Book Review: In The Arena

9781433690259

 

“When sports are not approached with intentional Christ-centeredness, they are corrupted and can easily become a curse rather than a blessing.  Sports are not inherently good in a fallen world.  Like all things, sports must be redeemed and renewed in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” David Prince, In The Arena

 

In The Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship by David Prince is an excellent gift for anyone you know that plays sports, coaches, cheers, has kids, or otherwise just lives on the Earth.  I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t benefit from Prince’s look at how sports can truly be a means to celebrating the glory of God.  Roll Tide!

I have played, coached, and enjoyed sports my entire life.  In fact, when I was a kid and would get in trouble, one of my mom’s most effective strategies for behavior correction was to keep me out of practice.  I would do anything to be able to practice or play just about any sport you can think of.  Along the way of playing, coaching, and now watching my own kids develop a love of sports…I’ve seen many people who have a terribly misguided view of what sports is all about.

Prince points out, “Duty and delight are both means of exercising dominion in the world and serving under the authority of God (Luke 10:38-42).  Rightly understood, both utilitarian and nonessential competition are good gifts of God for human flourishing because the goal is not to diminish the opponent but to help him or her cultivate their skills to the highest degree.  In other words, rightly ordered competition is a means of considering one another and spurring one another on to glorify God.”  What a great way to embrace loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself!

I am grateful for the opportunity this book provided me to evaluate how I cheer at sports, my thoughts on winning and losing, and what it means to really cultivate a theology of sports in light of the gospel.  I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.  2 Corinthians 12:15
  • “I trust I need not add that in defending athletics I would not for one moment be understood as excusing that perversion of athletics which would make ti the end of life instead of merely a means in life.”  Theodore Roosevelt
  • Sporting competition is capable of reflecting God’s creative glory and design in his image bearers, and thus presents an opportunity to celebrate our unique identity in God’s world.
  • God is the only One who can create out of nothing, but as we make and shape necessary and nonessential things out of what God has made (culture making), we are capable of reflecting the truth, beauty, and goodness of our Creator God.
  • Scripture makes no attempt to sever the connection between the lesser and nonessential agony and conflict of sports from the ultimate and enterally significant agony and conflict of spiritual war.
  • We must avoid the futile tendency to separate the world into religious (sacred) and nonreligious (secular) spheres.  The responsibility of glorifying God in a fallen world does not amount to a reductionist attempt to minimize the number of activities in life that really matter.  Paul captures the corrective for this mind-set when he asserts, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.”  1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Duty and delight are both means of exercising dominion in the world and serving under the authority of God (Luke 10:38-42).  Rightly understood, both utilitarian and nonessential competition are good gifts of God for human flourishing because the goal is not to diminish the opponent but to help him or her cultivate their skills to the highest degree.  In other words, rightly ordered competition is a means of considering one another and spurring one another on to glorify God.
  • And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.  Zechariah 8:5
  • Our rootedness in this fallen world should serve our longing for rootedness in the world to come. Hebrews 11:16
  • As Christian competitors and fans, we grow to reflect God by loving particular places and people.  We share a narrative memory, a common story, that involves ultimate things, but that also involves temporary but treasured things that uniquely bind us to particular people at a particular time in history.
  • Christians who providentially grow up in areas and within families where a value and love for sports has been passed on to them must not engage in athletics as a participant or fan in a passive way but rather as those who have “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  1 Corinthians 2:2
  • The pervasive cultural interest in sports provides a particular, specific, and strategic place for Christians to be the light of the world.
  • Christians should participate in a cruciform engagement with and celebration of sports culture as capable of reflecting the truth, beauty, and goodness of God.  When Christians live daily as the salt of the earth and the light of the world, our Christian theology intersects with our geography, and we are liberated in our daily lives to do all—including sports—to the glory of God.
  • The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery provides an excellent summary of the New Testament lessons Christians should glean from athletic competition: Athletic images conjure up a number of stimulating associations, including rigorous training or exercise (1 Cor 9:25, 1 Tim 4:7-8), singleness of purpose (1 Cor 9:26), delayed gratification (1 Cor 9:25), streamlining for maximum performance (Hebrews 12:1), self-control (1 Cor 9:27), perseverance (Hebrews 12:2), and endurance (1 Tim 4:8).  Athletic endeavor also involves intense competition with lofty objectives (1 Cor 9:24) and high stakes (Ephesians 6:12), and it requires faithful adherence to a prescribed set of rules to avoid disqualification (2 Tim 2:5, 1 Cor 9:27).  In spite of all the hard work, the end result is transitory fame.  But for the Christian the crown to be won is imperishable (1 Tim 4:8, 1 Cor 9:25).
  • If you cannot delight in God with thanksgiving for a hard-fought contest when your team loses, then you are perverting God’s gift of athletics and teaching those around him to do the same.  Christian parent, if you cannot root like crazy with your children for your favorite team—only to see them lose—and afterward laugh and play in the yard with your kids, you have  problem; it’s called idolatry.
  • If your behavior at a game would make it awkward for you to shift the conversation to your faith in Christ, you are making an idol of sports.
  • “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” Abraham Kuyper
  • I believe that the Christian with a rightly ordered, Christ-centered worldview is uniquely in a position to enjoy athletic competition as a good gift from God and his or her sports loyalties as a demonstration of providential rootedness in time, place, family, and community.
  • Every decision we make regarding sports communicates to our children what we value as ultimate.
  • Everybody is not a winner, and Christian parents ought to be willing to fight for our children’s right to lose.
  • Over-praising children detached from achievement on the athletic field (and everywhere else) encourages them to live based on an image and makes them fearful they might be exposed as not being so special, smart, talented, beautiful, and gifted.  Such parenting makes children inordinately self-conscious, fearful, and frequently discontent.
  • A gospel-centered approach to parenting that cultivates a biblical worldview will not abandon honest conversation about the child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Athletic competition exposes character in a way that a diligent Christian parent or coach can seize upon to instruct the athlete to help develop his or her character and a gospel-centered worldview.
  • Our discipleship must seek to make a biblical worldview and the gospel of Jesus Christ more intelligible to our children as they compete in sports.  In order to achieve that goal, sports participation trophies will have no place of pride in our homes and we must fight for our children’s right to lose.
  • Courage and calculated risk-taking are casualties of our contemporary safety-centric worldview.  Sadly, evangelicals seem to be leading the movement to train bravery and adventure out of our children in favor of a cult of safety.
  • The Christian involved in athletics should pursue victory with self-sacrificial zeal to the glory of God, but that pursuit should be rightly understood as momentary and subordinate when compared to what is eternal and ultimate.
  • The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  Ecclesiastes 12:13
  • When sports are not approached with intentional Christ-centeredness, they are corrupted and can easily become a curse rather than a blessing.  Sports are not inherently good in a fallen world.  Like all things, sports must be redeemed and renewed in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Sports are:
  • a gift of God
  • a manifestation of cultural rootedness
  • a competitive manifestation of the performing arts
  • an opportunity for worship
  • a testing ground that exposes character
  • an opportunity for witness
  • helpful but not ultimate
  • not one’s source of identity p. 144

 

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