My Friday devotional opened with a reference to the 1950’s TV show, The Adventures of Superman. Mark Roberts looked at Superman’s “never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way,” and using Psalm 45:4 looks at a Christian’s search for truth, justice and humility. I love the nostalgia, for it is purely nostalgic. As an avid follower of superhero comics, neither the progenitor nor any of his countless offshoots aspire any longer to such lofty goals. No longer does an individual finding themselves more powerful, and therefore different, than the rest of humanity seek to use that power for good (or evil for that matter). Now such power is simply to be coped with – a burden that separates you from your peers. Good and evil are abstract concepts, labels, applied to the actions of the powered individual as they seek their place in the world while so oddly encumbered.
Captain America: Civil War is prime exemplar #1 of this trend on the movie side of things, but I must resist my comic geek urge to trace this change through the genre and instead focus back on the devotional, which is a call to good. One must ask, I think, that if Superman’s battle is purely nostalgic, is the church’s search for truth, justice and humility not similarly a thing mostly of fond memory. Generalizing about something as large and diverse as Christian expression in America is fraught with opportunity to be wrong, but I do think it would be fair to say that in large and very visible parts of the American church a case can be made for the nostalgic comparison.
In our efforts to be relevant and attractive is it not fair to say that many a church has changed from trying to help its congregants find and exhibit truth, justice and humility to finding self-fulfillment? If you read deeply about Mother Theresa, you find that her ministry was almost pure sacrifice – not the least bit self-fulfilling. Christ Himself confessed to God that He wished He did not have to die on the cross. Truth, justice and humility can be, and often are, the polar opposite of self-fulfillment. Yes, we have to meet people where they are, but we should be taking them somewhere too.
Roberts comparison of the Superman of old with the Psalmist is more apt than perhaps he intended, for as the superhero has changed, so it seems has the church. But Roberts is not calling for that change, he is calling for a return to the old model:
When we pray for our leaders, as Scripture urges us to do (1 Tim. 2:2), we should ask the Lord to lead them in the ways of truth, humility, and justice. God knows we desperately need leaders today who exemplify these qualities! Yet Psalm 45:4 also provides a model for our behavior in the world. We too are to be people of truth, humility, and justice.
Culturally we seem to have crossed some sort of threshold. Christianity no longer defines our culture. We find ourselves in a position more akin to the first 400 years of the church’s existence than we do the last 1600 years. Superheroes are the stuff of fiction and they exist purely to sell more media, so they are going where the sales are. But Christianity is something entirely different – we hold truth. It is not “sales” that defines our direction, it is that truth that we hold.
That church of the first 400 years found its way to the dominance it has enjoyed for the last 1600 not by following the culture, but by exhibiting a different one that simply worked better. What made it special and different was not an encumbrance to be coped with, but a gift to be celebrated and enjoyed – in the pursuit of good.
As Christians, we are different, we do not fit in. That’s not a problem, that is a blessing. And not just for us, but for the world. All we have to do is believe and act like it.