Monday, August 31, 2009

On Tim Tebow's Christianity, Humanism
And Ted Kluck's Open Letter to Tebow Fans

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Tim Tebow's devout Christianity is how he actively avoids the stereotypical "Bible-thumping" that causes so many secular fans to roll their eyes.

In fact, if anything, he is very careful about his public proselytizing. Does he let the media tag along for his prison-ministry sessions? Of course: This is part of the power of his "platform," one of the big reasons he came back to school this year.

But when you consume and analyze as many publicly available Tebow quotes as I do, you see how careful he is with language. He is certainly not afraid to bring up his devotion to his faith and values; however, he is far more likely to use more open-ended language.

I am not trying to suggest that Tebow is trying to subversively spread the word -- I think that he recognizes that many people don't want to hear it and that he risks alienating his larger audience -- and his access -- by coming across as too heavy-handed.

One of the most interesting things from the GQ article was the detail about Tebow's interest in the development and applications of influence; in the case of his evangelism, I would argue that Tebow actively avoids polarizing language and in fact, Tebow has created a much broader and more accessible version of his values.

There is a practical reason for that: Tebow may have a certain priority for his faith, but he is sincere as it relates to all people serving their community -- whatever that might mean. Consider the money he has helped raise for Florida's Shands Hospital, for a special center for sick kids. That isn't about evangelism, per se -- although it is about his personal values, which include having perspective... however one might define that.

For Tebow, that means putting his faith first; for others, that might mean putting your family first, or your community first. The point is: Tebow is insightful enough to understand that evangelical Christianity isn't necessarily for everyone, but that the humanist -- even secular humanist -- impulse to make the world a better place could (and should) be a universal value.

I bring all this up because I read a remarkable column today at ChristianityToday.com by author Ted Kluck, entitled "An Open Letter to Tim Tebow Fans." It didn't doubt Tebow's off-field abilities, but it did essentially say: Give the guy some room.

From Kluck: "We need to give him the grace and the space to be a young man in his early twenties, which is to say occasionally imperfect. A sanctification work-in-progress, like the rest of us."

(I was also struck that Kluck and I share a "Favorite Tebow Moment": His "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalty against Oklahoma in the national title game, doing the Gator Chomp in the face of Oklahoma's Nic Harris. It was Tebow's most human -- and likable -- public display of his life.)

I have never seen a player -- amateur or pro -- handle himself with such self-awareness and composure off the field in the way Tebow has. To Kluck's point, that doesn't mean we should continue to pile on the burdens. (Alternatively, perhaps the truly most compelling part of Tebow's story is precisely to test where his limitations might be.)

Tebow wants to be a leader, but it has to be personally blasphemous to Tebow (and even to someone who has a more secular approach to religion) to attach a messianic construction to him. I think we have already crossed that to some extent, and Kluck's post is a good reminder that Tebow is not God, the second coming or anything else like that.

He is an extraordinary football player and person, and just that. But isn't that enough?

1 comment:

  1. Agree with the last point. Good perspective. You really hit on something with "Alternatively, perhaps the truly most compelling part of Tebow's story is precisely to test where his limitations might be." (But I'm not rooting to see him mess up in public or something; far from it. )

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