This MTI blog series aims to help you and your readers sharpen your skills in communicating faith matters to secular readers – skeptics, seekers, and the spiritually disinterested.
You’re probably familiar with the “woman at the well” story from John chapter 4. But just what do Jesus and the Samaritan woman have to do with Superman?
Did someone discover hidden manuscripts or cave paintings in ancient Samaria about a champion with a red cape and a huge red letter “S” on his chest? Have new archaeological digs unearthed Kryptonite traces?
Or maybe has this writer finally lost his senses?
Nope. None of the above. Let’s explore the connection … and have fun in the process.
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is a masterclass in effectively communicating faith to nonbelievers.
As an application example, we’ll consider an outreach article about Warner Bros’ popular movie Man of Steel. The film was briefly number one worldwide when first released a few years back. By God’s grace, over 80 websites – based in North & South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East – used RWC’s outreach article about the film. The article clearly explains Jesus parallels in the movie and encourages readers to consider a relationship with God.
Jesus, the master communicator, left us many communication lessons in John 4. Here are five:
- Gain attention – simply
- Arouse curiosity – cleverly
- Confront with sin – appropriately
- Keep on the subject – tactfully
- Confront with Christ – directly
Your prep – to help you gain maximum benefit from this post:
Perhaps read John 4:1-42 again before continuing.
Enjoy this short Man of Steel video trailer (3:01).
Read RWC’s outreach article about the film (642 words).
John 4’s story of race, gender, and religion evokes today’s headlines.
First-century Jews and Samaritans were locked in a blood feud. Divided by geography, religion, and race, the two groups despised each other.
The Samaritans were inhospitable to (Luke 9:52-53) and hostile toward the Jews. Most Jews traveling from the north to Jerusalem would go far out of their way to bypass Samaria.
Jesus, a Jew choosing to travel through Samaria, encountered a Samaritan woman at a well. His disciples had entered the city to buy food.
Gaining attention – Simply
7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.”
9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
Jesus initiated the conversation, speaking about something that was on her mind at that moment – water. He transcended barriers of gender, race, culture, religion and morality. She was a woman; he was a man. She was a Samaritan; he was a Jew. She was an immoral woman; he was the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many of the thinking nonbelievers I seek to reach in my writing for newspapers, magazines, and the web feel that Christians are rude, stuffy, anti-intellectual bigots, killjoys with nothing positive to offer. It can be difficult to get their attention. I work hard to bridge those barriers.
The article I released shortly before the Man of Steel film opened had a simple title that started with the words “Man of Steel movie.” tapping into the global attention that Warner Bros. spent millions to create. The aim, Lord willing, was to catch lots of readers’ attention … very simply.
Arousing curiosity – cleverly
10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” …
13 … “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again;
14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”
Jesus aroused her curiosity by talking about something unusual (living water) that related to her interest. He appealed to her felt need. It worked. She wanted what he offered.
Many are familiar with the big red “S” on Superman’s chest. Lois Lane asks Superman in the Man of Steel movie, “What’s the ‘S’ stand for?”
Superman responds: “It’s not an ‘S’. On my world, it means ‘hope’.”
As a symbol of humanity’s hope is how Man of Steel portrays the legendary hero.
The first part of my article’s title is “Man of Steel movie.”
The second part is “got hope?” (Note the lower case, playing off the popular “got milk?” advertising campaign in the USA.)
The article’s opening paragraph has the Lois Lane / Superman lines just mentioned. “Hope” is especially timely in our world filled with nuclear rogues, homeland terrorists, disease, and financial uncertainty. It’s that thought and emotion I tried to tap to arouse curiosity. How do you get ultimate, lasting hope?
Confront with sin – appropriately
16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’;
18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”
Notice Jesus’ subtle, non-condemning confrontation. If a person is already well aware of their sin, there is no need to hammer it in. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 indicates different approaches for different people: “… admonish the unruly; encourage the fainthearted…”
In your writing, several factors will determine how you handle the sin issue: your audience, theme, publication, context, word limits, etc. Much of my writing is for secular audiences and publishers. Sometimes this limits how personal I can be with sin confrontations. The Man of Steel piece highlights various human flaws:
“… at its core the classic Superman story is about good vs. evil.” “…in our world filled with nuclear rogues, homeland terrorists, devastating disease, and financial uncertainty….”
Keep on the subject – tactfully
In John 4:19-24, the woman tries to change the subject, focusing on religion and the place of worship. Jesus talks about relationship and the Person of worship. He states the requirements for true worship (in spirit and truth).
Have you ever been sharing Christ and the person starts talking about the church or denominations? Quite often, they’ve felt unmasked or embarrassed. Gently lead them back.
Of course in writing, you use all kinds of techniques to keep the audience focused on your subject: Colorful stories, quotes, humor, dialogue.
The Man of Steel article includes numerous references to the film’s characters: General Zod; Superman’s birth parents and adoptive parents; Lois Lane; Perry White. It includes a reflection from composer Hans Zimmer.
Confront with Christ – directly
25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.“
We know from the rest of the chapter that she believed and spread the word about Jesus; many others believed in him.
I used to be skeptical that biblical themes existed in the Superman story that had entertained me as a child. Then I looked deeper. There’s a savior figure. A father sends his only son to earth to light the way for humans. The son fights evil and becomes symbol of hope for all humanity. Jor-El and Kal-El, the father and son on Krypton. “El,” a Hebrew name for God. The Superman creators were Jewish. The list goes on.
The Man of Steel article incorporates this motif, noting similarities between Superman and Jesus, encouraging readers to look for biblical parallels, contemplate the related life insights, and consider placing their hope in God.
I pray you have great success as you apply these same principles – gain attention, arouse curiosity, confront with sin, keep on the subject, confront with Christ.
Want to know more?
Gratis online resources:
- Jesus: The Successful Witness (John 4). Want to communicate your faith effectively as you write, speak and converse? Watch the Master at work. Practical principles for a sensitive and tactful witness. Streaming mp4 video (00:31:22); mp3 audio (00:29:08) Handout
- Man of Steel movie: got hope? “What’s the ‘S’ stand for?” Lois Lane asks Superman in the popular movie. “It’s not an ‘S’,” responds the Man of Steel. “On my world, it means ‘hope’.” Man of Steel is a fun film that taps deep human desires for self-identity, purpose, and hope. How do you find genuine, lasting hope? (Short op-ed)
- More examples of Writing for Secular Readers using principles from John 4.
- Subscribe to Article Alerts: Every month or so when posting new outreach articles, we notify Internet editors via short emails. Interested? Just let us know and we’ll send you these email alerts. We send them blind (for your privacy) and only to those requesting them. Anyone can use our articles gratis. Simple permissions info.
by Rusty Wright. Rusty is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.
Copyright © 2023 Rusty Wright
Photo by Yogi Purnama on Unsplash