November 18, 2013

The Missing Epistle of Paul to Smallville

by Clint Archer

 “If Superman were real, since he was born on Krypton and not a descendant of Adam, would he have a sin nature?”

I have been asked this type of hypothetical question on occasion while trying to have a meaningful conversation with an unbeliever about the gospel. Some of the atheists I encounter are very well versed in theology and Scripture, and have dismissed the gospel after what they consider to be thoughtful enquiry. They may express their disdain for gospel by posing conundrums meant to expose the inadequacy of the gospel, or an apparent inconsistency in my theology.Superman

By the time I am fully engaged in a gospel presentation I tend to get quite caught up in it. I really want the person to believe and repent, and for a moment, I forget that their salvation isn’t up to me, but the Holy Spirit. So, I have fallen into a trap most level-headed Calvinists wouldn’t. I have attempted to answer the proffered puzzle, so that I can show how consistent Christian theology is, and how the Bible is sufficient to answer every metaphysical question.

The problem is, it’s not. The Bible cannot answer every question relating to life and godliness—only the ones that actually have answers.

C. S. Lewis, with his towering apologetic intellect could also not answer questions that were posed to him by academic peers, such as “Can God make a square circle?” In A Grief Observed Lewis wrote with relieving candor,

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.”

Or in The Problem of Pain he said simply…

Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

Most sane evangelists would simply answer by saying, “Since Superman isn’t real, this doesn’t matter, let’s get back to talking about you and your sin and how Jesus died so that you can be saved.”

And I do that now. But the first time I got wedged between the rock of having to give up the conversation, and the hard place of having to admit out loud that I don’t know something, I instinctively attempted to wriggle my way through this obstacle with logic. Yes, if Superman were real and did not have a human father, he would not have inherited a sin nature. The reason I can surmise this is because Jesus had no human father and was born without inheriting Adam’s sin nature.

Incidentally, I still think that Superman would be vulnerable to kryptonite because when God cursed the world, that curse extended to all creation (Rom 8:22; also see Black holes and baby Universes by Stephen Hawking, which explains how entropy and other bad things happen to good stars).

smallvilleBut Paul never wrote an epistle to Smallville in case any superhuman aliens showed up. In fact he instructed pastor Timothy to  “… charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim 1:3-4), and “7  Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths” (1 Tim 4:7).

Beware though, the silly Superman question comes in a more reasonable and innocuous variety too. Have you ever asserted that no one can be saved except by believing in Jesus, only to be faced with this nugget: “What about the Amazon Indian/African tribesman who hasn’t even heard the gospel? How is it fair for God to send them to Hell if they didn’t have a chance to believe?” This sounds more sincere than asking about aliens; but at the root both are attempts to reconcile the apparent incongruity between the gospel and a situation that would test it.

Anticipating these types of rebuttals can leave Christians feeling intimidated to evangelize. You may begin to feel like only those with seminary degrees or heuristic knowledge of Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics are equipped to share their faith.

But there is a very simple solution to this anxiety. I have found this works 8 out of 10 times. You simply reply: “That’s a really good question, and there is an answer for it, but right now I’m just talking about what Jesus did for your sin and mine.”

And then while God’s Spirit does the rest, you can go put your head on the pillow and sleep like a Calvinist, knowing there is no missing epistle of Paul to Smallville.


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Well, even if you addressed the question from a strictly humanistic naturalistic standpoint, the athie would have to concede the monumental sheer improbability that there is another planet out there in the universe that can support life in a perfectly balanced way exactly like the earth (at the perfect distance from the sun to host a climate to support life) and that on that planet there were, like earth, random meaningless cells (the evolutionist view) that magically appeared out of nowhere and evolved over millions of years (just like on earth) to become human-like entities that look almost exactly like a North American caucasian with perfect hair, and that one of these people remarkably made their way to earth.

    I think your last two sentences are a lot easier to accept than the above.

    • Thanks Johnny. The best route is to not take the bait or quibble over the premise that there could be aliens, but rather to stay on track and get to the heart. God is the one that grants faith, and when He does, no argument (no matter how reasonable or unreasonable) matters. But if there are aliens, I’m pretty sure they look just like White Americans; isn’t that who they always abduct?

  • busdriver4jesus

    I remember the first time I answered the “tribesmen” question as a “Cage-stage” Calvinist… “Well, they go to Hell.” I have since learned to explain how all people are without excuse, and I do like your extension of all Creation to Krypton. It stands to reason if God has set all Creation under the dominion of man, that would include all caped crusaders.

  • John_D_11

    I might try to have a little evangelistic fun with the critic, and probe on his/her interest in Superman. What made the critic ask about Superman? Is he a Marvel (DC? ) comic fan ? A sci-fi film fan ? Or just a Kevin Costner again playing the role of a midwestern farmer fan ? If the Kevin Costner fan, go with CS Lewis Plan B route, nonsense is nonsense, but if they like Superman, or even if they are socially/cultural familiar with the story, there are some interesting metaphors that could be good gospel segues.

    “If Superman were real.” Guy with amazing superpowers, comes to earth, raised by normal down to earth parents who try to teach him some stuff but otherwise have no idea what to do with him, ends up leaving earthly parents to pursue the will of his true father, rips back his human clothes to reveal superhuman powers and capabilities, but for the most part lays aside his supernatural powers except at times to do good for others.

    Interesting hypothetic. Interesting that THAT STORY was on the critic’s heart/mind ! As men try to suppress the truth, bits and pieces of it occasionally bubble up in art, culture, film, music, etc. Sometimes Christians can help take a blurry distortion in film/art/music/culture and sharpen/focus it onto the real Superman in Scripture.

    • Beware of following the White Rabbit down t winding rabbit trail. But yes, it would be fun!

      • John_D_11

        Rabbit trails are okay as long as you catch the rabbit at the end 🙂

  • Dan_Knight

    I grew up reading Superman comics. I would ask, “Why would Krypton have a standing army, let alone the Phantom Zone, if Kryptonians were not sinners?” Then while they were musing that, come back to the reality that we humans all need a savior.

    • Peter U

      good point. It seems possible that there was a fall on Krypton similar to the one on earth. And we have General Zod who is strangely similar to the fall of Lucifer. He was a “general in the Kryptonian Army. However, Zod had ambitions to take over the planet Krypton and had little respect for the Kryptonian Council, and as such was banished to the Phantom Zone.”

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