Adrian Peterson’s Faith: Authentic or Hypocritical?

What to think of Adrian Peterson? I have written posts that have been critical (here) and complimentary (here) of the Minnesota Vikings’ star running back and last year’s National Football League MVP. When his two year old son was brutally beaten and killed last week, I couldn’t help but feel sad for this father and man of “faith.” From battling back from knee surgery last year to overcoming the tragic death of a child, not only would Peterson lean on football and his teammates to carry him through, but he would also look to his faith in God to sustain him. Peterson’s decision to play against the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, just days after his son was killed, was apparently made because of his faith in God. Like his earlier determination to rebound from what could have been career-ending knee surgery, Peterson’s foundation is his faith:

“The main thing is my faith and having God in my life, knowing He could never give me more than I could handle or bear. With that, anything is possible to overcome by believing and just praying it out and staying strong. What don’t kill you will make you stronger.” (Minnesota Vikings: For Adrian Peterson, this is no time to slow down)

Adrian Peterson is known as a “man of faith.” In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (here), Peterson shared his thoughts on what Jesus Christ meant to him:

Tom: What has Jesus Christ done for you? What does He mean to you? Tell me about that relationship you have with Him.” “Jesus Christ – He means the world to me. So many different situations I’ve been through, through my childhood and now my  adulthood; I lost my brother at a young age. He got hit by a car right in front of me. I had to be strong for my mom. (I) held my tears and held her and  comforted her during that time. God just helped me get through that and made me stronger at a young age.”

Jared Allen, Peterson’s Vikings’ teammate, talked about Peterson’s faith in the immediate aftermath of the death of Adrian’s son:

I know Adrian is a man of faith, and God has a plan. All we can do is pray for him and lend a shoulder, a word or whatever it is.” (Adrian Peterson Son Dies: Vikings Players Offer Prayers After 2-Year-Old Dies in Shocking Abuse Case)

What does it mean to be a “man of faith?” Before trying to answer that question, I think it fair to say that Adrian Peterson’s “faith” is of the Christian variety. By all accounts, Peterson is claiming to have faith in Christ and to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Therefore, to be a man (or woman) of “faith” — in this particular context — must be founded and grounded in the Christian faith. To be a man or woman of faith does not require perfection on our part. If it did, then none of us would make it. Our faith is ultimately in the One who is perfect — Jesus Christ — and his atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins — past, present, and future.

However, for us to be men and women of faith, we must possess an “authentic faith,” not a “hypocritical faith.” And, there is a difference. James MacDonald, Founding Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, defines a hypocrite as:

one who pretends to be what he is not, assuming a position of piety when in reality you are destitute of genuine faith, acting the part of being close to God when in reality your heart is very far from Him.” (Authentic: Developing the Disciplines of a Sincere Faith)

The opposite of hypocrisy, according to MacDonald, is authenticity:

to be authentic means to be the original article, the real thing — not a phony, knockoff, or cheap imitation. . . . We often describe something as authentic when it conforms to an original ideal or pattern and faithfully reproduces the essential features of that ideal or pattern. . . . When it comes to being an authentic Christian, of course, Jesus is our original patter. He’s the ideal human being.”

To be an “authentic Christian” — one who possesses and lives out an “authentic faith” — begins and ends with Jesus. Oh, not just any Jesus. Not just the Jesus we imagine. Certainly not the Jesus of popular culture, the one who is morally confused on marriage and on a whole host of other issues. It is the Jesus of the Bible. It is the Jesus who is perfect and holy. It is the Jesus who is the living Word of God, revealed in the written Word of God.

To be a man or woman faith is to love Jesus AND to obey Jesus. In fact, Jesus said that our obedience would be the proof that we love Him:

If you love Me, you will keep My commands.” (John 14:15)

There is not a single Christian and yes, even pastors, who does not struggle from time to time with hypocrisy. At the very least, hypocrisy can be a sign that we are not loving Jesus the way we should. At the worst, it is evidence that we have never been converted to begin with. Which brings us back full circle to Adrian Peterson and his faith.

Ultimately, only God knows if anyone’s faith is authentic. And yes, we are instructed by Jesus to take the log out of our own eye before we look for the speck in our brother’s eye. However, that does not mean that public hypocrisy — particularly those who claim to be followers of Jesus — should not be subjected to public scrutiny when their faith is at odds with their actions. If this were a well-known Evangelical Preacher (Ted Haggard) or another famous football player (Tim Tebow), no one would think twice about exposing such blatant hypocrisy.

In the case of Adrian Peterson, we are now learning that he may have as many as seven children, all born out-of-wedlock and with multiple women whom he has never bothered to marry. The youngest such child may, in fact, be only three months old. Jerry Seinfeld might say “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but God’s standards clearly trump Seinfeld’s. There is something wrong when a “man of faith,” whether it be a football player or a preacher, decides to bed multiple women and father children without the benefit of marriage. There’s something wrong when your faith is, more often than not, at variance with your actions.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about grace. But, we are never to sin so that grace abounds. The Apostle Paul has some pretty tough things to say to folks who think that way. Unfortunately, most people — including a good many “Christians” — want to hear what Paul or Peter or Jesus has to say, at least not what they clearly say in the Bible about sex and marriage and parenthood. We want to do our own thing and, later on, seek God’s approval, even when we know we are flat-out wrong. That’s not authentic faith. That’s hypocrisy. No one wants to be a hypocrite. Whether or not Adrian Peterson’s faith is the real deal or not, we can at least use this as a vivid reminder to beware of the temptation to hypocrisy. None of us are immune. And, if you think you are, then you, sir, are probably a hypocrite!

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