If you are an evangelical right now, you DESPERATELY want to be Tim Tebow.
Tim Tebow is currently the quarterback for the Denver Broncos (or rather–was the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Now that the Broncos have signed Peyton Manning, it is yet to be determined which team Tebow will play for in the future). He attracted lots of attention nationally when he stepped up as the starter this year and led Denver to several wins and a strong showing in the playoffs.
Tim Tebow played quarterback at Florida from 2006 to 2009. He helped lead Florida to two national championships in those years, and he captured the hearts and imaginations of people throughout the Southeast–Florida fans or not–through his nice guy demeanor.
Evangelicals have fallen head over heels in love with Tim Tebow. Why? Because he is successful–and he is unabashedly one of us. He is someone in the public eye whom we can point to and say, “Look!!! It works!!! We’re right!!! We win!!!”
Evangelicals are completely and totally infatuated with this sort of celebrity–the more public the better, and the more outspoken about his faith, the better. The current Jeremy Lin lovefest is a case in point.
I could say a lot of things about this sort of celebrity, the long and short of it would be to say that it is completely and totally overrated by evangelicals. But I won’t. Instead I will direct your attention to a different sort of Christian celebrity. If you paid attention to the title of this post, you know where I am going here.
Thomas Merton was a Christian, just like Tim Tebow. Like Tebow, he was very well-known and had tremendous influence both in Christian culture and in the outside world when he was at the peak of his fame. Like Tebow, he was very public about his faith and how his faith informed his life.
But once you get past these things, you will see that there is a world of difference between Thomas Merton and Tim Tebow.
Merton was a writer. He wrote voluminously and deeply on the inner life. As a monk, he had tremendous amounts of time to mine the inner depths of his being. He desired to see all believers become attuned to the inner depths of their beings and not settle for living life on the surface. He raved constantly against the “false self” that so many live with, an illusory person who desires to exist outside the reach of God’s love–ergo, outside of reality and outside of life.
But so much of evangelicalism–and especially the celebrity culture that evangelicalism loves to look up to–exists on the surface. So much of the hype about Tebow and Jeremy Lin has to do with external activities and external commitments. Tebow may have a very rich inner life just like Thomas Merton. But if he does we don’t know. And in the present evangelical milieu, it just doesn’t matter. All we care about is what this guy believes–or at least professes to believe, what he does on Sunday morning, and what he does during his summers. And the fact that he is a successful NFL quarterback–AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And that’s really all we care about. We don’t care to hear what he would say about the state of his soul, or the state of our own souls. We don’t care to hear any critique Tim Tebow would make–if he were ever inclined to make such a critique–of our false selves and our propensity to live on the surface and idolize the superficial. And that is only to our detriment.