The original sin of the blogosphere is commenting on a popular piece of news without saying anything original. Such is the case with Tim Tebow, where plenty of cyber ink has been spilled. And yet, in the most unlikely place, I read something original on Tim Tebow yesterday. The highlight of the analysis (from Time writer Jon Meachem) is this:
"What is new and what makes Tebow an intriguing figure...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."
The thought hadn't occurred to me before, but consider the history. The first and second Great Awakenings brought us high-profile pastors that spoke to large crowds. In many ways, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were both the first evangelicals and the first celebrity pastors. Charles Finney brought more hype, excitement, and innovation to what it meant to be evangelical a hundred years later. And then we get to the 20th century, where the newer evangelicals brought us Billy Graham and, apparently, Christian evangelical Presidents.
The interesting thing about Tebow, then, is not so much about what Tebow says but about what Tebow says about us. Consider how the leading evangelicals in each stage matched the era's style of communication. Whitefield and Edwards would preach for much longer than an hour, to large outdoor audiences, living in a verbal culture with the only major form of media being the newspaper. Billy Graham entered in the era of radio and television, and thus preached to massive audiences via those media while also utilizing the stadium "crusade." And now, we have an evangelical who actually plays in a stadium every week.
This isn't to ridicule Tebow at all, but to point out his method of influence. The Time writer Meachum called him "perhaps the most significant Evangelical Christian in America." Why not a pastor or evangelist or writer? Because we live in an entertainment culture, and Tebow by trade is an entertainer. That's what sports- for how much I admittedly love them- are. They are entertainment. In a culture where influence is touted by soundbytes, and less than 144 charaters in Twitter, and by a pristine image, Tebow has risen to the fore not necessarily because of his message but because of his charisma and his profession.
It's not that I think Tebow is an unfortunate advocate of evangelical Christianity. In fact, I think he does admirably in his role. It's just that Tebow might be the most significant evangelical because he plays by all the media rules of our culture. He speaks in soundbytes and he looks good. He does well by playing by the rules.
It's just that I wish these weren't the rules.