Tebow or Not Tebow? That Is a Question

Yes, a shameless play on words to get some attention. Confession offered; announcement of proper penance awaited. At least I didn’t say it is the question.

Now that his season has ended, maybe we can begin to work on a balanced perspective into which the unexpected fame and equally unanticipated controversy about Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos, can be fit. The controversy has two decidedly different aspects. One is the actual ability to play the position itself that he does/does not possess; that’s only of interest to real football fans. The other side of controversy comes from his public, symbolic ways of declaring that he believes in Jesus Christ. Specifically, the posture of one knee on the ground with elbow propped on the other, hand to bowed forehead has created a new verb in the cultural vernacular: Tebowing. You are forgiven for thinking it was simply praying, but the position has been imitated by folks in all walks of life, many of whom have not had a conversation with the Almighty in a very long time–if ever. One image posted on the MSN homepage had playmates (Hugh Hefner variety, not pre-schoolers) trying it out.

And then there was the freakish/providential total yardage Tebow was responsible for in a first-round playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 316 yards creates a perfect stamp of approval on the player who in his collegiate days at Florida wore eye-black patches with “John 3:16” prominently displayed–at least according to true believers. Anyone who is a believer, a Broncos fan, and a statistics geek simultaneously must be downright ec-stat-ic. The organization Focus on the Family seized upon the opportunity and produced a commercial spot aired in the next game (in which Denver was rather unceremoniously thrashed by New England). The “commercial” consisted of a serial recitation of John 3:16 by a variety of children.

What should we make of all this? Is Tebow wrong to put his faith on display in a place where it does not have anything to do with what he is there for? Is it another way of calling attention to himself? Even if it were the latter, it surely is to be preferred to the primping and performing done by wide receivers and running backs upon reaching the end zone–or just simply making a successful catch of a pass. And players from both teams have been gathering at midfield for a brief time of prayer after games for quite a few years, though this is virtually unknown to the cameras of the networks covering the NFL. Why can’t Tebow just join in at that time with his fellow believers among the players?

I’m perfectly willing to let Tim Tebow or anyone else figure out what the Spirit is encouraging them to do as testimony to their decision to follow Jesus, provided they are open to wise counsel of other spiritually minded people. And that should be a guiding principle for all of us. Few of us will ever gain anything like the stage on which Tebow has performed; therefore, our words should be few as to what we would do in those circumstances. Acknowledging our dependence on God for every ounce of strength, ability, and opportunity we are given is incumbant on all of us; how we do so is not so clear.

But I do have a somewhat contrarian opinion regarding that Focus on the Family spot. Let me explain my concern. What did you see and hear in that cute commercial? If you are a believer who is already familiar with the words and understands the context, and you share the overriding concerns of the organization that produced it, it said one thing; if you do not have that backdrop, they may have said another. They may have said that the faith of Tim Tebow really is childish after all. And that is what concerns me. That Christian faith itself is that sort of belief is already widely held in our culture; and it may have been reinforced by this clip. I also worry (something I do a lot regarding ideas–call it an occupational hazard) about reducing the word of Christ to a simple formula without a context. But even if that is deemed to be worth doing so that interested persons might ask about it, why not have the verse recited by a series of NFL players who are believers? That, I suggest, would have ben far more powerful.

What do you think?