Here Comes the He Gets Us Campaign Again: Why Its Portrayal of Jesus is Still a Problem

Last year, I wrote an article called “7 Problems with the He Gets Us Campaign,” in which I critically responded to the $100 million advertising campaign featuring a website, billboards in major cities, a book, and ads that have been viewed more than 300 million times. Perhaps most visibly, the campaign’s ads were featured in last year’s Super Bowl. When thousands of people went searching for more information on it, my article came up, and it went viral—actually pulling down my site at one point! Clearly, a lot of people are interested in knowing more about the nature of these ads.

Fast forward to 2024. Super Bowl Sunday is in a few days, and He Gets Us will once again be running ads that generate widespread curiosity. Given the reach of the campaign and high interest level, I wanted to do an updated evaluation of what He Gets Us is doing today. To that end, I’m going to answer four questions:

  1. Does the He Gets Us Campaign get skeptics interested in Jesus?
  2. Does the He Gets Us Campaign get skeptics interested in the right Jesus?
  3. Do the He Gets Us campaign reading plans take people to the next level of understanding Jesus (beyond the slick website and TV ads)?
  4. Does the He Gets Us campaign direct people to theologically solid churches for continuing their search for truth?

There are three things that will inform my answers. First is my professional background in marketing (I have an MBA in marketing and am a former adjunct marketing professor). Since this is a campaign aimed at “marketing” Jesus, that background is particularly relevant. Second is my evaluation of the publicly available He Gets Us content (the website and YouVersion reading plans). I have not read the He Gets Us book, so that isn’t part of what I’m responding to. Third is a recent interview campaign consultant Ed Stetzer did with Biola professors Scott Rae and Sean McDowell on Biola’s “Think Biblically” podcast (Stetzer is the Dean of Biola’s Talbot School of Theology). While Stetzer says he is not a spokesman for the campaign, he has been closely involved, so his comments are helpful for an insider view of the goals and strategies.

1. Does the He Gets Us Campaign get skeptics interested in Jesus?

Stetzer says that the people who eventually started the campaign had become concerned “that the perception of Christianity had suffered and people weren’t necessarily considering who Jesus was. And they would like for people to consider who he was, who he is.” They then brought in market researchers who found that skeptics were open to considering who Jesus was (I’d love to know more about that, but no further information was noted). Stetzer emphasized repeatedly in the interview that the very narrow goal of the campaign is to reach those skeptics. Ultimately, He Gets Us wants to build a bridge from people seeing the ads to learning more by going to the website and ultimately signing up for a Bible reading plan and/or asking to be connected to a church.

So, in short, the goal is very specifically to get skeptics interested in Jesus. That’s a very worthy goal, especially if you have millions of dollars to do it with. My first question is, does the campaign successfully meet that objective?

While I don’t know the statistics on how many people have visited the He Gets Us website as a result of the ads, Stetzer says over 600,000 people have signed up for the reading plans and “hundreds of thousands” have been referred to churches. So, as a surface-level answer to the question, it certainly seems reasonable to say that yes, the campaign has generated interest. If the goal was to get people to one of those two action points—signing up for the Bible reading plan and/or asking for a church referral—then marketers have achieved at least some success. (Whether the numbers justify the money spent is a different question that I’m not evaluating here.)

2. Does the He Gets Us Campaign get skeptics interested in the right Jesus?

From a marketing perspective, there is a predictable funnel that people go through before taking action (e.g., making a purchase). It starts with becoming aware of something, which then sometimes converts to interest, which then sometimes converts to desire for action, which then sometimes converts to action. Marketers know that if you want people to take action—to get to the bottom of the funnel—you have to first take them through those stages, and those stages have to be tailored toward the action you want.

In this case, if you are marketing in order to generate interest in Jesus, you want to be sure you’re generating interest in the right Jesus (a correct portrayal) if you want that to lead to the action you desire.

This is where I believe the campaign fails in a serious way.

As I said in last year’s article, the Jesus of this campaign is nothing more than an inspiring human who relates to our problems and cares a whole lot about a culturally palatable version of social justice (the exception to this is in parts of the reading plan, which I’ll address in the next point). This has not changed since I last wrote. My points then remain true now: The fact that Jesus “gets us,” stripped from the context of His identity, is meaningless; Jesus is presented as an example, not a Savior; The campaign reinforces the problematic idea that Jesus’s followers have Jesus all wrong; And the campaign reinforces what culture wants to believe about Jesus while leaving out what culture doesn’t want to believe. I won’t expand on these points here since you can read my prior article for that analysis.

But I do want to say more this time about who the campaign is clearly targeting. Stetzer mentioned that it’s “skeptics,” but a close evaluation (or even not so close evaluation) of the campaign makes it clear it’s not all skeptics they have in mind. This is crucial to understand. It’s a very specific segment of skeptics—it’s progressives who primarily view the world through a lens of social justice (and specifically the critical theory model of social justice, which places everyone in oppressor/oppressed buckets).

If you’ve never immersed yourself in the world of this viewpoint, you might not recognize how laden the content is with language and framing designed to appeal very specifically to this group. If they were targeting just any skeptic, you wouldn’t see such a specific framing of Jesus in progressive terminology; there are plenty of skeptics who aren’t beholden to progressive social justice thinking.

For example, they use hashtags with words that have a specific connotation to a progressive audience, even if the campaign isn’t necessarily using them in the same way (on the home page, you see #inclusive #activist #struggle #refugee #justice #outrage #bias #judgment). They also frame their content in terms that are commonly used in progressive social critiques. For example, the words “religious leaders” or “religious people” are often used with a negative connotation, which serves to reinforce the notion that it’s bad to be “religious” (that was never Jesus’s claim; for clarification on this topic, see my podcast with Alisa Childers here). There are recurring references to concepts like lived experience, power dynamics, oppression, racial conflict, toxic systems, corruption, and political conflict—all progressive focal points. That’s not to say that none of these things are actually problems, but rather that it’s clear they’re focusing on progressives given their obvious focus on progressive concerns.

So why is this a concern? I have no concern at all with choosing progressives as your target audience. But I have a lot of concern with the nature of the campaign given this target and what they are likely to take from it. Here are three key reasons why.

First, the campaign will likely lead many progressives to conclude that they (still) like Jesus and (still) hate Christians. To be honest, I’m not very convinced that we even have a problem with Jesus’s reputation in culture. People tend to like Jesus because they don’t understand all that He taught. As far as the average person is concerned, Jesus was a loving guy who hated “the system” and can serve as a good moral example—and that’s exactly how the He Gets Us website portrays Him. However, people tend to have disdain for Christians when we present the fullness of what the Bible teaches, particularly on moral subjects. So if a progressive sees this content and never gets to a Bible reading plan or church connection, they’ve taken away that Jesus was the great guy they thought He was and that all those Christians today who talk about things they don’t like are still the problem.

Second, the campaign will solidify the idea in progressives’ minds that their social justice lens of the world is the lens through which Jesus sees it, too. It would be one thing if marketers used progressive language to present a full picture of Jesus. But when you just use progressive language without presenting the full picture, it leaves the impression that their language—representing a whole underlying worldview structure built on critical theory—is correct. Those who don’t get to the desired Bible or church action points will simply come away thinking that Jesus was a social justice warrior just like they are (with all that implies to them).

Is that really a big problem? Yes, yes it is. It is this model of oppressed/oppressor thinking that leads progressives to claim the gender binary is oppressive, that white people are inherently racist, that abortion is a form of justice for women, that heterosexuality is an oppressive norm, and that we need to abolish the nuclear family. If this campaign even inadvertently suggests through a social justice veneer that this is the lens through which Jesus would have seen the world, that is a disastrous consequence.  

Third, the campaign can easily be construed to affirm theologically progressive Christianity. In my last two points, I was speaking specifically of progressives who don’t identify as Christians. However, there are many who hold to the same social justice ideology and do identify as Christians. They are typically focused on a human Jesus who merely cares about a social gospel, and they reject the authority of the Bible. These Christians would heartily affirm everything on the He Gets Us site. Given that the site portrays a fully human Jesus and at the same time claims to be presented by “Christians,” there’s no reason to think someone wouldn’t come away thinking they can be a Christian and not believe all the “baggage” about things like the Bible being God’s Word.  

It’s worth noting this statement on the site: “He Gets Us is a diverse group of Jesus followers with a wide variety of faith journeys and lived experiences. Our work represents the input from Christians who believe that Jesus is the son of God as well as many others who, though not Christians, share a deep admiration for the man that Jesus was, and we are deeply inspired and curious to explore his story.” It’s pretty clear theologically progressive Christians have been part of the team.

So my answer to the question, Does the He Gets Us Campaign get skeptics interested in theright Jesus? is a resounding no. It’s not just an incomplete picture of Jesus, it’s an inaccurate one. And because it will just confirm what the target audience already thinks, many if not most will jump out of the marketing funnel before they get to the desire to learn more. If you don’t challenge people’s thinking, what would they need to learn more about?

3. Do the He Gets Us campaign reading plans take people to the next level of understanding Jesus (beyond the slick website and TV ads)?  

While I clearly have significant concerns about the people who imbibe ideas about Jesus and Christians from the He Gets Us web and TV content alone—never getting to the Bible or a church from this campaign—what about those who do actually get to the Bible reading plans? Are they designed well to take people to the next level of understanding—to an accurate one?

There are 7 plans on YouVersion, ranging from 4 to 9 days of content. I read all 43 days of the plans. If you’re interested in the details, I’ve documented below. If not, you can jump to the bottom line after I list the plans.

Plan 1: “He Gets Us” (7 days)

This plan continues the model of using progressive language and framing. The devotionals make comments like these:

  • “[Jesus’s enemies] feared him because he challenged the norm.” In progressive contexts, norms are typically seen as bad and needing to be overturned.
  • “The way Jesus called out the toxic religious and political systems turned history upside down.” In progressive contexts, religion—especially Christianity—is toxic, as are political systems, so this makes Jesus appear to favor that view.
  • “[Jesus] made friends with people just as they are and let himself be known just as he was, too. Authentic. Trust-worthy. The kind of friend we all long for.” It’s true that Jesus made friends with people as they are, but most progressives are likely to read this as, “Jesus accepts you for whoever you want to be, so be your authentic self.” That’s not what it says, but if you have cultural awareness of the claims and debates today, it’s fairly obvious that’s something progressives would take from it without realizing the distinction between being friends with someone and approving of their identity/behavior.
  • “The Samaritan stopped and cared for the Jew, at his own expense just like he would a neighbor—unlike the racist, religious men who stepped over the beat-up guy on their way to worship, of all things.” Again, this plays into the progressive hatred for the “religious”; yes, the men were religious, but that wasn’t the problem. Jesus never scolded people for being too religious; He scolded them for being self-righteous and hypocritical.  
  • “Yes, it’s true. The one who stood bravely against the strongest, most corrupt system of the day, was on his face in fear.” And yet again, this plays into the progressive view of systems being inherently corrupt.

In short, plan 1 is more of the same from the ad/web campaign and, far from redeeming the nature of that content, simply doubles down on the equivocation and misunderstandings.

Plan 2: “Diving Deeper” (7 days)

I thought that, given the title, this is where we would get deeper into a theologically accurate portrayal and reading of Jesus, but that’s not what I found. This one had fewer problematic statements than plan 1, but the content overall gets no closer to teaching people about the true Jesus (while continuing with occasional progressive framing along the way, such as casting Jesus’s infant trip to Egypt as a “refugee” situation).

On day 1, it says, “The best way to discover his actual purpose, regardless of the centuries between us, is to look at his life. Sure, plenty of books have been written about what he taught, but let’s look at his private side, the side you see when you walk with someone side by side down a new road.” The subsequent days go on to have subjects like “He grieves with us,” “He understands us,” “He’s vulnerable like us,” “He loves us,” “He faced hardship like us,” and “He is for us.” Do the actions leading to these statements really reveal Jesus’s “actual purpose” as indicated on day 1? Jesus’s purpose was to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). But to understand that would require an understanding of the nature of God, the nature of man, the divine nature of Jesus, and the problem of sin—none of which He Gets Us had even come close to addressing by this point. Instead, they offer people yet again more confirmation that Jesus simply gets us.  

Plan 3: “Questions Jesus Asked” (7 days)

This plan seems disconnected from the other plans, rather than being on some kind of trajectory like “digging even deeper.” It features a set of questions Jesus asked people, with answers showing His character (no, still not his divine nature). There’s again a dig at “religious leaders”: “The cancel campaign began in Jerusalem where the jealous, paranoid religious leaders set a plot in motion to kill Jesus and they wouldn’t quit until he hung dead on a cross.”

Notably, this is the first plan where the verses themselves start referring to Jesus as something more than a human (John 6:66-69). It’s also the first time the devotional content casually references Jesus doing something supernatural (day 5 talks about Him walking on water). However, there is zero explanatory transition from human Jesus to Jesus as God here. Someone who didn’t know that the Bible teaches Jesus is God could be forgiven for scratching their heads at how this human was now walking on water!

Despite this strange jump, I thought they were going to bring home the good news when they said, “But Jesus offers love, not because we measure up, but because of who he is. On that day, She chose to believe Jesus was who he said he was.” And, somewhat inexplicably, they don’t go on to say who Jesus said He was. Not only that, but they don’t get to it until the plan after the next one.

Plan 4: “Who Did Jesus Love?” (9 days)

Plans 4 and 5 are so different from everything else in the He Gets Us campaign that it seems like they hired a committed Christian to insert this content to make the well-meaning funders (who want people to know about the true Jesus) happy. I realize that sounds cynical, but it’s a jarring difference.

In plan 4, we read verses where Jesus is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease—a clearly supernatural Jesus. Day 2 says, “The person we despise, he loved. And not for anything they did to deserve it but because of who he was,” and that comes with verses about salvation and how the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. We read that Mary knew Jesus’s birth was far from “natural.” We see a doubting Thomas who wanted to personally experience the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. And we read the gospel in John 3:16.

So, if people see an ad, go to the site, sign up for a Bible reading plan and make it to plan 4, they will find a supernatural Savior. (Granted, you could theoretically start with plan 4, but I’m guessing most people start with plan 1.)

Plan 5: “Who Did Jesus Say He Was?” (9 days)

This is the plan that really brings home what they should have been bringing home all along. Day 1 says, “Not only does he get us. He wants us to get him.” Yes! At long last, they make this connection. They go on to teach the full Jesus in this plan. Again, it’s so different in nature and even in language, that it really feels like they brought in someone to insert the “theological” content after the progressive Christians on staff developed everything else. Day 7 in particular brings the whole message home, laying out the Gospel and exclusivity of Jesus, and encourages people to pray.  

Plan 6: “Jesus & Joy” (4 days)

This is a short plan focused on the subject of joy. There’s little here of interest other than another passing criticism of religious leaders (“Religious guys seemed to love following Jesus around town. Could you imagine being the popular guy in a town that stirred up the kind of noise that very religious people hated? That was Jesus”).

Plan 7: “What Jesus Gave Up” (6 days)

This one focuses on how Jesus was “after a different way of living.” Unfortunately, the plan reverts to a primarily human Jesus. For example, it lists four ways Jesus spent His life on earth and changed history: Jesus taught another way, He served, He forgave (the description of this only includes his human forgiveness of others, not His divine forgiveness), and He loved. It leaves out the most important reason why He changed history—He was God incarnate. On the final day, titled, “He Gave Up Vengeance,” it says, “The reality of what was happening was not lost on him. And nothing about it surprised him. Jesus was determined to accomplish what he came to do. And he did.” That’s the end, with no explanation about what He accomplished. (To be clear, they explained that in plan 5, but the plans seem to be written independently of one another, so a reader wouldn’t necessarily have been through plan 5 to know what they’re talking about.)

So the bottom line is that the plans range from problematic (more social justice framing) to some basic Bible content (e.g., on joy) to some actual theological meat on what was left out of everything else on who Jesus is (plans 4 and 5). If someone actually makes it to plans 4 and 5, they’ll hear the gospel.

4. Does the He Gets Us campaign direct people to theologically solid churches for continuing their search for truth?

When people become interested in learning more about Jesus, they’re directed to a “Connect” page. One of my most significant concerns with the campaign last year was that there was no clear theological vetting of churches to which people were being sent. I do not see any updates or information on the current site as to the criteria they’re using to select church prospects.

As I explain in Faithfully Different, 65% of Americans identify as Christian while only about 6% have a worldview consistent with what the Bible teaches. Research has also shown that a dismal percent of pastors have a biblical worldview. If you have no theological criteria for where you’re sending people, you’re actually more likely than not—based on statistics—to be sending them to a church whose teachings don’t line up with those of the Bible.

In other words, you’re sending unsuspecting truth seekers to places where they won’t hear truth.

Perhaps they have tightened up their criteria but aren’t explicitly saying that on the site. I’ll be happy to update my comments here if someone from the campaign wants to reach out and contact me.

In conclusion, I want to say I’m sure there is good that will come from the campaign. I hope there is much good that comes from it. And I know God can make good come from anything He chooses. But those aren’t reasons to not critique something and offer discernment. I find it highly discouraging that when there is so much money being poured into a campaign, it’s being used to further the perception that Jesus is the same Jesus people already believe in rather than the one they need to believe in. Promoting a social justice Jesus can actually make talking about the real Jesus more difficult, because He Gets Us has placed one more data point in people’s minds that it’s His followers who talk about all that “unpopular stuff” who don’t get it. They’ll come away knowing Jesus gets them, but they won’t get Him.

Let’s hope a lot of people get to Bible reading plans 4 and 5.

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