Tim Tebow is not Facing the Giants

This weekend, the New York Giants upset the defending champion Green Bay Packers while the Tim Tebow–led Denver Broncos fell to the New England Patriots.

The Giants might make it to the Super Bowl, but Tebow will not, so that means that Tim Tebow is not facing the Giants.

But not just on the football field, but in a much more profoundly theological way.

A few weeks ago, my family sat down for movie night and watched Facing the Giants. Here is the trailer:

It is an emotional story of a high school football coach, Grant Taylor (compellingly acted by Alex Kendrick, who also directed and co-wrote the movie), as he is facing the difficulties of his life (the metaphorical “giants”). He is on the verge of losing his job as coach of the Shiloh Eagles because they keep losing. He and his wife are heart-broken by their inability to have a baby. The couple are scraping by on his small salary and cannot afford to buy a new car.

But then he prays.

And his attitude changes. He decides that instead of worrying about all that’s going wrong in his life, he will live whole-heartedly to glorify God in everything he does.

He tells the team that he is initiating a new team philosophy: “We need to give God our best in every area. And if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.”

It is at this stage in the story that miracles begin to happen: Somebody anonymously gives Grant a brand new pickup truck. The Eagles begin to win. And his wife discovers she’s pregnant.


I have to tell the rest of the story of this movie in order to make my point. The culmination of the movie has this small Christian school’s football team making the state playoffs. I was hoping that they’d lose so that this movie can provide my three children (ages 13, 11, and 11) the lesson that winning is not all there is in life and that what the coach says is really true: “If we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.”

And they did indeed lose! The sad coach says to his wife, “I thought for sure we’d win that game!”

But wait a minute! The other team cheated by having an ineligible player on their team, so the Eagles get to advance in the playoffs due to the forfeit! What a miracle!

Extraordinarily, the Eagles make it all the way to the State Championship against the big, ominous Giants, who are dressed in all black, and have a fat mean-spirited man as their head coach. Against all odds, the Eagles win on a field goal by the kid who also facing his “giant” of feeling inadequate to play on the football team. Wow!

As the credits began to scroll, one of my kids said, “That was amazing! If this really didn’t happen, I wouldn’t believe it!”

”What?” This caused me to stop everyone from going up to bed. “This didn’t really happen,” I said, “This is a fictional movie.”

That’s when the anger and crying began. They were so upset that this movie was not true. They felt that it was wrong, down-right lying, to tell such a story if it did not really happen.

The movie’s premise was that if you prayed and gave your all to God, life will turn out wonderful and all the hardships in life will be overcome by miracles from God. You will win the big game. My kids wanted to believe that.

And when I told my kids “This movie is fiction,” they understood that to mean “This movie is a lie.”

Which it is.

God never promises that if we give him our best in every area of our lives that all our trials will be overcome by miracles and that our lives will become wonderful. Exactly the opposite is taught:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Coach Grant Taylor told his team, “We need to give God our best in every area. And if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.” That is exactly right. The Apostle Peter was willing to praise God no matter what because he knew that the ultimate reward for faith in Christ is an inheritance that is yet to come. Jesus suffered and died, but overcame that with resurrection. We have that same hope in our trials. He wrote,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Now to Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow and his faith in Jesus Christ has been a lightning rod of contention as his Broncos unexpectedly made the NFL playoffs and then won last week against the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow’s dramatic overtime win (on the first play from scrimmage in OT, Tebow completed an 80 yard touchdown to win it) had people all aflutter. In that win, he threw for 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per completion. (Isn’t the Bible’s “most famous verse” John 3:16? And hey- Isn’t the coach of the Broncos named John? Whoa!) Facebook and Twitter were filled with people saying that Tim Tebow’s Christian faith must be the reason they won that game. He must be going all the way to win the Super Bowl.

That’s the way Alex Kendrick would have wrote it: The Broncos would have faced the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI and won it in dramatic fashion.

But this is reality. This is Tim Tebow living a real, authentic Christian life: one that truly says, “We need to give God our best in every area, and if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.”

Tebow works hard at what he does (playing football) and because of that, he has experienced success. But Tebow knows that there is more to life than winning football games.

Legendary sports writer Rick Reilly recently wrote an article at ESPN.com titled “I Believe in Tim Tebow.” It is worth clicking over to read. In it, he explains what kind of person Tebow is.

“Who among us is this selfless?

Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster's), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.

Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.”

There is a difference between the fictional story of “Facing the Giants” and the real-life story of Tim Tebow. Christians who want to use athletes’ or celebrities’ success as “proof” for the goodness of Christianity had better hear this.

NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington explains it best:

For the first time in seven days, each of which I spent in Denver because of Tim Tebow's polarizing impact on the NFL, the Broncos' quarterback and I finally had the chance to exchange more than the daily salutations I'd come to expect from the overbearing nature of Tebowmania.

We walked toward the exit -- among the last to leave the locker room after a 41-23 loss to the Patriots on Sunday -- as I began to ask the first of what I hoped would be a series of questions.

"How is the strength of your faith impacted after a loss?" I started.

"It puts things in perspective," Tebow said. "God is still God. I still have a relationship with Christ, and a loss doesn't change anything. Win or lose, everything is still the same. What matters is the girl I'm about to see, Kelly Faughnan. If I can inspire hope in someone, then it's still a good day."

And just like that, with a transition smooth enough to make a movie producer proud, Tebow crossed through the threshold of a doorway to the glowing face of a 22-year-old survivor of a brain tumor. After one question, the interview was over. A more important priority awaited him.

That’s the kind of movie “Facing the Giants” could have been.



The Gospel: The Story of Cosmic Restoration or The Plan of Salvation?

cfrr map

Above is my graphical representation of the Gospel. It is the four-chapter story of God’s working in history for the restoration of the cosmos that He created.

When I first present this to many Christians, they automatically place themselves, as individuals, into this timeline. “I was created, I sinned, I accepted Jesus and was redeemed/saved, and one day I will be in heaven.”

It takes a lot of de-programming to help them see this timeline not individualistically, but cosmically: that each of us are certainly in the storyline, but that the storyline is bigger than each one of us.

What God has been doing, through Christ, is the cosmic renewal of all things. When we get into the storyline, we begin to understand the story as portrayed in the Bible, not as portrayed in evangelistic tracts that seek to simplify the gospel to individual need and individual sin and individual salvation. We get the story of how God has been working throughout history to bring about his purposes.

God creates a wonderful cosmos, and puts humanity in charge of it.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’…God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26, 28)
Adam and Eve, however, failed in their role.

The world is cursed, in need of redemption, in need of restoration. And God begins using human beings for this very purpose. Why? Because humans are His image-bearers; We are the ones who have been called to rule God’s world in righteousness and Shalom.

Scot McKnight, in his new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, writes, “What Adam was to do in the Garden—that is, to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf—is the mission God gives to Israel. Like Adam, Israel failed, and so did its kings. God sent his Son to do what Adam and Israel and the kings did not (and evidently could not) do and to rescue everyone from their sins and systemic evil and Satan (the adversary). Hence, the Son is the one who rules as Messiah and Lord” (p. 35).

In other words, the story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the story of Israel (and hence, the story of all of humanity). The story is about how Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah (“Anointed One,” “King”) fulfills the calling to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf. The gospel is not first about my personal salvation from my sins, but the story of how Jesus is the King, the One that we must follow as he brings all things back into reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:19-20).

Contrary to the popular notion of the gospel in much of American evangelicalism, the story of the gospel does not start with me and my sins. It starts with God’s creation and intention for his image-bearers to rule over his creation. The story of the gospel does not skip over what God was doing in the Old Testament with Israel as if it has no bearing on the story, but is rooted in that story of Israel: their calling, their failure. The story of the gospel is about Jesus fulfilling that calling as King. When Jesus is presented to people outside the framework of the story of Israel, all sorts of strange distortions happen to the gospel. Even with good intentions (trying to make the gospel more readily understood and accessible), when we disconnect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel, the story of humanity, and the story of cosmic restoration, we get a Jesus that is truncated, altered, and easily misunderstood.

The story is consummated when Jesus returns and God makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Resurrected humans are then given authority to rule over the new earth, under the rulership of Jesus the King.

While Scot McKnight and I are of different theological stripes (he is an Anabaptist Arminian, I am a Neo-Calvinist),  we agree that the current crop of Calvinists in America have so focused on issues of “Salvation through Justification” that they miss the larger story of the Bible. What Neo-Calvinists focus in on is the gospel story of cosmic restoration; what the new crop of Calvinists (what I call the Neo-Puritans) focus in on is how God saves people.

The latter (God saving people) is the means for the former (God restoring his creation) because the failure of humanity from their creational mandate to rule the creation (The Fall) created the chaos that Jesus Christ came to rescue the world from.

Certainly it is good news that Jesus saves each one of us from our sins in the act of Justification. But the really BIG good news is this: Jesus is the King. This is why we find that when Jesus proclaimed "the gospel" (or "good news") it was "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23).


Things the Government Has Done Quite Well

We’ve heard the suspicions, especially lately with the health care debate. People do not trust that the government can do anything well. I’ve heard a number of people use the United States Postal Service as the ultimate example. We stand in long lines at the Post Office. UPS and FedEx delivers packages more efficiently and at a better cost. Okay.

But I still think that the government has actually done some things quite well.

  1. Building the interstate highway system: We boast the best auto and truck transportation system in the world.
  2. Public Libraries: Most nations don't even have these.
  3. National Park Service: Our National Parks are amazingly preserved and managed.
  4. NASA: Not only are we the only nation to step foot on the moon, but because of the space program, our nation has developed amazing advances in materials, electronics, communications, and medicine.
  5. The Food and Drug Administration: We can actually trust that the medicine we take is what's on the label because of the government, unlike most of the world.
  6. The Centers for Disease Control: This agency has shown to be exceptional in combating emerging diseases and health risks, including birth defects, West Nile virus, avian, swine, and pandemic flu, E. coli, and bioterrorism.
  7. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: Because of the FDIC, we can bank with confidence that our money will always be our money. Before the FDIC, if a bank lent more than it could support, people would lose their life savings.

So, contrary to what the pundits want us to believe, government is not always evil.

In fact, government is "God’s servant to do you good" (Romans 13:4).


Miroslav Volf Against Libertarian Economics

Volf - Work in the SpiritI’ve been reading Miroslav Volf’s absolutely excellent book, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work. In the final chapter, he moves into ways a Christian theology of work can overcome the many ways we see work in our contemporary society alienating us from being fully human. His premise is this:

“Human work, properly understood theologically, is related to the goal of all human history, which will bring God, human beings, and the nonhuman creation into ‘shalomic’ harmony.” (p. 85)

Volf (Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University Divinity School and the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture) offers a pneumatological theology of work, in which the Holy Spirit gifts human beings with the abilities to provide not only for their own sustenance, but to work for the common good.

“When God calls people to become children of God, the Spirit gives them calling, talents, and ‘enablings’ (charisms) so that they can do God’s will in the Christian fellowship and in the world in anticipation of God’s eschatological new creation. All Christians have several gifts from the Spirit. Since most of these gifts can be exercised only through work, work must be considered a central aspect of Christian living.” (p. 124)

Therefore, if a large aspect of being a human is to work for the common good, then this leads Volf to criticize the economic philosophy of libertarianism, which centers on individual freedom, placing individual liberty as the most fundamental rule in economics. According to libertarian economics, we must let the free market rule itself. As individuals work for their own self-interests, the “invisible hand” of the unfettered free market transforms the individuals’ pursuit of their own interests into the public good. The best way to care for others, according to libertarian economics, is for everyone to work for themselves. The common good is best served when people do not take economic responsibility for others, but rather by seeking their own self interests.

But such an economic system rubs against the way God has created human beings.

“Individual self-interest can be pursued validly but it must be accompanied by the pursuit of the good of others. These two pursuits are not in principle mutually exclusive but complementary (though in concrete cases they often conflict). My own good and the good of the whole human family are both included in the shalom of the new creation. Therefore, no contradiction is involved when a person ‘gives himself up’ for someone and ‘loves himself’ at the same time (see Eph. 5:25-28). (p. 192)

“Unlike libertarian philosophy, Christian faith does make demands on people to accept economic responsibility for others. And these demands are not only demands of generosity. They are demands on them to practice justice. Both in the Old and the New Testaments the concept of justice includes concern for the underprivileged (see Matt. 6:1; Ps. 112:9). Paul, for instance, calls the financial help of gentile Christians to the Jerusalem poor ‘justice’ (2 Cor. 9:9). Correspondingly, the mere refusal of the wealthy to aid the poor can be considered a criminal act (Ezek. 16:49).” (p. 194)

“Important as it is, from a Christian perspective, respect for individual liberty will not suffice as a basic rule for the market game. Respect for the right of sustenance of all individuals must be added as a rule that is even more basic than respect for individual liberty. If the market will not behave according to this rule, it is the market that has to go, not the rule. For the basic criterion of the humanness of an economic system is whether or not it secures lasting justice for the poor.” (p. 195)

The answer is not Marxism, according to Volf, but “a market economy directed by a vision of the common good.” In other words, a market economy that has parameters that ensure individual freedom while also caring for the basic needs of all people.