English: Tim Tebow, a player on the Denver Bro...

Tim Tebow’s rise to the status of the Greatest Christian Martyr of the 21st Century is playing out on an almost daily basis on my Twitter feed and Facebook wall. (It’s not quite as bad as this, but it’s getting close.) I desperately wish I had time to take it seriously, or at least as seriously as a very, very strange and silly phenomenon like this can be taken, but alas, end-of-semester grad school obligations makes doing virtually anything else impossible. So a few scattered thoughts will have to suffice.

First, do any serious evangelicals—and by that I mean people who are not complete wagon-circling, in-the-tank culture warriors—believe Tebow’s behavior is an appropriate, biblical or otherwise justifiable manifestation of Christian piety? I know a few people out there, including Andrew Sullivan, have drawn attention to Jesus’ pretty unequivocal denunciation of “praying on the street corners” religiosity. One of Andrew’s readers came back with, “Well, this is Tebow’s profession, his daily life, and it just happens to play out in front of millions of people.” I get that to an extent but don’t buy it. Almost no evangelical Christian believes kneeling to be a requirement for prayer, and I defy you to find me a single one who kneels in front of their co-workers to pray before “big moments.” Tebow’s public religiosity doesn’t stop there: he also mentions his “Lord and savior Jesus Christ” at the beginning of every interview, and when he was a college player painted scripture references under his eyes. Maybe, maybe he is just so overflowing with love for God that he can’t help but carefully paint his face this way, but it seems more plausible that he wants millions of people to see it on TV.

I realize that, as someone who isn’t favorably inclined toward Tebow’s type of faith, my opinion probably makes little difference. I’m unapologetically opposed to proselytizing, and I know evangelicals are defined by it. That’s fine. But I’m sincerely mystified at how what Tebow is doing can be understood in any other way besides a gratuitous, bullying type of proselytizing that draws attention to himself and reaffirms negative stereotypes about evangelical Christians as people who just can’t comprehend when and where religious displays are appropriate and where they are not. I have no objection to people knowing Tim Tebow is a Christian, that he thanks God for his success, and sometimes does so on the field. But this is something else entirely: Tebow has made such an issue of his religion that its in everyone’s face not just sometimes but all the time. It’s safe to say that more people than not are going to find that odd and at least a little bit off-putting, and they are going to talk and write about it.

So it’s dumbfounding that people are actually claiming that Tebow isn’t responsible for the media spectacle. He was, to hear some evangelicals tell it, just minding his own business until the critical sportscasters, hostile opponents and nasty ESPN.com commenters decided to make him a target. I do not deny there has been unjustifiably mean, personal attacks on Tebow that amount to anti-religious bigotry. But much of it is criticism absolutely any professional athlete would be subjected to for his on-the-court attitude, his off-the-court-behavior, his racial or political comments, etc. The whole purpose of sports media is to talk all the time about sports, to pick apart players’ professional and personal lives. If Tebow makes an issue of his religion by practicing it in an overt, public manner that is unusual both for most Christians in professional environments and for the NFL, then it is going to be talked about! Discussing an unusual aspect of an athlete is what the media does, not an illustration of a particularly hostile anti-Christian bias.

It seems that all of this paranoid delusion about the media being out to get Tebow can be explained as yet another dimension of the culture war. It’s not a very interesting conclusion, I know, but it’s surprising and depressing how much everything comes down to that. (Here is my friend Todd Starnes linking Tebow to Hollywood’s indoctrination of children and the banishment of faith from the public square.) There is a unique evangelical anxiety about being outside the mainstream, and Christians desperately want to be affirmed as normative or at least acceptable in popular culture. It vibrates back and forth between an earnest desire for inclusion and a hostile, aggressive determination to force secular culture to pay attention. Tim Tebow seems to be a case of the latter: a very good college quarterback and promising NFL star who will not let the faith issue rest. He’s on their team, and he’s so big he can’t be ignored by the god-hating media. This is, it seems, where decades of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the Family Research Council will get you. Everything comes down to a fight for the right to be openly, unapologetically religious in every situation. And just, really? Who decided that was something desirable? And worth fighting a big, ugly battle about?

Now that I’ve likely eroded my credibility with Tebow defenders, let me say that I really could not care less if he prays on the field or paints Bible verses on his face. It really is his life, his career, and his image—between him and God, as some Christians might put it. I’ll even give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was not looking for the evangelical sainthood he’s received. Tebow himself is really beside the point at this point; this war has taken a dimension that has little to do with his actual behavior. So to anyone who made sport of Tebow in a mean-spirited, gratuitous way, you really should grow up and learn to tolerate people who don’t believe like you do. But to the evangelicals who have turned Tebow into cause célèbre in the culture war: Is this really what you think Christianity is about? I sure wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting any part of it.

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

  • Karlos

    It’s really a shame you titled this article “The Strange Sad War…”, then proceed to basically call out only one side of what is playing out as a fantastic debate in the sportsworld. You could have done a lot of good by looking fully at both sides, David. But you dropped the ball, and come off as far too critical of Tim being Tim, when all he is doing is expressing his faith his way.
    Next time, you should wait until your done your grad school commitments when a topic worthy of discussion presents itself.

    • Charles

      Dear Karlos,
      it is both strange &sad.
      Thats accurate reportage.
      There is no shame in saying so.

      Why not take some time & respond with a review the side of this issue you claim is unrepresented instead of generalities.
      I like the phrase “Gospel Gestapos” for Bible bullies & Koran burning hate mongers (just down the road from Tim’s UF alma mater.
      Floriduh has outclassed California in weird for decades.
      When I hear of/see someone praying on the street corner , I pray for them.
      I don’t care for football:ritualized violence; I’ve seen a vid clip or 2 of T Tebow & he sounds like a considerate man.

  • http://jmjacob.blogspot.com JMJ

    I am not a Denver fan, but am becoming a Tebow fan simply because he is reviled by much of the sports elite.

    As I have been caught up with his season, I have watched his post game press conferences, and am thrilled to hear what I hear. No “proselytizing”, just a genuine, humble guy who tries to do his job.

    This discomfort with his kneeling seems to be the way you define your perspective. To be honest, as a regular reader (who often disagrees with your well written posts) I am quite discouraged by this blog post. It reeks of an uneducated vantage point.

    My cynical side says to me that you need to boost hit counts and sought to do it by piggybacking off of Tebow. What an easy way to do so in the midst of your grad school commitments.

    I hope not. REgardless, please complete your various grad school committments and then get a proper well rounded perspective.

    Listen to his press conferences. Listen to how his teammates talk about him. Listen to how his opponents talk about him. His faith isn’t just showy and flashy. It defines him and is a model for us in terms of how our faith should be reflected by our daily life.

    While you’re at it, read various critics of him–they hate his playing style and his skills, but also, amazingly enough, almost invariably are marveled about how likable and humble he is.

    One more thing. This makes absolutely no sense to me:
    “I’m unapologetically opposed to proselytizing, and I know most evangelicals are not.” Why on earth would you hold this view and still call yourself an evangelical?

    • http://www.patrolmag.com David Sessions

      JMJ – I am not an evangelical in any way; sorry if that wording made it sound like that’s what I meant.

  • Scott

    I’m a Bama fan, so I’m no Tim Tebow apologist (if you were from the South, you’d understand), but it seems to me to be singularly ungenerous to characterize Tim Tebow in the way your article does so. Far from being “bullying,” Tebow has been characterized as genuinely humble, kind and polite by just about everyone who has even met him. He is living his life in the way he has always lived it. He doesn’t seem to have changed at all (for the better or worse, however you define it) because of all the publicity that his talent has garnered him.

    You say that you “really could not care less if he prays on the field or paints Bible verses on his face,” having spent three out of the preceding four paragraphs caring your face off.

    It’s difficult to have it both ways, as Tim Tebow himself is finding out. It’s difficult to continue living his life in constant appreciation of the gifts that God has given him when his life has become more and more public. Perhaps he’ll succumb to the criticism of The Media and anti-Evangelicals and become a “good” Christian, which is to say a quiet Christian (like Paul or Peter?). Or a “useful” Christian, which is one that embarrasses Christians in a media-friendly way, such as with adultery or drug use.

    He seems to me to be an extremely brave man with the courage of his convictions, and it is cynical in the extreme to assume anything other than that he’s trying to make a difference in the world through something greater than football. He hasn’t lashed out or been defensive about the “war” that is brewing around him. He’s simply being honest about himself and his faith. We could learn something (not everything) from Tim Tebow, which is not to be so easily shamed by our relationship with Christ and by the broken, sometimes embarrassing people who share it.

    • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

      Scott, I cannot judge Tebow’s character, so I’ve not made conclusions about whether or not he is a humble or “godly” person. I don’t know.

      What I’m questioning here Tebow’s *actions*. Jesus specifically commanded his followers not to be like the pharisees and to pray on the street corners so that they would be seen by others. I understand Tebow may need his “moments with God” during games, and there’s not really anywhere private to go. That’s fine. But when he has to mention it ritually in every interview and paint it on his eyes, how can you say this is for God and not a deliberate attempt to be “seen by men”?

      I’m also disputing the notion you put forward that somehow what he is doing is “making a difference in the world.” How, exactly? Where in Christian tradition or belief do you find the notion that mentioning Jesus at every possible moment, even when your audience has become annoyed, is accomplishing some higher good? What about a “word in season”, or a “time and place for everything”?

      This is, to me, one of the paradoxes of Tebow’s style of public evangelism and his defenders’ style of culture war. Every indication in the NT is that faith is about something internal, not an outward display. And yet these people seem to want to defend and even demand outward display as if it were the very center of their religion. I just find that bizarre, and it makes it clear how much of this is about a kind of cultural identity, not faith.

      • Scott

        A gracious, non-cynical reading of Tebow’s actions could be that he simply loves the Lord and proclaims in both in public and in private as genuine thankfulness – not “ritually,” but joyfully.

        I didn’t say he was “making a difference in the world.” I said that he might be “trying to make a difference in the world” by proclaiming his faith (to the nations!) and by working his hardest to live it out. I think you might be surprised that people outside of your little region of the culture wars might be receptive to (and not “annoyed” by) Christians who aren’t ashamed of their faith.

        No offense, but I’ll disagree with you about the indications about faith being something internal only. There is nothing wrong with proclaiming your belief in Christ if it is true; there is much wrong in proclaiming it hypocritically for gain. The Pharisees weren’t criticized for being loud or even obnoxious, they were criticized for being hypocrites. As for your question about publicly proclaiming the faith, I’d send you to Matthew 5:15, for starters.

        I will agree with you that some unnamed people defend outward display as being the very center of their religion. I would also argue that some people are simply coming to the defense of a fellow believer who is being attacked for his faith.

        • Andrea Francine

          Well put.

          Tim Tebow loves Jesus. It is really just that simple. And he loves Him in a big, bold public way that is at odds with some of our sensibilities, but so what. Tim Tebow obviously takes to heart verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (Rejoice always; pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”) or all of Psalm 113, for example.

          If he is wrong to do so, if, as has been suggested, he is bullying people, or causing unbelievers to stumble and openly defying the commands of Christ, then whose who say so have an obligation to bring their accusations to him directly (which is another command of Christ to His believers). Tim Tebow’s celebrity does not relieve Christians of that obligation; all it does is gives cover to the back-biting that passes as social commentary.

        • Charles

          What a curious use of Matt5:15 let your light shine so men may SEE your works (within the central point of faith: The Sermon on the Mount)
          to discuss the violence, corruption & conspicuous consumption of the “sport”.
          I knew a Mellon of Pittsburgh who once cited me “the poor you have always”. I stopped him in a second with the inquiry ‘know the context?’. He did & acknowledged that little logic lapse &red herring.

      • vibe

        Can I answer this?? People really need to learn the Bible.

        Jesus does not care if you pray or preach in public, he wants you to actually, that is how the gospel is spread. He was saying Just don’t ONLY do it in the public like the pharisees was. The Pharisees was just playing and acting Christian in public but not in private in there own homes. So Jesus was saying don’t be like them acting one way in public and one way in private. If you are going to claim Jesus Christ in public than act that way in private also.

        So Tebow is doing nothing wrong. If he is going to claim being a Christian in public, than his private life should be a Christian life also.

      • http://twitter.com/tzmaxx Tonia

        “I’m also disputing the notion you put forward that somehow what he is doing is “making a difference in the world.” How, exactly?”

        Well, for starters, spending his entire off-season (and much of his NFL contract) on orphanages in the Philippines.

        And how “internal” is faith supposed to be, when Jesus charges his disciples with going out into the world, baptizing and making more disciples? How can a follower of Christ ignore these commands, even if they’re socially embarrassing to you personally?

  • http://about.me/jmdedmon Michael Dedmon

    I couldn’t agree more. I live in Denver now, and Tebowmania has really taken on a life of its own here… but no more so than in the evangelical community. I agree entirely that, given the fact that Tim Tebow is by all accounts a rather average NFL player at the moment, the national media circus is in many ways just a proxy war for the broader struggle of christian self-consciousness. I, like you, would never fault Tebow for being outspoken about his personal convictions, no matter how superficial they may appear to me when he’s actually talking about them on camera. The broader issue at play, and really for him as an individual, is that his in-your-face style of religious conviction makes him a pawn in a larger standoff. For instance, the claim to not be ashamed of Christ is used by other, less savory types all the time pushing an agenda on issues that Tebow has never spoken about, (i.e. the recent ad by Rick Perry comes to mind), and Tebow is now a fixture in the same display of Christian paranoia. I can’t help but feel this 20-something year old athlete is having his good intentions aggrandized by the Christian right, while, for the time being, everyone else is willing to go along with it. Having grown up in Bronco-land and knowing how terrible Denver fans are.. I can only guess how hard reality will hit when he starts to lose.. and only the Christians will be there cheering him on, and it will be for all the wrong reasons.

  • Zach

    I wonder if you realize that you are every bit as sad and bitter as the evangelicals you love to hate? I guess that’s where smug arrogance takes you.

  • The Jones

    In the first sentence of the last paragrah, you say you “could not care less if he prays on the field or paints Bible verses on his face.”

    But since the first four paragraphs are all about how you do care and do not like these things, this statement seems rather hypocritical and it undermines the point of your article.

    • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

      Jones, this is an empty criticism, and it’s unworthy of your intelligence. I’m writing about this because it’s what I do, and it’s interesting to think and talk about. I “care” in the sense I’m interested in it, but I don’t care in the sense that it makes any difference to me what Tebow does. It has no effect on my life whatsoever. But people are talking about it, and that makes it part of my job.

      • The Jones

        My point is that you say this article is about the culture war that Tim Tebow has started and not about Tim Tebow’s actions. You also say in the article you don’t care about what Tim Tebow does, and that you’re just writing about the culture war (that evangelical Christians started).

        But four paragraphs are about Tim Tebow’s actions, one is about the culture war, and one is about how you don’t care what Tim Tebow does, but the culture war (that evangelical Christians started) is bad.

        Once again, this seems rather hypocritical and the contents of your article undermine the point of your article.

        • Andrea Francine

          Agreed.

          I think Tim Tebow has spilled over into his social consciousness more than he is willing or able to admit.

          Mr. Sessions, you keep saying that you are not saying what you are indeed saying. You compare Tim Tebow’s public displays of faith in Christ as annoying and some form of bullying, and then claim that you are not saying there’s anything wrong with it. You claim that you are not making character judgments about Tim Tebow after repeatedly pointing out that he is deliberately defying Christ in an effort to be seen by men. You claim your interest is not in Tim Tebow’s actions but rather in this latest dimension of the culture war, and yet your article is unrelentingly Tebow-centric with only some words in passing about people making him into a martyr.

          What erodes your credibility is not your criticism of Tim Tebow but the contradictions and passive-aggressive double-speak.

          • Andrea Francine

            That aside, I do understand why some folks find Tim Tebow to be a bit much, but the spittle-flying and hand-wringing (by “T-bots” and “haters” alike) over this young man is ridiculous. No, Tim Tebow is not the U.S. equivalent of Youcef Nadarkhani and no, he is not going to usher in another Great Awakening, but neither is he going to bring down the Kingdom of God just because he takes a knee and bows his head in public. (To hear some people tell it, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church but this fullback playing QB, who is quicker to pray than complete a pass, just might.)

            There was an excellent observation made by another commenter about the tendency of American evangelicals to create idols and venerate them as saints; that is a topic worthy of exploration. Obviously Tim Tebow is relevant to such a topic but in order to explore it, we must move beyond the person and actions of one Tim Tebow.

        • Nate

          Jones’ criticisms are not only fair, but accurate. You tell us that you don’t care what Tim Tebow does, but you make clear in your article that you do care and that it bothers you. If that’s not your intent, might I suggest a more careful use of language?

          You can say whatever you want, though, none of the above really matters. What I find more concerning is your self-stated unapologetic opposition to proselytization. I see your view as being outside the historic Christian faith. We’re all on different faith journeys. Mine has been from non-denominational Charistmatic to some type of Presbapticalvinist. I believe in generosity and Christian charity. Jesus says there is one truth, not many. Are your views still shaped by the Tim Keller quoted on your “About” page, or are they somewhere else, entirely?

  • http://porterperkins.blogspot.com Mark Perkins

    Eh. I think you’re overreacting. I find his strident in-your-face evangelism unpalatable, yes, but the man is uniformly and universally gracious and kind even when he’s being mocked, and he’s been extremely active in charitable work. As a professional athlete, he is by every account about as decent a human being as you’ll find, even if he can be obnoxious.

    • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

      Mark, as I said, I don’t really care what Tebow does. It’s not to my taste, but I don’t really have to pay attention to it. What I’m trying to address here is the phenomenon of treating him as a saint/martyr, which does to some extent spill over into my social consciousness. I don’t think finding Tebow a decent guy who displays a particular type of evangelicalism I find annoying necessarily means I wouldn’t respond to people who are treating him like a demigod and are up in arms about the media “attacking” him. That’s silly and wrong, and I can’t seem to ignore things that are silly and wrong.

      • http://porterperkins.blogspot.com Mark Perkins

        That’s fair. The thread you linked of God triumphing over evil via the surprisingly successful mediocrity of Tim Tebow’s arm is pretty repulsive. Tebow has, though, repeatedly stated that God is not invested in winning football games and that it’s a mistake to equate on-field success with God’s favor.

  • themom

    We also think of verses that say, “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” Apparently his *actions* in his personal and professional life do this without him talking about it a lot.

    I never thought about it being offensive or ‘showy’ to anyone for a player or team to kneel on the field or court to pray, because it used to be quite a normal part of sporting events, and it’s publicly acknowledging God, not necessarily “praying before men” in the way the Pharisees did.. their prayers were audible and condescending. However, I do agree that mentioning his faith constantly, especially out of context of a conversation, is annoying and makes people uncomfortable. Another peeve of mine is that when Christians do ACT like Christians, say in his humble and non-retaliatory attitude, other Christians make such a huge a deal out of it,like you get a gold star. I think about when Jesus told a parable where he said the servant having worked faithfully all day in the field had only done what he ought to have done.” So, yeah, you’re right, he needs to be more relevant in his conversation and the sports media or whomever is bashing him should really stop. We have to listen to all the movie stars’ liberal crappy ideas whenever they get a microphone. It seems to be a perk of being famous.

    • Charles

      Dear them om,

      theres plenty of crappy ideas in politics, I prefer “progressive” to the “L word”.
      george Clooney pith’d(+-):
      the progressive tradition in America has a long history. It might have started in Salem when someone stepped out of the Town Hall Meeting onto the lawn
      & said:” maybe they’re not witches!”
      George McGovern
      (did you cringe or just too young for context?)
      was accused of showing little respect for “the press”.
      He replied(+-)
      its not a matter of respect,its just perspective that MY violent demise is YOUR career opportunity!
      Hears a perk for you: spend some time reflecting on Chris Hedges(truthdig.c).
      He speaks Truth to Power insights ’bout our situation.

      its FUN! to learn new things & meet smart’ner me people.
      Happens most everyday to me.

  • Katy Sessions White

    It seems that you have tried to fit Tebow into the mold of evangelicalism that you scoff at merely having observed the media’s reaction to his demonstration of his faith. Thing is it really wasn’t a big deal and wouldn’t be if the media wouldn’t make it so. I have my reasons for saying so but we can talk about that another time and place. Point is you are quick to judge and haven’t really tried to see Tebow for who he is instead of simply measuring him by the cultures’ reaction to him. Since when did that really matter?

    • David Sessions

      I think this is another iteration of the “Tebow didn’t make it an issue, the media did” argument which the whole post set out to address. I’m sorry, but Tebow did make it a big deal. Just kneeling to pray occasionally or pointing to heaven or whatever is one thing, but this is a constant, in-your-face routine that ranges from his prayer during games, his constant interview comments, to the eye makeup thing. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, just that it’s silly to act like that’s not unusual enough for the NFL that fans, teammates, opponents and sportscasters are going to remark on it. Maybe the media “made an issue” out of it by talking about it, but that’s their job—to talk about the characters, narratives and drama of sports. Tebow is the one who decided to inject his faith into the narrative by displaying it in this unusual, extra-explicit way. So he does not get a free pass while the media get blamed for making a spectacle.

      I have to dispute, also, that I “haven’t really tried to see him for who he is.” Sorry, but that’s just not true. All over this thread I’ve said that I have no judgment to make about his character, and no ill will toward him whatsoever. I can only speak of what he does, and this is all a part of what he does. But I was always speaking more about the cultural reaction than about what kind of guy Tebow himself is, since that is ultimate unknowable. We can’t judge Tebow’s heart, but we can judge this silly hero worship and what it says about where most evangelicals are in relation to their culture.

  • Katy Sessions White
  • David Carver

    In defense of David, the mention of “unjustifiably mean, personal attacks on Tebow” more than calls out the other side of the debate insofar as that side is relevant to the point of this article.

    Something not mentioned in the article is that, while “bullying” was possibly not the mot juste to describe Tebow’s behavior, the effect of bullying — pressuring others to conform to ideas they disagree with — is neither limited to secular ideology nor to the well-known strident version practiced by evangelicals. Much of the homosexual campaign has been assisted, not by shows of force, but of shame; i.e., making people feel uncomfortable for disagreeing with nice people. That impulse is certainly a temptation anytime a public figure is ideologically vocal, but not angrily so.

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    David, I have real ambivalence about Tebow for some of the reasons already mentioned (by you and others). But, I’m not commenting to reiterate those things.

    Even though I’m sympathetic to your “read” of Tebow’s public displays of (religious) affection, I think I disagree with the way you’re understanding Jesus’ condemnations of the Pharisees’ public piety. The way I read those particular passages is that Jesus is particularly offended by the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and not necessarily their public religious devotion. They pray loudly in the streets and strut around in their religious regalia, while not lifting a finger to help those they condemn. They pray prayers that thank God they are not like the sinful Gentiles and tax collectors. They are outwardly religious and lacking inward righteousness. Part of the reason I read Jesus (=the Gospel writers) in this way is that he himself was prone to draw a crowd. He wasn’t exactly discreet about many of the things he did, even described as announcing in the Temple courts that he is the water welling up to eternal life. I’m not saying Tebow = Jesus, of course. (Really, I’m not!) But, I am saying that Jesus doesn’t seem to have a problem with public religious rituals provided they are not prideful, hypocritical displays.

    So, even though I am not personally comfortable with all of the overt displays that have become Tebow’s hallmark (he is, after all, a product of American evangelical culture which tends to pride itself on PDA for Jesus and overt proselytizing), I’m not sure the teaching of Jesus you have invoked applies well in this case. As far as anyone can tell, Tebow is not a hypocrite–at least not in the obvious sense that Jesus specifically indicts. (Certainly, all Christians are hypocrites to one extent or another. If Jesus is the standard, then we all lose in the end.) Part of what seems to make Tebow confusing for many in the media is the way in which, despite his flamboyant expressions of faith on and off the field, he is otherwise humble and discreet. He is a bizarre anomaly among sports stars (brags often about Jesus but not about himself) and it is baffling.

    But, that brings me to my real concern about and for, Tim Tebow. Every Christian fails–oftentimes, miserably and many times over. Eventually, he is going to trip up. I don’t know what or when it will be, but it is bound to happen. I worry that Tebow (as have many other public Christians before him) will languish in the hostile environment he is bound to face when his “fall from grace” takes place. After all, despite the hype, he is just a young man, newly introduced into the NFL and now thrust into the spotlight as a representative of not only an NFL team (pressure enough) but also American evangelical Christians (who have, as you have pointed out, adopted him as a mascot and martyr of sorts). That is a heavy load to carry. I hope I’m wrong, but only time will tell.

  • Caleb Roberts

    I don’t have anything new to add to the discussion thus far that hasn’t already been basically expressed. However, regardless of how much complicit Tebow really is in the media mania, or whether his actions are totally commendable or not, or whether David is being too cynical or not is irrelevant. The jist of the post is undeniable: that Tebow has been appropriated as the newest posterboy for a subculture that is utterly enchanted by the idea of being successful by the world’s standards while simultaneously exhibiting the badges of evangelical piety. And when that idea is embodied in someone, he/she becomes a collective middle finger back to the world’s standards which evangelicals paradoxically despise for being sinful yet resent for rarely being attainable for them. All in all, Tebow is Exhibit A that evangelicals venerate saints too.

  • Patrick Sawyer

    David,

    It seems to me Tim Tebow is merely doing what you do (albeit on a much larger scale). As you are given a wider audience in your vocation, you make known to that audience what you think and believe. Every position you maintain is guided by your core beliefs, some of which are religious. You live in a nation and work within a vocational context that allows you the freedom to express your core beliefs. Which you do on a regular basis, whether the audience agrees with your various positions or not(religious or otherwise). tebow is doing the same thing.

    You (I assume and hope) are living authentically before us. I have no reason to doubt this. I have no objective reason to think you are disingeniously posing as a post-evangelical, progressive cultural critic in order to wade nicely between secular academia/liberalism and various culturally religious expressions of society in order to make a buck and feed your ego. No, I believe you are real, that your expressions of belief and principle are a genuine representation of who you are. I applaud the fact that you can represent yourself authentically in your chosen vocational context. I afford the same assumption to Tim Tebow, that he is living authentically before us, and I applaud the fact that he can do so.

    Now I realize, that expression of your core beliefs is INTRINSIC to your vocation in a way that it’s not to Tebow’s. But that’s precisely why a much HIGHER PERCENTAGE of YOUR actual work related TIME is given to the expression of your religious views than what Tebow gives to his. When Tebow is at a typical 11 hour practice day, he is doing just that, practicing. He’s conditioning, throwing passes, studying the playbook, watching film, scrimmaging, etc. He’s not holding 5 hr Bible studies and preaching sermons. He’s doing football. Take a typical Sunday: Between warming up, the actual game, halftime, and post game news conference Tebow has put in about 4 hours of work time. The Christian comments and actions that Tebow displays typically take less than 5 minutes of those 4 hours. My point is, in his work, he is about his work, which is football. And like all of us, his work is tethered to who he is, which (like all of us) will come through in his work.

    This is not a perfect analogy, but it seems to me, not tuning in to watch Tebow play football because of his religious expressions, is like not going to a certain restaurant because of the praying that goes on. Sure, some people are noticeably praying before their meals, but it is 10 seconds of their hour + long experience. Those who are praying are there for the same reasons we all are: to focus on the food. On game day, Tebow gives a few minutes of his spiritual views and then spends the other 99.9% of the 4 hours focused on what we all are when we tune in: football, and it’s some exciting football at that.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that Tim Tebow works for a private company (the Denver Broncos) which is a private, corporate franchise of a private corporation (the NFL). Both of these institutions (the Broncos and the NFL) allow for (an encourage to some extent) the type of religious expressions Tebow is making.

    Moreover, the most public and primary manifestation of Tebow’s work (Sunday games) officially allows players to express themselves in celebration. There are rules that govern these expressions and Tebow is expressing himself in accordance with those rules.

    It’s also important to note that Tebow is getting the attention he is getting because of the fact that he is 7-1 as a starter, ergo because of his on field FOOTBALL heroics and results. No doubt, his outspoken Christian faith makes things more intriguing, provocative, and news interesting than it otherwise would be. But if he wasn’t winning, he would be benched and there would be no story.

    It’s interesting you mention the scripture references that Tebow has put underneath his eyes. It is somewhat widely reported that when Tebow put John 3:16 underneath his eyes for the National Championship game against Oklahoma it prompted 90 million google searches of the verse. If there is any more truth, with more hope, than John 3:16, I am unaware. If just 5% were given some hope and encouragement from their search efforts, then millions were positively impacted by Tebow’s simple action. I don’t know how I can have a problem with that.

  • Jack

    No ones seems to care that Tim Tebow is a victim of ignorant upbringing. The fact that athletes point to the sky when they hit a home run or score a touchdown doesn’t make the idea of a conscious creator of being any more plausible. The idea that God is watching over a sporting event and making a decision about which team will win is even more ludicrous, especially when He presumably ignores natural disasters and other human affairs which should arguably demand more of a deity’s attention. There is a sadness about the Tebow affair, that many children are being subjected to the equivalent of child abuse. They’re not being encouraged to think rationally about the physical world with a healthy degree of skepticism, rather they’re encouraged to accept what is highly improbable on “faith”. I blame his parents. This is social conditioning at its worst.

    • Scott

      I’m not sure how much I follow your logic here, Jack, but I’m pretty sure that you and the vast majority of the readers of this blog aren’t even speaking the same language. The Christian God (not speaking for all Christians, but I don’t think I’m being controversial here) is INFINITE. So, it’s not as if he would be paying attention to a football game and therefore not enough to other things. He has infinite attention, power and presence for all things. Mind blowing, huh?

      I assume the remainder of your post is simply trolling for angry responses by drawing false equivalence between teaching faith and committing child abuse, but if you truly want to argue against Christian faith, you might want to do a bit of work looking into what we actually believe.

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  • TimD

    Well put, David. I also like Jake Plummer’s comments:

    “Tebow, regardless of whether I wish he’d just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates, I think he’s a winner and I respect that about him. I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I’ll like him a little better. I don’t hate him because of that, I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.”

    David, you’re unique in that you’ve lived been on both sides of this – as a former evangelical. That gives you an important perspective. I wish evangelicals had better self-awareness and could see that many of their tendencies are counter-productive and make people gag. Even people like me – and I’m a pretty big Jesus fan.

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  • Jack

    My response to Scott:

    SCOTT WROTE: “I’m not sure how much I follow your logic here, Jack, but I’m pretty sure that you and the vast majority of the readers of this blog aren’t even speaking the same language.”

    I agree with that, although logic has no place in this thread. The “faithful” believe what they believe because of tradition, authority, or personal revelation. And none of them are adequate reasons for belief.

    Whenever I’ve had these kinds of conversations, it always comes back to faith. You either have faith in improbable things and don’t care that there isn’t evidence to support your claim, or you don’t. I’m guessing it’s a foregone conclusion for most of the readers of this blog. No amount of scientific data is going to convince them otherwise.

    SCOTT WROTE: “The Christian God (not speaking for all Christians, but I don’t think I’m being controversial here) is INFINITE.” (snip) “Mind blowing, huh?”

    Mind-blowing is actually a very good description. If you were a detective trying to solve a mystery, you’d rely on factual evidence to support your case. Leaps of faith just don’t cut it when it comes to legal defense and prosecution, and neither should it in blogs or on the football field. You’d need a “blown mind” to accept these kinds of hypotheses. And that’s precisely my point. You won’t find Tim mounting a serious intellectual argument for what he believes.

    As an aside, imagine how people in the U.S. would react if Tim threw down a prayer mat and prayed to Allah? Probably not so good.

    SCOTT WROTE: “I assume the remainder of your post is simply trolling for angry responses by drawing false equivalence between teaching faith and committing child abuse, but if you truly want to argue against Christian faith, you might want to do a bit of work looking into what we actually believe.”

    You might be surprised that I’m a thoughtful and caring person who is concerned with human suffering, and I see a lot of it come as a direct result of bad ideas like these. I see dangerous similarities between the Christian and Islamic faiths, the only difference being that Christianity has already had a reformation, making it more benign that the currents of radical Islam that are alive and well, and growing. Competing religious faiths may well be the downfall of civilization.

    I don’t “troll”. Once in a while I see something in a blog so unsettling that I feel the need to make my comments known, and such was the case here. It might also surprise you to hear that some of my dearest friends and family are devout Christians, and we have lengthy philosophical conversations.

    Happy Holidays. Peace and good wishes to all.

    • Patrick Sawyer

      Jack,

      In reference to your theme in your comments about intellectual arguments for the faith, I have a few suggestions for you. Please forgive me if you are already well acquainted with the following people. I encourage you to give a good look at the writings and podcasts of Peter Kreeft, William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, David Berlinski, and Greg Bahnsen. Check out Berlinski’s book “The Devil’s Delusion”. I think you will find a debate between the late Greg Bahnsen and the late Gordon Stein to be of real interest. You can find a pdf of that debate here: http://www.bellevuechristian.org/faculty/dribera/htdocs/PDFs/Apol_Bahnsen_Stein_Debate_Transcript.pdf and you can find it on YouTube (although the audio can struggle at times)

      Certainly, there are many others but these gentleman are serious intellectuals (although not of the same caliber) that give sound defenses against atheism and for the Christian faith. Again, I don’t know you and don’t presume to know exactly where you are on things but thought you may find these gentlemen and their thoughts of interest. Regards.

  • Chuck

    I must confess I find the whold Tebow thing incredibly funny. Obviously the young man sees himself as a one-man evangelistic outreach but there is no way that he can hold up under that pressure very long. Something is going to crack and one awaits with horror and amusement the scandal that most assuredly will come.

    • Patrick Sawyer

      Chuck,

      You find the downfall of others amusing? You take pleasure in those who are caught in public shame and embarrassement? Wow.

      In Tebow’s case I suspect you will be disappointed. He could fall – the truest of men this side of Heaven do at times – but it’s unlikely. By all accounts Tebow seems to be an authentic, sincere believer. Authentic Faith tends to avoid scandal. The Spirit of God has a persistent way of producing fruit in His people (Gal 5: 22-26) and conforming them to the image of Christ (Rom 8: 29). I suspect Tebow has some things working for him you may be unacquainted with.

  • JDE

    I wonder how all the Christians defending Tebow in this thread would feel about a Muslim athlete prostrating and thanking Allah on national television at every given opportunity?

    • Patrick Sawyer

      JDE,

      That’s easy. Real Christians recognize that authentic Christianity makes unique Truth claims. Authentic Christians would hope the Muslim athlete would come to know and believe those Truth claims. They would pray to that end for that person.

      Authentic Christians would also support the Muslim’s right to thank Allah and celebrate his or her accomplishments in the context of his or her Muslim faith.

      If that person was on their favorite team (and as exciting as Tebow), Christians would be thankful and excited about that person’s on field heroics.

      If that person was as gracious as Tebow in word and deed, Christians would be thankful for the positive impact that person was making in society.

      Any acerbic, vitriolic speech or hateful, bigoted perspective towards the Muslim from anyone claiming to be a Christian would only establish the claim to be false.

      • JDE

        Yes, of course. I forgot about the Real™ Christians.

        I don’t think it would turn out the way you think it would.

        • Patrick Sawyer

          JDE,

          You do recognize the Bible acknowledges and warns of false faith (James 2), false believers (Matt 7), false brothers (1 John 2), false teachers (1 Timothy 6), etc., in numerous texts and passages.

          My point is simply that the vast majority of real (non-false) Christians would react the way I described because the way I described is in keeping with what the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit produces in Christ’s people. And as I would expect, it is also in keeping with my experience with authentic believers.

  • Ron Bruno

    You have generated quite an interesting thread here, David. The responses seem to split evenly between believers who “believe” Tebow’s public displays of faith (pdf?) are appropriate and nonbelievers who find them ostentatious. As a former believer who experienced a teenage conversion as the result of a celebrity athlete’s proselytizing, I must concede that it will be difficult for me to be objective but I also have a unique perspective.

    It should be noted that the NFL is a decidedly secular venture and religious displays of any type are out of context in an athletic event because they imply that one’s faith has conferred athletic superiority, an undeniably material benefit to an ostensibly spiritual endeavor. They also send a misleading message to aspiring and impressionable young athletes who may be vulnerable to proselytizing for material, rather than spiritual motives, much as I was.

    Public displays of faith test the nature of faith itself. Is faith a material belief in a prescribed dogma or is it a spiritual state often described in terms of hope, love and joy, emotions that might easily be confused with athletic passion? Broncos’ fans, believers and nonbelievers alike, will have “faith” in their quarterback as long as he continues to win games. Otherwise, they may lose their faith, such as it is.

    As 2011 draws to a close in the traditional religious holiday season, believers and nonbelievers would do well to examine their faith during the coming year. I am grateful for the pleasure of your thoughtful contributions to TDB and Patrol in 2011, David. Hopefully, you are enjoying a well-deserved vacation and we will hear from you soon.

    rb

  • Mich Partain

    What’s interesting to me in all this is that so many people think of Tebow’s kneeling prayers, and references to God during his post-game interviews, as “over the top.” How many have been watching the NFL for the last 20 years? Have they seen the many exaggerated end-zone dances, jumps and leaps over a good tackle, endless egotistical self-congratulations, etc., that have been commonplace? “Over the top” has become “normal” in the NFL. I find Tebow’s mannerisms to be different, not because they’re merely dramatic, but because they’re a welcome break from the “bad boy” manners and lifestyles that have become almost ho-hum. What I find amazing is the viciousness of many of the attacks against him, as though he were the only player who was ever “in your face” about anything. You’d almost think that every other player went about quietly doing their jobs with no drama at all.

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