Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Journalist turned pastor's take on Christianity and Sports today

I came across this article a little while ago about sports journalist David White leaving his profession of 17 years to serve as pastor of Porterville Church of God. He blasts Mike Singletary, former San Francisco coach who regularly, and publicly berated his quarterbacks. On this, he writes:

Thou shalt not wear a cross around your neck if you're going to verbally wring the neck of third-string quarterbacks and local sports anchors in full public view. The Scripture says to take up your cross, not nail everyone else to one. Represent or tuck it in.

I've never been a coach before (last night's softball game probably doesn't count), nor a quarterback, so I don't know exactly how my Christian faith would move me to motivate my QB's. But a professing Christian, Singletary, known for being "old-school," perhaps crossed the line from time to time, departing from the grey area entering into the sinful black-and-white? Certainly White believes so. That's a hard call, but I think I do side with White.

He continues to attack the theology behind some of the things Christian athletes say in sports, issuing some new commandments. Check these out:

When thou tear an ACL, don't say it's because God lets everything happen for a reason. There is a reason. A 320-pound defensive tackle landed on the back of your knee.

Thou shalt not thank God when only you win, and never when you lose. What, is it his fault that 4th-and-inches call was a few yards off? Did he fumble away the game-winning interception? The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

Thou shalt absolutely not say your team won because it was God's plan. What does the Lord have against the other team?
And why should God even care in a world of suffering how our games play out?

Since Mr. White, presumably now Pastor White, comes from a different theological camp, I feel more comfortable agreeing with him if I can nuance some of these.

1.) ACL tears? Nothing happens outside God's Sovereign plan, and he does use, even our sufferings for His glory and our good. We may never know the reason, and it may not be a reason we like. But Reformed Christians do believe that God ordains much of life to fall out according to cause and effect. So its not to wrong to say, "I got hurt because a big dude landed on my knee," provided that you realize even the hairs on your head are numbered and God loves you.

2.) Winning and losing. I totally agree on this. Your team lost in large part because your team made fewer mistakes than the other team. Now most losers don't get interviewed, so they rarely have a chance to praise God before a camera even during their loss. However, the prayer huddle after games, seems an indication that folks are trying to honor Jesus despite the outcome of the game.

3.) God's plan. Was it God's plan that you won or lost? Sure in that is He all Sovereign in everything. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." So everything is ultimately dependent upon God's Sovereign plan. Yet even those who truly believe this, don't talk like this when it comes to more mundane things in life; so why do it for football?

For instance, if you get a totally bad grade on a test (provided there's no learning disabilities), you don't come home and tell Mom and Dad, "It was God's plan that I got an F" or "Well everything happens for a reason" or "God wanted me to get an F, but Johnny to get an A." All have some merit, but the most obvious and undeniable explanation is that you probably didn't study all that much, and Johnny studied more. But when it comes to sports for some reason, some well meaning Christian athletes throw out this kind of thinking feel it honors God more to chalk everything up to "God's plan."

God uses "means" like cause and effects to bring about His will on Earth, but is free to intervene any time He wants. And He does. But I don't think He necessarily does anything special like that Buffalo Wild Wings commercial, where mysterious things happen on the field (like sprinklers to trip the ball carrier) while the winning score is about to happen. God doesn't like one team over the next. I just don't think He cares as much as we think He does. I think that widows and fatherless are closer to His heart (Psalm 68:5) than those who win or lose football games.

Sometimes it can actually make folks get mad at God when they forget this truth. Sometimes it can make unbelieving folks think that God cares as much about sports as He does His plan of redemption, much less human suffering. Neither scenarios seem good.

Anyhow, I'm thankful to trust in God's Sovereignty in everything, even human decisions: yes, even human decisions to follow Jesus. Yet Calvinism does not negate human responsibility, so we need not be ashamed or feel it dishonors God when we speak in terms expressing that truth.

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