The Monday (10-12-09) edition of USA TODAY ran an interesting article entitled “And I’d like to thank God Almighty.” The article addressed the issue of Christian athletes loudly bringing their Christianity into sports. If you’re any kind of fan, you’ve seen them do this. The basketball player makes the winning shot and says in the courtside interview, “I just want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for helping me make that shot.” The Nascar driver wins the race, emerges from his car, dons a cap, and says to the reporter in victory lane, “First of all, I want to thank Jesus Christ, for without him none of this would have been possible.”
The article prominently mentioned Tim Tebow, the star quarterback for the Florida Gators, the nation’s top-ranked college football team. Tebow has been a part of two national championship teams at Florida. He’s won the Heisman Trophy. He’s been named All American. He’s been praised as a leader, an upstanding student, and an ideal role model. He’s also been an outspoken Christian who has fervently mixed his Christianity with his football since the first day he stepped foot on campus.
The problem Tom Krattenmaker, the writer of the article, has with Tebow is the staunchly conservative brand of Christianity that Tebow promotes. He points out that Tebow takes off-season missionary trips to Asia under the auspices of his father’s organization, The Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. According to Krattenmaker, the bottom line of that organization is: “Only those who assent to its version of Christianity will avoid eternal punishment.” He then cites two examples of the concerns he has with the organization. First, the ministry boldly states, “We reject the modern ecumenical movement.” Second, the ministry’s literature estimates that 75% of the inhabitants of the Philippines “have never once heard the gospel of Christ,” even though more than 80% of Philippine citizens identify themselves as Roman Catholic.
Now, before I press on to what I really want to say with this post, let me be clear about a few things:
#1: I understand full well the inherent danger of doctrinal compromise in the modern ecumenical movement. There are reasons why I pastor a non-denominational church, and that’s one of them.
#2: Despite my wariness of ecumenicalism, I know there are sincere Christians to be found throughout the various denominations (Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Church of Christ, etc.)
#3: I do believe that the religious system of Catholicism is a false hybrid of authentic New Testament Christianity and that it is laced with erroneous teachings and practices.
#4: I do believe there are some legitimate Christians within Catholicism’s ranks.
#5: I do believe in the eternal punishment of those who die without ever having placed their belief in Christ as Savior.
So, you see, I’m not writing to lambaste the beliefs of Tim Tebow or The Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. For the most part, with a few exceptions, I agree with their basic tenets. Instead, what I want to write about is the “Jesus always makes you a winner” mentality.
Are we to believe that Jesus always wants His followers to succeed in sports? Does the fact that Tim Tebow’s team beat Louisiana State last Saturday prove that Jesus favors Tim Tebow over the players on the L.S.U. team? Maybe the Lord just doesn’t like the state of Louisiana in general. After all, He sent Hurricane Katrina to “get” New Orleans, didn’t He? We’ll just conveniently overlook the minor detail that Katrina did incredible damage to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, a conservative school in the Southern Baptist Convention denomination. We’ll also overlook the fact that there might just be some Christians on a team from Louisiana.
What I’m saying is, it’s very easy for Tim Tebow to give all praise to Jesus for letting him run for touchdowns when he is doing that running behind one of the biggest, baddest offensive lines in college football. It’s very easy for him to credit Jesus for letting him throw touchdown passes when he is throwing those passes to some of the fastest, most skilled receivers on planet Earth. I wonder, would Jesus seem nearly as powerful to Tebow if he played for a team that wasn’t loaded with such players?
Tebow can talk all he wants about the power of the Lord, but when it came time for him to choose a college team to play for, this home-schooled son of a missionary didn’t pick a small, Christian, ultra conservative, non-ecumenical school that barely had a football team. He picked one of the most secular “football factories” in the United States. Think about that. There’s the power of the Lord, and then there’s the power of incredibly gifted teammates. It’s easy to shine for Jesus when the greatest disappointment you have to face in a season is the gap between winning a national championship or having to settle for finishing second in your conference and in the top five nationally.
My son Ryan is a Christian. His belief in Christ is real and he is a great kid. He’s also a good athlete whose best sport might very well be football. However, through no fault of his own, he suffers from attending a school system that rates very low in sports. He never won a football game during his 5th-grade season. Likewise for his 6th. That 6th-grade team scored three touchdowns total. Ryan ran for two and threw for the other one. This season was his middle-school, 7th-grade season. He made all-conference, but his team won one game.
Since Ryan and Tim Tebow both claim the same Savior, why does that Savior work so hard to get Tebow his wins and acclaim but allows Ryan to get gang-tackled season after season? I would submit that Tebow’s natural ability and otherworldly teammates have much more to do with his athletic success than Jesus does. I say that Jesus isn’t nearly as personally involved in the outcome of sporting events as Christian athletes want to believe. Put a batter up against a pitcher and the outcome will depend much more upon how good the pitcher’s stuff is than how often the batter prays.
Please understand that I’m not trying to completely eliminate Jesus from sports. After all, His sovereignty knows no limits. And let’s face it, any Savior who knows the number of hairs on a person’s head has to be interested in all of life, right down to the minutest details. But we need to get back into the realm of reality on this subject. If an athlete wants to thank Jesus for allowing him the health to compete, that’s fine. If He wants to give Him praise for dying on the cross for his sins, that’s a form of witnessing. When it comes to final scores, though, he needs to keep his mouth shut about Jesus. If Jesus was really that actively involved in that department, Notre Dame would never lose a game. Remember, that’s the school with the famous “Touchdown Jesus” shrine. Oh, wait, scratch what I just said. I forgot, they’re Catholics.