Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given ... He appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers.
--Ephesians 4: 7 and 11
And he appointed yet others, it turns out, to be quarterbacks. Tim Tebow has always wanted two things: to be right with Jesus in heaven and to lead a football team to glory on the field. When he was 6 years old, in the early 1990s, he began to worry about going to hell. He wanted to accept Jesus as his personal Saviour--the Evangelical key to salvation. But when he went to his father, who was a missionary and preacher, he found himself frustrated by questions his father asked him about the Gospel--questions posed, Tebow recalls, "to make sure I was not taking this decision lightly." Finally, young Tebow went to his mother. "I want to ask Jesus to come into my heart," he told her. "I'm ready to be saved. I tried with Dad, but he's just too hard." Mother and son prayed together, and the confession of faith was made. To celebrate, the family went to Epcot.
A consummately American story: the fear of death, the hope of heaven and a trip to Disney. This season, with each cliff-hanging win or dismal loss for the Denver Broncos, Tebow, an active, professing Evangelical Christian, has used his gifts and his position as quarterback to create a powerful 21st century witness for Jesus. There is nothing new about the strange intersection of Christianity and football: fans waved JOHN 3: 16 placards long before Tebow etched the citation in his eye black. The re-enactment of the ancient rituals of pain and victory, of comebacks and upsets, has always evoked biblical stories like that of David and Goliath. What is new and what makes Tebow an intriguing figure--no matter how the Broncos do in the playoffs they just barely made--is the scale and scope of his witness. With Billy Graham on the cool side of the mountain and George W. Bush living quietly in Dallas, Tebow is perhaps the most significant Evangelical Christian in the country. Depending on your point of view, his rise is a thoroughly American story of honest conviction or of ostentatious piety, of faith and family or of aggressive sectarianism.
Tebow's witness is the latest chapter in a decades-old Evangelical movement to transform America. Drawing on images from the Gospel of Matthew, leaders from theologian Francis Schaeffer to Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ to televangelist Jerry Falwell have summoned believers to be ministers of "salt and light." The common shorthand is "You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world." To be salt is to be engaged in the world, confronting the culture; to be light is to preach the Gospel message, winning souls and building churches. Tebow's Baptist missionary father Bob is very much a part of this Evangelical movement. On the day the senior Tebow began to pray for a son, he was showing The Jesus Film--a Bill Bright creation--to potential converts in the Philippines.