Tim Tebow and Jesus

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.

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3 Responses to Tim Tebow and Jesus

  1. Some very good points… You know, just once, I would like to see a guy strike out and point up to heaven, miss a tackle and thank God, or blow the game winning shot and blame it on Jesus. I have heard the nascar guy thank the LORD after a wreck, not for the wreck, but for his life!

    Norm Evans, former NFL lineman with the Dolphins wrote the book “On God’s Squad”, where he says, “I guarantee you Christ would be the toughest guy who ever played the game… If he were alive today I would picture a 6’6″ 260LB defensive tackle who would always make the big plays and would be hard to keep out of the backfield for offensive lineman like myself.”

    Fritz Peterson, formerly of the NY Yankees, sees Christ as a rough and tumble baseball player, “I firmly believe that if Jesus Christ was sliding into second base, he would knock the second baseman into left field to break up the double play. Christ might not throw a spitball, but he would play hard within the rules.”

    These quotes say much more about us than Jesus. I believe if Jesus played football he would be the water boy, serving others, or in baseball the third base coach telling you when to go, giving signs and offering encouragement. Even here, of course, I’m securely tongue in cheek.

    In my opinion, how you play the game, conduct yourself (on and off the field), mesh with your teammates and give back to your community is the stronger Christian witness than Phil 4:13 on your eye black or thanking Jesus in the twenty seconds you get at the end of the game or the ten minute press conference. I don’t know that I have a problem with the latter, but the first sentence is more of a witness in my opinion.

    Oh, and let’s all agree to NOT try and figure out what sort of athlete Christ would have been. I know there are far greater pursuits in knowing Him more.

    Thanks for the article Russell…

  2. Erich says:

    I believe that God gave all of us all gifts. What ever the gifts may be, it is our responsibility to use these gifts to the best of our ability, and give thanks and praise for these gifts. If one is gifted with an incredible ability in sports, than he or she should be passionate about those gifts and pour all of his or her heart and soul into that gift. This is how we honor our God who has given us these gifts and talents. I believe we need more people that are as passionate for their gifts like Tim Tebow for example. However, the real Christian can live this life of thanks on and off the field, and give thanks for all in his or her life, not just on the field. However, I don’t think you should ever silence anyone for trying to give the lord thanks for all he has given us. All we can do in this lifetime is give thank to God as much as we can, praise God as much as we can through worship and prayer, and spread the word and love of God as much as we can. As Cristians we need to get back to basics and live for Christ every day in all we do (which I believe Tim Tebow does).

    On another thought, from an athletes point of view, which I have alot of experience in, Christians find strength in Jesus. Being on the field, the track, the court, or any other sports venue, I believe it is most appropriate to call to Jesus for the strength to persevere and find the strength to be the victor. God is everywhere and in everything, even at sporting events. So, I think it does God an injustice to deny that he is not present at these athletic events. Although in the long run, who won or lost a sporting event doesn’t really matter, it still comes back to my original point that we honor God through using the gifts he gave us.

    In closing, if we have the love of God in our hearts at all times, we can easily find the good in all things. So I don’t think we should ever put athletes down for expressing their gratitude and love for Jesus, our lord and savior. All we have to live our lives by is the Bible, the word of God written through the hands of many followers. We should all work on getting a little fire in our gut for the lord.

    • russellmckinney says:


      Thanks for your interest in my post, and I do hear what you’re saying. I didn’t mean for the piece to be a Tim Tebow bashing. His high profile just made him an easy example to use to make my point. That point was a tirade against the “Jesus always make you a winner” mentality. That is the real message of the post.

      On the subject of Tebow, I don’t doubt his Christianity or his sincere desire to promote Christ. I do sometimes have issues with his judgment. Case in point #1: that Sports Illustrated cover in which he appeared shirtless. There was no valid reason for him to remove that one piece of his football uniform for a picture that would be seen by millions. It was a plain instance of immodesty. He certainly would have kept his shirt on if he wasn’t cut like a Greek god. Case in point #2: those internet photos of him with his skimpy-bikinied girlfriend. Again, modesty is lacking there. For a guy who makes a lot of headlines for being a virgin (and I congratulate him wholeheartedly for that virginity), he seems to not mind dancing on the edge of temptation.

      Tim Tebow is in his early twenties. When I was in my early twenties, I was living like the Tasmanian Devil. That’s why I don’t want to come down like thunder on him for what many consider to be such minor issues. But the fact is, he can be a bit too much. Just this past week, USA Today used a term I had never heard: “Tebow fatigue.” I guess I’m suffering from some of that. It’s just that I know firsthand that living for Christ isn’t always easy. It’s not always touchdowns and championships, and I don’t want any athlete (Tim Tebow or anyone else) kind of giving that impression. I do think Tebow does that, even if he doesn’t mean to do it.

      It’s just that his life has been so “perfect” (for lack of a better word) that he doesn’t seem to have much perspective on living for Jesus during difficult times. I figure he will gain that perspective simply by continuing to breathe. After all, he can’t endlessly keep up the standard of success to which he has become accustomed. Furthermore, I do believe that he is fully capable of being an awesome witness for Christ once he has gained that proper perspective. But that’s a road he hasn’t had to travel yet.

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