Which raises the natural question here at BookNotes: in what way does the gospel of Christ effect athletes in what they do? What is a Christian perspective, as we like to ask, on sports? And, of course, what good books help us go more deeply into that question?
First, an important rant. You may know, if you follow these things, that there are a goodly number of books that are about Christian faith for the sports fan or athlete. There are some fine daily devotionals with a sporting theme and some fine books about character and sportsmanship and the like. Books like the recent The Goal and the Glory compiled by Josh Davis (Regal; $14.99) are great, offering testimonials of world class Christian athletes. Many use effective sporting as a platform for evangelism. One new series from FCA look very nice, one called Integrity, and one called Service, asks how successful athletes have learned from their discipline and training lessons that can be applied to ordinary living. These are helpful and make fabulous gifts for athletes you may know.
And yet. As is our often-repeated concern here, the bigger question, is one of worldview and perspective. That is, how does a Christian understanding of life, of the human body, of play and recreation, of leisure and of competition and so forth, shape our vision of what sports is to be? What does it mean to be faithful as Christian people in the arena of athletics? If something is wrong (and who would say there aren't some large problems in sports, from kids' leagues on up?) we have to have some normative vision to know what ought to be which can inform how to fix things. So, we could ask, (a) in what way are the possibility for sports and play created by a good God in a certain kind of good world, (b) and how is recreation and sport distorted by our sinful tendencies and screwy culture, and (c) how can faith in Christ (who makes "all things new') lead us to imagine sport in more redemptive ways? How can we develop a wholistic Christian framework for approach sports in a distinctive and helpful way?
There are hardly any books like this. Again, catch the situation: oodles of books on devotional life for athletes, few on a Christian view of actually playing "to the glory of God." Plenty on character and inspiration, few on what it means to play as a Christian. Many that view faith as an add-on or supplement to business as usual, few that are intregal. In fact, a few decades ago, a prominent leader of a prominent ministry in the world of athletics caught this vision and wanted to write a book approaching the question of competition. His supervisors made it very clear that this was unhelpful: if one relativizes competition by having some transforming vision of play, the team might not win and the evangelistic testimonies would be less compelling. This is what they told him; don't think about sports from a Christian perspective, just play well, and then share the gospel. The guy thought this was crazy, and wrote the book anyway, despite threats that it would jeopardize his ministry. I was told that he was then fired for daring to see sports not merely as an avenue of testimony, but a side of life that has to truly come under the Lordship of Christ and be structurally and philosophically explored in light of a Biblical worldview. We stocked the book 25 years ago but it went out of print.
Here are a few rare and exceptional ones that really do offer an integrated and wholistic view of faithfully exploring sports from a mature theological perspective. There are others, too, if you want to give us a call.
What the Book Says About Sport Stuart Weird (BRF) $8.95 Published in England, this mass market sized paperback is solid, mature, interesting and a great Biblical perspective. Nothing else quite like it in print. Highly recommended.
Focus on Sport in Ministry Lowrie McCown & Valerie J. Gin (360 degree) $24.95 This is a book about coaching, and a study of how to train coaches to see their work as a Christian ministry. Still, Lowrie and his colleague are deeply engaged in training a natural and integrated perspective rooted in faith-based values. This is profound stuff.
Physical Education, Sports and Wellness: Looking to God as We Look At Ourselves edited by John Byl & Tom Visker (Dordt College Press) $19.95 Thoughtful leaders in collegiate physical education, sports, coaching, leisure studies and such offer chapters that were once speeches given at various conferences and symposia. This important collection offers theological, sociological and ethical evaluation of thinking and practices in this whole arena. A must-read for those serious about a Godly perspective in playful sports or health education.
In Praise of Athletic Beauty Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Harvard University Press) $22.95 This is a lovely small hardback, a book that doesn't seem guided by religious faith but is nonetheless a perfect addition to our reading this week. What moves us so as we watch these world class Olympians? The aesthetics of all this, the sheer beauty of it all, comes to the fore in this marvelous, rich exploration. Scholarly and charming.