By now every pop culture columnist in America has chimed in on the
Tim Tebow “controversy,” of which my favorites have been Daniel Foster’s take in National Review and
Kevin Craft’s in The Atlantic. Both of
these articles point out, rightly, that Tebow’s critics are largely
unnerved by his sincerity and unflappably earnest devotion to his
beliefs. It’s not his constant talk of God that’s the problem; it’s that
he so clearly believes what he’s saying and lives his life accordingly.
It’s unironic. It’s no mere lip service. He takes things seriously. As
Chuck Klosterman notes in his meandering Tebow treatise, he has a faith that
“defies modernity” and “makes people wonder if they should try to
believe things they don’t actually believe.”
As a Christian a few years older than Tebow (and, full disclosure: a
Broncos fan) I see in this guy an enviable model of what it means to be a
Christian in the public square. Tebow didn’t seek to become the
flashpoint of discussions of faith in public life, but he has. Tebow has
gotten more secular people talking about faith than most pastors ever
do. And he’s doing it not from a Pat Robertson-esque bully pulpit but
from a vocation he’s been called to, is good at, and publicly gives God
From the perspective of a Christianity increasingly confused about
how and what to be in an increasingly secular world, Tebow is a laudable
icon. We need more Tebows.
We need more Tebows because:
- He’s an incredibly hard worker and is great at what he does.
He wouldn’t be in the position he is if he lacked a strong work ethic
and valued excellence. If Christians want to make an impact or have a
voice in this world, they must first earn that position by being great
at something and working hard.
- He’s vocal about his faith. It’s become popular for
Christians to advise other Christians to live quiet lives of steadfast
vocation and faithful presence and just kind of bide their time,
establishing relationships that might one day lead to a God
conversation, etc. without really drawing attention to the fact of their
faith. That’s bogus. Tebow reminds us that if we truly believe what we
say we believe about Jesus Christ, we can’t be kept silent. We will want
to acknowledge him and give him the glory whenever we have the
- He practices what he preaches. Tebow isn’t all
talk. If he were, the Jake Plummers of the world would be right to
critique his God talk. But Tebow honors God not only in post-game
interviews but in his extensive charity work. He helps doctors perform
circumcisions in the Philippines, where he is also building a new
children’s hospital. He spent most of his $2.5 million signing bonus on
various worldwide charity organizations focusing on famine, education
and home-building. He hopes to turn his downtown Denver loft into a soup
kitchen. He preaches the gospel at all times and has earned the right
to use words.
- He’s upright. He’s the kind of squeaky-clean,
trustworthy hero that entire generations of kids have been lacking. Of
course there’s plenty of time for all of us to be letdown by him, but
right now he comes across as a genuinely good person. This bothers some
people, which is a shame. We need models of moral living. In
the name of “authenticity” we’ve come to value people who are broken or
at best rough around the edges. But is there no value in looking up to
the most respectable among us and aspiring to be like them?
- He’s humble and not self-aware. What a breath of
fresh air it is to see someone who thanks God and his teammates after
every win rather than tooting his own horn; someone who responds to
criticisms about his still-developing skills by agreeing that he could
improve. In a sport dominated by larger-than-life egos, Tebow seems
hardly to even know he’s an NFL star.
- He’s sincere. We need desperately to rediscover the
spirit of seriousness and sincerity embodied by Tebow. The ubiquity of
irony and jadedness is toxic in our culture. Thank you, Tim Tebow for
being refreshingly sincere in a world of cynical and silly.