Before even writing this review, I must make a confession. I belong to a small group at my church that is full of sports fans. In fact, our discussions are not complete unless we have had at least one sports analogy that highlights a biblical theme. So this author is writing about my people. Oh, yes, our church also runs a large self-supporting community sports program and employs a full-time sports director.
In recent years the United States has seen an influx of Christian athletes and coaches into big-time sports, as well as a heightened importance placed on sports in church programs and at Christian schools and colleges. However, as Shirl Hoffman shows, a Christian vision of sports remains merely superficial – replete with prayers before free throws and praises after touchdowns but offering little, if any, alternative vision from the secular sports culture.
Good Game retells numerous fascinating stories from the world of ancient and contemporary sports and draws upon the history of the Christian tradition to answer "What would it really mean to think Christianly about sport?"
A Scholarly Look at Sports
Shirl James Hoffman made a very thorough study of the nature of our country's involvement in sports. He also traces the ascendancy of sports from a Saturday afternoon diversion to a Sunday obsession, complete with churches sponsoring Super Bowl parties.
What surprised me was the scholarly tone of the book. Perhaps I have succumbed to the disease that has infected our churches, but I was not expecting such a deep read, requiring such effort on my part. People who relate well to statistics and facts rather than anecdotes will probably do better with this book than I did.
I was expecting a good discussion of the affect our country's sports obsession on people of faith, but not the author's conclusions. He doesn't condemn sports, but decries the church's use of sports to reach their community, as well as attempts to bring Christianity into sports competitions through public prayer and other things. Is it wrong for us to use any means possible to reach our communities? And on a scale of attention, where does obsession begin?
Good Questions to Ask of Other Disciplines
Another industry that has been usurped for application by the church in an attempt to reach out to our pop culture generation is the film industry. Churches love to condemn Hollywood, but they also love to use movies to illustrate sermon points. Indeed, several companies exist to provide just that information for pastors.
Hoffman's book focuses on sports, but I believe he is touching on something that could be addressed in many different arenas. Is there such a thing as "too worldly" for the church? When does it go overboard? He raises those questions and more, and if your thing is sports, or your thing is anti-sports, this book is for you. But don't expect the Reader's Digest version, you're going to have to dig deep and take one for the Gipper and make a Hail Mary to complete this book.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Angela read a review copy of Good Game.
About the author:
Shirl James Hoffman is Professor Emeritus of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The Executive Director of the American Kinesiology Association, he is the author of Sport and Religion and the editor of Introduction to Kinesiology: Studying Physical Activity, now in its third edition.