It is hard to drive anywhere in Oklahoma City without seeing some expression of support for the Oklahoma City Thunder these days. Amid the outbreak of fan (and yes, fanatical) support, it provides a great time for us to talk about if sports are compatible with Christianity.
It should be admitted up front that sports—especially at the professional level—can turn into an idol for the average fan and heap praise on ungodly athletes. On a personal level, sports can also take away time from family, prayer, Bible study and church-based service. Also, much of the commercial marketing and scantily clad cheerleaders tear away at the fabric of decent family.
It has been said that anything bad is something that was once good perverted. I think the same can be said about sports. There is a good book on this topic by Ted Kluck called, The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto. In the introduction, Kluck says, “This really is a collection of essays … about why I love sports and why I love the Gospel, and why I think you can (and should) love both of them together.”
Kluck, who co-authored the popular book, Why We Love the Church, is quick to admit some of the excesses of sports. However, he thinks, as do I, that sports has a huge redeeming value and God can be glorified in it. When a child learns to throw a ball with his father’s help for the first time, there is good in that. When a winning athlete thanks God for allowing him or her to compete, God can get the glory, too.
The movie “Facing the Giants” is an expression of this belief. The story follows an unsuccessful coach who, determined solely to win, ends up a loser. Once he shifts his focus away from winning to honor God, the team experiences a dramatic turnaround. Of course this is a fictional account, and we know the nice guys do not always win in sports.
As a big sports fan myself, I would like to offer a few ways I try to keep my appetite for sports in check, and keep our home from the filthy marketing too often associated with pro sports.
Keep the game, ditch the marketing
First, at our house, when viewing a game, we always turn the screen off on TV commercials. There are probably some cool commercials we miss in the process, but so often the marketing that goes on during sports viewing is ungodly, or at least not-family friendly. I do not need to recall Super Bowl halftime shows to prove that point.
Keep it balanced
Baptists are historically one of the best in the world at keeping Sunday set apart as the Lord’s day. Yet some communities are quick to schedule sports tournaments/events on Sundays. This is not the unforgiveable sin, but it does say something about us that we could let sports compete with church activity. Moreover, if your weekends are spent primarily glued to the game(s), it might be high time to re-evaluate your habits.
Use sports talk to lead to a “God talk”
If you listen to sports talk radio at all, you will know that you could go days on end listening without coming to a topic of eternal, or even permanent, significance. Hours are spent analyzing and re-analyzing every game, stats, replays and more. Yet many, if not most, pro-sports games will be long forgotten in the grand scheme of things.
If you hear people in your office or neighborhood talking about the big game, you can use that opportunity as a springboard to share Christ. Just look at the way Oklahoma Baptists are using the “I believe” campaign to share the Gospel. Consider also the great platform athletes such as Tim Tebow have to give glory to Christ amidst their athletic accomplishments.
Don’t just watch sports
You are familiar with the term “armchair quarterback.” You might have even met one at some point. This is the person who cannot run a mile if their life depended on it talk big about how the team should have played and what the quarterback should have done on Saturday or Sunday. Though Fantasy Football and its companions are good for fellowship and building sports knowledge, these can tend to turn us into mere consumers of sports, rather than participants.
The Apostle Paul says bodily exercise is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8) and then he calls us on to even more, by pursuing godliness like we would a prize.
So, should Christians be big sports fan? The answer is, I believe, yes.
You may have noticed that in its May 17 issue, the Baptist Messenger launched its own sports section. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. One of our main goals of the sports section was to try to put the spotlight on athletes and teams doing it right. We believe Oklahomans love their sports—and so do we. Our primary goal is to remember God and bring Him glory, even through sports.