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He gets us? But who is he?
A trendy new "Jesus marketing" campaign seeks to rebrand a familiar figure.
“They are wanting to know more about a Jesus who is a false Jesus,” said the Reverend Tom Buck in reference to the new HeGetsUs campaign which ChristianityToday describes as a campaign to “make Jesus the ‘biggest brand in your city.”
The HeGetsUs campaign aims not to get people to “go to church,” but rather invite people to “consider the story of a man who created a radical love movement that continues to impact the world thousands of years later.”
As they explain on their website:
They seem to believe the public “image” of Jesus needs to be rehabilitated for the 21st Century. They realized a problem according to Jason Vanderground: “how did the world’s greatest love story become known as a hate group…but we wanted to help them see that in Jesus there was somebody who had a lot of common experience just like they did.”
On their website they attempt to portray the Saviour as relatable and sharing many experiences, problems, feelings, and emotions endured by 21st Century people.
One of the videos asserts, “Jesus suffered anxiety, too.” The assertion the Saviour suffered “anxiety” is theologically dubious and comes very near to blasphemy.
Another video claims, “Jesus had to control his outrage, too.” But the outrage Jesus felt was never sinful, was always justified, and always perfect in its expression. The explanation goes on to say, “By telling this story, we reminded ourselves that even when we’re tested and trolled, we have the option of rising above.” But do we have the power to do so?
I. Which Jesus?
A major problem with this campaign is that it seems to present a Jesus that is too much like us.
To be clear, Jesus was more human than you or I; His humanity was untainted by original sin. But the campaign seems to present Jesus as merely a moral exemplar, that is Christ is simply an example for people to follow.
The Reverend Derrick Brite warns about this kind of messaging: “it’s a gospel without sin, without cross, without a god; it’s ridiculous, it’s blasphemous, and it needs to be killed.”
In another video HeGetsUs speaks of a man who wanted people to be “filled with compassion” and then they go on to explain, “The name of Jesus has been used to harm and divide, but if you look at how he lived…He was radically inclusive. What would our world look like if that were the norm? If strangers became friends over the dinner table as they did around Jesus?”
It seems the marketers of the HeGetsUs campaign are trying to make Jesus likable, palatable, and acceptable to the world. And to do that, they are obscuring the reality of what Jesus came to do: to glorify God by satisfying divine justice by becoming a curse and being hanged on a tree all after He had fulfilled the Law of God on behalf of His people.
The campaign seems devoid of the cross; it presents a Jesus without the cross, a Jesus who is just like us and who is inoffensive. But that is not the Jesus of the Bible.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 1:22–25)
The Apostle Paul did not hide the offense of Christ from the sophisticated urbanites of Corinth. In fact that is what he led with:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:3–4)
Certainly the way Jesus is portrayed in the HeGetsUs campaign will start conversations and raise questions, but they will not be conversations and questions about the biblical Jesus. Perhaps the organizers intend a “bait and switch” with this provocative campaign: Get people interested in a Jesus who went around talking about hope, love, compassion, and forgiveness and then get them connected with a church that proclaims the whole Christ, the truth about Christ.
But that sounds like tactics timeshare salesmen use. Here is how Paul did evangelism:
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:2)
II. Further Problems
The HeGetsUs campaign seems to present a “therapeutic Jesus” rather than the biblical Jesus who was incarnate and made man. In a recent podcast, the Reverend Stephen Spinnenweber noted how Jesus is crassly portrayed as someone “who gets you” in an attempt to appeal to people who need a therapeutic safe space.
TE Spinnenweber warns their appeal to the therapeutic and psychological categories in training materials will actually discourage people from sharing the gospel:
after reading [their materials] I’m not motivated to do evangelism, [because] I’m afraid I’m going to do this person irreparable damage if I mention sin, the cross, [or that] they’re estranged from God and can only be reconciled through the atoning work of Christ on their behalf.
The campaign also distracts from man’s real problems, says Spinnenweber:
HeGetsUs is the answer to the oft-heard lament, ‘Nobody gets me.’ And while many indeed feel that their greatest need is to be understood and accepted by others, this is not the case. The problem is not that others don’t get us, the problem is that we don’t get ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote that fallen man’s fundamental problem was his suppression of the truth in unrighteousness and his refusal to honor God or give thanks to him (cf. Rom 1:18, 21).
HeGetsUs seems to portray the problems with the world as “out there” and “other people,” when in reality the problem is within us. As G. K. Chesterton explained in answer to the question from the Times, what is wrong with the world: “Sirs, I am. Yours, GK Chesterton.”
The HeGetsUs campaign psychologizes away the problem with “us” to make it a problem with “them.”
B. What Sort of Love?
The site speaks a great deal about love but does not elaborate about how the love of Jesus differs from what the world understands love to be.
TE Brite, reflecting on his own experiences in broad evangelicalism and antinomianism, asks of HeGetsUs:
this “radical love,” this “radical grace,” does “this” love actually accomplish anything…what does that love entail and what does that love produce, does it actually have an effect?
The site stops short of calling people to faith and repentance, notes Brite, but simply calls people to love others better. But how is that possible apart from the saving grace and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit?
C. Cultural Stereotypes
Natasha Crain raises concerns about the media campaign’s tactics as well: “Whereas the campaign is seeking to give people a fresh picture of Jesus, all it really does is reinforce the feel-good image culture already has.”
The Jesus presented by the HeGetsUs folks is not a Jesus who came preaching “repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Cf. Mark 1:14-15), but rather a guy who likes the same things you like, has endured the same things you’ve endured, and has the same frustrations you have.
In contrast to the way he is portrayed by the campaign, the Jesus of the Bible divided folks by His message (cf. Matt 10:34–39).
III. Potential PCA Involvement
The HeGetsUs campaign is reaching out to various faith communities hoping to partner with them in this message.
Given the concerns above, it might be surprising to read the PCA Agency Coordinators are considering preparing resources to be hosted on a PCA landing page located on the HeGetsUs site.
PCA Stated Clerk Rev. Bryan Chapell expressed a different take on the matter:
“If people think that the campaign is not now providing good answers to a hundred million people with questions, then we think that is all the more reason that we need to provide solid answers for how people can be saved!”
But does it require working with an organization like HeGetsUs to do so? TE Brite argues it does not: “The PCA…[needs] to be the standard bearers for theology, and we need to quit playing games…I don’t understand why the PCA as a Reformed denomination would even consider this.”
In a statement, TE Chapell noted there has not been a lot of “controversy” regarding this and only “one person in the whole PCA has brought up any concerns” related to the HeGetsUs campaign. If you have thoughts, questions, or concerns about the PCA involvement in HeGetsUs, you may contact the PCA Stated Clerk’s office:
Someone has started a petition urging the PCA not to take part in this campaign.
TE Chapell indicated the Coordinators of PCA Agencies (e.g. RUF, CDM, MNA, MTW) might make a decision at a meeting next week on whether to join the site.
By contrast, TE Spinnenweber advises a more cautious approach given the “lack of clarity” regarding what HeGetsUs states about Jesus and who is funding the campaign. He suggested it seems unwise to make a hasty decision on whether to work with this group and questioned why a decision was needed with such “urgency.”
The goals of HeGetsUs may be to make Jesus palatable to sophisticated urbanite worldings frustrated with religion and society, but the Jesus they present is not the Jesus of the Scripture. This campaign has turned the good news of Christ on its head with some sort of psycho-therapeutic-babbel that obscures the truth of Christ.
In the great exchange, we receive Christ’s righteousness and merit while He receives our sin and iniquity; that is how He gets us. But here is the gospel: we get Him.