The "Tebow Thing"

by David Halbrook
January 13, 2012

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Along with millions of others, I’ve been watching with acute interest the exploits of my hometown Denver Broncos of late.  Practically a Colorado native, I grew up watching the team through many years of shifting fortunes, culminating in the late ‘90s with back-to-back, John Elway-led Super Bowls. I can attest that the “Broncomania” associated with those seasons was, for long-suffering Coloradans, a magical thrill ride that, until this year, seemed unrepeatable.

In purely football terms, compared with two Broncos Super Bowl wins more than a decade ago, the saturation media coverage of and international fixation with Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow defies human reason. A recent article in the decidedly non-conservative Washington Post, entitled “Finding Tim Tebow,” conceded of his Christian witness that, “With Broncos’ Tim Tebow, everything you see is true.” It further observed that: “He’s more like a young pop star than anything the NFL has seen in many years. While the marketing image of iconic athletes usually is carefully crafted, put before focus groups and treated like a brand, Tebow’s grew organically. This season he had the league’s second-best selling jersey and 27th-best passer rating. According to Florida’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, from 2000 to 2007, no children born in his home state were given the first name ‘Tebow.’ Since 2008, there have been eight.”

This, of course, doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the intense, inexplicable global curiosity with which this winsome, humble athlete is held by a public that, by turns, is either giddily adoring or openly hostile. Prominent talking heads in and out of sports wrestle trying to explain why we -- why they -- care so much about this young man who unapologetically and publically expresses his faith and love for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at every opportunity, win or lose, whether standing at a postgame microphone or praying with a sick teen in a hospital ward. “I first want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he begins. “He has done so much for me, and I’m so honored to have this platform.”

“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8). To even attempt to track the sheer number of newspaper and magazine articles, cover spreads, radio and TV features in multiple languages in which Tebow gets to share his faith would be almost impossible. His name is everywhere, and in this desperately cynical, post-Christian culture, beleaguered believers corporately rejoice at the unfolding narrative: the come-from-behind victories, the crunching runs to the end-zone, the earnest “Tebowing” after a score, the heartfelt Christian witness at the podium, the positive role modeling for our children. It’s as if we’re bearing witness to one of those incredibly rare moments when the kingdom of heaven visibly cracks through into time and space, and through this most unlikely of conduits the Name of the Lord and His message of salvation are spreading across the planet at the speed of a mouse click.

Who hasn’t by now heard about Tebow’s 316 yards and 31.6 completion average in the Broncos’ stunning overtime victory over the Steelers last Sunday, giving Tebow occasion to remind the world that his favorite Scripture verse is John 3:16? Instantaneously, John 3:16 became the most-Googled phrase on the Internet, by a mile. It spawned another breathless cycle of commentary and conjecture, in publications ranging from the Washington Post to CNN to the New York Times -- and in every major print, broadcast, and web publication -- wherein secular writers who’ve never thought twice about Jesus typed out the words for all to see: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The seismic backlash accompanying all this should surprise no Christian, as everyone from amateur bloggers to Saturday Night Live to the round-the-clock Tebow watchers on the sports channels shoot toxic darts at Tebow’s perceived athletic shortcomings and “over the top” professions of faith. Seemingly rational men are seen shouting at one another, on camera, over Tebow’s certain, inevitable fall from grace, unable or unwilling to process what their eyes are seeing, straining to explain it all away. One ESPN anchor, following another implausible Broncos’ victory, attributed Tebow’s heroics to -- no kidding -- the full moon.

As most Christians understand, these things are foolishness to unbelievers. One can almost hear the radical secularists and atheists gnash their teeth beholding a sight that, in this culture, amounts to radical public Christian worship. To the spiritually indifferent, Tebow’s very presence forces them to confront their disbelief in, or even disdain for, the notion of God, much less a Savior. When he wins they cringe, and when he fails they gloat, much like those we read about in Scripture. David, as we know, danced before the Ark in a radical display of affection that both deeply offended and deeply inspired. Concluding his essay entitled “The People Who Hate Tim Tebow,” a stridently non-Christian writer, who had written himself into a lather with a meandering, mind-bending “spiritual” exegesis well beyond his pay grade, boiled it down to this: “The crux here, the issue driving the whole ‘Tebow Thing,’ is the matter of faith. It’s the ongoing choice between embracing a warm feeling that makes no sense or a cold pragmatism that’s probably true. And with Tebow, that illogical warm feeling keeps working out. It pays off. His faith in God, his followers’ faith in him -- it defies modernity. This is why people care so much. He is making people wonder if they should try to believe things they don’t actually believe.” Boom.

At the deli counter yesterday, a young worker taking my order noticed my CU Buffaloes cap and asked me and my son if we were from Colorado. He then asked if we were Broncos fans, which of course launched us into a spirited, over-the-counter discussion about all things Tim Tebow. Finally, the young lad noted Tebow’s 316 yards passing stat against the Steelers. “That’s kind of weird isn’t it,” he said, “how it relates to John 3:16.” To which I lazily responded something like, “Well, it’s possibly a very significant connection,” and walked away, in a hurry to get provisions back to my flu-ridden wife and children. Only later did it hit me how I’d missed a perfectly teed up opportunity to talk to this young man about what John 3:16 actually meant. As Jesus said, the fields are ripe for the harvest (John 4:35). For reasons that, on this mortal coil, we’ll never fully understand, it would seem as if He’s teeing it up for us through a faith-filled, homeschooled, willing young Denver Broncos quarterback. Whatever happens for the remainder of the season, one gets the feeling this “Tebow Thing” may well persist. If I get another shot at the deli counter, I won’t make the same mistake.

Editor of the American Roundtable, David Halbrook also serves as PHC’s Director of Communications. He is a former award-winning journalist, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and co-author of five books, with extensive experience in corporate Christian and para-church communications. Read full bio.

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