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