Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm finished lionizing athlete Christians

This isn’t personal.

I like Tim Tebow et al and am glad for their being followers of Christ. But one has to admit that in the minds of spectators these people are athletes first and Christians second, a point not even worth arguing, since we wouldn’t have heard the name Tebow if not for his athletic prowess.

I lionized my last athlete Christian a long time ago. I didn't mark the day but maybe it was about the time the of the last case of the ath-celeb-Christian hero acting a bit too human, stumbling and falling. Imperfection is, after all, highly unbecoming for a Christian icon, which makes for some difficulty for those who have been so elevated or who have so desired the position.

Has it been a generation, two maybe, that finger-pointing to God in heaven replaced ball-spiking in the end zone and normal home run trots? And, I’m up to the gills with orchestrated on-field prayers and mindless God-talk clichés that have become de rigueur for the athletic contests.

OK, so these are young, mostly immature young men for whom we must make allowances. Sorry, my allowance money is spent.

Would I rather do without evangelical athletic exhibitionism? Well...yes...and forgive me, but I’m a bit soured on the whole brand of muscular Christianity in an age of mind-numbing wealth, stratospheric celebrity status, and fame masquerading as authentic faith.

I recommend a great book about a bad man, Elmer Gantry. Pay close attention to how Sinclair Lewis writes about old Elmer's conversion, and that bit of realistic fiction was over 80 years ago. Deja vu?

But I would offer here one athletic-based exhibition of Christian faith and testimony that I was surprised to find and that I genuinely appreciated.

I attended a top tier college football game a few years ago where the coach was scheduled to speak to a big crowd of church kids, and that after the game. It was a patsy game for the coach but his team was upset. It was ugly. He was already on the hotseat and that loss increased the criticism of the coach.

Whatever else was swirling around in that coach's mind (think job loss, career ended, family turmoil, returning home to 'for sale' signs in his yard) took a back seat to his fulfilling his speaking engagement to those kids, sitting right there in the stadium, after a crushing loss. No one read about that. No one talked about that. Now that is a Christian exhibition. He got fired, by the way.

I make no judgment about our current Christian gladiatorial champions, the "tebowing" and all that. From all accounts he is a super guy, fine Christian, and sincere about who he is and what he does. I wish him, and them, all well.

I just soured on the whole genre of heroic athlete Christian. What most Americans need is to be able to look in the yard next door, in the next office cubicle, or in the grocery store and find a humble, sincere, kind, and normal, authentic follower of Christ.


Bob Hadley said...

Here is another side of the coin concerning this fascination with Athlete Christians...

If the individual is sincere in his committment to the Lord... what difference does it make if he is the average Joe down the street or Tim Tebow... I thought the Great Commission applied to ALL Christians...

I am encouraged when ANYONE stands up and says to their part of the world that Jesus Christ is Lord of my life and means it. There are a lot of folks in our churches and in our communities who wave their Christian banners for all kinds of reasons, many of which are less than sincere.

Tim seems to be as sincere as he can possibly be and his life has been built around a missionary presence and I for one think we ought to be encouraging folks of all walks of life to be more like Tebow instead of putting him down because he has a certain degree of stature and name recongition.

Grateful to be in His Grip!


William Thornton said...

I hope I was sufficiently clear in saying that I do not question TT's Christian commitment.

Alloting to athlete (or entertainment) Christians as a special salvific role amongst us is unwise, IMO. Better to encourage people to be like Jesus.

thanks for the comment bob

Jonathan said...

You were quite clear William and I wholeheartedly agree. I suspect that one of the reasons that we lionize celebrity shows of faith is that it provides a sort of sense of security and affirmation of our own faith (i.e. "Look son, Roger Staubach is speaking at a Billy Graham crusade" "Look son, Tim Tebow has another verse on the anti-glare strip under his eyes").

I would assert that we come by this quite honestly. Look at the culture surrounding certain pastors and denominational leaders.