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Watered-Down Gospel Messages Like ‘He Gets Us’ Ultimately Lead To Empty Pews

foot washing scene in super bowl commerical
Image CreditHe Gets Us/YouTube

By focusing too much on ‘us’ and not enough on Christ, the ad prioritizes outreach and cheap grace at the expense of the Gospel message.

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This year, “He Gets Us” spent an estimated $17.5 million on a pair of Super Bowl ads as part of their billion-dollar ad campaign. One commercial showed a series of images of people in various circumstances in answer to the question, “who is my neighbor,” alluding to Jesus’s command to “love thy neighbor” in Matthew 22:39. The second commercial depicts Christians washing the feet of various individuals who many might consider to be the Christians’ ideological opponents. The minute-long ad ends with a line of text that reads, “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet,” referencing John 13:1-17 in which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

Unfortunatley, by focusing too much on “us” and not enough on Christ, the ad prioritizes outreach and cheap grace at the expense of the Gospel message. The end result of this kind of watered-down Christianity is ultimately a dying church.

The Cult of Self-Adoration

Rather than proclaiming the good news that Jesus has been “declared the Son of God in power” by his death and resurrection, redeeming creation and summoning all of his creatures to live under his lordship, these ads fixate on the sympathetic but wayward “neighbor,” suggesting that an undiscriminating love of humanity is the heart of the Gospel. In this way, the “He Gets Us” ad campaign merely perpetuates our society’s cult of self-adoration.

Jesus undoubtedly taught us to love one another. But that’s not all he taught: He also taught repentance and self-sacrifice. Jesus called for us to lose our lives for his sake and told sinners, in love, to “go and sin no more.” To make Jesus more palatable, the “He Gets Us” feet washing ad ignores key context to the biblical feet washing story and twists Jesus’ radical call to transformation into a tacit affirmation and acceptance of our cultural standards of morality.

Jesus didn’t go around washing everyone’s feet during his earthly ministry. He condescended to cleanse the feet of his disciples, those who had chosen to follow him. This episode in the life of Christ is certainly an example of the kind of humility and servant heart his followers are to have, but it was also a prefiguration of the kind of salvific, spiritual cleansing that only occurs in those who repent and believe in him.

The problem with ads isn’t necessarily that they deploy images explicitly designed to reflect the social justice perspective that dominates mainstream culture. It is important to meet people where they are and speak to them in their language. The problem is when this outreach comes at the expense of the Gospel message — that Jesus is Lord and we are his subjects.

Christians are indeed called to love sinners, but love requires willing the good of the other, and that means challenging others to abandon their life of sin for a life in Christ. To kneel before sins in order to be inoffensive is not love but an exercise in cheap grace.

A Neutered Gospel, An Empty Church

What’s more, such a neutered Gospel fails to fill the pews, suggesting that the champions of an oversimplified, ambiguous “He Gets Us” gospel don’t seem to get what will make Christianity attractive.

Christianity in America has been on a rapid decline for several years, a troubling trend that looks set to continue in the decades to come. While this decline has affected most denominations, the so-called Seven Sisters of Mainline Protestantism have been hit particularly hard losing an average of 25 percent of their membership over the last two decades. This precipitous decline is no doubt due, in some part, to mainline churches’ interest in being agents of the culture instead of agents of Christ.

Some sects of mainline churches even tend to favor so-called gay marriage and abortion and their clergy are more progressive even than their congregations. Yet, despite adopting more mainstream perspectives on culture war issues, often in opposition to traditional Christianity, these churches have continued to be hurt the most by the de-churching of America.

On the flip side, groups that tend to be more subversive of the dominant progressive culture, like Pentecostals and Traditional Latin Mass Catholics, have been the few Christian traditions in America to experience growth in recent years. This growth is no doubt a result, in part, of these traditions offering something that the culture can’t: the challenge to bear out the image of Christ.

The Gospel is offensive to the sensibilities of the world. That’s not a thing for Christians to be ashamed of but something to celebrate. The radical love of Christ is what we have to offer the world that no one else has, the good news that the Lord of all creation would subject himself to suffering and death so that we may find the superabundant satisfaction of all that we long for. 

Instead of changing Christ to reflect the culture, Christians need to challenge the culture to reflect Christ. And that means inviting people to a life of holiness — not kneeling before their sins.


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