I recently saw the newest installment of the Superman franchise, “The Man of Steel.” It was a powerful, entertaining and thinly veiled allegory for anyone paying attention.
A recent CNN article has described how the producers of the film invited pastors and other church leaders to view advanced screenings and to use studio-supplied notes from which to develop Father’s Day sermons and other church communications.
This is not the first time such a marketing strategy has been employed; just a few years ago similar campaigns were launched in conjunction with the releases of “The Blind Side” and “Fireproof.”
The idea is clear: There are sufficient “meaty” themes and images in “The Man of Steel” to provide preachers and teachers with ample connections and illustrations in their ministries.
By “marketing” the film to church leaders, the studio might get a bump in viewers. By being “marketed” to, church leaders get a bump in “cool points,” relevance and, perhaps, the ever-shortening attention spans of congregants.
After seeing the film and viewing the notes that have been distributed to many churches by Warner Bros., I’m convinced that we pastors must become better women and men in terms of artistic, literary and cultural insight.
We must become better readers, viewers and thinkers when it comes to the arts.
Baptists have long been accused of a strong anti-intellectual bent that has become something of a calling card among my tribe.
There were days not too long ago when the pastor of a local church was the only educated citizen of the community and the one relied upon for insight and understanding in matters ecclesial and secular.
In recent years, though, it seems that Baptists have become something of a know-nothing party that takes harsh political and social stands on things that ultimately matter little.
Here are some illustrations: I was lucky (unlucky?) enough to live through the boycott of Disney in ’97, the boycott of Waldenbooks and K-Mart in ’95, and the current “great matter” over the Boy Scouts of America.
Further, I was a member of a thriving youth ministry in the late ’90s through which I went to summer camps where Harry Potter was proclaimed to be the worst sort of witchcraft, and I personally saw a Pokémon character destroyed because it represented an idol of some sort.
Lastly, I recall a sermon preached against the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” which the preacher had never seen.
The consequence of a “teetotaling” stance on artistic work is that we have lost all of our ability to read. We have lost the ability to experience art in all its forms and to interpret those experiences in light of Jesus Christ.
We have become so afraid of the media that we assume all media is out to get us. We have become so petrified in our stances against certain moral issues that we have thrown out literature and boycotted movies.
There is a broad, bold line between thoughtfully and prayerfully rejecting sin and evil and being some sort of ostrich when it comes to literature, movies and television. Baptist pastors, at least, should demonstrate the spiritual maturity to know the difference.
The pastor must be more than a pulpiteer or counselor; the Baptist pastor must be an individual who can read.
We must be the tribe that keeps the classics in print and the newest hardcovers on our iPads. We must be readers of poetry and prose, of fiction and nonfiction. We must speak the languages of journalism and jurisprudence. We must be readers.
I am not advocating a return to Victorian-era preaching with complex and esoteric language. Further, I am not advocating for the inclusion of poems, literary references or historic citations in the homiletic exercise.
Instead, I simply call for pastors to be better people themselves by reading more broadly and more deeply.
Such education and insight will allow us to find the right phrase or word, rather than something that merely suffices. It will allow our verbs to be more vivid and sharp, and our sentences to dance more lightly upon the ears of those who need to hear.
We have no need for preachers who will lead boycotts; we need pulpiteers who speak prophetic words about God’s Kingdom in relation to the themes, stories and images that our people see and experience.
We need pastors who can see “Man of Steel” and not need help from Warner Bros. to see Christian themes throughout.
We need men and women who have been so steeped in the Spirit that they can read the things their people see and hear with the eyes of Christ.
We need pastors who can read and who do so with the shepherd’s compassion for the sheep – for their good, for their nourishment, for their growth.
Brock Ratcliff is a minister at Madison Chapel in Madison, Miss. He also teaches mathematics and computer science at Clinton Alternative School in Clinton, Miss. A longer version of this column appeared on his blog, Fides Quaerens Intellectum, and is used with permission.