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A tale of two ads

A response to the “He Gets Us” Super Bowl commercial does a much better job of pre-evangelism


He Gets Us billboard He Gets Us, LLC

A tale of two ads
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This is the tale of two ads. A multimillion dollar Super Bowl ad put together by the He Gets Us campaign, and a clarifying riff on the original ad designed to show the shortcomings of the first. Both ads use the same basic structure—a series of images, a background song about a collision of persons, concluding with a clear message (“Jesus Didn’t Teach Hate. He Washed Feet. He Gets Us. All of Us.” vs. “Jesus Doesn’t Just Get Us. He Saves Us. He Transforms/Cleanses/Restores/Forgives/Heals/Delivers/Redeems/Loves Us. Such Were Some of You.”).

Both ads were produced in a time of turmoil, agitation, and confusion about who Christ is and what He’s about (as well as who Christians are and what we are about). Both ads provoked reactions and commentary, especially among professing Christians.

Neither ad presents the gospel directly. Instead, they seek to reacquaint outsiders with Christ and Christianity, to make a (positive) impression by helping the target audience to see themselves in the ad. In that sense, they are a kind of pre-evangelism, a longstanding feature of Christian witness. One of the most common and effective types of pre-evangelism is the testimony, in which Christians tell the story of how Jesus saved them from sin. Like the ads, the goal of giving one’s testimony is to identify with one’s audience so that the audience can identify with the speaker and ultimately with the Lord Jesus Christ. In such testimony, the gospel is often implicit, rather than explicit (though often testimonies conclude with an explicit call to repent and believe).

Thinking of the ads as a form of testimony offers us a useful way to evaluate them. The book of Acts contains a number of examples of testimony, most notably of the apostle Paul, who describes to multiple audiences how God collided with his story. Comparing the ads to Paul’s testimony in Acts 21–22 allows us to see more clearly the shortcomings of “He Gets Us” and the beauty of “He Saves Us.”

Recall the basic story. Paul visits Jerusalem in Acts 21. At the urging of the elders there, he seeks to put lies and slander to rest (particularly the slander that Paul teaches that Jews should forsake Moses and their customs). Paul’s attempt to quell the hostility fails. Liars falsely accuse him of defiling the holy place by bringing a Gentile into the temple. They stir up a mob. Paul is beaten, and then arrested by the Romans.

At this point, “all Jerusalem is in confusion.” But not Paul. He’s as cool as a cucumber, and he asks permission to address the crowd. The Roman tribune sees a mob; Paul sees a potential congregation. And he proceeds to give his testimony. He surprises the mob into silence by speaking in flawless Hebrew. He then gives his testimony and emphasizes his shared background with this crowd: He too was zealous for God (“as you are this day,” Acts 22:3), zealous for the law of Moses, a persecutor of Christians who hauled them to jail and approved executions.

But then Jesus collided with his story and changed everything. As Paul tells his story, he weaves in the gospel: Jesus is the Righteous One who washes away sin when we call on His name (22:14–15). It’s not hard to see Paul’s pre-evangelistic strategy and implicit gospel message. "I was like you, a persecutor of the church. Now you can be like me. Trust in Jesus the Righteous One. He can wash away your sins."

Even our pre-evangelism must be shaped by the gospel, the one that demands repentance and faith in the risen Lord Jesus.

And then Paul lands the sermon where he has to land the sermon: “God sent me to the Gentiles.” In other words, he puts his finger on the sins of this particular crowd—their contempt of Gentiles. And the response is predictable.

Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live” (Acts 22:22).

This is faithful testimony. Paul not only builds the bridge to the hostile and skeptical outsiders, but he also communicates what they will have to leave behind in order to cross it. In other words, even without a formal gospel proclamation, his testimony displayed the glory of the gospel. Even Gentile-despising persecutors can be saved … if they repent.

This highlights the fundamental difference in the two ads. The “He Saves Us” ad accents the need to leave your sinful way of life, from paganism to racial hatred, from terrorism to pornography, from drug addict to drag queen. The “He Gets Us” ad instead validates certain types of left-coded sinners, while casting aspersions on conservative Christians (such as pro-life sidewalk counselors). It would be as though Paul gave his testimony and validated the sin of his audience while throwing shade at Ananias, the Christian who risked life and limb to restore his sight and lead him to Christ.

And this worldly slant could easily have been avoided. All it would have taken was for one of the pictures to include a Latino woman washing the feet of a white man in a red MAGA hat. Or a black man washing the feet of Oliver Anthony.

Even considering that possibility reveals why such images weren’t included. If they had been, we can easily imagine the pre-evangelism ending with the target audience shouting, “Away with such a fellow from the earth.”

This is the fundamental point—even our pre-evangelism must be shaped by the gospel, the one that demands repentance and faith in the risen Lord Jesus. The empathetic validation of “He Gets Us” is not enough; we need the far more radical and Biblical compassion of “He Saves Us.”

Yes, Jesus gets us. But more than that, He saves us. And He does so by turning us from our wickedness. And so, like the apostle Paul in Acts 21, we must give our testimony with a deep confidence that every type of sinner can be saved if Jesus collides with their story as He did with Paul’s.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? It will have to be a life-transforming encounter, not a foot rub.


Joe Rigney

Joe Rigney serves as Fellow of Theology at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. He is the author of six books including: Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (Eyes & Pen, 2013) and Courage: How the Gospel Creates Christian Fortitude (Crossway, 2023).


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