We live in a time when the largest growing religious group is known as the “nones” – people who do not claim any religious affiliation.
In the Jan. 29 issue of “The Christian Century,” the rise of the nones is one of the top 10 trends of the 2010s.
Within this group, the largest sector is the younger adults who have checked out of organized religion.
Yet, there are some stirrings within pop culture that speak to the reality that even though many are leaving organized religion, they aren’t done with Jesus.
One example is that Jesus is a character in three current comic books, appearing either as Jesus from biblical times or Jesus the one returned in present times and appearing in another form.
The first expression was “Second Coming,” which I wrote about last year. This comic by Mark Russell and Richard Pace published by Ahoy Comics tells the story of the historic Jesus returned to earth, but not in the way that most of us Christians would think.
Russell and Pace tell us of Jesus who “shows interest in the family business” and so God the Father sends him to earth.
After Jesus is crucified, he returns to heaven where God the Father refuses to allow him to return because he feels Jesus is too much of a wimp and easily taken advantage of to be among humans.
One day, God the Father sees a superhero named Sunstar who is much like Superman.
God the Father sees Sunstar’s no-holds-barred form of justice, and God the Father thinks Sunstar can help Jesus toughen up. So, he sends Jesus to earth to live with Sunstar.
It may sound like a wacky sitcom premise, but Russell and Pace make some very clear statements about the truth of Jesus’ teachings and the need of the world to find a way to follow them. Russell stated he believes Jesus’ way is the only way the world will survive.
Another comic is “Crucified,” published by Scout Comics, written by Sheldon Allen and drawn by Armin Ozdic.
In this story, the best contract killer in the world is given a “hit” for the person who many believe to be the returned Jesus Christ. A group of powerful, wealthy people want this new Messiah killed.
Everything changes in the story when the hitman is struck with a crisis of faith when he is about to kill Jesus. It seems like Jesus is looking directly into his being.
This encounter changes him, setting up the five-issue story arc where the group that wants the Messiah killed begins threatening the hitman and his family if he does not kill the Messiah.
The most recent comic is a new story based on “American Jesus,” an earlier comic by Mark Millar and Peter Gross in which a young boy of 12 discovers he is the return of Jesus Christ. That story ends in a disturbing way that I will not go into here.
Millar and Gross have returned to “American Jesus” with a new comic that begins with the story of a young woman who is a virgin and found to be pregnant.
This child is hinted to be of divine origin, and the girl and her boyfriend have to go on the run when evil forces attempt to find and destroy them.
In a dream, an angel appears and prophesies a dark future and a coming battle with the Antichrist. Issue one ends with the couple only having their love for each other and their faith to rely on.
What follows only Millar and Gross know, but if it is like the last “American Jesus,” it will be interesting.
This desire to place Jesus in these comics speaks to a feeling that what Jesus taught and stood for is still timely – that the teachings of Jesus are still relevant and needed.
But the other side of the message is about the relationship between the church and the person of Jesus, with the comics emphasizing the disconnect between what these creators see in the person of Jesus and those of us who follow him.
The call I find in some of these stories is that we who call ourselves Christians need to examine our lives if we wish to follow more faithfully the one we say we are being like.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.