The 99 and Tim Tebow: Canada, Success, Billy Graham and God

Several weeks ago I had fun looking at the difference between Tim Tebow’s* faith and what his zealous (mostly evangelical & charismatic) fans do with it. I took some flack from asserting that Jesus was not intervening to help him win close games.

Since then he has lost 3 games. The choir has gone shockingly quiet. It appears - and this may come as a surprise - that Americans worship success more than any ‘god’. In fact, one might wonder if success is America’s god.

It always piques my imagination when politicians say ‘May God bless America” at the end of their speeches … I try to pay attention to how they say it and what they might be expecting that blessing to look like.

 There are two elements to this that really attract my attention:

Part of the reason this sticks out to me so sharply is that I have dual-citizenship with Canada. I went to High school and started Bible College there. When I see Tebow bowed on the sideline praying in the 4th quarter, I smile as I think of the completely different religious and political atmosphere in Canada. Almost every Canadian I know – even the believers – I can hear saying “Easy big guy, don’t make too much of a display”.

 American zeal is a phenomenon. I have a theory that it is actually embedded in the DNA of this country courtesy of those original Calvinists who brought with them the concept of “signs of divine benevolence”. This little mechanism says

‘while we can’t know who is elect unto salvation or damnation – certainly we say that a good tree will bear good fruit. So, while no can know for sure if they are “in” certainly God graces the chosen with “signs of divine benevolence”.

This is how we get that famous “Protestant Work Ethic” in order to make it as easy as possible for God to ‘bless you’. It almost boils down to ‘If its good  = its God. If its bad = its you… unless your good = then its the devil.”

The second element is this idea of the 99 and the 1. I heard over and over in the Tebow hysteria “If even one person comes to Christ because of what God is doing for Tebow and Tebow’s witness, then it is worth it.”  I hear this “if even one person” thing so often that I can see it coming a mile away.

Admittedly, Jesus told a story about the 99 sheep and the 1 lost sheep. But I just have to say that it was a metaphor- a poetic picture of how much God loves each person. It is NOT a permission to be irresponsible with our resources and strategies to either neglect or disrespect the 99 in order to attract the one.

I became of aware of this during the 80s and 90s when statistics about Billy Graham’s actual effectiveness regarding Stadium campaigns and alter calls. Studies found over and over again that of all of those thousands who came forward, the number who were actually un-churched was quite low … and of those, the number who were associated with a Christian church in the years that followed was atrocious. But if any question the effectiveness of this style of Evangelism and the millions of dollars that were spent on these campaigns, the battle cry would go up “If only ONE … then it is all worth it”.

I’ve said before that I like Tim Tebow, that I am amazed at both his life and his work ethic. I have also been clear that he does not think that God intervenes in football games. But Tebow and his zealous cheerleaders have actually exposed an interesting trend that I can’t quite put my finger on… America worships success, we hold it to be a ‘Sign of Divine Benevolence’ and we are fine with collateral damage to the 99 if, in the end, “the one is found… then it was all worth it.”

Thoughts?

 

* Tim Tebow is the Quarterback for the NFL football team the Denver Broncos

 

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13 comments
Frank M
Frank M

Just as much as God in fact, chooses individuals for either blessings or curses (usually determined by person's own choices, the two aren't mutually exclusive) so too does He choose nations, "He lifts up one and puts down another". Now interpret this: So which specific nations (and individuals) are truly blessed by God?? Tell us, and by what standard did you come to your conclusion?? Some cultural or theological litmus test?? Joke, really. It gets truly interesting when the church (elected or not) starts judging each other; the world sits back and howls with laughter. "For who are you to judge another man's slave, for it is God who upholds him." You can't exclusively judge by behavior for the elect will not always reflect the love of Christ and the non elect can at times can be far more "moral" than the church. "I will no longer perceive any man, (or nation) after the flesh then, but after the Spirit". Only God alone truly knows the elect and He alone decides to whom to reveal them. And no, we can't even "judge fruit" unless it's perceived by the Spirit.

Zachary W
Zachary W

Bo, as a Canadian and a frequenter of my local Tim's, I can affirm the worth of their donuts (particularly the sour cream-glazed), but any coffee that seems to require the "double-double" is bound to be bad. It is one of our most painfully sinister cultural myths that Tim Horton's coffee is good.

Carson Pue
Carson Pue

As one who spends time on oth sides of the 49th parallel I've often smiled at some of the antics on both sides. However my friends at Cardus have done some research recently on the evangelical subculture and note differences between CDN and US behavior (or behavior). Here it is: http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/2757/

Shawn
Shawn

With regard to material "blessing" as evidence of one's "elect"edness...you simply can't hold on to that idea with ANY integrity unless you are unaware of how many faithful humans on this planet live in poverty that is nearly incomprehensible. Haiti, the poorest country (fiscally) in the western hemisphere, understands God's faithfulness to them this way:(translation)"God gives but he doesn't share" (think "God provides but he doesn't distribute"). I think Haitians have it right this time.

Bill Hogg
Bill Hogg

Yeah maybe the success god is the biggest American idol ...good point ....BUT you need to substantiate your broad sweeping general dismissal of the Billy Graham stadia shin digs There has been lots of lasting fruit or is that signs of divine benevolence from Big Billy meetings What we do know -here is a stat ( where are yours??) 7/8 of those who come forward at a Billy altar call were brought by a friend...Billy was a catalyst in an ongoing relationship ..thoughts??

Ike
Ike

I agree that when Americans say "God bless America" they often secretly mean "God is blessing America because we are (you fill in the blank) industrious, innovative, pious, thankful, etc.. Ironically it's a sort of works righteousness, God is pleased with us therefore we are blessed. Few stop to think that we are "blessed" or prosperous because we exploited a whole continent's worth of natural resources in the span of three short centuries. I would take issue with your characterization that American Christians "are fine with collateral damage" or the notion that that they don't care about the 99%. I know it's cool and relevant to to criticize evangelical Christians. But the evidence is to the contrary. A lack of compassion is really an American problem, not a Christian problem. According to an article by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, regularly worshiping people of faith are actually more compassionate than their neighbors when measured in concrete ways like giving to charitable causes,volunteerism. See his article here: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.standpointmag.co.uk%2Fnode%2F4264%2Ffull&h=FAQFsoFWAAQEzHfyA1P0A2r5YlVfFnN3mMaO9af4ZrQN6XA. Another great example is found in this article here: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.christianitytoday.com%2Fthisisourcity%2F7thcity%2Floansharks.html%23.TukmPH2oKQM.facebook&h=BAQE3EkWCAQFZfyGMT5ViMlXgTIdwp-pXBAd4YdknMPoe2g

Dan Hauge
Dan Hauge

This topic draws threads to so many others--the first that comes to mind is the conservative American way of framing the issue of poverty: yes, there may be haves and have nots, but that is a good thing because the 'invisible hand' of the market is actually sorting out who is more worthy, and who isn't. Success is the measure of character. Few conservatives I know would actually say 'those poor people are getting what they deserve', but it tends to leak out sideways in statements about the 'moocher class', or the basic idea that only when we stop helping the weak can we regain our 'greatness'. The whole issue of success, of "greatness", as our religion, brings me to Steve Jobs, or rather, the way he was basically beatified in the weeks following his death. Now, I appreciate creativity, design, and technology as much as anyone, and Jobs obviously contributed plenty of that to cultures worldwide. But I think about the level of spiritual devotion that many of the impromptu memorials had. I think about Rush Limbaugh going on and on about how Jobs "greatness" fascinates him, how that's what America is all about. I think about the viral anecdote of Jobs' "oh wow oh wow" right before his death, a kind of legend reassuring us that of course someone as successful as he would be welcomed into God's kingdom with open arms. I think about the stories in his biography about how harshly he treated people around him, always related with the disclaimer "but, he was such a genius and so successful", which eclipses any other concerns. I think about how Apple's reliance on conflict minerals for their products barely registered among progressives even as we keep decrying international injustice. OK. That was a rant. Any one of these examples, individually, is not super problematic (except maybe the conflict minerals one, which I guess is now more of a moot point since Dodd-Frank dealt with that issue). I mean, maybe Jobs did see some kind of divine vision--God loves him too, right? Certainly. My point is that our collective response to Jobs says a heck of a lot about how even left-leaning types value success, and tend to see it as a sign of divine favor. That, and the fact that we ascribe to our Apple products (and yes, I have some too) almost talismanic qualities of power and a personal sense of well-being. Sorry if you feel I derailed this discussion by going on about Jobs--but I really believe this is a manifestation of what you're talking about.

Dalton Jones
Dalton Jones

Good post Bo. I resonate with your thoughts because I am an American who is currently attending a Bible College in Canada (you are very correct about the attitude of most Canadians by the way). I think the problem major problem with the conservative rhetoric of the 99 and 1 argument is that is does not factor in "total cost." (Noting that total cost is an economic term and I hesitate to use it in this discussion, but I think it makes sense.) What I mean by total cost is the surface level of thinking that goes on with the 99 and 1 argument. Examining total cost might look more like this scenario What if 100 people came down to the field at one of Billy Grams Evangelistic Crusades, 5 years later only one person is still in the faith and 99 of the people are living life just as they were before the Crusade and now claim "Oh, I tried that whole Jesus thing out and it did not work, and I have no desire to try it again." Effectively, Billy's Crusades could have taken a bunch of people and "sold" (note again the economic language) them a quick fix Jesus. Now that being said, I don't know if its true. But I believe it is because I have seen the effects of this kind of evangelism (I think most people have who grew up in the North American Church). My stance is still the same: These types of Evangelicals are clever business men with bibles in hand (usually waving it around and yelling at people who are different). I think this entire conversation would end up back at Christian discipleship if it were given enough time.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Maybe I just have a fond memory of it because the last time I had it, I was sitting across from Brian McLaren. ya - that's probably it ;) -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Thanks Mr. Hogg. I will have to go dig out those stats from the filing cabinet this weekend. They are from a while ago so... I meant to disrespect to Big Billy's Big Crusades, it's just that a small percentage of those who came forward were A) 1st timers and B) got integrated into the bigger church. That was shocking to me because I idolized him as a teen. more to come... -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

I agree with you about the works righteousness. AND the insight that it is an American problem not just a Christian problem. Thanks for the links!

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

It would be wonderful is conversations ended up with discipleship! Thanks for the response. p.s. Go have a Tim Horton's donut and coffee for me (you can even send me the bill if you want).

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