The Gospel Coalition

 

Through My Eyes

Tim Tebow and Nathan Whitaker | Review by: Ted Kluck



Tim Tebow and Nathan Whitaker. Through My Eyes. New York: Haper, 2011. 272 pp. $26.99.

Let’s get a few things out of the way early:

  1. I was almost the co-author on Tim Tebow’s autobiography, a job that would have brought me (relatively speaking) a writing payday beyond my wildest dreams. It also, I know, would have been one of the most challenging—and in its own unique way, boring—projects I’d ever had to do. Was I a little bitter, initially, at not getting it? Sure. Am I glad that God in his infinite wisdom and sovereignty took me in a different direction? Absolutely. That being said, I’ll try to be as objective as possible.
  2. These books—sports autobiographies—are easy to make fun of inasmuch as they’re usually predictable, shallow, and formulaic. These are the kinds of books that if you’re a fan of The Gospel Coalition site you probably feel the need to sort of clandestinely hide behind your volumes of Reformed Dogmatics and Calvin’s Institutes. Still (total disclosure), I grew up reading them, and I still read a lot of them. They’re guilty pleasures. Will I be making fun of this one a little bit? Absolutely. If you have a problem with that—and judging from a few of the user comments from my last piece, a few of you do—may I suggest reading any of a number of other great TGC articles not dealing with Tim Tebow and not written by me?
  3. This isn’t a comprehensive review. This is more of an essay on the idea of the book with a few reactions to bits and pieces of the book thrown in.

There are a few things we know about Tebow: 

  1. He was quite possibly the most highly decorated college football player of all time. This kid played like we play in our wildest dreams. He ran for touchdowns, he threw for touchdowns, he played hurt, he won a Heisman trophy, and he won national titles. And he did it all with a certain panache: a certain 1950s, lantern-jawed, crew-cut, Great American Hero, comic-book quality panache that made him beyond marketable. 
  2. Tebow was/is the Great White Hope. (See also: being beyond marketable). I think Tebow captured the imagination of white America because he was a white kid who played like a black kid (see: running as well as throwing in a spectacular fashion). He was an athlete. Feel free to skip down to the comments section now to begin killing me for this paragraph. 
  3. Tebow was/is a very public evangelical. He prayed on the field. He penciled Bible verses onto his eyeblack. He was constantly talking about/thanking God in pre/postgame interviews. 
  4. He was a highly polarizing figure. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you either want your kid to grow up to be just like Tebow, or you hate his guts. Probably the former. 
  5. By and large, nobody who is famous and constantly in the public eye got there by accident. That is, (again, by and large) people who are in the public eye want to be there and know exactly how they got there. These books (sports biographies) try to pawn off the fame experience as “something that just happened” or “something that I struggle with.” However, this is rarely actually the case. That goes for football players and famous pastors/authors alike. Still, it’s important when you’re crafting your own Fame Story to make it look like it happened on accident so as not to appear “arrogant” or “self-seeking.” For example, Tebow’s parents allowed him to be the subject of a high-profile ESPN documentary (called, gag-inducingly, “The Chosen One”) when he was still a high school player. People who are concerned about fame/overexposure don’t often make choices like this.
  6. Tebow was a first-round draft choice, and is currently the Denver Broncos third-string quarterback, on the bench behind NFL journeyman Kyle Orton and NFL journeyman/draft bust Brady Quinn. His professional future is uncertain. 

From a literary standpoint, given point #6, you could make the argument (and I would) that Tebow has never been more interesting than he is right now (post-college, post-book). Tebow’s book is like the first 45 minutes of a romantic comedy: It’s all of the good stuff, all of the montages and love scenes that happen before the conflict is introduced. It’s sort of a conflictless life. The fact that, for the first time, Tebow is now facing a little bit of adversity makes him interesting right now. It makes his spiritual life more interesting, and it probably makes his relationship with God more interesting. It takes the story from the realm of “I can do all things, etc.” (meaning: score all the touchdowns and win most of my games) to “the Lord gives and takes away” (meaning: how am I going to deal with all of this pressure and disappointment?). I would argue that pressure and disappointment are more relatable to the reader than winning Heisman trophies. 

However, it’s the breathless/lantern-jawed stories about winning, championships, and overcoming adversity that make books like these the Christian literary equivalent of Amish romances for guys like me. Simply put, we like stories where things work out. We like to think that the earnest, broad shouldered blacksmith with the heart of gold gets the doe-eyed new girl in town at the end of our wives’ romance novels. We like to think that the guy who prays the most and keeps his nose clean (so to speak) off the field will stay healthy, get the most accolades, and then get the biggest “platform” for sharing his faith. This is probably proof of our (meaning, “my”) deep-seated theological flaws, many of which were promoted in childhood by books like these.  

A Word About Ghostwritten Autobiographies: I’ve been involved in a couple of these, and it’s semi-astonishing how little the actual celebrity has to do with the final product. Usually a few parameters and interviews are granted, and then the writer is mostly on his own to come up with 250-plus pages of “interesting.” That being said, Tebow’s ghost did a good job. He did a pretty good job with coach Tony Dungy’s books, and he did a good job with this one, as I know that the process couldn’t have been easy, what with all of the family and image-control issues that would have been a part of the deal.

Necessary?

Even Tebow is smart enough to know that a ghostwritten memoir by a 24-year-old is probably a bad idea (at worst) and at the very least a little bit dumb. This book happened because the marketplace demanded it. I get that. I’m a capitalist. Fundamentally, I have no problem with Tebow making as many bucks as possible while his name is hot.  That’s why I would have had no problem ghosting it myself, even though I knew back then that it was a little bit dumb. And even as I write this, his name is significantly less marketable now than it was two years ago. 

Here’s a little taste of what you’ll get in a book like this:

  • An attempt at self-deprecating humor and/or a little false humility: "All week, (the Oklahoma) defense was talking trash, saying that I would have been only the sixth-best quarterback if I had played in their conference, the Big 12. I found that hurtful and upsetting; I was sure that I would've been at least fifth." Tebow was speaking about the 2008 Bowl Championship Series title game won by his Gators.
  • Tebow lying to coach Urban Meyer about post-concussion headaches so that he could play in an upcoming game. Say what you want about the guy, but he’s tough as nails. And this is probably the most interesting passage in the whole thing because it points to Tebow’s humanity. 
  • A Bible verse at the beginning of each chapter.
  • Tebow re-affirming his decision to stay a virgin until marriage. 

So What Do We Do With a Book Like This? 

I realize I’m kind of doing the Gospel Coalition thing here, which is telling you what to think about a certain thing/topic. Of course, you’re on your own to draw your own conclusions. The beauty of a discussion like this is that it really doesn’t matter. Tebow is entertainment, and so is this book (and so, for that matter, is this essay). A book like this doesn’t purport to be a theological tome, or to be instructive for living in any way. It’s pure entertainment. 

That said, I think we can:

  1. Enjoy this book purely as lighthearted, easy-on-the-mind entertainment in the same way that people enjoy the Amish romances. If you’re theologically thoughtful enough to make this site a regular stop, you probably know that praying a lot and thanking God in all of your media interviews won’t necessarily make you a superstar. Enjoy the football stories, and leave it at that.
  2. Use this book as an opportunity to discuss theology with your kids. This may be the best and most important thing we can do with a book like this. You’re going to have a hard time getting your teenager to read Bavinck. But I know that this book has already become a hot item in the “What do I get for my Christian, male teenager for his birthday?” market. Don’t lose out on the opportunity to teach your kids through a book like this. Tebow’s work ethic is laudable. He talks about it a lot. Teach your kids the value of hard work. But also teach them that God isn’t necessarily a cosmic deal maker who promises to keep hooking you up provided you acknowledge him publicly and pray a lot (which can be the unintended message in books like these). Clearly, the Lord has chosen to bless Tebow, for a time, with a lot of athletic talent. But if you watch college football at all you know that there are also a lot of drug addicts, derelicts, lazy students, and future felons winning games and championships on Saturday afternoons. Use this as an opportunity to talk about God’s sovereignty and the value of placing our identity firmly in God’s grace, rather than our achievements on the field. You can also take the opportunity to talk with them about the Matthew 6 passage that concerns praying in front of men. That's a fine line—we’re supposed to acknowledge the Lord before men so that he’ll acknowledge us before the Father—but ostentatious piety is something he condemns. I’m stopping short of making a judgment one way or another on this one, but it’s worth considering as you read. Most of us don’t have the dilemma that Tebow has, meaning that most of us aren’t on television every week. The idea of standing up for our faith in a public sphere, but in a graceful and non-obnoxious way, is worth considering.
  3. Enjoy Tebow’s talent, provided he gets a chance to showcase it again, and remember to pray for him as a brother in Christ. The temptation, being that Tebow is a brother in Christ who happened to get $9.7 million for his first job post-college and has a highly publicized Great Family, is to assume that he has no problems or struggles. This would be the wrong assumption. Hard as it is to believe, Tebow has a sin nature just like the rest of us, and faces the same struggles and temptation to sin that we do.

Ted Kluck is the author of several books, on topics ranging from Mike Tyson to the Emergent Church. Both Why We're Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church (with Kevin DeYoung) won Christianity Today Book of the Year awards. His work has also appeared in ESPN the Magazine and Christianity Today. Visit him at www.tedkluck.com.



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