Tim Tebow and Modern Evangelicalism

Editor’s Note: Martin Pakula’s concluding post in the four-part series, SIN IN THE LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN, will be posted on the 13th of November.

On this blog we have readers from around the world but if you aren’t from North America then you might not have heard of a man by the name of Tim Tebow, which is simultaneously unsurprising and amazing.

It is unsurprising that you haven’t heard of him because he is an average to possibly bad player in a sport that is really only popular in North America. He has poor personal statistics, a less than .500 winning percentage as a starter and has only just recently managed to climb off of the bench of one of the worst teams in the National Football League.

It is amazing that you haven’t heard of him because he is TIM TEBOW! He is a winner! He is a leader of men who inspires them to feats of courage and greatness that amaze and mesmerise. His sheer presence lights up rooms. He has ‘intangibles’ that far outweigh any perceived lack of actual playing ability. He has more miracles under his belt than Moses and he hasn’t even gotten started. He spawned Tebowing. The only reason that he hasn’t destroyed every foe in his path is because his coaches are not setting him up for success, they want him to fail. Critics be silent and simply BEHOLD!

How is it possible that a young man who is incredibly consistent in his own self and message generates such wildly divergent opinions? Simple, Tim Tebow is the crown prince of the modern world of American Christendom.

A little history. Tim Tebow won two national titles as the quarterback for the University of Florida Gators while he was in college. He is legitimately regarded as one of, if not the best, college football players of all time in a place where rabid doesn’t quite describe the passion of the fan-base. His popularity was so great that his jersey became the number one selling jersey in the NFL before he played a game. Since his rollercoaster of up and down performances at the professional level has begun he has led several miraculous fourth quarter comebacks almost as though (dare we say it) there is a touch of the divine to what he is doing.

As athletes go, Tebow has always come across as the boy next door, not the thug from the wrong side of the tracks. Not only was he the boy next door but he was clearly the ‘Christian’ boy next door. He is the son of missionaries and went of missions trips every summer back to the Philippines where his family had ministered. He painted scripture references on his face when he played in college causing to be the most googled search topic during one of his biggest games. He has always been humble and passionate. He is a confident and self professed virgin, and last year he publicly declared himself ‘pro-life’ in a nationally televised commercial. He represents everything that American Evangelicalism (and more and more Worldwide Evangelicalism) wants to be seen as; successful, conservative, humble, relevant, attractive, moral, happy and popular. Winners.

I’m not suggesting in anyway that Tebow has crafted this image for himself or that this has been his goal. Everyone; Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slave and free man is a fan of Tim Tebow and have elevated him accordingly. Everyone who has met him seems to have a story that declares that he is just as genuine, honest, caring, humble and likeable as everyone says. Nothing even close to a bad report about Tim Tebow has surfaced despite the fact that there are many who would search for one. I don’t know his personal theology but I believe he loves Christ and that he is truly seeking to serve Him and be the best witness for Him that he can be.

What I find fascinating, however, is the unspoken importance that seems to be placed on Tebow’s success by many supposed Evangelicals. My reasoning for why this is, goes like this. The overwhelming prominence of the theologically empty and false ‘prosperity-gospel’ and the corollary slogan that ‘God wants you to win in life’ has meant that biblical heroes such as David and Joseph are not looked at as pointing to Christ but as ends in themselves. They were rich, powerful men who overcame humble beginnings to win in life. This is the story that has in many circles become the story of what Christianity should be. There is the sense that God blesses the righteous, who are ‘his’. Perhaps no modern person represents this narrative better than Tim Tebow.

As a result, it feels as though some see the success of Tim Tebow as proof of the not so new (un)Christian message that God blesses those who are good (see the book of Job) and even possibly are evidence of God himself. Tim Tebow is moral and upright and good and so therefore it makes sense that God would bless him (or so the story goes). His virginity protects him the same way that Samson’s hair strengthened him. I mock to make the point but I believe that these foolish notions are present in how many perceive the Tebow narrative. Even, paradoxically by the atheists and unbelievers who might want to see him fail. It is a narrative that has captivated unbelievers and believers alike.

It is similar to a trial-by-combat played out on a football field every week. If our representative knight wins then we are right and God is on our side.I don’t wish to suggest that Tebow himself sees things this way but its my impression that this is on some level how many proclaimed evangelicals see him. He is one of us. His success proves we are right.

Of course if Tim Tebow loses modern American Christendom will not come crashing to its knees. The false doctrine of the prosperity-gospel is far too entrenched within the myth of the individual hero of the American conscience for the failure of one narrative example to bring it undone. But for now American Christendom has embraced Tebow as their representative knight and he is the biggest story in town. Christendom may be seeing the Tebow narrative through a false theological lense but it is no bad thing that a man who is respected, admired and who declares that Christ is King is the biggest story in America. Even if those telling the story have missed the point as to whom the real hero of the story is.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

4 thoughts on “Tim Tebow and Modern Evangelicalism”

  1. Nice one, James. An important observation – if Tebow loses, modern American Christendom does not come crashing down! Gary Ablett was a Christian, and possibly still is. I’m glad that Australian Christians didn’t invest their hope in him (unless they were Cats supporters, of course!). I like when people utilise their sport-star status to promote the gravity of their faith, though, like Euan Murray.

    1. Simon, not to be pedantic, but if Gary Ablett WAS a Christian, he still IS a Christain. Perhaps it would be more prudent of the Christian community not to jump too quickly to acknowlege the proclamation of this or that superstar’s fath in Christ.

      Modern pop culture is replete with ‘stars’ in all fields who have climbed on the Christian bandwagon only to have time suggest their faith was not properly grounded.

      1. Don! I’m pleased to see your brief hiatus has not blunted your edge. It is pedantic, but it’s a fair call about Ablett still being a believer if he was one previously. Likewise, your observation about stars who wear the Christian badge like an accessory. I believe they’re called ‘CINO’s’ – Christians In Name Only.

        It happens in politics all the time. Bill Muehlenberg has good article about that here.

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