Towards a Theology of Sports

The past few weeks have been one busy blur.  In the midst of the craziness of summer, I’ve got to find some time to begin getting my project complete for the class I took in May.  My project will be exploring the relationship between the church, theology, and sports.  I’ve had a million different ideas and directions taking shape over the past few weeks, and it’s time to start to put them together in some coherent form.  I don’t have time to lay out a lot of what I’m hoping to do, but I wanted to spend a minute or two and throw out some of the thoughts taking shape.  So . . . here’s a shotgun approach to some of the things I’ll be covering and studying in the project:

– As popular as sports is among Christians, it may very well be the single most ignored topic for critical assessment by Christians.  We’ve chosen, instead, to baptize the status quo with a Christian label (no different than what we’ve done to music, bookstore, coffee shops, movies, etc. )  In that regard, I propose that what passes as “Christian” sports today, very seldom shows any substantive differentiation from sports culture at-large.  “Christian” sports have come to mean little more than embodying good sportsmanship.

– Christians’ obsession with “successful” athletes misappropriates value and attention.  How many biographies of professional athletes who have losing records or poor batting averages or who have choked in the big game are sold at Lifeway?  Instead it’s Joe Gibbs (flashing his Super Bowl rings and race car victories) and Kurt Warner (more Super Bowl rings) or a million others.  The message seems to be that God would never allow the faithful to lose the big game.

– Non-liturgical Christians (especially evangelicals) pay far too little attention to the rhythms of their life.  The Christian calendar attempts t0 promote a rhythmic lifestyle centered on a Christian beat.  Many Christian eschew such a perspective as too routine or oppressive, and choose to highlight only the Big Ones (ie. Christmas and Easter).  Even the Old Testament promoted a very rhythmic culture with its feasts and festivals.  That life rhythm for many families today is the beat of the sports drum.  The agrarian rhythm has given way to the athletic calendar.  Spring is baseball season!  Winter is hockey and basketball.  March?  Duh!?  Whether families are active participants in the sports themselves, or avid fans, their schedules and lives, more times than not, revolve around the sports fields.

– There is something powerful about sports allegiances.  Perhaps the only thing rivaling national allegiance.  This was made especially evident to me as I (a Midwestern, Big Ten guy) spent six years in the Southeast . . . little did I know, enemy territory.  I remember having loud fights in our dorm about the supremacy of college conferences.  It’s hometown pride.  This idea has recently been explored through the Friday Night Lights franchise.  We all know the power of Friday night high school football.  I believe there is a certain longing for home that drives our passion for sports.

I could go on with a few others.  I haven’t mentioned the discussions that should be taking place regarding competition and it’s role in sports under the rubric of theology, the intrinsic impact a Christian theology may have on the actual sport itself (are there some sports Christian should not in good conscience support?  MMA?  Boxing?  Football?), there’s a great case study taking place right now in my home city of Columbus, OH as outspoken Christian Jim Tressel has been ousted following an ethics scandal – which brings up yet another topic for discussion – Christian ethics on the sports field.  So much more to say . . . hopefully this has whetted your appetite for more and you’ll check back later!

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One thought on “Towards a Theology of Sports

  1. I’m looking forward to this “series.” You’re right, there has been very little thought paid to the intersection of Jesus in our lives and sports. So I’m anticipating what’s coming. And if you need someone to write the forward for the book, I’ll volunteer!

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