He Gets Us, But Do We Get Him? The Case for Criticizing False Teachers
I once got an angry email from a lady who didn’t like the fact that I criticized a false teacher on our I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist podcast. “You shouldn’t criticize other Christians!” she scolded me.
Do you see the problem with this? There she was criticizing me, another Christian, while claiming you ought not criticize other Christians. To paraphrase Elon Musk, if irony could kill, she’d be dead right now.
Apparently, she never considered that Jesus spent much of his time criticizing the false teachings and practices of the religious politicians known as the Pharisees whose hearts were far from God. He also warned people who led young believers astray, “If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt. 18:6).
‘What Their Itching Ears Want to Hear’
Paul exposed five false teachers by name in his letters to Timothy. He warned that “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3).
He also told the Romans to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Rom. 16:17-18).
Notice that the people causing divisions are not those defending the truth, but those who are introducing the false teachings.
Avoid False Teachings
In fact, every New Testament writer warned against false teachers at some point. Peter said “false teachers” would introduce “destructive heresies” that “promise people freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity” (2 Pet. 2:1,19). John wrote, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
The writer of Hebrews told us to “not be carried away by strange teachings” (Heb. 13:9). Jude said we need to “contend for the faith” because “ungodly people… pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 3-5). James cautioned us about becoming teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). And the list goes on.
In one sense the entire Bible is one long warning to avoid false teachings and practices. Yet, somehow, modern people are under the impression that it is a bigger sin to warn people of false teaching than to actually be a false teacher!
‘He Gets Us’ Doesn’t Get Jesus
I say all this because my friend Natasha Crain has taken a bunch of online heat from some fellow Christians for pointing out 7 Problems with the “He Gets Us” Campaign, which included two 30-second commercials during this year’s Super Bowl. When you read Natasha’s piece — which has been shared on social media over 26,000 times — you realize that the “He Gets Us” campaign ironically doesn’t get Jesus.
It’s not just that their 30-second commercials leave out the most important truth about Jesus (that could be forgiven — after all it’s only 30 seconds!). But their website misleads people into thinking that Jesus was just a really good man whose primary mission was to achieve social justice. There’s nothing prominent there about His being God or our Savior.
As Natasha observes, the head of the marketing firm behind the campaign explicitly said, “Ultimately, the goal is inspiration, not recruitment or conversion.” That’s why Jesus isn’t being highlighted as our substitute. He’s merely presented as a good example of “peace and love.” A motivational speaker. A social justice warrior.
Jesus Came to Be the Ransom Paid for Our Sins
But that wasn’t Christ’s mission. How do we know? Because he stated his primary mission explicitly. Here are just a few of several statements by Jesus:
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).
“The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
“Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (Jn. 12:27).
“Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:46-47).
As Greg Koukl observes in “The Legend of the Social Justice Jesus”, “For Jesus, salvation was not economic prosperity, equal distribution of goods, or sexual liberty without judgment or shame. Instead, salvation came through belief in him, bringing forgiveness of sins and eternal life.”
God didn’t add humanity to his deity and suffer a brutal death to make sure everyone uses the right pronouns. He came to be the ransom paid for our sins.
Loving Our Neighbor is Not a New Teaching
Of course, Jesus wants us to love our neighbor, but that’s not a new teaching — it was already the stated policy of Yahweh in the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18). Moreover, love in the Bible doesn’t mean approval, as the “He Gets Us” campaign implies. Love seeks what’s best for people, and that requires us to oppose any evil a loved one wants to do. As Paul put it, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:6-7).
So contrary to the “He Gets Us” campaign, Jesus didn’t come to give some new ethical teaching. He came to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29) — the ultimate sacrifice that the Old Testament sacrificial system foreshadowed.
‘Contend For the Faith’
OK, so “He Gets Us” doesn’t get Him. So what? What’s the big deal?
Natasha writes, “‘He Gets Us’ has the potential to actually harm the public understanding of Jesus. People need to know that Jesus is our Savior, not a compassionate buddy.” I would like to amplify and illustrate this excellent point.
Imagine you see a commercial for a place you know nothing about called St. Jude’s. The commercial only speaks of the good food that they serve children. When you go to the website highlighted on the commercial, you only see more about the food. Their mission statement says nothing about St. Jude’s being a hospital or the fact that their mission is to treat and try to heal children with childhood cancer free of charge. They only push the food angle. You come away thinking this is some kind of restaurant that caters to kids.
Who would think that’s an accurate commercial? Of course, they must serve food to the children, but that’s not their primary mission — it’s not why they exist. A commercial may not be able to give complete information, but it should at least give accurate information. Instead of informing people, such a commercial would be misinforming people.
The people who saw that and the website would first have to unlearn the misinformation fed them before they even would be open to learn what St. Jude’s is actually about. And that could be deadly. If you had a child with cancer, you could miss out on having your child cured for free at St. Jude’s Hospital because their campaign obscured that life-saving mission.
There is a similar danger in the “He Gets Us” campaign. While there may be some good that comes of it — like spurring conversations about Jesus — it’s outweighed by the fact that many unbelievers will be misled into thinking that Jesus came just to make our lives better here. That his primary mission was to achieve social justice on this earth. People will have to unlearn that false teaching, after being led astray by the campaign. They risk missing having their sins cured for free by the Great Physician. They risk missing eternal life.
If only Christians would act like Jesus and the apostles to correct the “smooth talk” that “deceives the minds of naive people.” If only they would “contend for the faith” instead of buying into whatever “their itching ears want to hear.”
Wait, that’s exactly what Natasha has done. And yet some Christians are mad at her! They should go back and read their Bibles. Jesus and the apostles didn’t hold their tongues because their goal wasn’t to be “nice.” Their goal was to love people by warning them of harmful misinformation and replacing it with the truth just like Natasha has done.
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Frank Turek is a Contributor to The Stream, president of CrossExamined.org, coauthor of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and the author of Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case.