Tim Tebow’s decision to cancel his April 28 appearance at First Baptist Dallas, due in large part to senior pastor Robert Jeffress’ controversial public statements, is generating a lot of dialogue. Some of that conversation is about what constitutes orthodoxy in the Christian Church, worldwide, irrespective of denomination.
Most acknowledge that what Jeffress espouses in the public forum is not necessarily fringe belief, but in step with the principles of any American evangelical church. And that, secularists say, is the problem. But though Jeffress’ stated beliefs may not directly contradict historic Christian doctrine, their context and delivery betray a dogma that should bother any Christian from any age.
First, consider the setting in which Jeffress made his most controversial statements. I first heard the clip on AM radio station 1310 The Ticket. I mistakenly assume the audio came from a Rick Perry rally. But when Jeffress was calling Islam, Judaism and Mormonism heresies from “the pit of Hell” and homosexuality an “abomination,” it was during an appearance on the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s (TBN) program Praise the Lord.
For decades, TBN has been under investigation for financial deceptiveness. More than that, TBN blatantly espouses a dogma critics have labeled the Prosperity Gospel. Its core doctrine is that if you give the religious television network a good chunk of your money as an act of faith, God will reward you a thousand-fold. Beyond its idiocy, the theology of God as a 100,000% return investment fund is obviously heretical and has contaminated this country since the career of Oral Roberts. If Jeffress was so concerned about heresy, how did he justify appearing on a station that preaches one so shamelessly?
But that does not address the content so many consider inflammatory. First, we need to acknowledge that Jeffress gets a little too liberal with his use of “heresy,” which typically refers to erroneous beliefs within an existing belief system. Arianism is a heresy. Unitarianism is a heresy. You could possibly make a case for Mormonism as heresy, but Judaism and Islam are completely different religions. Calling them heresies is like saying Derek Jeter is playing basketball wrong.
Yet none of this touches on what really bothers me, which is the issue of what Christians do believe, what is properly called Christian orthodoxy. Do Christians believe differently than Jews, Mormons (who would take issue being excluded from Christendom), and Muslims? Of course. Is homosexuality considered a sin by traditional Christian doctrine? Yes, but in Scripture it appears, without distinction, as part of a list that also includes drunks, the greedy, liars and the sexually immoral in general. You may not believe in sin and so none of that should bother you. But if you do, know that brokenness is equal opportunity and representative of all men and women.
The real damage here is that Jeffress’ notoriety is currently built on his bullet-point list of who is and is not on God’s side. And Jeffress, as a minister, is tasked instead with preaching the Gospel, the “good news.” A bullet-point list (and an incomplete one at that) of what will exclude you from the kingdom of heaven is downright shitty news that should rankle even the most orthodox of Christians.
I have no doubt that Jeffress’ vilification is part his fault and partly the fault of media misrepresentation. But the simple fact is that he has not done enough to make his calling card the incorruptible message of Scripture, which is that our sin problem is answered, not with a program that includes specific religions and sexual practices to avoid, but with the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate.
Tim Tebow himself is not a monolith. He is a public figure with the mixed motivations of a disciple of Christ and a celebrity. He is part faithful acolyte and part self-interested public figure who, apart from any sincere religious motivation, made a good career move canceling his spring appearance at First Baptist Dallas.
But he may also have caught the same whiff I did. Tebow may have realized that Jeffress, while superficially aligned with Christian doctrine, often fails to give Jesus Christ preeminence over some truncated version of The Law. Tebow may have realized that Jeffress dabbles in a passive heresy, truly from the pit of Hell.