‘He Gets Us’ Ad Campaign Doesn’t ‘Get’ Jesus
Super Bowl viewers got a nationwide look at the multimillion dollar (or $1 billion?) “He Gets Us” ad campaign on Sunday. I wish I could be glad about it. The “He” in the slogan means “Jesus,” and since it’s brought His name to so many people, I really want to like it. Unfortunately I can’t. It misses the main point of all, which is that we need to “get” Jesus — to know Him for who He is, that is. I’m not all that confident the people behind the campaign get Jesus.
I wish I could see it differently than that. It’s not all bad, and in fact there’s a lot to like about it. I’m fully on board with the campaign’s goal of getting people to take a close look at Jesus. I just don’t know what “Jesus” they want us looking at. Their version seems far too benign. He comes across like a 21st century progressive political reformer — not the Son of God, Creator, King and Judge of the Universe, Preacher of repentance, infinitely loving, self-sacrificial Provider of salvation He truly was.
Who’s “Getting Us” This Jesus?
The group behind it seems to want to remain anonymous, though the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, are known to have helped fund it. The campaign’s own website says its leaders are “Jesus fans and followers. People who believe he was much more than just a good guy and a profound teacher. And that Jesus is the son of God, who came to Earth, died, and was resurrected, then returned to heaven and is alive today.” That’s great. I’m fully behind that.
Jesus’ first words weren’t “Hey, I’m with you, buddy.” In the Gospel of Mark, it was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
They say they want to share “Jesus’ openness to people that others might have excluded.” That’s good, too. He was the epitome of other-focused love. They also say they want the world to know that Christians may be hypocritical or judgmental, but “Jesus saw that too — and didn’t like it either. Instead, Jesus taught and offered radical compassion and stood up for the marginalized.” True that, too.
Where 10% Right is 99% Wrong
That’s Jesus, sure enough. It’s about one-tenth of Him, that is. What happened to the rest of Him? What happened to the reason He died and was resurrected? Where’s the rest of the picture?
One-tenth right isn’t necessarily an improvement over totally wrong. Remember: Every religion in the world gets Jesus partly right. Muslims say He was a great prophet. Mormons say He was God’s son. Hindus and Buddhists frequently place Him at the pinnacle of the enlightened ones. Getting Jesus partly right can easily mean getting Jesus badly wrong.
Repentance, Not, “Hey, I’m With You, Buddy”
Still I wish I could like “He gets us.” I’ve read every opinion on it, and I wish I could agree with some evangelicals who think it’s pointing millions toward repentance, life, and freedom in Christ.
Sure enough, I see it pointing toward life and freedom, but this is a case where “two out of three ain’t bad,” doesn’t fit. Life and freedom follow after repentance and faith. Jesus’ first words weren’t “Hey, I’m with you, buddy.” In the Gospel of Mark, it was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
You can’t get to life and freedom by skipping blithely past repentance. Yes, Jesus called His disciples friends (John 15:15). He also preceded it with a condition (John 15:14): “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
They Don’t Get Jesus
So I don’t know how they can claim “He gets us” when it looks so much like they don’t get Him. Not that I’ve got Him figured out myself. I claim nothing of the sort. I spent months studying Him while writing my book Too Good to Be False. The closer I looked at Him, the harder I found it to feel I had a grasp of Jesus’ full greatness.
Take His unceasing, self-sacrificial, giving love, for example. Try to imagine yourself holding so much power and never using it for your own benefit. Then again, no, don’t bother trying. You can see a life like that in Jesus, but I’ll guarantee you can’t begin to imagine it in anyone else.
So I’m not saying it’s wrong to fall short of grasping Jesus fully. I’m objecting to their erasing and/or ignoring nine-tenths of His identity and His message.
He “Gets Us”?
So they get the first of the slogan wrong: Jesus. The rest of it? It looks okay on the surface. No believer would say, “My one big problem with Jesus is that He just doesn’t get us.” Just see how He gets us!
While He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the signs He was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, for He knew them all. He did not need any testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.
You don’t get quite that sense from a campaign video like this one:
A rebel took to the streets.
He recruited others to join him.
They roamed the hood and challenged authority.
Community leaders feared them.
Religious leaders abhorred them.
“We have to get them off the streets!” they said.
But they weren’t part of a gang spreading hate and terror…
They were spreading love.
Jesus was wrongly judged.
He gets us.
All of us.
Every word of that is true, if understood in the right context. Not here, though.
Yes, Jesus rebelled, but what did He rebel against? Which authority did He challenge? He assumed all authority. “They roamed the hood and challenged authority.” No, it’s more like authority challenged Him. He didn’t get in their face until they got in His.
The authority He claimed at the time wasn’t political or economic, as we’re prone to think these days. He’ll certainly take charge of that when He returns, but He hardly touched it His first time here. He spoke much to hearts, not “structures.”
Community leaders feared Jesus, says the video. Do they mean they feared Him like they fear street gangs? You have got to be kidding.
Authority Over Truth
He claimed authority over disease, injury, demons — and the one thing that got Him in the most trouble with the local leaders: truth. Thus in the Sermon on the Mount He kept saying, “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you.” Note how He didn’t repeat the prophets’ phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” or “This is the word of the Lord.” It was His word. “But I say to you.”
The crowd was astonished (Matt. 7:29-30) at this. He spoke “with authority.” It doesn’t mean He had a booming, strong, confident voice. It meant He spoke like one who was in charge — in charge of truth. Specifically, truth about God, sin, pride, righteousness, humility, and above all else, the way to know the Father, which was through Him and Him alone.
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And why did they want to “get them off the streets!” as the video says? They didn’t! Not “them, that is. They only wanted Jesus. It wasn’t because He was “spreading love,” either. It was because of who He was and the truth He taught.
Do you get any of that from watching that video? That’s the problem. Jesus gets us, yes, but the “He” who “gets us” according to this campaign looks nothing like the Jesus of the scripture.
You’ll Never Get Away With Co-Opting Him
Worst of all, this “Jesus” appears suspiciously well crafted to suit the mood of the day. Co-opted, in other words.
The result of that is easy to predict. Just check out how many times people tried getting Jesus on their agenda. In Nazareth, for example, in Luke 4, He preached a good sermon. Almost a “progressive” one, if you ignore the fact that He (rightly!) made Himself the central character, as always.
Then the hometown crowd tried to make Him their hometown boy. So He followed up His first message with a reminder that God loves Gentiles. They tried throwing Him off a cliff for it.
His family tried reining Him in. The Zealots wanted Him to mount a military revolution. The Pharisees kept trying to put a lid on Him. Jewish and Roman leaders finally collaborated on making an example of Him. They succeeded, all the way to putting Him on a cross to die. But He ended up winning that time, too.
Maybe they’re trying to put enough makeup on His face to attract contemporary eyes. Maybe they think, “Let’s get them looking at Jesus instead of His Church that they hate. Maybe they’ll follow Him then.” Sure. On their own. No church needed, since that’s still kind of stinky. That’s a great, time-tested way to wander into heresy. Or to launch a whole new cult.
There’s a right way to find out what Jesus “gets,” and it isn’t through hip 30-second 21st-century-themed advertising spots. It’s through studying the actual record we have, in community with others who study the record we have.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.