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This Editorial was published in the Fourth R, Westar's bi-monthly Magazine. First published in 1987, The Fourth R shares the latest thinking from religion scholars and writers—in non-technical language aimed at a general audience.

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Do We Get Him

During America’s major religious festival, theSuperbowl, television audiences throughout the worldwitnessed “He gets us,” a well-crafted Jesus ad. In the daysfollowing numerous questions were raised, especiallyrelated to the source of funding such a high value pro-duction. The millions spent for the brief Superbowl flybyseemed to run contrary to the images on the screen.

National Public Radio1 began to investigate: wheredid all the money for this ad campaign come fromand what was its rationale? Relying on reports fromChristianity Today,2 it seems that this was just the “start ofsomething big.” The Servant Foundation, an OverlandPark, Kansas, nonprofit that does business as TheSignatry,3 started this project. The original organizersdescribed their initial efforts, which were to total $100million. But the next three years should bring in a bil-lion dollars in what is termed the “first phase.” The bil-lionaire co-founder of Hobby Lobby, David Green, is amajor contributor to this program. Organizers havesigned up twenty thousand churches to provide volun-teers who will assist in the follow-up with people touchedby the messaging.

As of now there are more than a dozen videos.4 Eachpacks an emotional charge. The black-and-white imagesare immediately arresting. Because they are producedoutside the mainline churches, organizers hope that theywill speak to contemporaries who are “unchurched” orconsider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Theimages are designed to grab the listener’s emotions whilethe words at the end, “He gets us,” deliver a reassuringmessage that those who identify with these felt images areconnected with Jesus.

This rhetorical technique is not new. Preachers haveused emotion and charged imagery for millennia, butnow the electronic age has added a new layer of world-encompassing connection. Add to this that most view-ers of these videos are rather illiterate in regard to thecomplexities and interpretive challenges of the Jesus tra-ditions and it becomes critical that we ask where thesemessages are going and where they come from.

Upon viewing everything offered, it becomes clearthat there is an underlying narrative and that it is very much the traditional story of the life and death of Jesus.While some conservative viewers have complained thatthe divinity of Jesus has been played down and that themessage should be that his death has saved humanity, thevideos never divorce themselves from the divinity thatshapes our lives. Somehow in hearing the words “He getsus” the story of Jesus leaps across centuries in an under-stated indication of a godly force.

This is actually “that old time religion” in twenty-firstcentury drag. The presentation might differ markedlyfrom what one usually associates with Jesus and friends,but the desired end is a variation on a well-known theme.The underlying story is ever the same: Jesus, Yesterday,Today, and Tomorrow. Of course, the photography is spoton; the emotional appeal is heartfelt and direct. Howcould one not be swept up in such a persuasive perfor-mance? And, given the shattered world we live in, howcould we not be won over? We can and we will—as long aswe don’t ask any questions.

Now how do we know that it is Jesus who gets us? Whois delivering this message? What do they want? And whoare they? A clue to this attempt at persuasion comes from rec-ognizing what isn’t in these videos. Yes, the underlying tradi-tional narrative of the life of Jesus is there. But where arehis words?

I bring up the words of Jesus because I have foundthat many attempts at conversion use aspects of Jesus’life to guide the prospective believers in certain prede-termined directions. One asks what Jesus would do. Onetries to imitate his example. But what one is usually notasked to do is to think.

What we need to think through are the words thatcan be argued to come from the historical Jesus. We needto ask: Do we get him? Jesus was an artisan of words. Hedid not issue orders. Rather, he experimented with his lis-teners in parables and aphorisms in a remarkable chem-istry of communication. His parables and sayings upsetexpectations. When Jesus spoke, his audience had towork his words out. He trusted peasants to figure thingsout. He did not give them an answer key. His words werenot isolated affairs but human experiments in construct-ing a visionary community.

Now, one of the videos is entitled “Love YourEnemies.” And it shows different antagonistic groups.The accompanying online narrative declares that thisis where we can be compassionate as Jesus was. But thismisses the communicative challenge of the aphorism(“Love your enemies”). To any listener in the first centurythis was madness, for it meant moving outside of one’sknown boundaries, where friends and enemies were eas-ily delineated. It could not be an order or a command,for a command had to be intelligible and this certainlywas not. Couple that with the story of “a man going downfrom Jerusalem to Jericho” and the madness reigns.Obviously, a man who travels alone on a road filled withbrigands is a fool. And when the priest and Levite walkon by, isn’t that like the upper crust, who really do notcare for the likes of us? So, because this is a story, thethird passerby should be a hero (a super Jew or Pharisee,right?). But a Samaritan? And to imagine that someonewho makes your skin crawl could act like a human beingto a Jew? Impossible!

It is, unless the listener begins to think about it andactively imagines a new way of living.


1. “The ‘He Gets Us’ commercials promote Jesus. Who’s behindthem and what is the goal?,” NPR, https://www.npr.org/2023/02/06/1154880673/jesus-commercial-super-bowl-billboard-he-gets-us-hobby-lobby-evangelical-billion.

2. “‘He Gets Us’ Super Bowl Ads Part of Billion-Dollar Campaign,”Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2023/feb-ruary/he-gets-us-super-bowl-commercial-billion-jesus-christian.html.

3. “The Signatry CEO Bill High accepted into Forbes NonprofitCouncil,” The Signatry, https://thesignatry.com/press/bill-high-fnc/.

4. “Featured Videos,” He Gets Us, https://hegetsus.com/en/featured-videos.