Do you have Olympic fever? It’s a certifiable diagnosis, you know, and we’ve got
it. We’ve loved watching it all, staying up late each night this week,
and even admit to a fair amount of Team USA patriotism. We especially
enjoy the features on the athletes and wonder about their character,
how they’ve gotten to be successful, and what sort of sportsmanship
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.