Jesus at the Super Bowl?

Have you seen the ads about Jesus? The reactions to them on social media have gone from one extreme to the other. 

If you follow our blog you know that we don’t shy away from conversations about cultural and theological topics. And this is one which makes a remarkable intersection between the two. So, on the eve of the Super Bowl, we find another opportunity where we graciously and thoughtfully engage the topic of how we speak about the most important person in human history in the public sphere.

I hope that our balanced approach will help temper some of the harsher critics. 

Recently, Prof. Matt Harbour of Bethany Global University and I co-authored an academic article for the Journal of the Evangelical Missiological Society. Our focus was on a respectful academic consideration of the Jesus of “He Gets Us.” If you’ve been watching sports during the course of the year, you’ve no doubt seen one of the creative marketing commercials about Jesus. The article will be released on March 1 and offers a balanced assessment of the multi-million dollar advertising campaign to make Jesus relevant in US culture.

My first encounter with the ads came last Easter. The brilliant videography, graphics, and voice-overs clearly did not seem like something typically produced by an evangelical. So, I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses behind the clever advertising, but that it was actually millions of dollars of a donor-advised fund in Kansas resourcing at least two marketing agencies led by evangelicals.

As we dug more deeply into the advertisements and the supporting social media efforts and website, it was clear that this was a major effort. After hours of scrutinizing “He Gets Us” resources and interviewing two of the marketers, as well as consulting with other scholars, pastors, and seminary students, we became concerned that the Jesus being presented did not reflect the Jesus of the New Testament; at least not completely.

RNS Journalist, Bob Smietana, heard about our article and requested an interview. The quote he used from our conversation has appeared in the Religion News Service, Washington Post, Christianity Today, among others news outlets.

The headline of the January 26th Religion News Service article reads, “‘He Gets Us’ organizers hope to spend $1 billion to promote Jesus. Will anyone care?” Well, we think many will care. In spite of the expressive affirmations and compelling imagery, the advertising campaign does not see that there is a need to identify Jesus as God. You can simply believe that He is a person who relates to us and provides us an example of how to address anxiety, stress, broken relationships, and many other social problems.

There is little doubt that we all hope many will explore Jesus as a result of the campaign. However, our concern is that with the frequency of the “He Gets Us” message focused on Jesus being a good example to follow, many will miss the Jesus who truly gets us. To that end, Scott Harrower asks two probing questions about our Christology. They’re appropriate as we consider how to talk about Jesus in the public sphere:

“So, ask yourself: ‘What kind of theological culture do I want to commend to future Christians with respect to the divinity of Christ?’ I know I want to commend God the Son ‘true God from true God … of one being with the Father,’ and nothing short of that. Do you?” (“The Intergenerational Impact of Theological Beliefs,” Trinity Without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology, p. 225)

This Super Bowl Sunday, $20 million is being spent on two ads. A 30-second ad will appear between the 1st and 2nd quarters. A 60-second ad will air sometime during the second half. Be sure to watch them and be ready to tell others about the Jesus who truly gets them.

Photo courtesy of He Gets Us Partners

Ephesiology Podcast, Ephesiology Master Classes, and our parent organization, TELOS.Go are all committed to three important areas: defense of the faith, proclamation of the gosepl, and care for the marginalized. Occasionally, cultural issues have emerged where we believe we might contribute constructive reflection. This has been our history through the political turmoil of the last seven years, the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice issues like CRT, new spiritualities in Western society, and criticism of Church Planting Movements.

Interested in Jesus? Here’s a Free Course from Ephesiology Master Classes

The Book of Revelation paints a clear picture of Jesus. In this 10 week study, we’ll discover what it means to be a disciple of Jesus living in challenging times. We’ll see the mission of Jesus’ disciples along with the gospel they proclaimed. And, we’ll dive deeply into the meaning that is so often puzzling to the modern reader.