Record-breaking daredevil Nik Wallenda completed Sunday what he called his most challenging feat to date: a tightrope walk between two skyscrapers 600 feet above downtown Chicago, partly blindfolded. (CNN)

The Skyscraper Live walk was broadcast on The Discovery Channel and follows previous live broadcasts of his tightrope walks across the Grand Canyon and the Niagara Falls. As usual, Wallenda frequently prayed to God and spoke of Christ’s help before, during, and after the walk. Many Christians rejoiced to hear God being praised in such a spectacular way before a watching TV and Internet audience of millions of people.  

Which raises huge questions. Can you be a “Christian Tightrope Walker.” Is tightrope-walking a legitimate Christian vocation? Does repeatedly mentioning God sanctify whatever job we do? Or are there certain vocations that Christians should not pursue? If so, are there biblical guidelines for helping us to decide which jobs are legitimate for a Christian? I believe there are four such guidelines, and I’d like to measure Wallenda’s chosen vocation against them.

Can I glorify God in this job? To glorify God is to make Him more famous; it’s to advance His reputation, and to lift up His Name. Conversely, my vocation should not do anything to obscure God’s beauty or reputation.

Although Wallenda mentioned God lots of times, and many Christians said that this was a great witness, I’m sure many non-Christians thought, “What kind of God thinks this is a good idea?” Did their view of God really improve?

Also, is saying God’s name a lot really the same as glorifying God? We can be doing that while all the time actually be trying to glorify ourselves. Interestingly, for all of Wallenda’s praising of God, he did let slip in a previous interview: “I don’t know what people will say about me 100 years from now, but it’s got to be pretty impressive.”

Remember the Devil once took Christ to a high building and tempted him by suggesting that He could publicly prove God’s care for Him by throwing himself off the pinnacle and surviving. Remember Christ’s response?

Can I do good to others in this job? Our vocation should be helpful to our society and contribute something worthwhile to our community. That also means that we should not do anything that might unnecessarily harm others.

Wallenda estimates that these kinds of tightrope walks generate millions in TV and tourism revenue. He also entertained multitudes. So, does money + entertainment = good to others? While there’s nothing wrong with making money and entertaining people, neither of these are enough to qualify a job as “loving our neighbor” by contributing something worthwhile to our community. Money and entertainment may be the by-products of a legitimate Christian vocation, but they hardly constitute one.

Also, what about the power of example? Do we really want to inspire others, perhaps kids, to try tightrope walking in their backyards or across ravines?

Did God give me the talent for this job? God does not call us to a vocation without supplying us with the necessary gifts.

Some have therefore argued, “Well, if God gave Wallenda the gifts, he would be wrong not to use them.” But did God give Wallenda the gift of tightrope walking?

He certainly gave him amazing gifts of courage, emotional control, agility, hand-eye coordination, perseverance, etc. But it was Wallenda who turned these gifts towards tightrope walking. Just because we have the gifts for something does not mean we are obliged to do it. I mean, if God has gifted you (certainly not me) with a beautiful body and a sense of rhythm, does that mean you’re called to be a stripper?

There are many men with similar gifts to Wallenda, who are sacrificially dedicating them to the service of their country in special operations in faraway lands.

Can I obey God in this job? Even if we think that our job glorifies God, helps others, and uses our talents, if it is against God’s Word, then it is illegitimate for a Christian.

“But where in the Bible does it forbid Christian tightrope walkers?” (I can hardly believe I just wrote that sentence!) Well, the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill,” covers far more than murdering. It simply selects the worst manifestation of this category of evil for prohibition. It also includes lesser evils such as rejecting or neglecting lawful means to preserve our lives and the lives of others.*

Wallenda may be a Christian, and he may be a tightrope walker, but he’s not a “Christian tightrope walker.” There’s no such thing.

*See summary expositions of the Bible teaching together with Scripture proof verses in Westminster Shorter Catechism 68 & 69, and Larger Catechism 135 & 136.

  • Ivan Ramos

    Was the gospel mentioned? Did non-Christians come to repentance because of this man’s stunt? Will people be convicted that they’re sinners and are need of a Savior because of this stunt? Then how is God glorified in this?

    • http://www.alexkooblog.com/ Alex Koo

      Please see my comment Ivan!

  • Kurt Earl

    Mr. Murray, I’m struggling a bit with your definition of things here. It seems to me that by your definition there is no such thing as a Christian athlete (professional or amateur) or Christian entertainer, etc. Did you mean to imply this?

    • http://www.alexkooblog.com/ Alex Koo

      Please see my comment Kurt! :-)

    • David Murray

      Good question, Kurt. Not an easy one to answer, and especially difficult in our day when there are so many opportunities to earn a full-time wage in the entertainment and sports industries. I suppose we all need to work this out as individuals in our own conscience with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. So, two questions for us: (1) what’s required to make a vocation a legitimate Christian vocation? and (2) Does the entertainment industry or professional sports meet these requirements? In answer to #1 for me there has to be some evidence of loving our neighbor as ourself and I can’t see that here. But I’m open to persuasion :)

      Having said that, I don’t think this is the only issue here.

      • Kurt Earl

        Thanks for your response? As a coach at a Christian school I use sports to teach young people how you can compete and therefore do many, many other things to the glory of God. My student-athletes, of course, aren’t getting paid and it therefore isn’t a discussion on vocation.

        Quick side note, I’m not a fan of the repeating of the name of Jesus as if that somehow sanctifies the whole activity. To me that feels like the outside of the cup and who knows what the inside actually looks like.

        Is it possible our discussion here is being unnecessarily constrained by the whole idea of vocation? What if our man wasn’t making any money, but just walking tight ropes to the praise of God’s glory? Would that change the way in which you approach the discussion?

  • Noah

    Are you really prepared to say that any Christian that unnecessarily puts his life at an increased risk (race car driver, sky diver, mountain climber, etc.) is sinning?

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with Wallenda being a tightrope walker, but I do think that the constant audible invocation of Christ’s name while he’s on the rope to be a bit undiscerning at best. I’m sure many celebrities wrestle with how vocal to be about their faith, and we see them falling on different sides of the spectrum, from you Tebow-ing Tims to your quiet keepers:http://www.cru.org/communities/athletes/tim-howard-testimony.html

    But let’s agree on one thing: the public proclamation of one’s faith as a celebrity is often a “balancing act”.

    • Rhonda

      Johann Sebastian Bach was not a pianist. The piano was invented later in his life. He played the organ and piano, but was primarily a great composer who composed numerous works for leading worship in the Lutheran church. These included over 500 church cantatas based on scripture. I think through the centuries that at least some people have had their hearts opened to The Lord through his magnificent music.

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  • Ben Lewis

    David – unlike what you normally write this is not that helpful a post. And sad that Tim Challies would link to it. It is the type of post that doesn’t help but instead nitpicks. Is wallenda that significant an “issue” and his example so hurtful that you need to address it? I think not.

  • Kathy

    This just is not what I want to read. Right or wrong could be a debate that we can have about this tightrope walker…but do we need to really debate this issue? I feel like this is nitpicking at its worst. It can be so hard to be a Christian in the public eye today for this very reason.

    • Shelley

      My thoughts too. Too nitpicky

  • Rick

    In Luke 4:9-12, the Devil tempts Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple.

    “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

    The Devil is saying to Jesus that if He is really the Son of God and He jumps, God will have to intervene to save him from (an untimely) death. Jesus replies that it is sinful to put “God to the test.” I understand that to mean that endangering your life voluntarily, whether for pleasure or profit, and depending on God to keep you alive is just plain wrong.

  • Stephen N Patty Sark

    This gentleman has attracted the attention of literally millions so I think it is entirely appropriate to discuss his very public proclamations about why he does these things. We need to train ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ to be discerning and to think biblically about all matters that we encounter. You may not agree with Mr. Murray’s conclusions but if you are challenged to consider what Scripture brings to bear on this matter, then that is a helpful thing.

  • Dan

    I was terrified enough that he had Joel Osteen there to pray for him!

  • http://www.alexkooblog.com/ Alex Koo

    Dr. Murray,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree with many points, such as the question “Does repeatedly mentioning God sanctify whatever job we do?” Indeed it does not and there are many “vocations” that are illegitimate vocations in God’s eyes. I also agree that there is no such thing as a “Christian Tightrope Walker.” To answer Kurt (previous comment), I would say that there actually is no such thing as a “Christian athlete” or a “Christian musician”.

    Instead, I believe there are athletes, musicians, pianists, painters, surgeons, and the like, who are Christians. To say “Christian athlete” or “Christian ______” is to find identity in our vocation, which is not right. These are men and women who identify themselves as children of God and servants of the Lord, and glorify God through the vocations they were gifted, skilled, and called for.

    However, to disagree respectfully with Ivan Ramos (previous comment), to glorify God in a vocation does not necessitate a gospel proclamation, or a revival calling for repentance for all who are effected by one’s vocation. To say God is only glorified only through a Gospel proclamation, while important and necessary, is too limiting. To glorify God is also to enjoy being and doing what we were meant to do as humans in His image, as we were made to do, back in Eden! This is all and only possible through Christ (which necessitates the Gospel proclamation). (See my article on this: http://wp.me/p5aGMG-8Z)

    Consider Sebastian Bach, the pianist who’s masterpieces have graced this world. He was a devout Christian, signing each composition with “Soli Deo Gloria”, all for God’s glory. Yet I doubt that people were saved by simply listening to Bach. Was the Gospel proclaimed? No, not really. Was God still glorified? Yes! Because to enjoy and play the piano well is to reflect the creativity of the One who invented music in the first place! So yes, sharing the Gospel of Christ is the ultimate glory, but we cannot diminish the glory God receives when we simply embrace our redeemed humanity and creativity!

    By your standards of legitimate vocation, while helpful, seem to exclude possible vocations such as professional athletes and gymnists (what good can they do to others, according to your second point), mountain climbers and stunt actors (putting themselves in harms way). So while it may not the be wisest thing to do, we mustn’t discard vocations that display God’s creativity because there is risk involved.

    Finally, in closing, Mr. Murray, while I agree with your article in large, and would have to consider the fruitfulness of Tightrope Walking, I believe your article has caused some confusion regarding the nature of vocation. Your inclusion of his quote “I don’t know what people will be saying about more 100 years from now, but it’s got to be pretty impressive” is far more telling of his character than of his vocation. I wouldn’t be surprised if athletes, musicians, and pastors also say similar things, whether publicly or in their hearts.

    The character of Wallenda aside, I am not sure if Tightrope walking is the wisest vocation, but I am not sure if I can discount it without discounting athletes, pianists, and mountain climbers. Again, I thank you for writing this post. I do not believe it is nitpicking because we as Christians need to think more deeply about the nature of vocation.

    For the Gospel,
    Alex (alexkooblog.com)

    • Ivan Ramos

      As far as Christian athletes, Christian Musicians etc, aren’t we Christians first and foremost? One can be an athlete all their life and be born again at a later age say in their early 30s. That person is still an athlete yet is now a Christian. I disagree with you on this. I don’t believe there are doctors and lawyers who happen to be Christian. It’s the other way around. We’re defined by our world revolving first and foremost around Christ and then by our profession. I don’t think that we’re to go around with a big letter C or a huge cross hanging around our neck to let the world know we’re Christian.

      This article was billed around the title “Christian Tightrope Wlaker” and according to some, had an alleged “Christian” pastor praying for the Tigthrope Walker. So this event was built around some Christian hype or theme. I would at least expect some Christian message at this event. If not, why not call it “Tightrope Walker walks between two skyscrapers in Chicago” and leave it at that.

      • http://www.alexkooblog.com/ Alex Koo

        Ivan, sorry if my post seemed to communicate an equal weight between being a Christian and our vocation. I simply meant there must be a distinction between who we are (Christian) and what we do (vocation), and ultimately, as you said, being called children of God is infinitely of more worth. That being said, to use your words, I would say then we are Christians who happen to be lawyers, doctors, etc.

        Secondly, I wasn’t aware it was publicized Christian event. Perhaps it is my fault for being misinformed and assuming it was simply a stunt and the tightrope walker was Christian, similar to a basketball game with Jeremy Lin giving thanks to God in an interview after. If that were the case, I would not expect you, or any Christian, to be upset there was no gospel call — even if Jeremy Lin were doing a solo basketball exhibition. However, if you like you said, it was clearly a Christian event, then yes, because tightrope walking in itself cannot intrinsically communicate any truth, the lack of a Gospel presentation would be disappointing.

        Blessings Ivan.

  • Andre-Hope Taylor

    Very Well put David!!

  • Steven Birn

    I found the whole stunt appalling. He apparently had his entire family there, children included. Would it really have been entertaining to watch their reactions as their husband/father plummeted 60 stories to his death? What kind of witness would that have been?

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  • Patrick

    6th Commandment prohibition… Really. Then I read what the Westminster Shorter Catechism said. Pretty much bans everything enjoyable and daring. I’ll take my chances…

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  • Jake

    When I rode with Paul Smalley to Iowa where he did pulpit supply for one Sunday in May of 2012 I noticed a skydiving billboard advertisement. I asked him, “What do you think of skydiving?” He responded, “Who would ever want to jump out of a perfectly good plane?”

    I wouldn’t feel right going from the airplane straight to the Throne Room.

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  • Old Pirate

    I don’t know if this is the same Wallenda (memory failing here) but one Wallenda can indeed claim to be a “Christian tightrope walker.” For many years now he has been a performer with Bill Glass’ prison ministries. He literally takes the tight rope into the prison, performs his act while testifying to what Christ has done. I’ve seen him several times in different prisons.
    And… even though I’ve seen it several times, I’m still wowed every time I see it. As I said, I don’t know if this is the same Wallenda — but there is at least one who has helped bring many of those in prison to Christ.

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