A recent article by NBC Sports reported that the New York Jets are expecting crowds of church groups to show up during their training camp to watch Tim Tebow practice. Like many in this country I am a Tebow fan. I’ve followed his career since his days at Florida. I even follow him on Twitter. Even if you’re not a football fan (which I am) it is almost impossible NOT to follow him in some way. He has the tendency to pop up everywhere. There is a constant media frenzy around him. People either love him or hate him for his outspoken beliefs and choice to talk about Christ as often as he can.
Christians and non-Christians alike have debated his outspoken behavior and have weighed in on every aspect of how he lives. To be honest, it baffles me. He’s not the first Christian athlete to bow in prayer during games, be vocal about his faith, or seek to live with integrity in what’s often an immoral environment. While I commend him for doing these things and pray that his love for Christ will keep him grounded in his fame, all of this hype that surrounds him has caused me to start asking some questions about American Christian culture.
Why are we obsessed with celebrities?
We live in a culture obsessed with celebrities. We idolize them, want to meet them, look like them, and be like them. We read, blog, and tweet about their lives, dissecting their successes and failures. The Christian culture is not immune to this. Whether it’s Tebow or any number of well-known “celebrity” believers, we tend to put them on a pedestal, treating them as a super-Christian. It is good and right to have Christian role models for encouragement in our journey with the Lord. But what is it that makes us look to and follow someone whom the media has put in the spotlight and not the family member, friend, or neighbor who daily invests in our life and (hopefully) points our attention to Christ? It’s impossible not to admire Tebow for his confident faith, but do we also admire the confident faith of the janitor, stay-at-home mom, grocery store clerk, or mediocre student athlete?
Who are we worshipping?
Worship is part of every human experience. We all worship someone, whether it’s our favorite actor, singer, athlete, God, or ourselves. As Christians, we know and believe that we are to worship the Lord and serve him alone. When we follow and sing the praises of our favorite Christian celebrity, whether it’s Tebow or someone else, we need to ask ourselves who we are elevating, the person or God whose grace we see in their life. I can’t help but think of the words of the Apostle Paul in one of his letters to the church at Corinth.
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:4-7
The believers in Corinth were wrongfully focusing on Paul and Apollos and not the One these two men were pointing to. I know I fall into this trap all the time, worshipping the created and not the Creator. Is this what we are doing today with men and women who, like Tebow, are Christians in the spotlight?
What happens when our celebrities fail us?
Today we love Tebow, flocking to his games, following his life, and wearing his jersey number. But where will we be if he fails? What happens if he falls off of the pedestal we’ve place him on? Will we still love him, support him, and pray for him? If he messes up will we offer him grace or will we move on to the next Christian celebrity, hoping they won’t let us down? Have we placed unrealistic expectations on him, holding him to a standard of perfection that no Christian can live up to this side of heaven? We rightfully want him to do well and succeed, but the world wants him to fail. If he does and the world rejoices, will we stand by him?
Tebow is a good role model and we can learn a great deal from his faithfulness to Christ, but we were never meant to focus on him. We are to focus on the God who is the founder and perfecter of his faith and ours. If we flock to his games, let us do so to encourage him in his walk with the Lord. Let’s cheer him on, not just with our voices, but with our prayers, asking God to create in him a clean heart in a very unclean culture. When he and other Christian celebrities succeed we should praise God for his goodness, grace, and that he uses them for his glory. And if they fail, we need to support them because God’s same goodness and grace is at work, transforming their lives and ours.
well-written, Sarah! Very true. I read a book awhile back called “Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism” by Carl Medearis. Very good book about how important our focus of very core of our faith MUST be centralized on Christ–and Him alone. And from that foundation, we seek to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified….as Paul said in 1 Cor 2:2. Medearis even points out that Christians can often get caught up in Paul and his writings in the NT that we overlook Christ’s very life and character displayed in the Gospels. What would Paul think today if he realized that so often we seem to read his letters more than the gospels themselves? We are encouraged to live lives holy unto God so others will see us and praise our heavenly father (as Paul challenged the Philippians in 3:17), but do we take this too far, when we should simply have the attitude of Christ? (Phil 2) Good thoughts on this issue!
I would venture a guess that to a certain extent celebrity-culture goes as far back as it can go. “Did you hear what Tertullian wrote to the Bishop of Antioch? Tertullian is so cool, I’m glad he’s on our side…” Etc. This is also probably partly at the root of the development of saint veneration over the first few centuries of the early church. An educated guess on my part, anyway. Good words, Sarah, I enjoy reading your thoughtful musings.
Thanks for these provocative thoughts, Whilst perhaps not specifically on celebrity culture, a while back I read some Mark Noll on the subject of American Christianity/the American Dream, and recently I heard him speak in the UK. He was quite strong on mistaken assumptions made in the past regarding what was ‘Christian” culturally, and what was not.
There’s a brief summary here, amidst some thoughts on Tom Petty…!
I’ve got to hand it to him. Despite all of the press he really does seem to be an all-around great guy.
I agree. It’s hard enough to live well when you don’t have the world analyzing your every move. I appreciate his desire to be consistent and live what he believes graciously.