Since my brief hospitalization last November, I have been MIA in the blogosphere. It’s not that there haven’t been topics that have interested me, but I have been slow in getting back into the swing of blogging. With only one blog post in the last three months (another Tim Tebow post), I figured it might be time to get back to writing on a regular basis. To all my “From Law to Grace” readers, I appreciate both your understanding and your prayers during my time away from the keyboard. Starting with this post, I hope to resume a regular schedule of posts (2 to 3 per week) starting next week.
As a jumpstart to a new season of writing and to start the month of March off with a bang, I can’t let the recent FBC Dallas/Tim Tebow kerfuffle go by without a comment or two. As most of the Southern Baptist and professional football worlds (not necessarily the same thing) know by now, Tim Tebow cancelled a previously scheduled speaking engagement at historic First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX. One of Southern Baptists’ most prominent churches, FBC Dallas was pastored by the legendary W.A. Criswell for over 50 years. Dr. Robert Jeffress has been the Pastor of FBC Dallas since 2007.
Before commenting, let me be clear about my own presuppositions and my own biases. I have never met Tim Tebow or Dr. Robert Jeffress, although if I had to choose who I would rather meet in person, it would not even be close. Go Gators! I have no doubt that both are Godly, Christian men who seek to use the gifts and talents that God has given to them to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who come into their spheres of influence. I also believe that both men strive to be “salt and light” in a dark world. How they go about shining their light might be where the similarities end and where the differences begin.
Unless every Christian is required to reflect Jesus’ love in the exact same way (same words, tone, context, etc.), then it should not be very surprising that this kerfuffle has arisen. In fact, I was perhaps more surprised to hear that Tim Tebow had agreed to speak at FBC Dallas in the first place. It’s not that the church or Pastor Jeffress is doctrinally suspect or out of the mainstream of Evangelical/Southern Baptist practice (they are not), but there can be no doubt that Pastor Jeffress has become somewhat of a lightning rod in the culture wars. We can argue to the cows come home that only liberal, atheistic media types (and wimpy Christians) are the ones who have a problem with anything that Dr. Jeffress has preached, but many observers (including this one) would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that some of Dr. Jeffress’ statements (in sermons and interviews) have been cringeworthy.
However, just because I have cringed at some statements made by Pastor Jeffress regarding Islam, Mormonism, and Homosexuality (to name a few), I don’t necessarily disagree with the foundational truths contained in those statements. In fact, I said very much the same thing about Mitt Romney and Mormonism as Dr. Jeffress:
Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult.” ( here)
As a Pastor, I have a different calling than someone who is not a pastor. Likewise, Pastor Jeffress has a different calling than Tim Tebow. Even though I am comfortable with this language, I can imagine that others — including Tim Tebow — might not feel the same way. Without speculating as to why Tebow withdrew from his speaking engagement, I can only take him at his word when the tweeted:
While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance. I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!” (here)
In hindsight, Tim Tebow probably should not have agreed to speak at FBC Dallas. Not because of doctrinal differences, but because of “platform” differences. Tim Tebow has a platform which God has given him to share the “message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love.” Dr. Jeffress has been given a platform at FBC Dallas and through various media outlets to likewise share that same “message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love.” If it was apparent to Tim Tebow that his platform would be limited (either now or in the future), then I do not see anything wrong with him cancelling his speaking engagement at FBC Dallas. Without getting into specific reasons for his withdrawal, Tebow said all that needed to be said.
Understandably upset that Tebow cancelled, how could have Dr. Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, responded? I would argue that, regardless of his personal feelings, he could have responded gracefully. However, by all appearances, Dr. Jeffress seems to have responded in a graceless way toward Tim Tebow’s choice to not speak at FBC Dallas(albeit without naming the current Jets’ Quarterback by name). To make matters worse, Pastor Jeffress used his pulpit this past Sunday to issue his heartfelt response. As an aside, I’m not quite sure why (well, I think I am) everyone is giving Pastor Jeffress a standing ovation. Is having a well-known Christian athlete cancel a speech now grounds for granting someone martyrdom status? Well, I digress.
In what should have been a minor kerfuffle, Pastor Jeffress chose to respond by indirectly calling out Tim Tebow as a wimp. Now, anyone who knows Tim should understand that he is no wimp. But, according to Jeffress:
“I am grateful for men of God like these who are willing to stand up and act like men rather than wimping out when it gets a little controversial and an inconvenient thing to stand for the truth,” Jeffress said. “God bless men like that. (here)
What are we to make of Pastor Jeffress’ public statement, made from behind the pulpit at FBC Dallas, this past Lord’s Day? That Dr. Jeffress is easily offended? That perhaps goes without saying. That Dr. Jeffress thinks that Tim Tebow “wimped out” because he did not want to “stand for truth?” Or, that Pastor Jeffress would not likely being saying “God bless” to Tim Tebow anytime soon? Perhaps all of these. Maybe none of these. It’s certainly hard to tell, although Pastor Jeffress has certainly gone out of his way to fan the flames of this controversy. That’s more than Tim Tebow did.
Dr. Robert Jeffress and Tim Tebow have different callings. One has a calling to use the platform of professional football to share the “message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love.” The other has a calling to use the platform of the pastoral office to share the “message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love.” Much grace is required regardless of the calling. Who knew that a professional football player would respond with more grace than the Pastor of one of the most historic Southern Baptist churches in America? Well, I did. But, that’s just my Tebow bias shining through!