Eye Black Christianity: Tim Tebow, Clayton Jennings, and the Power of Celebrity
“…He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” Isaiah 53:2
One of the worst nights of my life was December 6, 2008. It was the night of the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Georgia. I had spent more money than this father of four ever again expects to have on the purchase of tickets to the game. I had flown my brother in from Phoenix to attend the game with my wife and myself for his Christmas present. We are die-hard Alabama fans, the real deal. We are not the kind of bandwagoners you tend to find in SEC country these days wearing brand-new Alabama hats, purchased after the latest Iron Bowl. Our Crimson Tide paraphernalia has age (what historians might call “verisimilitude”) – an unopened glass bottle coke with Bear Bryant on it, a blood-stained player wristband obtained outside of Neyland Stadium during the Stallings era, and a faded Dennis Riddle jersey. In 2003, I cheered for Alabama in the student section of Sanford Stadium as a student at the University of Georgia. At the dawn of the Fulmer era, my brother covered Volunteer football for the University of Tennessee student paper as an Alabama fan. We are true believers. By the time 2008 rolled around, we had impatiently waited through the folly of Dennis Franchione, Mike Price, Mike Shula and an NCAA probation for our beloved Crimson Tide to return to prominence. They were undefeated. All that stood between them, the SEC Championship, and a trip to the National Championship game was Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators. Alabama controlled the game for three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Florida’s Heisman-Trophy-winning quarterback led a comeback and the Gators defeated the Tide. Our night was ruined. You may have heard of that quarterback, his name is Tim Tebow. He is famous for being one of the best college quarterbacks of all time and an outspoken Christian.
I watched the whole thing play out in horror. There was Tebow beating the first of Nick Saban’s juggernaut Crimson Tide football teams. On his eye black (the game was played indoors), he had written “Phil 4:13”. As every Fellowship of Christian Athletes director knows athlete knows, that Bible verse says:
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
As history has proven, it takes a miracle to beat a Saban-coached Alabama football team. Tim Tebow is one of the few men who have done it…and he did it to win the 2008 SEC Championship. As his team stormed the field to celebrate, Tebow found himself being interviewed by Tracy Wolfson. Then, in front of Verne, Gary, and the rest of the world, Tebow thanked his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” for his good fortune.
The Bible belt swooned and it has kept on swooning. Tebow is big, he’s strong, he hustles, he’s handsome, he’s winsome, he’s morally clean, and he praises Jesus all-day long. Christians just love him. Christians just love celebrity Christians. Unfortunately, the influence of celebrity Christians can be greater than the influence of sound theology. Tebow has in recent days proven that his good judgement is not equaled by his exuberance for painting Bible verses on his face. That’s the problem with celebrity Christians. They are sometimes more famous than they are orthodox. Their adoring crowds often accept style before substance. Just look at the Duck Dynasty guys and Ben Carson. Their aberrant theology is all but ignored because they’ll say that they love Jesus in front of a TV camera. Orthodoxy matters. Just consider Tebow’s short stint in the NFL. His lack of “orthrodox” quarterback skills eventually caught up with him and he washed out of the league. Similarly, his lack of orthodox Christian actions should wash him off of the evangelical pedestal.
Tebow invited Clayton Jennings to speak* at his foundation’s celebrity gala (The Duck Dynasty guys have been there, too). Before that he invited Jennings to do a spoken word piece as a companion to his book Shaken. In between, Jennings lost his license to preach at his home church. In between, Jennings was accused by multiple women of deception and sexual misconduct (which is why Jennings lost his preaching license.) Jennings’ spiritual mentor Tony Nolan severed their relationship, determining that Clayton was leading a “double-life”. Tebow, only paying attention to one Jennings’ lives it appears, stuck by Jennings.
Christians love Christian celebrities. Jennings is handsome, outspoken, and…well…you get the pattern. Swoon. When celebrity is the standard, theology is not.
Tim Tebow is the head of a Christian foundation which espouses the following mission statement:
“This foundation, and all of our outreach initiatives, were primarily created to show God’s love to children around the world. I encourage you to explore this site and see how we have been able to accomplish our mission through God’s blessings and the support of our generous donors and partners.”
So why has Tim Tebow continued to promote a preacher, Clayton Jennings, who left a practical harem of damaged young females in his wake as he preached his way to fame? This is the same man who labels his critics as “do nothing fake Christians” who are “Honda Civics” to his “Bentley”?
Why did Tim Tebow include a Roman Catholic (Urban Meyer) to the board of his Christian Foundation? (Go read Galatians 1:8 if you don’t understand why this matters)?
Listen y’all. Tim Tebow lives clean. He visits prisons. He helps out special needs kids. He smiles. He preaches about Jesus. All of that stuff is good. But exactly where is his influence leading? I’m a true believer…in Christ. Seeing a Christian with Tebow’s platform drop the ball in so many ways bothers me more than when Riley Cooper caught the ball in 2008 to salt the SEC Championship game away for the Gators. Eye Black Christianity is not enough. As Albert Mohler so often says, “Theology Matters”. Christians who swooning over Christian celebrities and buying up their t-shirts need to sit back and remember that Christians were first famous for being eaten by Roman lions. The best thing you can do for yourself and your children is teach them the scriptures and point them in the direction of Godly Christian pastors. These men may not be good–looking enough to sell t-shirts but, apparently, neither was Jesus.
*Editor’s Note: The notion that Tebow invited Jennings to speak is based upon Jennings’ own claim (see the screenshot above).
**Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use. I do not receive compensation for writing at the Pulpit & Pen nor do I necessarily support any advertiser featured on the site.
***You can contact the Tebow Foundation’s marketing coordinator Jennifer Strickland and let her know how you feel.