Artists were once again part of stirring the cultural pot with the recent Super Bowl commercials produced by the non-profit, non-denominational organization, Come Near. Personally, as an artist, I relish these moments as art fulfills its purpose of provoking responses and being a catalyst for change.
HeGetsUs.com's Jesus commercials, seen by millions worldwide, aimed to invite those unfamiliar with Jesus to discover more about Christ, free from the often accompanying religious baggage of contemporary "outreach." As a result, they also significantly provoked many Christians, challenging them to see Jesus in a context diverging from their political or religious agendas—stances not typically embraced by today's religious zealots inclined toward politicization over Kingdom values.
Why Did the Jesus Commercials Offend Many Christians?
From my social media feeds and the numerous comments therein, it's apparent many devout Christians felt deeply offended, even angered, by these commercials. The pressing question is "Why?" Some felt like these commercials didn’t present the whole picture of life in Christ which demands repentance and external life changes as the result of an internal heart transformation. But for me, these commercials did what Jesus often did. They invited people to come and see what new life in Him is all about in the context of relationship and conversation before requiring anything of them. Something many in the church have lost the ability to practice.
These commercials translated the narrative of Jesus’ compassion and acceptance for the afflicted and hurting into a visual form that demanded attention and reflection. Like any moment of Holy Spirit-induced challenge and conviction, it was initially difficult and often dismissed. Yet, such provocation is crucial within the Body of Christ, now more than ever.
My belief is that it compelled many in the church to confront—for perhaps the first time in a long time—the stark divide between their personal perception of Jesus and His Kingdom and the reality of that Kingdom as depicted in Scripture. It questioned their loyalty to political and denominational allegiances over the Gospel's simplicity and the constant nature of God’s grace as bestowed through Christ. It challenged their preference for predictability and stability against the backdrop of our society's dire and varied circumstances.
What the Gospels Reveal About Jesus
Every Christian intent on living a Kingdom-focused life must earnestly observe, listen, and discern Jesus' reality as presented in the Bible, contrasting it with Western Christianity's modern preference for comfort, control, and political clout. We must regard the Gospel accounts and Jesus' narratives as they truly are: radical demonstrations of God's love and grace, extended most to those who deserve it least, in times when they need it most—an invitation to abundant, eternal life in Christ, extended even while we were yet sinners.
The Jesus of the Bible loved and accepted people unconditionally. Invited them into His Kingdom unreservedly. This does not imply He ignored their sin but neither did He see their sin as a disqualifier for the invitation. The transformation people underwent with Jesus was the result of His love and acceptance, not manipulative pressure, cultural bias, or religious expectations. Indeed, He chose to serve those who opposed Him—Judas, who would betray Him, and Peter, who would deny Him. He chose to eat and fellowship with those whom religious people scorned.
In fact, the individuals whom Jesus most frequently accused and called to immediate repentance were not the needy, hurting, and downtrodden but the religious hardliners and self-righteous power-seekers who saw themselves as more important. Yet, many in today's church often withhold grace unless it is met with instant repentance.
What’s Art Got to Do With It?
Art can be transformative and potent in this transformation process because it often serves as a supernatural, almost covert language - designed and used by God – that shifts perspectives, opens hearts, inspires wonder, and alters worldviews—whether it appears overtly Christian or not. It broadens our understanding of the world, prompting us to consider people, situations, and truths outside our comfort zones in new ways—essential processes God employs to shape us into His image and empower us as messengers of His Light and Life.
Artistic works ingrain themselves within people's hearts and minds, creating a lasting legacy that hints at what could be in Christ for those willing to surrender their lives to Him. They herald and exhibit the reality of God's Kingdom, typically far from people's current realities, offering a space where, through the Holy Spirit, individuals can encounter God. They provoke repentance, present alternative perspectives, and invite people to a life full of new possibilities—seeing the world and others through Christ's eyes, loving unconditionally with His heart.
Biblical metaphor in art has a rich history and should by no means be abandoned or seen as unneeded in this hour. But it is only one part of a wide spectrum of art that God can use to reveal Himself to a lost and dying world. We also need artistic prophets in every medium, style, and genre who go beyond the typical religious constraints of what many may consider Christian art. Artists who resist pandering to comfort-seeking and power-wielding audiences, opting instead to let God use them as blacksmiths, fanning the cultural flames, preparing for His transformative work. Artists who create impactful art without the constraints of overt Christian symbolism which can inadvertently obscure their art's core message. Artists whose work can draw people back to the Gospel's uncomplicated power to heal, transform, and liberate—inviting all who suffer, are broken and feel rejected to a place of life-changing love before they take any steps toward it. Artists who uphold the simple Gospel of Jesus that beckons everyone—everyone—back home to the Kingdom.
Challenging Religious Transactionalism
We must renounce the overly simplistic, transactional view of Kingdom life that is so often paraded as normal and embrace the beauty and mystery of our life in Christ as we seek to follow Him. Desiring every interaction with those who don’t yet know Jesus as Lord to lead to immediate transformation is often more harmful than beneficial, causing people to make pressured decisions they never intend to keep.
Do we want every person to come to know Christ and experience His transforming power? Absolutely. But old religious paradigms that seek to force the unlimited mystery of life in the Spirit into a little religious box more focused on immediate conformity rather than an unfolding journey toward Christ is not helpful and at worse, detrimental to those who don’t yet know Christ as Lord.
As co-laborers with Christ, we are instruments in His hands, sometimes witnessing instantaneous change and other times participating in the incremental stages of spiritual growth. All phases are vital, and we are invited to join Him in each one as we trust His power at work through us.
Invitation to Mystery
Many have accused artists who hold these values of compromise because of our commitment to trust the Holy Spirit to move through our art. But just because someone may not understand a piece of art or immediately see its impact on the life of those who interact with it doesn't mean God is not using or will not use it profoundly. This mystery is at the heart of the adventure to which we, as artists in God's Kingdom, are called. We need more artists who embrace this divine tension, trusting that God will use their creations for His glory in ways beyond and even in spite of our understanding. We need storytellers who depict the genuine nature, love, and redemptive work of Jesus, who tell stories of reconciliation, and who invite others to a transformed life in Him through beautiful, moving narratives—not just overtly religious ones. We are desperate for artists who shine a light on the world's dark places—the hurt, broken, marginalized, and wounded—often overlooked by a sanitized Christian culture. We need artists who create in partnership with the Holy Spirit, trusting Him for the outcome and believing by faith that their efforts will serve His purposes in the lives of millions.
We also need faith leaders and believers alike who will make room for and advocate on behalf of artists as vital, contributing members of the Body of Christ who bring a unique and varied perspective to what can often be a community of conformity.
Addressing the 'Woke' Critique
Some criticize these creative endeavors as part of a 'woke' agenda, diluting Christianity and misrepresenting Christ. Something I find personally offensive. This reaction underscores the disconnect and perpetuates the church's fragmentation, trivializing the complex issues we face and the surrounding misunderstandings. Jesus led people into transformation through demonstrating His love and power, not politicization or control—and our calling is the same. To be prophetic forerunners who let His kindness lead others to repentance through us and invite them into a new life in Him.
Despite my background as a politically conservative, charismatic Christian involved in church leadership, business, and the arts, I'm extremely disheartened by the church's severe deviation in this hour—favoring political rhetoric over Jesus' simplicity. We cannot allow the portrayal of Jesus to be confined to a politically driven, power-seeking faction, nor can we accept a solely social-justice-oriented perspective that negates God's power to transform and encourages people to look only to the levers of change this world offers. We need artists filled with the power and presence of God who will stand in the gap – to hold the divine tension – and declare to all who will hear “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)
In today’s divisive climate, I am more inclined to collaborate with those who demonstrate Christ's love in unconventional ways, relying on the Holy Spirit for transformation rather than advocating cultural or political ideologies. As believers and artists, we are called to maintain this divine balance, proclaim God's goodness, offer His love, and assist in reconciling all to Christ through His power.
Can we have faith that God's love, when demonstrated in and through us, will unleash His power in the lives of others? Can we rest assured that Jesus will indeed reign in the hearts of the hurting when they are introduced to Him by those who love first, act with kindness, and welcome others in their imperfection without precondition? We can and we must for this is the ground where the Kingdom is sown and cultivated. Where authentic transformation and Christlikeness can flourish.
Regrettably, research shows that society's willingness to listen to the church has waned due to the numerous competing interests that have tainted its reputation, resulting in its loss of influence within society. We need artists to bridge this gap. To invite all people to see Christ and His Kingdom in new, fresh ways that reach far beyond the stereotypes that have limited our conversations.
My intention in writing this article is not to defend Come Near, a group I barely know, or their He Gets Us campaign. Before these Super Bowl commercials, I was scarcely aware of them, and surely, we don't align on every issue. However, on their website, they express a desire “to remind everyone, including ourselves, that Jesus’ teachings are a warm embrace, not a cold shoulder.” They invite people to “explore Jesus’ story on your own terms and at your own pace.” And they do so with humility, saying “Our campaign comprises humble perspectives from a diverse group of Jesus fans and followers with a variety of faith journeys and lived experiences bound by a common desire: to rediscover and share the compelling story of Jesus’ life in a new way. We will make mistakes. Like anyone with a public message or who sets out to share an idea, we won’t always get it right. Expect us to be human." And for that, I am thankful.
I am eager to co-labor alongside anyone anywhere who is wholeheartedly seeking to witness Christ change hearts, irrespective of their perspective or preferences, without political or religious encumbrances. Those eager to unveil the real Jesus and the power of His transformational presence to a world in need. There's a middle path of authentic connection, demonstrated love, and supernatural transformation we must pursue—a mission worthy of dedicating our lives to, particularly through art.