To be successful, athletes spend inordinate amounts of time conditioning. The body must not only be able to endure, it must also be able to respond. Muscle fitness and muscle memory work hand in hand to keep the athlete consistent and efficient in motion.

Paul appreciated athletics. Immersed in Hellenistic culture, athletic competition was an important part of his Roman life. Paul borrowed from the principles of sports and applied them to Christian discipline in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Success in the Christian life demands conditioning.

I in no way desire for this conversation to be a wholesale condemnation of sports. I believe sport plays a vital role in culture, health, the rejuvenation of the soul, and the enjoyment God desires for us to get out of life. Historically athletic games have played a vital role in our relationships with one another as nations. Sport has its own language. It creates a unique spirit of comradery and commonality. As a pastor I would be remiss if I did not recognize that for many young men and women, their involvement in athletics has done more to inspire their life than anything they ever found in church. Perhaps this statement alone is a worthy conversation for the week.

Yet my question is how are we being culturally conditioned by our over emphasis of sports? While America has always been a nation that loves sports, our contemporary fascination with athletes is nothing short of a phenomenon. Twenty years ago ESPN was a 24 hour sports channel that few people understood. Now it is a growing list of channels that no one can live without. Sports was at one time a 3 minute segment on the news. Now, SportsCenter has created a reality in which there is a newscast with no weather, no politics, no local stories, just sports. What does all of this say about who we are becoming, or who we already are?

I am reading a book by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical School, entitled Everyday Theology, How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. In the opening chapter Vanhoozer challenges the reader to do several things in interpreting culture: 1) Do not be overly simplistic or reductionistic with interpretation. A trite statement about sports will not be accurate nor will it suffice. We need to really think about what we are seeing and saying. Furthermore we should realize that when it comes to reading culture we must not look only at a singular issue. Athletics is a narrow topic in a much broader issue. What is happening in sports is merely a symptom of a much greater disease. 2) We need to assess how we got here, communicate what certain cultural phenomena (in our case sports) means to us, and discern where we are headed. 3) As Christians we must take responsibility to interpret culture biblically. We cannot separate our faith from any aspect of life - not even sports.

That being said, I want to share a statement from Vanhoozer's book. Before you dismiss this discussion as silly, somehow thinking that sport is amoral, that it has nothing to say about our culture, or has no implications on our faith, think about this statement. "Culture is hardly a faith free zone. On the contrary, in programming it's members to live a certain way, culture also predisposes them toward a certain kind of faith (33)." If we continue as we are with sports, thinking about them as we do, rearranging life around them as we have (ESPN), what will this do to our faith? A more relevant question may be what has become of our faith? As I cited in my last post, a strategy of Antiochus Epiphanes in Hellenizing the Jews was to replace Temple life with the gymnasium. We are being culturally conditioned by our affinity to sports. When all of this has run its course, what sort of faith will emerge? According to Vanhoozer's statement, what will our current cultural "conditioning" do to the gospel mission; in the sense of will people be more or less likely to respond to the gospel if our lives become overly saturated with sports? What will it do to the church if we continue giving up worship for tournaments? How has the practice schedule replaced the family altar and the parental responsibilities of Deuteronomy 6? What sort of faith is emerging from our conditioning in this culture of sport?


Anonymous said…
Quick note: Vanhoozer is now at Wheaton and not TEDS
Brian Branam said…
Thank you for the update/correction.

BB, Gal. 2:20

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