Conspicuous Christianity

December 13th, 2011
Image © Jeffrey Beall |Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

The “Hallelujah Chorus” you hear during this Advent season may be coming not from a church choir but from Denver Broncos fans. Second-year quarterback Tim Tebow has, since taking over as the starter in early October, led the team to seven victories in eight tries. Six of those wins involved second-half comebacks, five had fourth quarter rallies, and three went into overtime. The Broncos’ turnaround has been one of the NFL’s most compelling stories this year. And Tebow is one of its most polarizing figures.

Tebow is not, by many statistical measures, that strong a quarterback. True, he enjoyed a standout career at the University of Florida. He was the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Many observers, however, question how his skills translate to the professional level. Many of Tebow’s fans want to see the team make a long-term commitment to him, but Broncos executive VP (and former star quarterback himself) John Elway wants to see Tebow further improve.


Tebow’s public expressions of faith have attracted as much attention as his athleticism. A devout evangelical Christian, Tebow regularly tweets Bible verses, thanks Jesus in post-game press conferences, and drops to one knee for a brief prayer after making big plays. This last practice prompted the pop-culture meme called “tebowing.” The website showcases user-submitted photographs of people replicating Tebow’s prayer posture. The site’s founder, Jared Kleinstein, doesn’t share Tebow’s faith (Kleinstein is Jewish), but he found Tebow’s gesture inspiring. In its first two weeks, the site received over a million visits. Many pictures capture the inspiration Kleinstein felt, including one Tebow has identified as a favorite: a young cancer patient “tebowing while chemoing.” Other images might be mocking Tebow’s piety, much as Detroit Lions’ linebacker Stephen Tulloch did during his team’s rout of the Broncos.

Not everyone appreciates Tebow’s upfront religiosity. Former Bronco QB Jake Plummer likes Tebow but says, “When he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I’ll like him even better . . . I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.” And some reactions to Tebow’s professions of faith send mixed signals. Some fans have started wearing versions of Tebow’s jersey that replace the QB’s name with “Jesus.” Do these jerseys represent a devotion to Christ these fans share with Tebow? Or are they a humorous commentary on Tebow being the Broncos’ “savior”? Not even Tebow knows, saying: “If their heart is to honor the Lord, then it’s a good thing. . . . “Only God knows what’s truly in a person’s heart.”

Called to Be Witnesses

Like the public at large, some Christian youth will applaud Tebow’s sharing of his faith, while others will dismiss “tebowing” and all that goes with it as laughable. As one who ministers with youth, however, you have the opportunity to help them move beyond judging Tebow’s witness to focusing on and cultivating their own. Offering public, visible witness is a crucial component of Christian discipleship. “You are witnesses of these things,” the risen Jesus told his first followers (Luke 24:48). During Advent we remember that, even before Jesus began public ministry, he was being publicly proclaimed (see John 1:19-28). Every believer has a personal relationship to Jesus, but that relationship cannot remain private.

So what is the best way to give public, visible witness to Jesus? Legendary NFL quarterback Kurt Warner states: “The greatest impact you can have on people is never what you say, but how you live. When you speak and represent the person of Jesus Christ in all actions of your life, people are drawn to that. You set the standard with your actions. The words can come after.” But words must come. If Christians do the good works God has prepared for us (see Ephesians 2:10) but never indicate that we do them in gratitude to God, how will anyone be moved to give glory to our Father in heaven?

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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