Confession. I don’t love football, but I enjoy a good Super Bowl commercial. This week prepared me to be on the lookout for one commercial in particular. I woke up one morning to find in my inbox a warning about a planned Super Bowl commercial. The article, written by Natasha Crain, gave a detailed critique of the multi-million-dollar He Gets Us campaign. I have appreciated Crain’s work in the area of apologetics ever since I became aware of her book, Faithfully Different. She concludes her detailed analysis with a warning,
“I want to say I’m sure there is good that will come from the campaign. I hope there is much good that comes from it. And I know God can make good come from anything He chooses. But those aren’t reasons to not critique something and offer discernment. I find it highly discouraging that when there is so much money being poured into a campaign, it’s being used to further the perception that Jesus is the same Jesus people already believe in rather than the one they need to believe in. Promoting a social justice Jesus can actually make talking about the real Jesus more difficult, because He Gets Us has placed one more data point in people’s minds that it’s His followers who talk about all that ‘unpopular stuff’ who don’t get it. They’ll come away knowing Jesus gets them, but they won’t get Him.”
Natasha has a good point.
The very next day, I opened my app to listen to one of my favorite podcasts, “Think Biblically,” hosted by my former seminary professor Scott Rae, a man I deeply admire for his integrity and thoughtfulness. The podcast had Ed Stetzer (Dean and Professor at Talbot School of Theology) on to discuss “He Gets Us.” Stetzer is a consultant for the campaign. He focused on the purpose of the marketing strategy, including what it hopes to accomplish and, perhaps most importantly, what it knows it does not accomplish. He described the campaign as pre-evangelism, a term well known in missional circles. The hope of the creators is to invite people to learn more about Christ, going to the website and taking part in a reading plan of the Bible, to learn about the real Jesus rather than the Jesus many have heard about in places other than the Bible.
Ed has a good point.
So, what are we to think as we sit and watch the commercials on Sunday night? I would like to offer two suggestions.
- The first question is not whether the commercial shares the Gospel, but whether we can share the Gospel.
It’s wise to practice discernment about something like the “He Gets Us” campaign, but if an opinion about its marketing strategy is all we have, we become impotent to reach our friends, neighbors, and families. So, let’s stop following the rest of our culture, prescribing solutions for others while being unable to shepherd those same people to the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
There is a place for what my mom used to call “in house” discussions. We, as the body Christ, need to wrestle with how we reach the de-churched, never-churched, and couldn’t-care-less-about-church crowd. However, if all we can do is create a 30-second soap box rant, we lose sight of the greatest commandment. Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbor as ourselves is relational in expression. We are called to love, person to person, and not merely proclaim truth into a void, hoping to hit a passerby. Before we have an opinion, we should have a conversation, even while holding our deepest convictions in unwavering faith.
Yes, we need to have Biblical discernment. However, most of us watching will have much more of an opportunity to affect the audience of the campaign rather than the creators of it. Let’s be honest. Ed Stetzer, will not be picking up the phone and calling me (or you) to ask what we think about the Gospel clarity of “He Gets Us.” We should take seriously the challenges offered by Natasha Crain, but the challenges she puts forward should first drive us to use the opportunity to share the Gospel with our co-workers on Monday morning. “Hey, did you see that Jesus commercial last night?” “What did you think about that?” Can you point a curious person to Jesus, as He has revealed Himself in Scripture?
- “He Gets Us” just threw a Hail Mary pass and both the critic and the fan need the same catcher. Is the catcher prepared and ready?
Stetzer seems worried that our culture has a poor perception of Jesus, unaware that Christ offers genuine love, mercy, justice, and hope to the broken. Could it be that right now, more people think Jesus is a political invitation rather than an abundant life invitation? Could it be that people are rejecting the Jesus of social media rather than the real Jesus? If “He Gets Us” accomplishes its goal and drives people to become curious about Jesus, who catches the ball and walks with someone for the days, weeks, months, and years it takes to trust and walk faithfully with God? The Body of Christ must catch the ball. We must seize the opportunity to walk with our neighbor. Are we prepared? After all, it doesn’t matter how good the quarterback is if the receiver can’t catch.
Crain seems worried that “He Gets Us” invites people to a false, progressive, woke, Jesus. With a campaign that uses loaded terms like #justice, #love, #activist, and #inclusive, she rightly understands the need for Christians to be clear on how the Bible defines these things and how culture gets it wrong. If “He Gets Us” throws the ball and the Church catches it, can we tell the difference between biblical justice and cultural justice? Can we have a conversation about #women, helping others understand the biblical creation of male, female, equality, and difference? Can we embody love in both truth and grace? Can we navigate cultural conversations that have gotten exponentially more difficult than they were just a mere 15 years ago? Again, are we prepared?
Can we catch the ball and respond by making disciples in this culture?
So, what are we to do? We must live in the reality that most people do not trust Christ because of one message sent to thousands (or even millions) of people. Most people need one person to sit with them in a thousand moments with a thousand conversations. They need someone who can pick up a conversation started by someone else. They need help to untangle all the misconceptions, doubts, challenges, and longings in their human heart. They need a follower of Jesus to enter their story mid-stream and shepherd them to reject the Jesus of their imagination and meet the Jesus of reality.
If you saw “He Gets Us” and had concerns about a portrayal of Jesus that slants toward progressive wokeness when churches are falling into error, I commend your desire for truth and clarity. If you saw “He Gets us” and were thankful for a portrayal of Jesus that sits with sinners, I commend your desire for reaching the outcast. Yes, we need both the prophet and the evangelist. Maybe you were both concerned and thankful. You likely already know that we are in a moment when cultural discipleship is desperately needed.
Wherever you land on the message of “He Gets Us,” our call for Monday morning is the same. We don’t need a crowd of Monday morning quarterbacks. “He Gets Us” just threw a Hail Mary pass. We need to know how to catch it.