What just happened?
During the recent Super Bowl, two television commercials were aired by the “He Gets Us” campaign to promote Jesus: “Be Childlike” and “Love Your Enemies.”
Similar ads by the group had been running for more than a year and have appeared on the Grammys telecast and during NCAA March Madness games. But the Super Bowl gained them greater attention and scrutiny. Over the past month, the ad campaign has received considerable criticism from secular media, as well as from Christians on the left and the right.
What is the He Gets Us campaign?
The campaign’s website explains: “He Gets Us is a movement to reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness. We believe his words, example, and life have relevance in our lives today and offer hope for a better future.”
He Gets Us is an initiative of Servant Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that operates under the name “The Signatry.” According to the tax filing, “The Signatry exists to inspire and facilitate revolutionary, biblical generosity.”
He Gets Us doesn’t include a statement of beliefs for the organization. Instead, they note, “Each participating church/ministry will typically have its own language. Meanwhile, 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.” (The Lausanne Covenant was a document written in 1974, primarily by the British evangelical pastor John Stott, that affirms the basic tenets of evangelical doctrine and promotes worldwide Christian evangelism.)
Who funds the He Gets Us campaign?
Based on the coverage on social media and the mainstream press, the main question prompted by the ads is not “Who is Jesus?” but “Who is funding the ad campaign?”
The answer is that the campaign is directly funded by The Signatry, a donor-advised-fund sponsor. The fund was started in 2020 for the purpose of connecting “God’s wealth with God’s workers.” To date, the fund has facilitated more than $4 billion in grants to more than 12,000 nonprofits and ministries. The vision of the fund is “to write the last check to the last missionary to be sent out to the last unreached people group so the last person can hear the gospel.”
A donor-advised fund is like a charitable investment account that can be used by philanthropists for the sole purpose of supporting charitable organizations. They’re often easier to set up and manage than a traditional philanthropic foundation. They also don’t require disclosure to the charity or organization to whom the funds are distributed.
Because of this anonymity, the list of donors for the He Gets Us campaign hasn’t been made public. However, in November, David Green, the billionaire cofounder of Hobby Lobby and creator of the Museum of the Bible, told talk show host Glenn Beck that his family was helping fund the ads.
What is the purpose of the He Gets Us campaign?
The campaign is “hoping to start a movement (to) put the Jesus of the Bible front and center (in) our culture,” said Jason Vanderground, president of Haven, the marketing firm that created the He Gets Us ads.
The ads are intended to direct people to the campaign’s website. Once there, they can read around a dozen articles, watch additional videos, and get free gear (“No Money Required. Pay with love. Select up to one t-shirt, one sticker, and one hat for your order.”). The site also encourages visitors to take action in one of three ways:
1. Read about Jesus. They’re directed to five different seven-day Bible reading plans, including one titled “Who did Jesus say he was?” The reading for each day includes a 300–400-word article and a Scripture verse from one of the Gospels.
2. Connect. Two options are available under this action. First, visitors can connect with someone local by filling out an online form. The campaign then connects the visitor with one of the 20,000 churches that have provided volunteers to follow up. Second, they can opt to explore their questions about life and faith in a group. This sends them to the website of Alpha, where they’re able to sign up for an online group. Alpha is an ecumenical evangelistic program that presents the gospel, explains basic Christian beliefs, and allows people to ask questions about the faith.
3. Text for prayer or positivity. After texting “prayer” or “positivity” to the number listed on the website, a volunteer will contact the visitor to “pray for [him or her] or just send some words of encouragement.”
Does the He Gets Us campaign point people to a local church?
On the organization’s website, they have a page that directly addresses the question “Is this a campaign to get me to go to church?” Although they say this isn’t their purpose, their Take Action section does connect them with volunteers from local churches. They also say on their supporting website, He Gets Us Partners, that the campaign “has now become an opportunity for local churches to get involved in the conversation.”
The campaign has partnered with several evangelical organizations, such as Christianity Today, YouVersion, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, and Relevant magazine. They’re also using Gloo, a platform that “provides local churches a safe and easy way to connect with them.”
What are the criticisms of the He Gets Us campaign?
The He Gets Us campaign has been criticized by groups and individuals from both the political and theological left and right.
On the political and theological left, the campaign has been criticized both for promoting an “apolitical Jesus” and for being supported and funded by conservative evangelicals, especially those—as CNN says—with “connections to anti-LGBT and anti-abortion laws.” On the political right, the campaign has been criticized for being “woke” since it uses language that’s deemed in certain circles to be signaling a leftist political agenda (such as “justice,” “refugee,” and “inclusive”).
A more theological critique from conservatives is that the campaign doesn’t directly state Jesus is God or offer a presentation of the gospel. For example, as Natasha Crain says, “The fact that Jesus ‘gets us,’ stripped from the context of His identity, is meaningless.”
The spending on the ad campaign has also been called into question. He Gets Us spent $20 million on the Super Bowl ads alone. The group has said the goal is to invest about a billion dollars over the next three years.
What should we make of the He Gets Us campaign?
How you feel about He Gets Us can be influenced by many factors and by how much weight you give each of them.
For example, the campaign says, “We’re not ‘Left’ or ‘Right,’ or a political organization of any kind.” Yet based on the contradictory online reactions, you might get the impression He Gets Us is a plot by right-wing Christian nationalists to promote a left-wing woke message.
There’s also the consideration of stewardship. The group is spending an extraordinary amount of money, and it’s not wrong to wonder if that billion dollars of “God’s wealth” could be used more effectively for the kingdom.
But the most relevant factor is what you believe about pre-evangelism. If we define evangelism as proclaiming the gospel, then pre-evangelism is having discussions that prepare the way for people to understand the gospel message. Evangelism is sharing that the good news about Jesus Christ is God’s power to save all who believe in him and that everyone should turn from sin to follow him. Pre-evangelism can include explaining who Jesus is to people who’ve heard the name but have no clue what he’s about.
He Gets Us has been criticized for failing to be adequate as evangelism. But a more charitable approach would be to judge it as pre-evangelism. For example, they focus on a relatable element of Jesus—his humanity—to spark interest in the God-Man. On their partners website, they provide a succinct explanation of their approach:
We believe [Jesus] was fully God and fully man. By design, our media messages focus on his humanity—since we’ve learned these resonate with the widest possible audience. We’re simply inviting them to explore how might things be different if more people followed his example. Then, we extend an open invitation to engage and learn more. We also provide open opportunities, for anyone willing, to connect with our partners to learn more about Jesus.
Using this criteria, we can consider whether focusing on the humanity of Jesus is a helpful pre-evangelism approach. We can also ask whether “following his example” is sufficient in our cultural context to get people interested in learning more about him. Additionally, we can consider whether connecting people to churches and Alpha online groups is a suitable next step to lead those curious about Jesus to encounter the gospel.
Wherever we land on those questions, we should judge the campaign fairly and graciously. However flawed some may regard their approach, the campaign is composed of orthodox evangelical believers who are attempting to point people to Jesus.
Before we hastily dismiss their efforts, we should remember what Jesus told his disciples when they tried to stop someone from driving out demons in his name because the person wasn’t one of them. “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38–40).
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