By Marv Knox
How should Christians express their faith in a pluralistic world?
This is the vital question implicit in – but overshadowed by – professional athlete Tim Tebow’s decision to speak, and then not to speak, at First Baptist Church in Dallas next month.
Tebow, 25, is a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy with the Florida Gators. As a pro, he has played for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets.
He’s an evangelical Christian who participates in mission trips and speaks at churches. He’s well-known for bowing to offer prayers after big plays, a posture known as “Tebowing.” And he’s counter-cultural, especially for a professional athlete, choosing to remain celibate until marriage.
Bleacherreport.com calls Tebow “the most controversial player in the NFL.” He’s actually bi-controversial. Some fans feel he’s not good enough for the pros. And some criticize his displays of faith.
Tebow agreed to speak at First Baptist in Dallas April 28, during festivities dedicating the church’s facilities.
That appointment set off criticism among sportswriters who objected to Tebow’s association with First Baptist’s Robert Jeffress. The Dallas pastor has gained notoriety for condemnation of Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam and homosexuality. Even one of Jeffress’ prominent defenders acknowledged he is “often incendiary.”
Tebow backed out, citing “new information that has been brought to my attention.” He pledged to “continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring faith, hope and love to all those needing a brighter day.”
That decision created an evangelical backlash against Jeffress’ critics. Commentators pointed out Jeffress believes what millions of Christians believe. They cast Jeffress as a martyr and cited rejection by “the world” and estrangement between secular culture and Christianity.
Not surprisingly, this incident – like other culture-war battles – created more heat than light.
Some critics said reprehensible things about First Baptist and reverted to extreme metaphors to describe the pastor. Some evangelicals turned on Tebow, snarking he “Tebowed” to pressure. Meanwhile, some customarily nuanced commentators characterized criticisms of Jeffress as caustic critiques of all Christians.
Of course, some Christians agree with all Jeffress’ perspectives on Catholicism, homosexuality, Islam and Mormonism. And many – perhaps most – Baptists and evangelical Christians agree with at least some of his views.
Christians probably will debate those issues until Jesus returns. But the Tebow/First Baptist controversy should prompt a discussion about our speech and how we express faith.
Some Christians, particularly conservatives, rail at the response they receive from “the world.” They wear secular condemnation as a badge of honor: You’re not doing your job as a Christian if you’re not angering unbelievers and vilified by atheists, agnostics and adherents of other faiths. In self-defense, they quote Jesus, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).
They return fire for fire, telling the unbelieving and/or unrepentant what they think of them. And the cycle feeds its own fire.
Ironically, Christians who typically engage in rancor and vilification present themselves as evangelistic. I don’t know what outreach methods you studied, but “Insult, condemn and ridicule” is not one of the Four Spiritual Laws.
Do you wonder why people express such hatred toward Christians? Maybe it’s because of Jesus. But if you listen, you’ll hear the major reason: They think Christians hate them.
Call it an occupational hazard, but I survey atheist and free-thinker websites, listen to far-left talk shows and read the comments sections on religion sites. If Christianity were like what they describe, I wouldn’t follow Jesus, either. Unfortunately, they’re not making this up; they’re responding to people who call themselves Christian.
If all they hear from Christians sounds like hatred and condemnation, they’re not going to buy Christians’ propositional truths. Nobody accepts beliefs offered in anger and bitterness.
Consider the number of people you know who came to Christ because someone cared for them, listened to them, sacrificed to meet their needs – loved them into faith. Now, contrast that number with the number who were denigrated and argued into submission.
Christians shout because they feel their beliefs are threatened. But maybe those arguments would carry more weight if they whispered while they acted lovingly.