Ted Lasso — the Promise of a Christless Christianity

I love Ted Lasso.

And I don’t just mean the comedy series from Apple TV. I mean, I love Ted Lasso the man.

I know Ted is the long-gestated vanity project of comedian Jason Sudeikis who started out as a clueless American coach in London for a series of sketch-length promos for NBC’s premier league coverage in 2013. But I don’t care. Ted feels real to me. And I love the guy.

And so, it seems, does everyone.

Caroline Framke from Variety wrote that Ted “chipped away at my scepticism until there was none left – just like the character himself does to everyone he meets.”

J. R. Forasteros says, “Ted has no agenda beyond being fully present to those in his life. His only goal is to enable them to succeed—and for Ted, success only coincidentally, and occasionally, means winning. He stands up to bullies (in the kindest way possible). He challenges toxic behavior. He readily accepts help when he is vulnerable. And he rushes to forgive when he is wronged.”

And writing for the New Yorker, Doreen St Felix concludes, “Ted seems to be not a character but a kind of powerful infection… Eventually, everyone is disarmed. That’s the viewer’s experience of the show as well: you’re resistant, worn down, and then, happily, you submit.”

Well, consider me infected. I find myself sighing affectionately, “Oh Ted,” after he’s just said something sweetly thoughtful.

The guy is just full of love.

Little wonder that some Christian commentators have held Ted up as what C. S. Lewis called “a little Jesus,” an exemplar of all that a Christian should aspire to be like. I’ve read articles comparing him to Dostoevsky’s Christ figure, Prince Mishkin. He’s been called a pure innocent, more hopeful than Pollyanna, kinder than a saint.

And I was on board with all that until the Christmas special in Season 2. Then a nagging concern I’d been feeling came to the surface.

To be sure, the Christmas special, titled “Carol of the Bells” was peak Lasso – unrelentingly cheerful and poignantly charming. It built to a triptych of touching yuletide scenes.

In the first, the perpetually put-upon Higgins and his family host an open house for players who don’t have family in town and so many turn up they have to create a makeshift banquet table. The day turns into a multicultural feast of epic proportions, full of love and grace, with the usually overlooked Higgins becoming a much-loved host.  

In the second sequence, the normally gruff ex-player Roy Kent and his girlfriend Keeley, who had originally had a “sexy Christmas” planned, end up spending the night searching for a dentist to solve Roy’s little niece’s halitosis problem.

And thirdly, Ted, who has been separated from his son back in the US and was planning to just drink whisky and watch It’s a Wonderful Life, is recruited by the team owner Rebecca to help her deliver bags of gifts to disadvantaged children, something he does with great glee.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Santa’s birthday,” quips Ted.    

And then it occurred to me. The whole episode epitomized everything Christ taught us. The banquet for the outsiders; the selfless search for medical care for a vulnerable child; the beauty of gift-giving. The show was a paeon to doing unto others what you’d have them do unto you. It was a series of snapshots of the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught. But it was Santa’s birthday.

And then when I thought back over the preceding episodes I realized that God never gets mentioned in Ted Lasso. That mightn’t be surprising in the cynical post-Christendom Londoners. But in Ted? Ted Lasso himself is a variation on an American archetype you don’t see much anymore: the innocent naïf, the pure-of-heart bumpkin, the uncultured savant. Think of Gomer Pyle or Gilligan or Kenneth from 30 Rock. And that kind of archetype is usually religious. In fact, their simple religious faith is often perceived as evidence of their naivete.

But not Ted. There doesn’t seem to be a religious bone in his body. His kindness, his thoughtfulness, his unremitting positivity springs apparently from somewhere deep within his American soul. He brings joy. He repairs relationships. He changes lives. All by himself.

And look at how he has converted all the other characters around him. The awkward Higgins becomes the life of the party. The bad-tempered Roy starts coaching a kids’ football team. And Rebecca, who began Season 1 as a cynical hard-as-nails business woman, has turned into a softy and gooey Mrs Claus.

Ted Lasso seems to suggest we can have all the things Jesus taught without having to bother with Jesus himself. But in the gospels, the birth narratives frontload the kingship of Jesus. Angels praise him, foreign astrologers honor him, simple men and women declare him to be the promised one. Even a local king attempts to assassinate him as a rival. The message is clear: a heavenly king has come to establish his kingdom on earth. And that kingdom will be characterized by joy, peace, healing, justice and deliverance from oppression. But the benfits of the kingdom are only possible in relationship with the king.

Some might say I’m nit-picking here. The show is made by Apple TV not TBN, after all. But I don’t expect Ted Lasso to start preaching the gospel. I’m just saying the complete lack of any reference to anything remotely religious or Christian seems glaring when the show itself is so, well, Christian. And that seemed all the more glaring in a Christmas special.

In his book Disappearing Church, Mark Sayers writes, “Today, we want the Kingdom without the King.”

In a recent interview, Sayers explains further, “Post-Christianity is ultimately the project of the West to move beyond Christianity whilst feasting on its fruit. Thus, it constantly offers us options and off ramps, in which we seemingly can have what we enjoy about faith, but without the sacrifices and commitments.”

Ted Lasso offers the promise of a Christless kind of Christianity — a world of repaired relationships, multiethic banquets, and renewed souls — with no reference to Christ himself. And in Sayers’ mind that makes it part of the insidious push in Western culture to use soft power to eat away at our commitments.

I still love Ted. But I’ll be watching the rest of Season 2 through a different lens.

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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24 thoughts on “Ted Lasso — the Promise of a Christless Christianity

  1. Thanks for unpacking what I was feeling but could not yet nail down in my heart or mind. Spot on.

    1. I agree. This season (second show, I think) the comment was made: “let’s pray” and Ted’s response: “But who would we even pray to?”
      That’s when I realized it was devoid of any reference to the Divine, much less Christ. It made me sad and your insights clarified why.

      1. But why? Why do Christians (here) think they have the patent on human decency? I think personal faith is good, but judging others is something I just won’t do (something Lasson gives a whole speech on in the first season). Ted Lasso is good because he wants to be good. He’s being empathetic because he has empathy.

        1. Nah, Christians certainly don’t have a monopoly on being decent. But the stuff we are all inspired by (complete selflessness, keeping at loving even when you don’t like a particular person, loving enemies, etc.) that we associate with Christ… it’s not often I see it outside of the context of a deep relationship with God. Not that people can’t be taught to act well, but again, the self-sacrificing, selfless stuff I usually only find in saints.

        2. Um… you are judging others by asking why Christians think they have the patent on human decency….

          Regardless, a Christless Christmas was designed by no accident. It’s the worldview of the creators of the series. And it’s not realistic as has been proven for two thousand years.

    2. I find Ted Lasso to be everything you say, and more. But I do not see any resemblance between Ted Lasso and modern day Christian’s. Ted embodies what Christ taught. The new age MAGA type of Christian represents everything Christ warned against. They really need to read the New Testament in their own book.

      1. If that’s the only view you have of Christians, then maybe you should find new news outlets to read/watch. That’s like saying every liberal is Antifa.

  2. The Kingdom of Ted.

  3. Yep. My lockdown sugar coated, fantasy life is Good Witch (Hallmark Channel – says it all really). Also, community, friendship, wisdom, reconciliation, love, joy, hope etc etc with a sprinkle of mysticism – but no divine. Pointed out painfully in recent episode where a character quoted “Love is patient, love is kind…and who knows where that came from even!”

  4. Mike, I loved your observations,.. but draw the line at Mark S’s.

    This may well be Kingdom without the King,.. and that IS a problem, but there certainly is much that angels would rejoice in. What you have described is is NOT ‘the fruits’ without sacrifice or commitment! i see gutsy self-emptying all over the place in your examples.

    So the question remains, how did the follow-ing overtake the leader in our culture? How did people lose sight of the One who demonstrated, explored and invited us into belonging in and joining on the Kingdom way? I wonder if religion, particularly cerebral protestant NT letters-and-propositions-based teaching has shifted the focus shifting away from the Jesus of the Gospels, to a transactional faith. I wonder if the Pentecostal focus on miracles and worship has shifted focus to power-encounters, rather than citizen-follower relationship. In my experience neither holds Kingdom & King together. Maybe it’s time for more Jesus the Fool, from you, Mike (-:

  5. I don’t think regular unchurched, non-Christian people would buy Ted Lasso’s sincerity if he were overtly a Christian. It’s more believable to them if he isn’t. Not sure what that says about the church right now, but darn well ought to worry us if we love Her.

  6. I think they made fun of God and prayer early on in the series, if I remember right.

  7. I’ve never seen it, but maybe the church is so unlike Jesus that it wouldn’t have been believable if he had been an American christian?? T%hat hurts, but maybe.

  8. This is sad but also common, I think (attempting to have a Christian portrayal but denying it’s either Christian or not including Christ.)
    It hurts when you examine a show you enjoy & find out it’s flaws.
    Yet there is good to be claimed here, if only to point out that Ted shows what am actual Christian might look like.
    However, that’s it. Ted can’t be a Christ-like figure because he is clearly a regular human being. And thus flawed & capable of mistakes.
    Putting our faith in him or, as the show appears to suggest, our own goodness, we will ultimately fail.
    Because our own goodness can’t make up for or erase the bad & evil that we do.
    And least anyone think what they’ve done isn’t that bad, read The Screwtape Letters.

    1. The Christian’s had their own Ted Lasso. His name is Jimmy Carter. You will not find a person who lives his life as close to Christ’s example than Jimmy Carter. And how did the Christian’s reward him? Showed him the door and regularly mock him. No…I have zero use for the Christian’s of today.

  9. I was also put off that according to Sam, Christmas reminds him of colonialism.

  10. Not to mention the demonic voodoo seance to get rid of the curse of the treatment room. Referring to God as a “she”. Ted divorcing his wife not on the ground of sexual immorality and committing adultery with another woman. And numerous other glaring issues that irked me over the first season that made me stop halfway through the season 1 finale.

    Ted Lasso the show seems to cross the line of secularism and tries to be all about having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Christians would do well to avoid such shows.

  11. I’m surprised that Ted’s nice-ness and optimism is being called “Christlike” when the show makes it clear that Ted’s need to be loved is pathological. His obsession with serving others is what undid his marriage. He frequently seeks out others not because he loves them, but because he wants them to love him. I love Ted, too; the show and the character/man. I love him because he *is* struggling to find that balance between being kind, giving, and selfless but not submitting to a self-abnegation that is ego driven and self-destructive.

    For the record, I completely agree that this is Christ-less world, but the “salvation” is not spiritual. It is, for the series, psychological. The true Christ figure in Ted Lasso is not Ted, but Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, who is able to get Ted to be “healed.” This is a world in which healing comes not through the death and resurrection of Christ, but through the work of the therapist who uncovers the “sins” passed, not from Adam, but our parents. The therapeutic self and a world healed through psychology isn’t unique to Lasso’s world, but I don’t think even the show itself is holding up Ted as our exemplar. Nice-ness without soul is empty. While I don’t think psychology is the true answer, denying the cult of niceness is a good place to start when seeking the real answers in Christ.

    1. It’s actually pretty amazing how much of what you said reminds me of comments from the writing of CS Lewis.
      In “The Great Divorce” it’s the adored lady’s drive to help others that drove a wedge into her marriage. Both there and in “Till We Have Faces” is the comment about how, in our weak, human condition we often say, “I love you,” but mean, “I want you to love me.”
      Your reply is actually very insightful!

  12. I have been having these thoughts too and never so much as during the third season . The abundant examples of forgiveness, compassion, acceptance and unconditional love is so tangible. The way you have written the above sums everything up. We as humans, having been made in the image of THE God of love itself, is it any wonder that the presentation of Christs principals throughout Ted Lasso resonate so much to all who watch it and have loved it?

    1. I concur. ❤️

  13. Thanks for the article, a very good reminder! “Without me, you can do nothing” John 15:5
    Regarding Ted, there is something appealing about the not-so-on -the-nose depiction of what a life following Jesus might look like.
    Maybe we can use/look at Ted as a sermon on the mount. An ideal character that we all long to be(and even expect of others) which we discover is actually impossible… enter Jesus and His Spirit.
    As a follower of Christ Ted Lasso has been an encouraging depiction of who I want to be in this world, and have tried way too many times on my own with lame results…
    Thanks again!

  14. I just hope people realize you cannot have Christianity without Christ. That’s not how it’s done. Also, I hope people realize we should strive to be like Jesus, not Ted. Let this be a fun and entertaining show while remembering truth.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing people as Christian-exemplars (even if, as in Ted Lasso) they don’t seem to actually know who Christ is. I see that as a major failure of the writers… that they don’t recognize the Christian root of what they’re portraying. From his accent and attitudes, Ted was obviously raised Christian. Editing this out of his story is, as some others have observed, just the creators showing bias or fear of having him just glibly saying, “… Jesus’ birthday.” It would have been that simple, with no further need of more comment.
      Anyway, I also see Captain America as a Christian exemplar. His faith is barely mentioned in the comics, but it’s taken for granted that he was raised an Irish-American Christian (most readers assume he’s Catholic).
      The WWJD movement, while completely worthwhile, cannot always apply to directly. Take Cap, for instance. He will do his best not to kill his opponents (and on the occasion that he did, he struggled with guilt). Other Marvel heroes aren’t quite as concerned. To ask, in the situation of fighting the Red Skull, “What would Jesus do?” is disingenuous. He wouldn’t be in that fight. “What would Jesus HAVE ME do?” is a better question… and on that count, I can look at Christian exemplars. Otherwise I might be tempted to think, “Well, Jesus wouldn’t join the military. Jesus wouldn’t be a law officer. Jesus wouldn’t teach a literature class.”
      Sometimes my Christian exemplar is fictional, an amalgam of ideas and aspects of real individuals. Sometimes it’s someone who was very real, like my grandfather, the Alabama preacher in the 60s who invited the black families standing in the back of his church to come sit in the half empty pews, next to the white congregants. And when some of the white people objected, he invited them to find a different church.
      But yes, you can not have Christianity without Christ, you are absolutely correct. But I can recognize that the writers were just being disingenuous about the southerner with the kind and gentle outlook. In the real world, he got that by being raised in church. Otherwise he’d be more like the “Led Tasso” scene much more of the time.
      Even with the references to Christ nearly excised I can recognize this man as a real Christian (not the alt-right, MAGA type, the real ones). And having done so, I can view him as an exemplar.

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