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The Tebow Effect

January 9, 2012

I am not a professional football fan and usually, the only times I’m watching an NFL game are when it is the superbowl or when houseguests turn it on, which was the case last night when I caught the end of the Broncos/Steelers game.

I have been slightly paying attention to the Tebow stories as many friends of mine went to UF and now follow his career in Denver.  I posted on my facebook a while back about “Tebowing,” snarkily stating that people have been genuflecting for years to show reverence and gratitude to God and that this was neither nothing new, nor earth shattering.  I, for example, genuflect, on average, 10-12 times per week.  No one has written an article about that.

I have nothing bad or negative to say about Tebow’s faith, or his public expression of it.  In fact, I think it’s a positive thing – though the SNL skit was funny.  I am glad there is a professional athlete so in the public eye who is so comfortable expressing their Christianity.

I do not think God is directly helping the Denver Broncos win football games.  I think God gives athletes their gifts and abilities and when they use them, whether specifically to God’s glory or not, He smiles.

After last night’s game, my brother-in-law called (a UF grad and now a Broncos follower) ecstatic about the OT win (which actually was pretty exciting).  He declared in no uncertain terms that this win “was a good thing for [me]!”  He added that he suspected church attendance will go up this Sunday and that, hold your breath, he might even go to church this Sunday.  He said Tebow’s continued success can only be good for those on the fence in the Christian community.

Now, we all had a good laugh at his remarks.  But I wonder, is the Tebow effect a good thing?  What if he gets hurt and can’t play?  What if they start losing?  What do those eventualities do to a person who has had their faith bolstered in such a way?
A similar thing occurred in a community with which I am familiar.  They were/are an Episcopalian, Christian community centered on spiritual healing.  They have done some amazing things in their church – truly amazing healings: emotional, mental, spiritual, and even physical healings.  I’ve been a witness to a few incredible, God-given events there.  In part because of all that, their members were extremely dedicated, faithful, evangelistic people.  Then, one year, one of their principal members was diagnosed with cancer.  As you might imagine, much prayer and laying on of hands was offered but in the end, this wonderful woman lost her battle to the disease.  It rocked the faith of some of them.  How could God allow this?  This was a community dedicated to spiritual healing and how could God allow them to fail when one of their own was concerned?  Those were the kinds of questions some were asking, actually, including me.  It was hard for them.

So I am wondering, is the Tebow effect a good thing for Christian communities?  What can pastors do to deepen the faith of those who seem to have expressed a conviction that God is on Tebow’s side?  What do you think?

Fr. Ryan+

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Pete Ricci permalink
    January 9, 2012 12:37 pm

    I think about this stuff a lot, actually. How can God give good people cancer? i asked it when my son got cancer and some of my friends and family. But God doesn’t give us cancer, the carcinogens that man produces do. When I pray for healing, I try not to pray to God directly, but rather to a number of his Saints. I believe that although omnipotent, God is busy and this is what his henchmen are here to accomplish. Perhaps it is my Roman past that ties me to the saints, but I believe in them. As far as the Evangelical individual goes, they are probably enjoying their time alongside of God and probably continued praying for others instead of himself while here on Earth. I always try to pray to the Saints with specific reasons for the request, I.E. Please Saint Peter, pray for this person as the World needs them to finish their work or mission, etc. I also try to research the Saints to find a good match for the person I am praying for. In the end, the mystery is still a mystery and to me and that is part of what makes it divine.

  2. January 9, 2012 12:39 pm

    Great read. I think that overall Tebow is a great thing for Christian communities as long as pastors communicate to them a couple of things. First, the image we have of Tebow is one provided by the media. This is fine, in ancient times stories were embellished to make great heroes seem even greater. We are still recovering from a time of economic recession. People are looking for ‘hope’ in these bleak times, and it makes sense that the narrative of Tebow’s life has become what it is. If he is helping to bring hope to the hopeless, even in such a small way, then more power to him, and more glory to God.

    Second, communities should be warned however that we a not seeing the actual Tim Tebow, but an interpretation of him. What happens to our faith if the ‘actual’ Tim Tebow falls short of the interpretation? If we understand it that way, then I think most people will not suffer a crisis of faith when Tebow doesn’t succeed or does something ‘unchristian” whatever that means.

    • January 9, 2012 12:52 pm


      I think that both of these points are spot on. Spot. On. Everytime we put someone up on a pedestal, it doesn’t work out. The bigger the pedestal, the farther they fall. That being said, Tebow’s faith bringing hope to people is a good thing, perhaps even a great thing. All of these things are what pastors need to communicate to their flocks!

  3. Mike Fox permalink
    January 9, 2012 12:46 pm

    Psalm 55.8 – For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    We will never understand how God works. But that does not mean we should stop trying! Striving for an unattainable goal can be very good training, in athletics, music, or spirituality. Modern theology is engaged in that striving, and it is exciting.

    There are two aspects of God’s ways that have come to be emphasized in modern theology. The first is randomness. Quantum mechanics has shown us that nothing about the universe is pre-determined. Matter itself is just a probability function. It seems that a large part of what happens in the universe is based on chance, or luck. We are not comfortable with this notion, but it seems to be the case. And since God creates everything, randomness is part of the plan. Why? I don’t know. I can only guess that randomness is necessary for evolution, and evolution is the way God creates.

    The second aspect of God’s ways is free will. Here again, it flies in the face of a pre-determined universe. God does not want to make us be good – he wants us to make ourselves good. So we have to have a choice. And many of us – all of us – will make wrong choices. That is the price of freedom.

    What does this have to do with the Tebow effect? I think that people who become Christians with the expectation that they can change God’s ways are ignoring the above two aspects of the way God works. Faith and prayer can certainly have a powerful effect. But it is not a guaranteed effect, because of randomness and free will.

    I hope that Tim Tebow’s outspoken faith will encourage people to come to church. And I hope that, when they get there, they will not expect to change God’s ways, but rather will allow God to change their ways.

  4. linda jenner permalink
    January 9, 2012 3:14 pm

    As a mother of 3 young athletes the Tebow effect is huge! My children attend Christian school, so they are always surrounded by Christianity. Most of their sports are played outside of school, therefore the Christian element can get “lost”. My oldest daughter is very excited to have a Christian athlete in the limelight, as am I (her teacher even used a videoclip of Tebow to help with devotions one day). We have been over exposed to athletes that have little sense of moral standards, and finally we have one that is a true Christian willing to share his message. He is a fantastic role model for young athletes. I am thankful for Tim Tebow and his message. My daughter has decided to write the words, “whatever you do, do it for the glory of God” on her lacrosse stick this year!!
    While I will always be an Eagles fan, Tim Tebow is my favourite player right now, and I will cheer him on against the Patriots next Saturday!
    PS- I am also thankful for Taylor Swift…a young pop star not afraid to speak about her Christianity as well.

  5. Chris Butto permalink
    January 9, 2012 3:34 pm

    I see Tim Tebow’s genuflecting as being similar to Catholic athletes who bless themselves before batting. That’s a personal communication between the individual and God. It’s the media who are making it larger than life. OnlyTim Tebow and God know Tim’s motivation. I don’t know if Shane Victorino genuflects or blesses himself or even which faith he professes, if any, but he did give a million dollars to renovate a recreation center for underpriviledged children. To me, that’s more Christian than an outward gesture. As for faith healing. . . Miracles do happen and only God knows His reasons for selecting His beneficiaries, so we put our faith in God.

  6. January 9, 2012 3:41 pm

    Dear Linda,

    Thanks for sharing! It sounds like your family is grounded enough in the Christian faith to weather the storm of people we look up to not living up to the standards they set for themselves – if that should happen. I think your daughter writing that on her Lacrosse stick is awesome, just as long as when she accidentally whacks someone upside the head with it, she knows that was an accident of sports and not for the glory of God! 🙂

    Fr. Ryan+

    • Mike Fox permalink
      January 9, 2012 4:05 pm

      As soon as we think that we are better than other people because we are Christians, we are committing the sin of Pride – the greatest sin of all. This is the Dark Side of the Tebow Effect. Beware !!!

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