I hate to juxtapose two awesome guys like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin against one another. Let’s face it, both have great stories, and both have captured the hopes and dreams of the secular world and Christian world in two distinct but remarkable ways. However, I couldn’t help but jump into this boiling conversation that’s happening in the sports world without putting a Christian spin on it. What I see emerging here, in terms of the very early comparisons of Lin and Tebow, are two emerging camps. More specifically, two differing opinions between Christians over how our faith should be presented to the public.
Now, before I continue, let me be clear that I’m not attempting to create yet another divide with the Christian church. We have enough of those already. Yet, I couldn’t help but see this emerging storyline as a great conversation piece on what a biblical Christian witness should look like. There is almost too much to sink my teeth into here, so for the sake of time and energy I’m going to attempt to attack only one of the issues that I see.
Bold Faith – To Become or Not to Become All Things To All People, That is the Question
What does taking a bold stand for our faith look like? I’m guessing that depending on which Christian you ask this question to, you would get different answers. In some ways that is a good thing because it shows that there is a rich diversity in the Christian faith that allows everyone to express their faith in a variety of ways. The flip side to that rich diversity is that sometimes our freedom of expression can and does wander outside of the boundaries (scriptural) on how we should witness for Christ.
I won’t delve into Lin or Tebow’s success stories here, because it would take far too long. If you are interested, I would suggest that you read this story from the Sports Illustrated recently that did a great job of explaining the similarities and differences between the two budding superstars (sports only):
Instead, I want to tackle the question above. Are there standards for how we should express our faith in public? I believe that the answer is yes. Although both Lin and Tebow have been given a huge stage to express their faith, and I respect them both, I tend to be drawn more to one than the other.
What I’ve realized early on is that people from all walks of life, cultures, and creeds seem to be instant Jeremy Lin fans. I’ve noticed it from the comments on Facebook, to sports writer’s treatment of him as a new figure in the public spotlight. They’ve already excepted Lin, with his bold faith and all without even fully vetting him yet. Why is that? Some might argue that it’s his against-all-odds story, his amazing basketball skill and IQ, his degree from Harvard, or the fact that he’s a rare bird; being the first American born Asian-American NBA player in history. I believe that all of these things enhance the story. But what is it that’s paved his path much smoother than Tebow’s entrance into the national spotlight? Lin, seems to better understand the profound point that Paul made in 1 Corinthians 9:
” 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. ”
Becoming all things to all people, does not at all mean compromising the gospel while attempting to reach the world. Instead, it means becoming sympathetic to one’s culture, environment, or frame of thought so that you have the ability to reach people on their level. In a nutshell, its establishing in-roads with people that we don’t yet know by first finding commonalities before confronting our differences. It’s establishing a friendship with sincere intentions, before encroaching on someone’s “personal space” with your faith.
Lin, let us all see his basketball skills, his love for the game, and his gratefulness for even having the opportunity to start a game with the Knicks before he bowed down to pray in public after a game. He let America get to know Jeremy Lin a little before he told them about his faith. Not because he’s scared to express his faith, but possibly because he understands that we can miss opportunities to witness. How? By causing offense before getting to know someone.
Now, for many Christians this represents exactly what’s wrong in the relationship between secular and Christian culture today. Weak spined Christians, who are frail, and scared to publish their faith in the public forum for fear of persecution. However, I don’t see that as Jeremy Lin’s problem. As a matter of fact he’s been very vocal about his faith from the beginning.
There’s a common misperception in Christianity that says that by first becoming all things to all people we indeed compromise our beliefs. That is, if we first become friends with people that don’t act like, speak like, or carry themselves like us, without revealing early on that we are different that we will damage our witness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. By first establishing a friendship, we gain the opportunity to witness. Foremost by our character (what we do, how we act) and then verbally. What is damaging to our witness is if we participate in sin in an attempt to become all things to all people. Paul was not endorsing this at all. Otherwise, he would have ruined his opportunity to share the good news. The whole goal of his witness was to become like “them” that by all means possible he might save some.
Tim Tebow, I feel, made a conscious decision to approach things using a different method. Boldly and proudly proclaiming the gospel, by all means necessary (“Tebowing” after touchdowns, pointing often to the sky in a gesture to God, John 3:16 – in the black smudge below his eyes, or buying commercial spots during the Superbowl to communicate social-political messages to the general public), hoping that by any means necessary he might save some. I do think that he reached a certain demographic, but what I’ve found is that he mainly struck a cord amongst Christians who took pride in seeing someone boldly proclaiming the gospel. For that, I have to credit Tebow for creating a new fervency and excitement in Christian circles. That too has its place and is valuable to us all. Although, I do think that there is a valuable takeaway from it all. When we take alternative routes and deviate from the recipe recommend in the scripture, we should expect to get a different result (great or small) from what the bible describes as the final product.
Of course, some will be offended by the gospel message regardless of whether we befriend them first or not, or independent of how we deliver the “good news”. However, if we knowingly offend people with the gospel (who may have had ears to hear) before we ever have a fair chance to explain it to them as a friend, then we aren’t fulfilling our highest calling. That by all means possible that we might save some, so that we can share in it’s blessings.