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“He Gets Us” almost, but not quite

Super Bowl ad frames evangelism leftward, leaving out low-status sinners on the right

Scene from “Foot Washing" commercial from "He Gets Us" Associated Press/Photo by Julia Fullerton-Batten and Scott Mayo/He Gets Us LLC

“He Gets Us” almost, but not quite

I know I run the risk of being “that guy”—the seminary professor egghead who is just a little too fussy, especially when it comes to making a criticism. I’m always sensitive to what one of my former professors used to say when it comes to evangelism: “I like the way I’m doing it better than the way you’re not.” There’s a lot of truth to that.

But that brings me to the subject of my column, the now much discussed “He Gets Us” commercials that ran during the Super Bowl. First, let me offer a note of appreciation: I am generally for whatever it is that brings up the topic of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. There’s no world in which we’re ever talking too much about Jesus. So, yes, let’s give the benefit of the doubt to those who want to find ways to bring Jesus into American culture and American conversation.

Still, let’s just say: There were some noticeable problems with those commercials.

“He Gets Us” framed evangelism with a leftward tinge, communicating the respectability of certain sins over others in our culture (although I’m not sure the ad even communicated that the respectable sins were sins at all). Christians are washing the feet of women at abortion centers and, ostensibly, of the LGBT community. That all seems inoffensive and lovely if Christianity is just about washing feet. But it’s also about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

But notice whose feet went unwashed. It is curious that Christians in these commercials never showed up washing the feet of a foul-mouthed MAGA rally attendee. They were not at a truck stop porn store in Alabama. They were not at a trailer park beset with single moms. They did not show up to the dilapidated and drugged-out factory workers in Ohio, or a white nationalist militia meeting in Michigan. If Jesus really is for all sinners, we should want right-wing racists converted as well, right? How would we respond to Jesus washing the feet of someone outside the Capitol on Jan. 6?

What the commercials end up doing, implicitly if not explicitly, is communicating the socially high-status sins of the left are the ones Christians are told to evangelize, not the low-status sins of the Deplorable Right because, it seems, they are the ones truly outside redemption’s reach.

I, too, want to be a friend to sinners. But I also don't want my friendship with them to be construed as friendship with the world.

But that’s the beauty of Jesus—there is no partiality in the degree or type of brokenness in need of his redemption. If you are reading this, you are a sinner deserving of God’s wrath (Romans 3:21-26). Your conscience, if you will be honest with yourself, is stained with guilt because you know you have violated God’s law and God’s justice. It does not matter who you are, where you have come from, what your social standing is, or whatever other characteristic we can think about that creates social hierarchies—you, friend, are a sinner. The good news is that Jesus died to take the punishment you deserve. But Jesus did not stay dead. God raised him from the dead (Acts 13:30). The good news is that if you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus, you can have eternal life that begins right now.

Jesus loved the outcast, the broken, and the socially undesirable. He was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). So should we be. I, too, want to be a friend to sinners. But I also don't want my friendship with them to be construed as friendship with the world, which is what those commercials can easily blur the lines of (1 John 2:15).

As a technical matter, though, I think there is an error in what the commercials commend. I do not recall Jesus washing the feet of everyone in general, but his disciples only (John 13:8-10). Foot-washing has been regarded as a practice by Christians for other Christians. Still, there are many other ways to express the same ethic of what those commercials intended but with more precision. How about this—Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).

The conditioning effect of these commercials in framing and reaffirming the social castes of American sin, however, is really something. That could have been communicated, but wasn't. The truth of the matter is that Jesus redeems sinners from both the right and the left, whether high-status or low-status. Everyone is equal in their need for Christ (Romans 3:23).

We always run the risk of downplaying the Biblical Jesus for the culturally sanitized Jesus. H. Richard Niebuhr once criticized liberalized Christianity for its abandonment of wrath and justice categories. “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross,” wrote Niebuhr. Let us always be vigilant that in sharing the good news of the gospel. Let us not take an X-Acto knife to the elements of the gospel that are inherently offensive to the world (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew is the managing editor of WORLD Opinions and serves as associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. He resides with his family in Louisville, Ky.

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