I’m not a big sports fan, and I don’t come from a sports-loving family. We do, however, love our state, and when we heard the Chiefs were playing in the Super Bowl this year, we decided to tune in. We whipped up some healthy versions of our favorite finger foods and cheered on the Chiefs to victory. Along the way, the commercials inspired a few laughs — as well as a couple moments of reflection.
By now, I think most people have seen or heard about the He Gets Us commercials that aired during the Super Bowl. I found them refreshing. They were small moments of meaning in a parade of mainly shallow — albeit funny — messages.
While I knew there would be some backlash, I have been rather shocked at the amount and vehemence of criticism the ads have received from both Christians and those outside the Church. The commercials highlighted qualities of Jesus everyone should be able to get behind — even those who don’t believe he is God incarnate. So what’s the deal?
I didn’t know anything about the He Gets Us campaign, so I did some research. They have a website that is designed for seekers, where people can watch videos and explore topics surrounding the historic Jesus. The site directs people to ways they can learn more — devotional and Bible reading plans, online discussion groups, and local churches.
For Christians who already know who Jesus is and want to know more about the group behind the He Gets Us campaign, there is another website. This site is for churches and individuals who want to get involved with the evangelistic aspects of the campaign. This site explains that He Gets Us is not affiliated with any particular denomination, rather “we generally recognize the Lausanne Covenant as reflective of the spirit and intent of this movement and churches that partner with explorers from He Gets Us affirm the Lausanne Covenant.“
He Gets Us is partnering with recognizable Evangelical names including Christianity Today, Relevant, and the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. Having confirmed that He Gets Us is broadly Evangelical and non-denominational, I was intrigued. Their mission is one I care about.
While the campaign is striving for unity around the person of Jesus, many unbelievers don’t see it that way. Trying to google the commercials to rewatch them the day after the Super Bowl, I could hardly find the actual ads between the articles decrying them as anti-LGBT and anti-abortion. (Interestingly, when I googled the John Travolta commercial, that ad popped right up).
In case you haven’t seen the ads that ran during the Super Bowl, I’m embedding them here.
One commercial invites us to remember Christ’s call to be like children (Matthew 18:1-4).
The other encourages us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
On the Left, everyone from USA Today to BBC to People has weighed in — People’s headline promising to give the reader “The Real Story Behind the ‘He Gets Us’ Jesus Ads.” Much of the criticism surrounds the donors behind the campaign. A.J. Willingham at CNN writes:
While donors who support “He Gets Us” can choose to remain anonymous, Hobby Lobby co-founder David Green claims to be a big contributor to the campaign’s multi-million-dollar coffers. Hobby Lobby has famously been at the center of several legal controversies, including the support of anti-LGBTQ legislation and a successful years-long legal fight that eventually led to the Supreme Court allowing companies to deny medical coverage for contraception on the basis of religious beliefs.
While the tone of the CNN article was outrage, as a conservative Christian my reaction was different. I am staunchly pro-life, and I think we need to speak truth into the LGBTQ lies so many in our culture are falling prey to. Knowing their donors are on the right side of these cultural battles made me like He Gets Us more.
In an interesting twist, some on the left criticized He Gets Us for spending money on the ads. I’ve seen AOC’s Twitter post more times than I’ve seen the ads themselves, as her mocking Tweet has been shown on other media outlets.
As AOC condones the more than 500 million taxpayer dollars being funneled into Planned Parenthood clinics every year, her comment smacks of Judas’ criticism when Mary anointed Jesus feet with expensive perfume (John 12:5-6).
There is nothing wrong with thinking critically about spending, but we should realize we all make choices others may disagree with, even — perhaps especially — church-going Christians.
According to Tithe.ly, Christian churches received $124.52 billion in donations in 2018 alone. On average, only 11 percent of this money is spent on missions. The rest is internal — 49 percent on personnel, 23 percent on facilities, 10 percent on programs, and 6 percent on dues. If those numbers are correct, in 2018 the American Church spent about $110 billion on itself, with $12 billion going to programs alone.
Our culture is increasingly saturated in mass media messaging. According to Forbes, most Americans are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day. Making sure at least a few of those ads are about Jesus doesn’t seem like a bad investment. At the very least, its worth trying. Compared to the $12 billion being spent on church programs, the $20 million spent on the Super Bowl ads seems like a drop in the bucket. Ultimately, when the Master returns, we each have to hope he is pleased with the return we have for his money (Matthew 25:14-30).
Along with concerns about spending, some Christians are concerned that He Gets Us isn’t giving an accurate picture of Jesus.
This is a criticism I took seriously. I wanted to know for myself what sort of Jesus He Gets Us is preaching. The About section of the He Gets Us website states that “Jesus is the son of God, who came to Earth, died, and was resurrected, then returned to heaven and is alive today ” as well as “fully God and fully man.” How is this a worldly Jesus?
From discussions with friends, I think some people worry about how many videos feature social justice issues. This emphasis causes many to recoil, as it triggers the 20th century divides between theology-grounded conservatives and theology-lax liberals. This divide is tragic, and honestly — the work of the devil to weaken both sides of the argument.
Jesus was theologically perfect, but he lived his theology in practical acts of mercy. We need rigorous doctrine, but it’s just as important that we clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). It’s worth noting that when Jesus discussed dividing the sheep from the goats, it was acts of mercy — not theological precision — that made up the dividing line (Matthew 25:31-46).
You can’t give a complete picture of Jesus in a 30-second or even 1-minute video. I think this lack of completeness is what troubles people about the He Gets Us gospel presentation. But these videos aren’t meant to be the whole story. He Gets Us isn’t trying to catechize people or even fully evangelize people — they are just trying to introduce people to the historic Jesus.
In Jesus’ own day, the lost were exposed to him in down-to-earth ways. They saw Jesus heal a leper. They heard how he had protected a woman caught in adultery. They ate the bread he multiplied. Doubtless, they heard how he told off the religious hypocrites. At that time, there were no explanations of atonement theories. There was no Romans road. There was just a Man unlike anyone they had ever met. There were whispers that he was God.
How would we have heard about Jesus back then? How would we have told others about him? Would we have given a detailed presentation of our understanding of the gospel? Or, with the Samaritan woman, would we simply have said, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29, ESV)
We might argue that with our fuller understanding of who Jesus is, we can give more complete pictures now. While this is true on one level, I think the original way people learned about Jesus still has something to offer. While a small treatise on the deity of Christ might turn a skeptic off immediately, a story about Jesus’ mercy to an outcast might inspire interest. Perhaps in today’s disillusioned world, before learning about who Jesus is, people need to know why they should care about him in the first place. Maybe they need to see his love, for “we love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, KJV).
For those of us who have grown accustomed to the divisions and sectarianism in contemporary Evangelicalism, spending time meditating on the historic Jesus might help us remember what once united us all in the beginning. There was a time when we weren’t Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, or Presbyterians. We were just Jesus’ followers — people who felt loved by him and patterned their lives after his. Those in the secular culture mocked us by calling us Christians. The name stuck.
The concerns around He Gets Us are questions to wrestle with critically, but we should be careful not to condemn before we know the facts. Some in conservative circles seem quick to react negatively, and perhaps it’s not without good reason. The last decades have been riddled with Christian denominations departing from historic orthodoxy to embrace the counterfeit gospels of tickling ears. Christian leaders we loved and trusted have simply turned and walked away — from the life of faith and from Christ himself. When we see new movements like He Gets Us, it’s tempting to react in fear. We see the intentionally un-churchy language, and it seems like a rebrand. We see the message of love, and we worry that the cost of discipleship will be ignored. To borrow a popular word, we are triggered.
If we can table our cynicism, we may find encouragement and a little hope. Researching He Gets Us left me optimistic. In an increasingly post-Christian culture, considering new ways to reach the lost is exciting. I felt reinvigorated to think intentionally about the way I am portraying Jesus to those around me. Those of us who love theology can easily bog ourselves down in doctrine and lose sight of the Jesus that gives it all meaning. We can forget our primary means of sharing the gospel is love (John 13:35). Having spent my whole life in the Church, I can attest that it can be a very unloving, unwelcoming place. Since we so rarely love like Jesus, we should appreciate that some are trying to repair our broken witness.
What if, instead of criticizing He Gets Us, we prayed for the campaign? What if we were intentional about asking the Holy Spirit to help us reflect the love of Jesus to our love-starved culture? Without compromising on holiness, what if we modeled Christ’s empathy?
I wonder if in the 2000 years of worshiping the God-Man, we have forgotten the Man part of Jesus. He had a body like ours, and he lived in this same broken world. Hebrews 4:15 reads, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We have read the verse so many times, I wonder — do we remember what it means?
It sounds an awful lot like it’s saying Jesus Gets Us.