- Sport and Christianity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives ed. by Nick Watson and Andrew Parker
Those who follow American football are familiar with Tim Tebow, the Heisman trophy-winning quarterback from the University of Florida who went on to play professional football with both the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets. While well-known for his football prowess, Tebow attained additional visibility from his act of prayer, which became known as "Tebowing." In this collection of readings, editors Nick Watson and Andrew Parker seek to examine the relationship between sport and Christianity, such as the relationship embodied by Tebow, from both historical and contemporary perspectives. The book includes contributions from notable scholars including several with extensive publications on sport and Christianity.
As the title suggests, the book is organized in two distinct sections. The editors begin Part I with a historical overview of the topic, "Mapping the Field" from the mid nineteenth century through the current day. Watson and Parker identify "pioneering scholars" in Christianity and sport, singling out individuals like Michael Novak and Shirl Hoffman for beginning the spadework that helped spawn an expansive field of study. The editors continue with an analysis of several areas: theologies of play in sport; Muscular Christianity and sports ministry; theological (and psychological) ethics in sport. They conclude by suggesting emerging and necessary research lines including: a theological analysis of disability [End Page 519] sport; the use of prayer in sport; and theological reflection on exercise and health. The chapter includes a table with academic research centers and study groups, books on sport and Christianity, sport ministry and chaplaincy organizations, and even movies with sports-Christian themes. Following an extensive list of notes, the authors include thirty-three pages of bibliographical references.
In New Testament scriptures, the apostle Paul utilized the popularity of athletics to make theological points. In his chapter on Pauline athletic metaphors, Victor Pfitnzer examines that nature of Paul's sporting rhetoric. In the course of his essay, Pfitnzer provides a context of both Paul and his respective culture, asking the question, "Was St. Paul really interested in sports?" Pfitnzer contends, "Where the Hellenistic world pictures the idealized runner as the achiever, Paul says that the common experience of divine compassion 'depends not on human will or exertion . . . but on God who shows mercy' (Romans 9:16)" (p. 105).
In the third chapter, Hugh McLeod continues with a historical gaze, examining the relationship between sport and religion in England from 1790-1914. His essay provides a backdrop to the Muscular Christianity movement, noting the previous distinction between the "sportsman" and the "serious Christian." English public schools became an integral part in the relationship and in the 1850s sport permeated the systems in attempts to enhance "manliness" and other qualities of desired character. The clergy provided support as well and, on occasion, football and rugby clubs originated from religious organizations. McLeod concludes with several areas of tension between sport and Christianity: the rise and impact of professionalism; gambling; sport and the Sabbath; and the rise of sport as a new religion.
Shirl Hoffman focuses on the rise of what he terms "sport evangelism," whereby Christian church theologians and pastors began to increasingly view sport "as a tool for evangelizing the masses" (p. 134). Hoffman notes the influence of retired baseball player turned evangelist Billy Sunday and the connection between Billy Graham's revival meetings and elite athletes. This movement continued to grow in an organizational fashion through sport ministry programs such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action, the National Christian College Athletic Association, and evangelical institutions such as Oral Roberts University and Liberty University. Hoffman argues that, for the most part, the evangelical sport movement uses sport for its own purposes, while remaining silent or ignoring what Hoffman contends is the "downward spiral in the moral climate of big-time sports" (p. 147).
In his essay, Robert Higgs examines religion and American sport in terms of stereotypes and archetypes. The author moves from Greek ideals and notions of...