‘Hey, Tebow: Shut up already!’

As Tebowmania sweeps the nation, more people are celebrating Tim Tebow’s bold stand for Christ. But there's a dangerous side to public displays of faith.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY: Denver Broncos starting quarterback Tim Tebow offers up a prayer to God before a recent game versus the San Diego Chargers. His gesture of Christian devotion has become known as "Tebowing." (Photo: Michael Zito/Newscom)

In 2009, the Word of the Year was tweet; In 2010, it was app (both are better than 1999’s winner — you guessed it — Y2K). Words like “gleek” and “drone” will no doubt occupy (my personal favorite) the 2011 shortlist, but the wordologists better make room for a late surge by two serious candidates: Tebowing and Tebowmania.

Call it a fourth-quarter comeback.

The question about Denver Broncos star Tim Tebow is not (for once) whether he is a good QB. He wins games, and that’s good enough for me. He wins ugly, but with six fourth-quarter comeback wins in 2011 alone, Tim Tebow has become a phenomenon. His jersey sales are through the roof; ESPN spends at least four hours of daily programming dedicated to his name; and, for better or worse, Tim Tebow is the most polarizing name in sports (I just heard LeBron James sigh in relief).

Let’s be honest: Most of the love/hate relationship that fans and critics express regarding Tebow has nothing to do with sports. This is about a man’s faith — which for some is inspiring, and for others sickening. This is about a man who does more than wear Jesus on his sleeve; he draws Scripture verses under his eyes. Some people say it’s too much.

There’s nothing odd about Tim Tebow’s public displays of faith (PDF). He is “on fire” in just about every way that evangelicals use the term: unapologetic, loud, and inspiring. He begins most every statement in true Grammy-fashion: “First of all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ …” We knew who Tebow was back in high school — he is devout and virginal and has superior character to match his athleticism.

If you are a Christian, there’s a lot to LOVE about Tim Tebow. I know pastors who applaud Tebow for his abandon of spiritual censorship: he loves Jesus and he doesn’t care what you think (shouldn’t we all be so faithful?). Lately though, I’ve been wondering if his abandon is reckless abandon, and if his public displays of faith are doing more harm than good.

It began after one of his signature fourth-quarter wins where — while still on the field — a reporter approached him, breathless and in amazement, asking a very simple question, “How are you able to continue doing this?” Tebow replied with stone eyes, “My God is Big.” Whoa. He made that exact phrase a few more times, mixing in some thoughts about defense, finally closing with, “I serve a big God.” (Cringe.) Then last week, one teammate of his reported that Tebow said God speaks to him during the games. That’s when I decided that I would side with the critics — Would you just shut up already?!? – and for altogether different reasons.

My basic concern about PDF is that it is an ironic conquest. Openly giving God the credit for “miracles” seems to be exactly the opposite of what Jesus himself wished. There’s Mark 7:36 (and 8:30), and Luke 5:14 — “go and tell no one what has happened.” But then there’s Mark 5:14 — “go home and tell your friends” — so the “Messianic Secret” is far from answered, even in the Gospels. It seems to me, though, that the overwhelming portrait is of a quiet and humble Jesus who doesn’t want to be thanked at award shows or after athletic contests. Not because God isn’t worth recognizing, but something more dangerous happens when we too readily open our mouths in the Winner’s Circle. God becomes a “God for Winners.”

The most famous story of this is with Michael Chang, a tennis prodigy who at 17 was the youngest player to ever win the French Open. At the press conference, when asked how he was able to defeat Stefan Edberg, Chang replied, “I won because of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Well, he’s giving God glory, right? No, (according to John Feinstein, who reported deeply on this in 1989) Chang believed that his victory was the result of his having a closer personal relationship with Jesus than Edberg did. He honestly believed that.

Tebow and Chang are of the same evangelical cloth; we have to wonder if Tim Tebow believes his wins are the direct result of his personal relationship with God. His PDF is beginning to convince me he does. So what’s wrong with that?

God — if we may so feebly name the divine — is not a “Winner’s God.” More than half of the Bible is written for an audience that is losing, whether it be in culture, politics, or economics. In fact, by all societal standards (and messianic expectations), Jesus fails. And despite the adrenaline rush of victory, there’s nothing wrong with NOT winning. Hearing Tim Tebow only after victory may send an uncritical message about our “big” God: He creates and loves winners.

What about the losers of our society, the poor and the politically oppressed? Does God only love the 1%? Is this “God” only on one sideline, rooting against those with lesser faith? Is God BIG for Tebow and small for Marion Barber?

I don’t want to believe that God cares that much about sports: that would break my heart considering how much real pain and suffering yet remains in this world. And I certainly don’t want to believe that God loves only the winners, as the poisonous Prosperity Gospel proclaims (that would explain the Cubs’ “curse,” though. Hmm …). But that’s the impression we get from these snapshots of Tebow’s faith. Admittedly, he probably needs to break it down further, and a press conference is not the time.

So rather than a half-baked faith, I say to Tim Tebow: SHUT UP ALREADY! Not for me, but for the teenager who idolizes you and prays and fasts before games, just like you do, believing that God will “show up” for him on the field. When that young man loses, it won’t be because of the size of his God, it will be because the other team was better on that day (and even in defeat, To God Be the Glory).

We didn’t hear much about Chang’s God when he started losing. I wonder if the same will be true for Tim Tebow, though we may not find out this season. When the defenses do finally catch up to Tebow, will it be bad for Faith as well? That’s my only concern.

I’m looking to be converted on this one.

About the author, Julian DeShazier

Rev. Julian "J.Kwest" DeShazier regularly provides social commentary surrounding youth, ethics, and culture. A graduate of Morehouse College and the University of Chicago Divinity School, Julian is the senior pastor of University Christian Church in Chicago, his hometown. To build with this scholar, activist, and artist, hit him up at www.jkwest.com.
  1. Julian,

    Interesting article/blog post. Have you had this or a version of this published on a secular, mainstream blog? If so, and that version also contained scripture, it would qualify for the Amy Writing Awards (www.amyfound.org). The Amy Writing Awards are meant to recognize journalists and opinion writers who share God’s truth with the larger audience. Check it out: http://www.amyfound.org.

  2. J.Kwest,

    Before ranting that a Christian should hide his light, you might consider: Matthew 5:14-16, Mark 16:15, Luke 11:33-36, Mark 4:21, Philippians 2:15, Isaiah 49:6, James 2:18…and there are plenty of others. Unsure what denomination, sect, or faction of faith you represent, but the malice in your article reflects one of the world living in the world. On Sunday do yourself and any who actually listen to you a favor and watch Tim Tebow with mouth shut + mind open and witness one who uses the platform God gives to honor the giving God. Jeremiah 23:1-2. God Bless.

    • Fletch, I think your response to Mr. DeShazier is over-the-top. He has put forth some honest concerns about Tim Tebow’s witness. It will be interesting to see how Tim Tebow reacts to adversity (losses) which will probably lead to more criticism of his play. Personally, I believe we need to be careful about telling someone how to be a witness for the Lord. As long as Tebow does nothing to bring shame to the name of Jesus, more power to him.

      I do want to add that I’m a Tim Tebow fan and hope that he continues to prove his critics wrong. What I hope and pray to see from Tebow is continued improvement at the position of QB which will lead to his Broncos being a consistent legitimate threat as a team in the NFL. This will only legitimize his platform even the more for the Lord.

    • J.K.West isn’t suggesting that Tebow “hide his light”. What he’s suggesting is that Tebow exercise a bit more caution and make sure he’s not supplementing the expectation that God’s in support of him, the “winner”, and no one else. There’s a danger in perpetuating that expectation. I’d recommend reading the passage in James 2:1-13 and replacing every reference to the poor with the word “loser”, and the rich with the word “winner”. There, you’ll find that God isn’t a respecter of persons and has no concern with the color jersey Tebow’s wearing. God is concerned with us ALL- BOTH teams. THAT’S the message Tebow should want to send. THAT’S the message that wins souls for Christ.

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  4. Hey Tebow: shut up, already??? That’s the respect we use when we talk to a brother in Christ??? : or are you a brother in Christ? You seem to be heavily influenced by the world. My guess is your are the pastor of some seeker sensetive church that is always fearful of offending anyone with the gospel of Jesus. Just a guess!
    I don’t know where you get this idea that Tebow says that God is a God of or for winners. He glorifies the Lord whether he wins or loses. You obviously haven’t been paying attention to either his words or his actions. He takes care of the poor and visits the sick. He does the things that are dear to our Lords heart, and takes care of those the Lord loves. The thing that impresses me the most though, is the thing you despise the most about him; The fact that he uses the platform that God Gave Him to proclaim the Good News and glorify His Lord and Saviour,Jesus Christ every chance he gets. We don’t see a lot of that do we?If you are a pastor that is offended by that I think you need to get out of the ministry, because the Gospel is offensive. Jesus himself offended many….. and they killed Him,
    May the Lord Bless you

    • Your guess about the church I serve in is wrong, as is your rush to judgment. I’m not hating on Tebow or his (in my opinion) superior display of character on and off the field. I am raising a question, a legitimate one, not in offense but in concern for our children, many of whom will emulate Tim Tebow and his faith.

      I’m impressed as well, but we (other faith folk) need to surround those who witness Tebow’s witness with a full picture of God’s love (and not just the “I’m a Winner, God is Awesome” formula). The only fair thing that can be said of me is that I am not NOT NOT NOT NOT a fan of any version of the Prosperity Gospel. Blessings

    • Jim, if Pastor Julian were afraid of offending people with the truth, he would not have written this article. I personally am not much of an NFL fan, but I am a washed-in-the-blood Christian. I’m all for making public witness. But I completely agree with Julian that the witness we need to make to the world is about who God is and what God has done in saving the world in Jesus. We have to give God glory in strength and victory, and also in weakness and defeat. Our faith does not buy off God; our works certainly don’t! If Tebow is coming dangerously close to saying that they do (and lots of other people have crossed the line by far), then Julian’s caution is warranted. And not only is it not disrespectful, but he went out of his way to show respect. Much more than you have deemed to show to this brother in Christ with your nasty insinuations.

  5. My guess is that Tim Tebow will shut up the same day hell freezes over!

  6. I fear I’ve been misread, which is unfortunate. I’m not offended by Tim Tebow at all. I openly applaud his character and even say “Shouldn’t we all be so faithful?” right in this piece. The question (and it seems valid) is whether Tebow’s half-expressed faith (only in moments of victory) sends a wrong message to a generation of people who follow him. I am not uncomfortable at all with his faith – I share it, in fact – but I am also a pastor and have the space to speak about the divine on a lot of different fronts. Tebow’s platform is limited, but he does not hesitate to bring Jesus wholeheartedly. More power to him, but it is a cause for concern IF there are people who can perhaps be lost in translation. I’m not condemning Tebow, I’m opening the dialogue. This is a beautiful thing!

    • Julian, You’ve conveyed a mixed up article. Title “Hey Tebow, shut up already” Then you praise him, then you tell him to shut up. I think you probably have been misunderstood, just as you have misunderstood Tebow. I think the title set the tone, and you need to be much more respectful when talking to a brother. Tim has not said anything I can think of that teaches anything of the prosperity movement (which, by the way I think is heresy and don’t like either). Nobody ( the press) can find anything to criticize him for as far as his character, He praises God before the whole world for a win or loss. Publicly states that football is a game that he loves , but it’s not his life. He started a hospital in the Philipeans, visits terminally ill children in hospitals weekly devoid of the press and the list goes on.
      Though the world puts him on a pedestal, he always shifts the praise to the Lord and his team mates. I can’t be sure but his humility seems very real. I think it is very refreshing to see a public figure such as Tim glorify God before the whole world. If I were a pastor I would encourage the kids to look at Tim as a great role model. Teach them that it’s great to glorify God in all situations. Explain that Jesus is the one we glorify, not Tim.
      You’re right that he does have a limited platform. It’s our job to pick up where Tim leaves off. CBS sure isn’t going to let him have time to explain everything he says about God. The world hates God, but I don’t think there’s a football fan alive now that hasn’t heard the name of Jesus being glorified.
      If I was to write an article such as this, I might title it, ” Hey Tebow, keep glorifying God; We’ll explain it”.
      I believe you have a good heart, and do love the Lord with all of it, but I think you need to get all the facts before before telling any brother to refrain from shouting the Gospel from the rooftops.
      May the Lord bless you

  7. for better perspective, the full title of this article is, “Shut Up Already! The DANGER of Public Displays of Faith”…my opinion is that this is “dangerous” but not altogether wrong. Bad things CAN happen; I haven’t said they have. The last line of the article also states clearly, “I’m looking to be converted on this one.”

    Even in dialogue (and disagreement), my hope is that we -brothers and sisters in Christ- can build one another.

  8. This is an interesting perspective. I think Julian’s overall point has been completely missed. The point is NOT that Tebow’s outward displays of faith are wrong, but rather that we as Christians should be careful of how we convey God’s greatness and favor in the eyes of those who are less familiar with Christianity. What Tebow is doing is awesome, not only because we see a Christian athlete who is proud to put his faith front and center, but because we’re having this conversation. I personally think Tebow is doing exactly what he should be doing within the context of his position in life (he’s an NFL quarterback, not a pastor) but its our responsibility as non-celebrity Christians to reach out to those unfamiliar with our faith that use Tebow as an example to clarify how things work. We need to make sure they know our walk is not one that will be predominately about winning, but one of spreading the gospel and knowing that no matter what, God will take care of you.

    Granted, this should be evident by the fact that he’s still a sub-par quarterback on a mediocre team, but that’s a completely different sports-related conversation…lol.

  9. Just checked out the Tebow press conference (even though nobody on Denver played well enough to deserve to speak), and he DID begin by thanking his Lord and Savior…so, part of our conversation is answered. He is consistent, and that is promising.

    • I don’t get your attitude. They don’t deserve to speak if they don’t play well? Wow Julian!!! You say He shouldn’t say “God is big” when he wins and doesn’t have the right to speak at all if he loses, or doesn’t play up to your expectations? I can imagne how confused your congregation must be. When, and what, if anything, do you think Tebow ought to be able to say about the Lord?
      I hope you’ll start thinking about what you write before you put things in print for all to see, because I think in your attempt at good will, you are the one doing the damage, not Tim.
      May The lord bless you.

      • I fear the disconnect here is one of rhetoric and not message. I was speaking sarcastically (as in, why after playing like that, would anyone want to talk to you?). That is PART OF THE PROBLEM I’m illuminating, that people only want to hear Tebow speak after WINS (and THAT is the danger). How many times will I say this?

        I’ll be more clear next time, Jim, so as not to confuse my congregation (that is a very unfair assessment)

        Also, DIRECTLY ABOVE YOUR COMMENT, I retreat because we have heard Tebow STILL give God glory EVEN AFTER A LOSS. That’s a good thing. Consistency was the whole point here, and he has been. We can now transfer this larger dialogue (about Public Displays of Faith) from Tebow to somewhere else. Are my points, exclusive from Tebow now, still relevant?

  10. Folks were wondering whether or not Tim Tebow’s witness would remain consistent. Not only did he give glory to the Lord at his press conference, I would encourage everyone to click on the following link to see just how consistent his testimony is:

    http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d82533f7d/article/tebows-day-not-ruined-by-highprofile-loss-to-patriots?module=HP11_content_stream

  11. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

  12. I’m not here to defend myself. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about this article is the title, which is rhetorically significant (and worked to my whole point of getting people to ENGAGE the larger discussion). “Shut Up” is obviously offensive in ways I am not familiar, and we have experienced a disconnect in rhetoric.

    I have no problem with Tebow.
    I have no problem with witnessing (although no one will engage me on the reality that the “Messianic Secret” is a larger theological question at play here, NOT answered in the gospels by any means).

    I just wanted us – the believers – to talk. I see that we still cannot speak without condemning, and it hurts my heart. I’m out to edify the body, not confuse it, that we all may be on one accord. If my phrasing has abused your sensibilities and clouded my original intent, forgive me. But some of you have not dialogued with me: you have torn me down.

    How can anyone grasp the width and breadth of a loving and forgiving God, when its followers are the exact opposite?

  13. J Kwest,

    I understand your point completely. Something about the whole ‘Tebowing’ thing was unnerving to me. At first, I thought that I had drank too much secular kool-aid and was embarrassed by his PDF. But mostly it seems that I am hearing Tebow say two different things. One the one hand, his statements are short and not detailed and the media fills in the blanks. I actually fault the 24/7 media for this because they should be chasing real news (but Tebow as a celebrity athlete should still know better). On the other hand, I have heard him say God does not care about football. Its just a game.

    I would be more comfortable with his PDF if the latter was his default position. If I am correct, the Bible does talk about reward but it seems to talk more about finishing than about winning.

  14. Something else that I think American Christians would do well to heed: It would be great to know that Tebow is a part of a growing Christian community. In my opinion, its not enough to know someone professes to be Christian. I would like to see and hear about the people who got his back beyond his family.

  15. Why are we nitpicking Tim Tebow? Much of the “Tebowing” craze is media driven, not Tebow-driven. Tim Tebow has been consistent in his testimony/witness for Christ. He was like this in high school as well as in college and has been the same in the NFL. What has driven the media coverage of him is the criticism he has received from some for his quarterbacking skills (or lack thereof) and the response to this criticism by Tebow supporters. Much of this is really not about Tim Tebow. It’s really about our witness before the world and answering the question, “How vocal should our testimony be?”

  16. Telling someone to “shut up”? Seriously? If the man prays and gives honor to God publicly, LET HIM!!! As long as it’s from his heart to God’s ear, it’s all good. Maybe the parents of those children you are concerned about should teach those children not to look up to any athlete and introduce them to Jesus so they will develop a relationship with Him and learn for themselves.

  17. I don’t think it’s fair to say he only expresses his faith when he’s winning. Should he pray and point to the sky when he’s sacked? That would be silly.

    “Here’s his most recent tweet: Tough game today but what’s most important is being able to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas everyone GB²”

    I think he’s just a very outgoing expressive guy. We never get the whole picture when we see celebrities.

    I’m personally more concerned with the whole Tebowmania phenomenon rather than the actual behavior of Tim Tebow. Why do I have to have an opinion as a Christian about a below average quarterback? *ducks*

    http://twitter.com/#!/TimTebow/status/150711518646902785

  18. What’s even more amazing about Tebow and his quarterbacking/leadership skills (or lack thereof) is that there were many more before him. Charlie Ward (Florida State Heisman winner). Andre Ware (Ohio State Heisman candidate). Jamel Halloway (Oklahoma-Heisman candidate). Each of them share a similar style (option) of quarterbacking in college with great success, but the NFL overwhelmingly labeled this style ineffective at the time. There’s alot of resentment towards Tebow but not for his success or his Faith, but because African Americans previously were denied professional careers in this sport and they were better athletes.
    Charlie Ward did make a successful transition to the NBA, but he was ridiculed by then NY Knicks coach, Jeff VanGundy for his Christian walk.
    For the young men that idolize Tebow, stop it. He’s human. Trust God with your talents and get to know Him for yourself. That’s the relationship that’s really important.

  19. “by all societal standards (and messianic expectations), Jesus fails…”

    I could jump to the defense of Jim, as I identify with his opposition to the article’s pretense… The title was obviously crafted with the purpose of drawing attention by being provocative. Yet I won’t because the above is too liberally bold of a statement not to address. Equating the Messiah of the Bible with failure in any sense is amazing to me… It might be a miscue of semantics but brother you gotta expound upon that more. I deeply abhor the prosperity message found in most black churches and because of that I often have a proclivity to overstate my arguments. It is my way of drawing “a hard line in the sand.” I hope that’s similar to what happened in the above. As a fellow seminary student I expect more fom this article, but seeing Morehouse listed as the basis of your learning migclerk plain the above statement. I’d encourage you to revisit an Old Testament seminary class that teaches that part of the Bible from an Orthodox (Nicene) interpretation of the prophets! Christ failure to fulfill the messianic promises of the prophets (including Moses) is hardly seen in the Scriptures. That is unless you draw a hyper-literal (liberal) understanding of the Text which I’m led to believe Morehouse might encourage…

    It’s pretty sad, but that one line discredits this entire article even more than the points that Jim has accurately and exhaustively pointed out…

  20. Much like the pharisees standing on the street corner on their soap boxes I tend to think its better to keep to praying inside a closet. The higher you place yourself the further you have to fall. I don’t think God cares about football and would lend to public displays a little bit less. Remember Jesus said “Let the children come to me.” NOT “Hey over here!! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!”.

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  22. but alot of young adults and teens have been inspierd to write songs about tebow such as this group called TBO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUvwWj3coWY&list=UUpeLYI3Y3JM3kjhIR5l2feg&index=1&feature=plcp

  23. Julian

    I think you missed the point completly. Those that are listed in Hebrews 11..which we refer to as the faith hall of fame..but it really should be “Those who are willinging to look foolish for Christ” Dr. Nyquist of Moody Bible Institute spoke on this last week. We want christians to tone down there testimony….why?..because it may offend someone?! Would you have told that to Noah ?…and the others listed ? This young man is not pushing anything…he is NOT on tv even pushing Jesus….he is just being real….and praying..because that is what he has always done!…and now he is on the big screen…he should stop!..are you serious!!!!