ANDERSON, S.C. (BP) — Have you caught Linsanity yet? Unless you live life with sports blinders, you probably have at least noticed the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, starting point guard of the New York Knicks as of only a week or so ago.
On Valentine’s evening, this improbable hero again amazed the watching world. Lin drained a last-second 3-pointer to win the sixth-straight game for the Knicks since Lin — a perpetual benchwarmer for his brief NBA career and only the fourth NBA player ever from Harvard — took over as team leader. Thrust into the starting lineup due to injuries to more high-profile and highly paid players, Lin has set the ever-combustible media market in the Big Apple ablaze. The Asian American, who until recently went unrecognized even by Knicks security guards, now has spawned the highest TV ratings in recent memory for the team and galvanized the city.
What makes Lin even more intriguing, however, is his forthright Christian faith.
Labeled the “Taiwanese Tebow” by sports journalists, Lin has not shied from expressing his faith on the court, through the Internet, and in other forums. And he seems genuinely grounded in the faith. A recent Religion News Service article quoted him saying in a recent post-game interview, “I’m just thankful to God for everything. Like the Bible says, ‘God works in all things for the good of those who love Him.'”
The article describes Lin’s desire to play “godly basketball.” As his longtime pastor asserts about him, “Very early in his life he decided to pay heed to the call of Christ to take up the cross daily and follow after him.”
In an online testimony recently, Lin quotes well-known pastor/author John Piper regarding the supremacy of Christ over sports and success. Lin then states, “When Paul wrote in Philippians to press on for an upward prize, he was living for that, and it made his life meaningful (Philippians 3:15). And I realized I had to learn to do the same. I had to learn to stop chasing the perishable prizes of this earth, I had to stop chasing personal glory, I had to learn how to give my best effort to God and trust him with the results. I have to learn to have enough faith to trust in His grace and to trust in His sovereign and perfect plan. I had to submit my will, my desires, my dreams — give it all up to God and say, ‘Look, I am going to give my best effort, go on the court and play every day for you, and I’m going to let you take care of the rest.’ This is something I struggle with every day. . . . Playing for great stats is nice, but that satisfaction — that happiness — is only from game to game. It’s temporary.”
Of course, all of these characteristics remind of Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback, former Heisman winner, and outspoken Christian, who led his team on an improbable run to the NFL playoffs, even as naysayers decried his passing ability and doubted his capability to quarterback his team.
In the face of such scorn, Tebow consistently exhibited Christlike humility, grace and determined leadership. And the world took note.
Now, I come from an era when Christian sports heroes might thank God for a win or mention praying or talk about being a Christian in general terms. I would often excitedly tell friends about sports figures who avowed faith publicly. But then I would witness these same Christian stars fall in some heinous sin or, just as bad, make an appearance on Trinity Broadcasting Network with sequin donned “prosperity gospel” hawkers, talking about God’s “blessing” on their careers.
But with Lin and Tebow, we seem to have a new breed of Christian athlete — orthodox and exemplary, in addition to being outspoken and excellent in their God-given roles.
I mean, how refreshing was it to see Tebow recently turn down an opportunity to speak at a conference/rally that was to be hosted by the well-known prosperity proponents Rod Parsley and Kenneth Copeland! Tebow rightly recognized what is the true Gospel and what is, as Paul states, a patently false “contrary to the one we preached to you” (Galatians 1:8).
Yes, I believe Tebow and Lin represent excellent examples of a new era of Christian athletes who are unashamed, as well as grounded in the historic faith once for all delivered to the saints.
And they are having an impact on secular culture — if anything by bringing Christianity out of the realm of private expression and into the realm of public discourse.
I almost wrecked my car a few weeks ago after hearing two very secular hosts of a Fox sports radio program argue over a correct Scripture reference. One of the hosts apparently looked it up on the spot and found the quotation. The source of this odd discussion? Tebow, of course.
What makes these two athletes such powerful witnesses is not just their fame and not just their “on their frontlets” faith. It is their character and leadership and excellence in what they do for a living. Seeing Lin selflessly delivering key passes, diving for every loose ball, chest bumping his teammates … Seeing Tebow inspiring a rather uninspiring Denver Broncos supporting cast to play beyond their ability … To use a hip term, these actions “represent.” Specifically, they model Christ to the watching world.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that these two seem to represent with a well-grounded faith, as well. But it does show all Christians an example of how a Christian may impact his or her respective circle of influence with positive outlooks, energetic leadership, selfless service, humility in the wake of accomplishment, and unashamed witness whenever the opportunity presents.
This doesn’t mean that you need to “Tebow” the next time you get a raise. But I do believe that open witness backed by impeccable character and orthodox theology is a powerful evangelistic tool in any setting — whether on the football field or the basketball court, or just in your cubicle or by the copy machine.
Christian “Linsanity” can happen anywhere. And we need more unsung, everyday Tebows and Lins for the cause of Christ.
Bryan Cribb is assistant professor of Christian Studies at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C. This column first appeared at MinistryU.org, a blog of Anderson University’s faculty.