“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.
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).
But 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.