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 glory for.
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 opportunity.
- 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.