Tim Tebow & Public Christian Speech

Tim Tebow and the resurgent Denver Broncos have become one of the biggest stories of the past few months in sports.  The Broncos began the season at 1-4, but since installing Tebow as their starting quarterback, they are 6-2.

Tebow doesn’t fit the mold of a typical NFL quarterback and he’s outspoken about his Christian faith.  These are the sources of much of the comment about him.

It seems to me that it takes a serious curmudgeon to dislike Tim Tebow.  He’s a great guy and he’s having a blast playing football.  His unconventional style injects drama into games that makes them unpredictable and compelling.

Some have been uncomfortable, however, with Tebow’s faith talk.  He intentionally begins his post-game comments with the following: “I just want to begin by thanking my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  He closes by saying, “God bless.”

I’m glad that Tebow seems to be a person of integrity and humility.  He carries himself well and treats people with dignity.  He doesn’t take himself too seriously, he isn’t rude or arrogant, and he uses his influence for good in surprising and wonderful ways.  He isn’t a poor representative of Christian faith.

But I wonder if his faith talk is inappropriate.  I wonder if this is an instance of zealous evangelical faith not rightly reckoning with the dynamics of Christian faith and the realities of the broader culture.

Now, I realize that there is a reservoir of biblical texts that Tebow might be drawing upon to understand his role as a Christian person in public.

He should always be ready to speak a word on behalf of Christ with boldness (1 Pet. 3:15) and make the most of every opportunity (Col. 4:5) because God’s word always accomplishes its purpose and doesn’t return void (Isa. 55:11).

Evangelical Christians now these texts well.

At the same time, it’s worth considering whether there are proper and improper venues for speaking about Christian faith.

Jesus may be referring to being shrewd about one’s audience when he says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6).

Further, Paul exhorts the Colossians to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders” (Col. 4:5).

I wonder if, in Tebow’s evangelical zeal, he’s actually running afoul of the third commandment. 

The new NIV captures very well the sense of Exodus 20:7: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

I wonder if there’s a sense in which Tebow is misusing the name of Jesus Christ by overusing it.  I wonder if he’s cheapening Christian realities by referring to them too much and in the wrong venues.

It’s worth considering the form that Christian faithfulness takes in public.  I don’t have the final word on this, but it seems to me that inhabiting the role of a football quarterback as a redeemed person does not mean that one must utter the name of Jesus at every opportunity. 

Faithfulness to Jesus might best be embodied by being a good teammate and being serious about having loads of fun.

Tebow’s persistent speech about Christian realities has invited further misuse of the name of Jesus Christ.  It has given rise to ridicule and mockery, most recently in an SNL skit about Jesus getting tired of bailing out the Broncos every week.

In a well-written piece, Charles Pierce makes the point that whatever one injects into public discourse becomes an object of merciless ridicule.

What if Christian faithfulness demands that Tebow do his best to make sure that the conversation about him remains solely and squarely about football?

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4 responses to “Tim Tebow & Public Christian Speech

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