UC-Why is there all this fuss about Tim Tebow?

Tebow is a living, breathing spiritual Rorschach test. He also makes me wish I had another (unmarried) daughter….

Tebow is a polarizing figure for a lot of reasons. A few of them actually have to do with football. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner from back in his college days, but his style doesn’t seem to make him an automatic fit for the NFL, especially as a quarterback. Perhaps he’d fit better as a fullback, or…whatever. That kind of dialogue makes for a lot of fun for a few football fans. But it doesn’t explain why feelings about him run so deep, or why he would be alternately cheered and booed. After all, he’s just a relatively recent college graduate trying to have an athletic career.

But from a Christian and Biblical perspective, one element of this is defining. He is a Christian, but that’s not it completely. He’s a serious, obvious Christian who is living his life out loud. Plus, and this is perhaps the most galling of all, he does a lot of great philanthropic work—some of it out of the range of a camera or microphone. Therefore, we can’t call him a hypocrite.

Jesus has told us to share the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tebow does that, easily and inoffensively. And it’s not just grandstanding. He’s not making coin out of this; in fact, he’d probably do better financially if he let all this Jesus stuff go.

Tebow is as clear a live-er and breather of the gospel as we have had in the public eye in a long time, and the gospel comes clearly through his lips AND his life. Since the gospel IS offensive in nature (see what the Apostle Paul wrote in chapter 5 of the book of Galatians; what he wrote in I Corinthians, calling it “foolishness” from the perspective of those who don’t believe it; and even in I Peter 2, where Jesus is called “a rock of offense”), a clear proclamation by word and deed is bound to be offensive.

Crash course in WHY it’s offensive: It says we’re all sinners, that we need to repent and turn to God, giving up the control of our lives to him. It says that we are under the wrath of God until we are forgiven in Christ. That’s offensive to nearly everyone who isn’t close to being a Christian.

Tebow drives a lot of people crazy because he’s such a great declarer and embodiment of that message. No one’s perfect, but ironically, he’s pretty much everything we say we wish our athletes could be—except that he’s a vibrant Christian. He spoils what we’re looking for—an athlete who doesn’t have a baby mama in every other city, doesn’t do drugs, or has some major attitudinal problem. If he’d just be “nice,” he’d be king. But he’s not nice; he’s a Bible-quoting, missions-minded Christian believer who makes it clear by what he says and does that his particular sport comes second. A small part of this is that he happens to be tall and good-looking, which takes away the “religious dork” thing and reminds us that he could have any girl he wanted, if that’s what he wanted. But he clearly doesn’t.

Jesus said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.” Now anyone can use this Scripture—and some Christians do—to deflect constructive criticism when they are being obnoxious or less than Christlike. But these words hit on a reality that Christians believe in—that there is a spiritual battle in this world against Jesus, and that sometimes his followers/representative get hassled because of that spiritual opposition. Sometimes we deserve what we get; sometimes there is an unseen overreaction because people are against Jesus and the “offensiveness” of his message. People usually don’t know they are doing it; it’s just part of reacting to the gospel.

OK, but what about the Tebowing? That strikes some people as phony because they can’t imagine anyone loving God so much that they would bow and thank Him so publicly. It really is, as was said of September 11, a failure of imagination. Tebow believes, and really loves God. He is really thankful, and he loves to have people know that. He’s a real “fanatic,” and we hardly have room in our brains for someone who believes that deeply and is not afraid to show it. Some Christians joke that a “fanatic” is simply someone that loves Jesus more than we do. That’s the case here.

There is one more element to the Tebow thing, and it’s a big one lives under the surface most of the time. Tebow is pro-life, and he was born because his mother didn’t have an abortion, though she was counseled to do so. So he is not just a pro-lifer, but he represents the life of someone who didn’t get aborted. He’ll always stand as an incarnation of a pro-life choice. Worse yet for the pro-choice cause, Tebow brings joy and financial blessing to his family. His mother’s choice “paid off” on many levels. When you touch on the abortion issue in America, you touch the third rail spiritually, as well as politically and in terms of the media. Because he will always represent the choice NOT to have an abortion, there are some that will vilify him his whole life. Just watch.

As long as Tim Tebow walks strong in his faith, he will be a lightning rod for criticism. He’ll do some things wrong; he’s bound to. But there seems to be a call of God upon him to be an obvious Christian in the spotlight in a world that would prefer that you keep your faith—and its message—to yourself. That’s the very definition of polarizing.