Touchdowns and Slam Dunks for Jesus?
Controversial new book reveals the truth about faith and sports
Author Shirl Hoffman, Ed. D, believes it’s time for Christians to ask the hard questions. “The institution of sport has been so intricately woven into the fabric of our culture, and thus into the Christian culture, that criticism of sport or suggestions that sports be given a closer look often are viewed as cranky complaints by prigs who don’t know good fun when they see it,” Hoffman says. “The person who dares to ask whether the competitive ethic as celebrated in modern sports might conflict in important ways with the Christian worldview risks being labeled a ‘sport hater.’” In his new book, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports, Hoffman draws attention to both the pitfalls and the spiritual opportunities missed by the carte blanche acceptance of current sports culture by Christians, particularly evangelicals.
The main factor driving the church’s unwillingness to cast a critical eye on the culture of sports is the rise of what sports writer Frank Deford called “sportianity,” a concoction of triumphal evangelism blended with worldly Darwinian competition and crafted to appeal to those for whom a love of athletics frames their lives. This folk theology combines locker room slogans, Old Testament allusions to religious wars, athletically slanted doctrines of assertiveness and sacrifice and a cult of masculinity, backed up by cherry-picked Bible verses pre-screened to ensure they don’t conflict with sport’s reigning orthodoxies. The fundamentals of “sportianity” have been rationalized, systematized and vigorously promoted by sport-evangelism organizations, coaches at every level, ministers, laypeople and the religious press. In fact, there are few alternative systems of thinking about sports and faith in the evangelical community—until now.