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?

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12 thoughts on “Tebow or Not Tebow? That Is a Question

  1. This is a great question. I did see the commercial and saw it through the lens of a Christian. I agree with your sentiments and observations completely however. I hadn’t considered the message it might portray to those who are not Christians. I think that by having the commercial full of other players would certainly have been more powerful and more towards the intent of the message.

  2. First of all…the season is NOT over.
    As for Tebowmania; the media will hound him until it can uncover any crack in the armor and then crush him to dust so the masses can sleep better knowing that all Christians are intolerant, judgemental, and hypocrites. That’s what they do. What disturbs me is the way the “Christian PR machine” likes to make trophies out of celebrities while ignoring the real heroes who suffer torture and death for the name of Jesus.
    I agree with your concerns over the FOTF commercial, and would like to take that thought further.
    Maybe, in an effort to help children understand the Word of God, the church has reduced it to fun stories, happy songs and cartoons.
    Noah and the flood is a fun story of a nice man who gathers all the friendly animals into his squeeky clean boat. Never mind the vast destruction to human life and the reason God had to do what He did. Do we use those same methods when teaching our school age children about the Holocaust, Hurricane Katrina or 9/11?
    It’s no wonder some adults think angels are beautiful feminine creatures, that a little shepherd boy killed a giant, that Jesus walked around with a “Tide-clean white” robe telling everyone to just be nice.
    I think I better stop now.

    • Now don’t be overly sensitive–it clearly says HIS season is over, you Purple fan (I checked to make sure before replying to your comment).

      Tebow is new at this thing; I think he will eventually be more wiling to let his actions speak for him. Some of the press can be difficult, but it’s not all as bad you say. Guys like Reggie White, while having everything they say dissected and scrutinized, are also held in high regard by many of the writers as well. Art Monk and Brian Dawkins also come to mind here.

      And don’t even get me started on Veggie Tales.

    • “Maybe, in an effort to help children understand the Word of God, the church has reduced it to fun stories, happy songs and cartoons.”
      -There was a really good article in a recent Christianity Today about a related topic. We almost universally have age-segregated Sunday School classes, so our kids don’t really get to see what it means to be a grown-up Christian until they’re, well, grown up. They’re seeking answers to the great questions of how to live out their faith in the real world, and we give them pizza.
      (Sorry, I can’t find the article on their website right now. I think it was in the November issue.)

  3. I found the commercial creepy for a different reason. Why is it that all of the children who speak are white? The full group shot appears to be of varied ethnicity (though not VERY varied), but not one of the non-white children is featured individually. Is that what we want to say about our faith? “If you’re not white, then you’re welcome to join us to fill out our color palette, but please stay in the background.”

    • I was trying to remember whether that was the case or not; being unable to recall precisely, I let that piece go. But you’re right. I fear the organization is more about protecting the white middle class way of life than it is about the gospel.

  4. Ken, I appreciate your mild rebuke in the comment: “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.” Thank you. I shall place a guard on my mouth and remember Mr. Tebow is young and doing what he thinks is right.

  5. I’m not for showboat praying on the field or in the pulpit, so Tebowing (which, as you must know, is what his praying is called) is a word a cringe at.

    He may have gotten the opposite response than he hoped for, which is typically claims is to give God the glory. If he is indeed a man of prayer, his life will bear that out. He’s so young, he has plenty of time to prove in many ways, on and off the field. Life has a way of beating you up, and surely his faith will be tested. I just hope the bulk of his testing isn’t from vicious Christians.

    I saw Drew Brees on the 700 club a few weeks ago… (which I’m not in a habit of watching, except if a football guy is featured and I happen to been running through the stations and catch it.). Brees is a committed Christian, much beloved, and not tweaked by the press. He’s also much older and, naturally, more mature than Tebow.

    It makes me wonder if the style not the substance is the greater issue. And that says quite a bit more about us than Tebow.

  6. I didn’t see the ad on TV but went looking for it online after seeing some excited Twitter posts about it. I didn’t think about it portraying Christianity as childish, but I see that now. What bothered me was the “text john316” to donate $5 to Focus on the Family part. Was that on TV or just online? It was like, hey, since you like John 3:16 so much, why don’t you support us? I guess you have to do what you have to do to raise money but it seemed a little more opportunistic than I would think a ministry would be. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I appreciated the previous comments about age-segregated Sunday Schools and junior church and reducing the Gospel to nice stories. I thought about that recently when my kids went downstairs for junior church/nursery and how different their experience of church is each week than mine is. Also, when did “Jesus Loves Me” become a kids’ song? I sing that to my kids at bedtime, but it’s in the hymnal and we rarely sing the other two verses, which aren’t exactly kid-friendly, if I can use that term.

    It’s not easy to figure out where the line is between teaching them what the Bible says and not introducing them to adult concepts too early.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about VeggieTales. For the most part, I like the creative way they retell Bible stories, but I’m a writer and storyteller myself, so I appreciate the creative process.

    Great things to consider! Thanks for writing!

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