn’t see a Jesus-type character in the movie, but I did see the type of character most of us want Jesus to be.

Superman is the American Jesus.

He’s the quintessential American hero who leaps over every obstacle, ignoring international boundaries to fly in to beat up the bad guy and save the day….while doing no small amount of damage along the way…..which he’s apparently not responsible for.

He’s the incarnation of the big, strong, good looking, take no prisoners archetype we idolize in America and which so many of us wish we could be.

He’s also nothing like the real Jesus.

Superman flies in at the speed of sound, flashy red cape in tow.

The real Jesus comes in humble and meek, riding on a donkey.

Superman is invincible.

The real Jesus was pierced for our transgression and crushed for our iniquities

Superman kills his enemies or at least beats them to a bloody pulp.

When it came time for the real Jesus to confront his enemies and save the day, he died for them.

If anything, Jesus was the anti-Superman.

I think few of us would admit to our affinity for a Superman Jesus rather than the real deal, but think about how we usually talk about and portray the real Jesus. It doesn’t matter what it is, if Jesus did it, he would be the best at it. When we portray him in movies and plays, he’s always a toned, good looking guy. And just like Superman, we wait and expect Jesus to save the day whenever and wherever we need him to with no help from us.

The sad and unfortunate truth is that for many of us the Jesus of the gospels has been replaced by one of our own creation who fulfills all our desires and behaves just like we would if we had God-like power.

In a lot of ways, we’re just like Jesus’ Jewish audience in the gospels. We’re looking for someone else, something else. Something bigger, better, stronger.

Jesus was a poor outcast, but we recast him as a conquering king, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but we fight them in his name. Jesus declares it the poor who are blessed, but we lust after the American dream, Jesus bids us come and die, but e do everything we can to keep out of harm and stay alive.

Don’t get me wrong.

There’s a lot of times I wish Jesus was a lot more like Superman and would come flying in to save the day every time I need him too.

But Jesus is no man of steel.

He’s a man of the cross.

And maybe that’s a good thing, because if Jesus really was like Superman that “go and do likewise” stuff would be a whole heck of a lot harder than it already is.


Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • jwhawthorne

    Zack: Last week I met Tom Krattenmaker, the author of The Evangelicals You Don’t Know. It’s a good book about changing patterns in evangelicalism — he’s a non-evangelical but has a great read on what’s going on. (I’ll introduce you on twitter in a minute).

    The other day, he had this piece in USA Today: This paragraph got my attention — “Orchestrated by Grace Hill Media, a public relations firm focused largely on the Christian market, the Superman campaign equips pastors with sermon outlines, Man of Steel photos and film clips, and free pastor screenings. “Superman’s mythical origins,” the sermon notes say, “are rooted in the timeless reality of a spiritual superhero who also lived a modest life until extraordinary times required a supernatural response. … How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the greatest hero who ever lived and died and rose again?””

    So I tweeted Tom and asked if the Jesus hype in the previews had been orchestrated by Grace Hill Media (a hilarious moniker BTW given the Christian Romance genre of years past). He forwarded my question on the the guy at GHM but I got no response. Makes me wonder how close I was.

    I’m still going to see the movie, but maybe with less trepidation than I would have if the Superman messiah theme ran throughout.

    By the way, there some great Emile Durkheim in your American Jesus takedown.


    • ZackHunt

      I’d say you’re pretty close. I don’t mind the reaching out to church’s part as much when its something explicit like Passion of the Christ, though it still feels a bit dirty to me. But a movie like this that has nothing to do with Jesus just feels like pandering and manipulation.

    • Phil Snyder

      I saw one of the “free pastor screenings.” You have to remember that the originators of Superman were Jewish, so the messianic figure portrayed is the Jewish one. Even his name is Jewish – “Kal-El.” “El” is the Jewish name for “God.”

      But I don’t go to the movies to see Christianity. I go to the movies to be entertained. If I find something I can use in a sermon, then fine. But the vast majority of time I don’t draw sermon examples from fictional life.

  • Matt Appling

    Funny, that was the comment a friend in church made – the enormous amount of collateral damage that is created in the process of “saving the world.”

    • ZackHunt

      Dude, seriously. I realize this is the nerd in me but the whole time I’m thinking “Holy crap, how expensive and how long is it going to clean up that mess??”



    • ZackHunt

      Thanks, glad you liked it!

  • Courtney @ Neighborfood

    I also saw Man of Steel this weekend and left terribly disappointed, and even a little upset. There are many things I didn’t enjoy about the movie (hello, never ending punch fests through NYC), but what I thought the movie really lacked was smarts. I could see in the beginning how they may try to tell a Savior story, but by the end it was apparent this was just a “whoever’s got the biggest muscles wins” story. I would have loved to see a more intelligent and thoughtful battle. One where words and creativity give Superman the upper hand, rather than just brute strength and anger. At the end, I had a hard time believing Superman would really be a symbol of hope for the universe. Is that what hope looks like? The destruction of NYC and some villages on the other side of the world? Is that the man I want to put my trust in? Oy. Rant over. You are so right on with this post. Thanks for sharing.

    • ZackHunt

      “I thought the movie really lacked was smarts.”

      That was my problem with it too. I thought there were some great parts to it, but that was the missing piece of the puzzle that would have made it a great movie.

  • Geoff Warder

    The original Superman story was meant to be a Messianic story (from a Jewish perspective). The original writers meant it to be “as Jesus should have been” to be the Messiah. The Jews believe in a Messiah that is a military deliverer to rescue on a physical level. This is where Jesus threw them for a loop because He fulfilled the law by establishing a spiritual kingdom.

    • Geoff Warder

      As far as the move goes, though, it was great. Def better than the last one!

      • ZackHunt

        Oh ya, I agree. I actually didn’t hate the last one, but this one was much, much better.

  • Geoff Warder

    Its a great point about if Jesus was like Superman the “go do likewise” part would be really hard. Superman is really like you said, more of the American Jesus – saves the day by killing or beating up our enemies and tells us to just stay out of the way.

  • KCMcGinnis

    This is spot on. My only disagreement is that I think the messianic references were far too obvious (even if they were depictions of a distorted messiah). I made a list of movies that do a better job of weaving in spiritual themes without being so heavy-handed:
    What would you add to it?

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  • Me

    Don’t forget he was 33

    • ZackHunt

      Ahh!! Good call. I totally forgot that part. That’s what happens when you write blog posts at midnight. :)

  • April Terry

    It’s so nice to hear someone who mirrors what I was thinking. I liked the movie, but I have a hard time trying to insert Jesus into it and frankly, why do we need to?

  • Rick Dawson

    Zack – a friend steered me to your blog and this post, specifically. I’m not a fan of any of the superhero franchises – couldn’t say why, exactly, aside from the fact that no superhero have ever appeared in my life other than the fictional type that I read as a child and pretty much left there. I’ve seen the Christopher Reeves Superman flicks, a few of the X-Men ones, a few of the Batman ones – entertaining? Sure – but I learned a long time back never to get either my history or my theology from Hollywood.

    Loved your post :)

    I’ll save my ducats for something that isn’t targeted at me as a follower of Christ by a marketing outfit, and I’ll leave the comics where they belong – in my childhood.

  • Jim Porterfield

    Remember that when Jesus was on Earth, he was in “Clark Kent” mode – and even then he was no pacifist push-over. With a home made whip he was able to send multitudes running in the temple market place (John 2). He said of himself in Matt. 10:34 and Luke 12:49, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You seem to forget that Jesus was, is, and always will be the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Captain of angel armies. Collateral damage? In the build up to Armageddon 2/3rds of earth’s population is wiped out, mountains crumble, kingdoms fall… And about those enemies of His? The Armageddon valley runs bridle deep in the blood of them in the final battle. With one puff from His mouth He will blow Satan into the deepest corner of hell. When Jesus shows up in His fullness he’ll make Superman look like a gnat! Kudos to the creators of “Man of Steel.” My entire family loved it and, when I preach this Sunday, I’ll be using it to help the congregation get a [tiny] glimpse of how amazing and powerful Jesus really is and why we can depend on Him.

    • ZackHunt

      So where does the cross fit into all of that?

      • Jim Porterfield

        In “Man of Steel” there is a moment when Clark is being threatened and mocked while he sits with his back against the fence. As the scene closes it is made obvious that, despite the fact that he did not fight back, he had more than sufficient strength to protect himself. He chose not to for the sake of a greater good. In Matthew 26:53 Jesus assures Peter that, if Christ chose to do so, he could have had more than 12 legions (>72,000) angels at his defense. He chose not to for a greater good — yours. Admittedly, there a limits to how “the Man of Steel” can represent Christ. The Man of Steel never really had to die to save the world from annihilation …Jesus did.

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  • Matt Slater

    In reading your post, I was inspired to see the good that this movie does for us in Christian culture. So first, thanks! And second let me know what you think.

  • karlkroger

    As an action film fan and non-violent Jesus follower, I often find myself feeling rather torn about violent movies where justice prevails. Your critique is important for us to remember. I also appreciated the wonderful ways in which the film reveals Clark’s struggles with his identity, the nature of his relationship with his father’s, and the affirmations of a imperfect human race.

  • Brett FISH Anderson

    Great post. At the risk of a really painfully bad pun I would say you nailed it. Saw the imagery in the movie and guessed that was what they were trying to do, but didn’t for a second confuse Him with the Jesus i know and follow although can see how especially in Americaland that could be a natural go to place.

    Well written, thankx for sharing. I did see a few clips in there that will definitely be making their way into powerpoint preaches for the next couple of years though, for sure.

  • Zee Kleshchar

    I haven’t yet watched the movie, but I can somewhat imagine what it will be like (I do plan on going to see it anyway). But what I can say – it’s not just an American Dream. I am a Ukrainian, and I have lived my entire life here (albeit having too many US friends rubbed off). The longing for an invincible Superman who would come and save the day is universal.

    I think it is because we initially were created with a Savior in mind – we just prefer to have something we can see or imagine (like Israelites with their golden calf). So when we see superheroes, we immediately connect that image on the screen / comic book with that deep longing within us.

    Superman isn’t Jesus and wasn’t meant to be, but in him we can catch a glimpse of who God is. We just need to channel that image properly so that we don’t end up worshipping a comic book character and forget about the real Jesus.

  • DanWhitehead

    Superman was created by Siegel and Shuster, two second generation Jewish immigrants, so it would be strange if they’d created a Christ metaphor. From being sent away in a (space) basket to fighting to save his adopted people, he’s very clearly a riff on Moses.