Essay

Tim Tebow

Listen To Article

Okay.  So this really isn’t about Tim Tebow.  Tebow I just wanted you to look.  It’s hard to imagine that there is anything left to say about Tebow, or God answering prayer, or celebrities witnessing for Christ.  I don’t have any real issue with Tebow.  The more I know, the more I like.  Apparently he has bumped the Kardashians from the top of the most-googled celebrity list.  And the high school boys in my congregation now want to kneel when praying.  Both good things.

My own observations are more about the incredibly intense reactions Tebow stirs among the cynics, but especially among his adoring Christian fans.  Just as Gandhi is reported to have said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians,” I am impressed by Tebow, but wonder if the way Christians have rallied around Tebow might actually undermine much of the good of Tebow himself.

We all know that Christians need to share our faith, that we should not be ashamed of our Savior.  But that seems to have become a launching pad for a sort of in-your-face Christian faith.  And we especially seem to have planted this abrasive faith in our young people.  A pluralistic society, the apparent declining respect for Christianity—all this can seem like an affront to us, and somehow Tebow’s success can feel like vindication for Christians.  But I’m afraid we come off looking defensive and thin-skinned—intensity masking insecurity.  So much of the Tebow-mania that I observe seems to be fueled by a chip-on-our-shoulder form of Christianity.  Maybe some of this reaction simply comes with the 20-something males that make up the core of Tebow’s followers. 

A friend once put it this way, “Our ancestral stories as Christians are from a time when we were the 98 pound weakling on the beach having sand kicked into his face by the bully.  And this is still lodged in our self-perception as Christians.  Yet for about 1700 years now we’ve been a 250 pound bodybuilder, sometimes even the bully on the beach.”  In the biblical narratives, “we” are always being stepped on by Egyptians and Philistines, Assyrians and Babylonians, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Romans.  Yet a 250 pounder whose self-perception is that of the mistreated weakling can be very dangerous.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”  Through the centuries, and still today, all sorts of Christians have rightfully found hope and comfort in these words of Jesus.  But lately my observation is that we Christians have taken this verse as license for acting in all sorts of irritating, asinine, provocative and self-aggrandizing ways.  Then, when other people express some exasperation with us, we immediately play the persecuted card, believing ourselves to have merited a blessing, a reward in heaven.

Self-induced martyrdom, painting ourselves as victims, just isn’t becoming.  And might we Christians be wise to take the slings and arrows that Tebow has endured—no doubt most have been over-the-top and way off base—as a clue, not that the wicked world hates Jesus and us, but rather that nonbelievers are wary and weary of being accosted by shrill, obnoxious Christians.  Recently I heard a politician complaining about “the mainstream media’s anti-Christian bias.”  We could have a long and interesting discussion about whether there actually is such a bias.  But even granting that there is, should we Christians whine about it? 

Of course, Tebow isn’t responsible for the actions of his fans.  But it will be a good day when the world is as intrigued and attracted by the rest of us Christians at it seems to be by Tim Tebow. 

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

One Comment

  • Michael says:

    Well said, Steve. As someone who teaches at a Christian university, I was fascinated by student reactions recently when Tebow became fodder for several discussions in a senior liberal arts capstone class. The most conservative and evangelical amongst them were very much rah-rah concerning Tebow, and try as I (and some of their fellow students) to try to get them to move beyond this, they truly believe that Christianity — moreso, the "true" believers like Tebow (and themselves) — are tired of being kicked around by the world, or ignored by it. They genuinely see "Tebowing" as a Christian middle finger to the culture around them. Their emphasis is on the Christian element, mine is on the middle finger, which I find insulting to the pluralist society we live in, or at least needlessly provocative, and certainly defensive.

Leave a Reply