Jesus “Gets Us”…But Not Like That: Evaluating that Buzzy New Ad Campaign
Jesus seems to be everywhere right now. He recently found himself sitting atop the Hollywood Box office. He has now become a talking point of the Super Bowl. Not a bad month. The latter is the result of a billion-dollar “He Gets Us” marketing campaign, a series of ads released in the lead-up to the Superbowl that culminated in a featured commercial during the Big Game. You can watch it below:
If the purpose of any ad campaign is to create buzz, then “He Gets Us” is already a smashing success. The campaign has been discussed widely on social media and received plenty of coverage from mainstream news outlets.
There’s a famous Saturday Night Live sketch called “Debby Downer,” in which a pessimistic lady pours water on her friends’ enthusiasm. That’s not the purpose of this article. Yet, in the hasty excitement to celebrate any publicity about Jesus, it is also important to pause and evaluate the message. Thus, there are several important issues to dissect in the buzzy new ad.
Does Jesus Get Us?
The ad campaign is not the first to frame Jesus’ earthly experience as a pathway for him to empathize with and relate to humans. Many pastors have taken a similar approach. Jesus became one of us so he could understand us. After all, despite being God, Jesus experienced thirst, hunger, and fatigue.
The “He Gets Us” campaign focuses on these human experiences. A purpose statement on the website declares, “We look at the biography of Jesus through a modern lens to find new relevance in often overlooked moments and themes from his life.” According to the various stand-alone ads, Jesus is like us because he too “was criticized,” “fed up with politics,” “a refugee,” “struggled to make ends meet,” “had tense conversations over dinner,” “was controversial,” “felt alone in the crowd,” “felt abandoned,” “was canceled,” and so on. In short, Jesus “gets us” because he lived our experiences.
This is where the problems become apparent. It reduces God to our understanding of the human experience. A description on the website that accompanies a video called “the Struggle” says, “The idea that Jesus is just like me, as opposed to the message that I need to change to become more like him, is extraordinary to me. It completely transforms my thought process around Jesus.” The notion that Christianity is a faith about a perfect God striving to become more like fallen humanity rather than humans being transformed to be more like God is a backward gospel. Jesus is not “just like us.” He is the Son of God, an eternal being present at the creation of the world. He may have lived a human life, but he was never merely a mortal man.
Does it Matter?
Am I just nit-picking? Does it really matter that an ad campaign doesn’t convey a fully accurate Christology, especially regarding something as notoriously complicated as the hypostatic union? Shouldn’t Christians just be happy people are talking about Jesus?
Perhaps. Yet, there are some major problems with this “humanized Jesus” approach. First, it attributes to God a limited, experience-based understanding. The implication is that Jesus understands our human experience because he experienced humanity. Thus, before Jesus came to Earth as a human baby, God was somehow ignorant. Presumably, the God who related to his chosen people throughout the Old Testament was well meaning, but out of touch; “book smart” rather than truly understanding. The gospel about an all-knowing God becomes a “fish out of water” story.
The second major problem is that when “Jesus gets us” is equated with “Jesus experienced the same thing,” things get murky surrounding experiences Jesus did not have. Yes, Jesus experienced criticism and betrayal. But during his earthly life, Jesus did not experience marriage or fatherhood. He never lived as a woman. He didn’t grow up in a broken family with divorced or abusive parents. He didn’t live in a digital, global world. He experienced temptation, but never the guilt and shame that comes from giving in to it. Jesus wept, but he never felt regret. As the only sinless person to ever live, Jesus never experienced imperfection.
Does Jesus still “get us” in these circumstances? If the answer is “yes,” then the premise of the “He Gets Us” campaign is misleading at best and a poor theological understanding of God’s nature at worst.
God is Not One of Us (and That’s Good News)
The ad campaign strives to make God “modern” and “relevant,” but it ultimately makes God small because he becomes “just like us.” The Bible declares, ‘“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Jesus gets us because he is eternally God, not because he was temporarily human. He is not bound to subjective experiences and biases. He alone has a perfect understanding of every circumstance. Every other religion can offer a human leader, a mortal man who lived as a human among his followers. The power of the gospel is that God is not one of us; he is so much more.
Obviously, the point of the campaign is to ignite a cultural conversation about Jesus, not to become the definitive source of theological orthodoxy. In that sense, the mission is clearly accomplished. People are talking about Jesus, and that should be celebrated.
But words matter. “He Gets Us” is a catchy slogan, yet Christians should be careful not to misrepresent Jesus. We don’t need to “humanize” Jesus to make him more attractive to a modern culture. He doesn’t need to be made relevant. He is forever relevant. Jesus “gets us,” but God is not one of us. And that’s good news.