The Tim Tebow phenomenon

I’m writing this post while watching Denver have its way with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening weekend of NFL playoffs. It’s another chapter in an amazing story, with Tim Tebow playing the starring role. But all of this is part of a much bigger narrative, and that is how the media is coping with an athletic star who happens to be an expressive believer, backing up his words with actions. Even some of the more irreligious have shown a grudging respect for Tebow. He is a powerful witness for Jesus. But there are the haters, for sure.

And then there is this—you might have missed it, but the latest Time Magazine has joined the periodical rage, devoting a piece to Tebow entitled, “Tebow’s Testimony: What His Faith On The Field Means For The Future of American Evangelicalism.”  Wait a minute.  Did you catch this title? Really?  The faith of a quarterback will have a bearing on our future direction?  Consider how the article ends:

Whenever and however the Broncos’ postseason ends, their young quarterback has already given us a glimpse of what lies ahead for Evangelical Christianity and for America.

Okay, maybe I am overreacting. The media is prone to exaggeration. Hyperbole sells. But this is beyond overstatement. This is an insult.  Has our faith become this thin?  Does evangelicalism’s future hinge on the direction of Tebowing? Maybe what really got under my skin was an earlier statement in the same article:

With Billy Graham on the cool side of the mountain and George W. Bush living quietly in Dallas, Tebow is perhaps the most significant Evangelical Christian in the country.

This says one of two things: either a journalist for a mainstream magazine is completely clueless or evangelical Christianity has become so slight and superficial that its most compelling voice is an emerging athlete. I’m banking on the former. Still, the fact such statements get the endorsement of Time’s editor says something about how we are perceived, whether we like it or not. And whether we like or not, we have become defined more and more by personalities.

I am nonetheless persuaded that the most significant Evangelical Christian (if that really matters) is likely the faithful pastor in some place like Minot, or a devoted missionary who has left everything to work in the backwaters of Indonesia, or a theologian who is not known for his books, but has nonetheless has made a profound influence on the core convictions held by the contemporary church.

And my guess is—Tim Tebow would wholeheartedly agree.

About John Johnson

John Johnson is the former lead pastor at Village Church in Portland, OR. Presently, he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary and devoted to writing.

4 thoughts on “The Tim Tebow phenomenon

  1. I agree that the missionary and the theologian will likely have a deeper, more lasting impact, but as far as visibility goes, it seems the US, culturally, is down to Tim Tebow and Justin Bieber (as seen in the recent book “Belieber”, about his Christian faith).

    Is this good? Not really. Is it bad? Not necessarily. Jesus didn’t call for us to simply assimilate and become popular. Was the journalist responsible for the Tebow article clueless as to evangelicals? It’s possible, maybe likely. But his article will still go out to millions. Hopefully the actions of Christians will speak louder than a simple “Tebowing”.

  2. Thanks, John! It’s so interesting and instructive to observe the ever-changing ways that the surrounding culture sees (and tries to define) the people of God!

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