Letter from America
One of the strange delights of living in a country where you did not grow up is the joy of exploring a whole different sporting culture.
For instance, take basketball. Well, when I went to school, basketball was played as distinctly second-rate also-ran game. For an Englishman I was not that bad. But I remember an American we had with us who was on our team and seemed to spend the whole time running up and down putting the thing in the appropriate basket. I could catch, pass, but throwing the ball through the rim was a whole different ‘ball game’.
I find that games which I played growing up can engross me when I watch them, if I have a moment to spare, even on TV. But if I did not play it myself, it’s all I can do to stop myself from yawning. But watching games ‘live’ is a different experience. Baseball watched live is great. So is ‘hockey’, by which designation is meant what the English call ‘ice hockey’.
Anyway, ‘Tebowing’. Tim Tebow is a fantastically successful American quarterback for the Broncos.
Not only is Tebow immensely successful, he is also, by every possible objective public record, a Christian. Not only is he a professing Christian, but he seems remarkably at ease in his ‘own skin’ about this, and is happy to talk about his faith without sounding creepy or pious in that greasy shuddery sense that we all loathe. Now, to the title: ‘Tebowing’ is what Tim Tebow has become known for outside of throwing footballs very fast and accurately. After a touchdown (read ‘Try’ for Rugby), or a particularly successful play (read ‘move’), Tim Tebow will go down on one knee as a public expression of thanks to Jesus Christ. If you YouTube ‘Tebowing’ you will find not only Tim Tebow doing it, but a slew of imitators, either mocking him (mercifully few) or good humouredly aping him.
Tim Tebow is the most prominent currently, but he has not been alone among American sports stars using the platform given to him to witness to the gospel. There probably are equivalents in England, and there is the wonderful work of Christians In Sport. Jason Robinson, the retired England Rugby star, had something of a similar platform and witness, though he was much quieter about it, but it does come out in his autobiography.
Seize the opportunity
All this to say, ‘Physical training is of some value’ (1 Timothy 4.8). Bible scholars among us will know that the word Paul chooses there for physical training is the word that originally referred to the ancient habit of training in the games. So Paul is at least referencing a whole fairly serious training system, the ‘gymnastics’ of the ancient world, in some way, if no doubt tangentially and generally.
While, appearances to the opposite in this article, I have spent most of the last 20 plus years of my life getting educated and trained and experience in ‘preaching the word’ so that I can do that as excellently as God will allow me to his glory, I also can’t help but wonder whether we should (as part of the diverse gifting of the church) continue to find ways to trumpet those among us whose muscles bulge and who are freakily unusually genetically gifted in a physical sports sense. I’ve bowed on one knee before, but it’s not all over the internet or on YouTube. And the life of a sports star may be brief, but if we can identify, train and equip people to make the most of that platform… Well, may ‘Tebowing’ continue.
Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois, and Associate Fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University.