Christian Witness in the Public Arena: Tebow v. Warner

Much has been made — in both the secular and religious media — about Tim Tebow’s Christian witness as a professional football player.

Tebow is certainly not the first professing Christian to play pro ball, but much more attention is being paid to him. Other Christian pro football players — such as Kurt Warner — have commented on whether Tebow’s method of acknowledging his faith is appropriate, or the most effective way to teach others about Christ.

Since the time he first came to national attention as a Florida Gator, Tebow has certainly acknowledged his faith — promoted it, even — in various ways: Bible verses etched into his eye black; fingers raised heavenward after big plays; and announcing his thanks to Jesus Christ in post-game pressers.

I do not know how Tim Tebow behaves outside confines of the football field or away from the glare of the Kleig lights, so I am making no statement about the sincerity of his profession: I have no reason to doubt it. The question is whether — as Warner suggests — Tebow’s method is the most conducive to witnessing Christ. Warner has said, in effect, that Tebow should “tone it down” in public and allow his exemplary life to form his public testimony.

One concern intimated by Warner’s comments is just how common such “public professions” are: how many movie stars feign thanks to Jesus at the Oscars podium and live like the Devil at the after-party?

There is a sense in which the circumstance of Tebow’s public forum limits his proclamation simply to his identification with Christ. Brief television coverage of his on-field acknowledgements — whether scripture references or gesticulation — and limited time before the cameras after a game by nature prevent a thorough statement of the gospel. These “sound bite opportunities” provide little means of explaining man’s need and God’s provision. They, do, obviously, serve to confirm that Tebow publicly identifies with Christ.

Which is, to be sure, much more than other professing Christians seem willing to do.

Yet is this method counter-productive? And, even if Tebow were able to work in to a public sound bite a minimalist expression of the biblical gospel, such as Creation/Fall/Redemption, should he?

Before we too quickly jump to should a resounding “Yes!”, consider the implications. What about the Christian television or movie actor who receives an award? The Christian country music singer who performs a concert? The Christian district attorney being interviewed about a high-profile case? The congressman giving a press conference about an important bill?

It might, all things considered, be prudent to take such opportunities to speak truth to large, perhaps even national or worldwide audiences. Such things should be left to the conscience of each believe and how the Holy Spirit leads him.

The point that believers should consider — and I think that Kurt Warner might have been making — is that it is problematic to proclaim “Repent and believe the gospel!” amidst the hoopla and fanfare of winning a professional football game. If believers in public positions, such as Tim Tebow is, choose to speak about their faith in such situations, what sort of statement is appropriate and faithful to the biblical gospel?

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