Saturday, March 02, 2013

Tim Tebow and the Temple of Doom

Regarding the recent controversy involving Tim Tebow's acceptance and subsequent withdrawal from an invitation to speak at First Baptist Church in Dallas, a few observations:

1)  It must be acknowledged that First Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress sometimes says things in an unfortunately unguarded way.  While it is inevitable that some will be offended when speakers venture to opine on volatile topics, a little rhetorical self-control can help ensure that offense comes more from the substance of the issue than from the way that it is characterized.  Mr. Jeffress needs to learn that the prominence of his position -- and the rapidity of modern communication -- necessitates speaking wisely about divisive topics.

2) The ranting of CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel, who did much of the work that resulted in Mr. Tebow finding himself in a difficult public relations position, was so over the top that it would be difficult to describe his writing as anything other than either intolerant hate (thus, demonstrating what he accuses another of) or simple ignorance.  Whatever one thinks of Rev. Jeffress' most incendiary comments, Mr. Doyel's suggestion that he should be compared to the truly loathsome traveling sanitarium known as the Westboro Baptist Church is just ridiculous.  In substance, Rev. Jeffress is criticized for holding that the term "marriage" applies exclusively to a relationship between a man and a woman.  This happens to have been the primary understanding of western civilization for millenia, and it was the stated position of President Barack Obama until less than a year ago. The position is certainly one being debated, but to describe it as extreme is simply not correct.  As far as his pronouncements on Muslims and Mormons, Dr. Jeffress is arguing that the truth claims of those religions are different from those of historic Christianity. If Mr. Doyell thinks that he can prove otherwise, he should explain where he finds that Islam and Mormonism teach that the second person of the Trinity endured death in order to propritiate the sins of His people, then rose again.  One waits with baited breath.

For a more sanguine assessment of Rev. Jeffress by someone who found his views to be utterly disagreeable, see here.  One suspects that no one has ever written like this about the Westboro crowd.

3)  Christians should use this moment to reflect on the wisdom of the negative impact of the culture of celebrity that many among us promote.  In short, one might ask:

What qualification does a Christian who happens to be a professional football player have for leading in public worship in a large church?

Of course, Mr. Tebow is a devout Christian, and for some, that seems to be enough.  Since he is a genuine believer, it is fine to trade on his celebrity in order to draw a crowd.  However, if public worship primarily has to do with meeting God and being fed by His Word, then turning the festivities over to a celebrity without training in sharing that Word might be regarded as more distraction than help.  In the quest to define the meaning of church as involving any means of putting butts in seats, it is easy to forget that Christians also believe that the power of God is found in Word and Spirit. 

Having forgotten that, Dr. Jeffress, no doubt feeling jaded, resorted to his unguarded tongue again, at least implying that Mr. Tebow had wimped out.  While wishing Mr. Tebow and his faith well, we should also value the simple preaching of the Gospel, the proper exposition of law and grace, and trust God to use those means to draw sinners to himself.