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Is Robert Griffin III the New Tim Tebow?
Image: Keith Allison / Flickr

I admit it felt weird writing a book about Robert Griffin III just weeks into his rookie season with the Washington Redskins. At this point, nobody knows how God will use success, failure, and other circumstances to shape this professional, professing Christian football star. As John Piper once said in a sermon, "Living heroes are important, but they might cease to be heroes before they die." That's to say, the jury is still out on Griffin and, to be fair, all of us.

A scant three years ago, when Griffin was still playing college football at Baylor University, we may have thought the same things about then-hero Tim Tebow. Amazingly, we're already living in a post-Tebow NFL. (Well, maybe not. Hours after we posted this article, the Patriots signed him. Well, read on anyway...) Back then, everything Tebow touched turned to gold. Heisman winner. National champion. First-round draft choice. Author. Spokesman for everything.

A celebrity-hungry evangelical fan base "made" Tebow by clamoring for anything Tebow-related: books, jerseys, photographs, autographs, documentaries, commercials, articles, game tickets, and conference tickets. We put Tebow on a very significant public pedestal because he stood for what we stood for, everything from a pro-life position to homeschooling to the actual gospel.

If "mentioning your faith" had a spectrum, Tebow would be on the high end of that spectrum, and Griffin would be on the moderate-to-low end. While public faith was an integral part of the Tebow brand, Griffin seems low-key by comparison. He said nothing more than "God had a plan" at his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. He has tweeted periodically—but not excessively—about his faith. His Twitter bio is a play on the popular evangelical mantra of relationship-not-religion, saying "I have no Religion. I have a relationship with God." Still, Griffin seems to be walking a fine line, appealing to Christians and non-Christians alike.

There's something weird about the Christian celebrity culture. It certainly exists—it's what enables me to write books about football stars—but I can't help but wonder if it should exist, if it does us more harm than good. I'm reminded of Paul's word in 2 Corinthians 2:17, which reads, "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit." Sometimes it feels like we're doing exactly that. Our hero-making, at times, ignores the most central truths of our faith. Whether we're talking about Tebow or RGIII or the next big name, we risk losing the gospel message in the powerful and popularized narrative of the Christian athlete.

Amid our hunger for Christian celebrity, it can be hard to maintain focus on sin and the cross. After all, there are Super Bowls to be won, commercials to be shot, products to be moved, and dreams to be lived. And yet, whether our name's on the back of an NFL jersey or not, we're all wretched sinners in need of a redeemer, and we can all do nothing good apart from Christ.

In Tebow, we finally had a public figure who was strong, handsome, articulate, wealthy, and not as patently uncool as the evangelicals we're used to. We saw Tebow stick to his convictions again and again and believed that God would bless his "public ministries" with wins and continued career success. God's primary purpose, though, is Tebow's good and God's glory—not our overblown expectations for the NFL's "Savior."

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Is Robert Griffin III the New Tim Tebow?