Thursday, January 12, 2012

Some Unhealthy Ways to Think About Tim Tebow

Some Facebook posts I've read, especially this last weekend, have shown me that there are some really unhealthy ways to think about the Tim Tebow craze currently sweeping the nation, particularly the way Christians think about him. I recently ran across a blog post by Nathan Busenitz that I resonated with. In it he gives five reasons he likes Tebow and five concerns he has. I wanted to highlight the concerns because I believe they are spot on.
Five Concerns I Have about Tebow-Mania

1. The Perception That God Gives Tebow Special Help to Win. The media has turned Tebow-Mania into the NFL’s version of the Prosperity Gospel—making it sound as if spiritual blessing and divine favor come in the form of touchdown passes, division titles, and postseason play. Tebow-Mania has turned Denver’s QB into “God’s Quarterback,” and the Broncos into Heaven’s favorite team. (They are, after all, a mile closer to Heaven in Denver.)

But what about the players on the other side of the ball — the ones who lose the game, including Christians on the other team? Is God not helping them? What about other professing Christian quarterbacks in the NFL (such as Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rogers)? Some of them have had success on the field this year, others not so much. Maybe most importantly, what about the games that the Broncos have lost with Tebow under center? Was God’s power insufficient in those contests? Obviously not.

Because of Tebow’s unexpected success, non-Christians have understandably taken notice. But, like the unbelieving crowds in Jesus’ day, their superficial interest in spiritual things will fade as soon as the “miracles” cease. The reality is that crediting God for specific touchdown scores and football wins can actually become an obstacle for the gospel when a team starts to lose. (It can also lead to taking well-known Bible verses out of context.)

Insofar as Tebow-Mania is responsible for this misperception, I think it is doing more harm than good.

2. The Perception That Tebow’s Statistics Have Supernatural Significance. This last week, I have repeatedly cringed to see the hoopla made about Tebow’s 316 passing yards — as if it were a divine pointer to John 3:16. Don’t get me wrong, John 3:16 is a marvelous verse. The more attention that is drawn to it, the better.

But, fellow Christian, please don’t apply the mystical techniques of misguided numerologists (like the Bible code folks) to Tim Tebow’s stats column. It is bad hermeneutics on every level.

As ESPN’s D. J. Gallo sarcastically quipped:

Yes, even a coincidental stat has become evidence of Tebow’s heavenly favor. And 316 yards is specifically a reference to John 3:16, of course, not any of the 3:16s in the other 66 books of the Bible, such as Leviticus 3:16. … Nope. Totally John 3:16.

Gallo was trying to be funny. But in all seriousness, he made a valid point.

3. The Perception That “Tebowing” Is a Good Thing. I think it’s wonderful that Tebow is committed to public prayer. But I cringe over the fact that his iconic prayer position is now the object of mockery and scorn from the watching world.

At best, “tebowing” has become Denver’s version of Pittsburgh’s “terrible towel” or Green Bay’s cheese-wedge-hats. At worst, it has spawned a blasphemous cult following on the part of fans who are more interested in imitating a celebrity-quarterback’s prayer posture than they are in actually addressing God in heartfelt petition. That may sound harsh, but I personally think the “Tebowing” craze is an absolute travesty that turns prayer into a joke and greatly dishonors the Lord.

Having said that, is it Tim’s fault that non-Christians mock his prayer position? No.

But could he do more to put a stop to it? I think he could.

Even something as simple as temporarily using a different prayer posture before games (like standing or sitting) would probably put an end to what’s quickly become a sacrilegious fad.

4. The Perception That Christianity Needs Celebrities to Be Relevant. When it comes to Tebow-Mania, I wonder if evangelicalism is once again falling into the trap of “celebrity Christianity.” It feels great to have an evangelical Christian at the height of athletic popularity in our nation. It feels even better when he wins; because — in some small way — it feels as though evangelicalism is winning through him.

Epidemic in the American evangelical psyche is the idea that celebrity status is essential to reaching our society for the sake of the kingdom. We can be tempted to think that the more superstars we have on our side (whether from sports or politics or Hollywood), the better equipped we will be to advance God’s work — as though cultural popularity were the key to effective gospel proclamation.

Again, I don’t lay the blame for this celebrity-mindset at Tim Tebow’s feet. His celebrity status has been thrust upon him by the media. Moreover, I applaud his desire to use the platform he’s been given to exalt Christ.

However, insofar as Tebow-Mania contributes to evangelicalism’s infatuation with the cult of celebrity or the myth of influence, I do not believe it is helpful.

5. The Perception That Christianity Consists of Clichés. Walk into just about any Christian bookstore and you’ll quickly see that popular American evangelicalism loves clichés: pithy little slogans of feel-good spirituality. They are printed on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and motivational posters. They litter the pages of bestselling Christian books and are permanently etched into trinkets like key-chains and money clips. The roadside marquis of the average evangelical church contains new editions of these short little sayings every week — from messages like “Need a Faith Lift?” to “C H _ _ C H. What’s Missing? U R.”

I fear Tebow-Mania highlights this sappy side of mainstream evangelicalism more than it showcases the arresting truth of the biblical gospel. When discussing the Tebow phenomenon, media outlets often talk about faith in a cheesy “just-believe-in-yourself-and-make-your-dreams-come-true” kind of way. Numerous pundits have suggested that the Broncos’ sudden success should be made into a movie. One article joked that, if it were a screen play, the Tebow story would be too sentimental even for Disney.

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