Sports Theology (Playing Inside Out), Greg S. Smith, Indianapolis, Dog Ear Publishing, 2010. ISBN: 978-160844-3-338
Review by Stuart Weir (Verite Sport Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is an outstanding book – one of the best I have read for years. It makes a serious contribution to understanding sport from a Christian perspective. It has 176 pages in ten chapters.
An early quote sets the scene: “Christian athletes have personal value, not from their own accomplishments, but because God loves them so much that he sacrificed his only Son”. The result is that “The Christian athlete is free from the need of temporal approval or the accolades from individual performance. Spiritually, these athletes are satisfied by God’s love and have plenty to give to the team”.
The author states: “The premise of this book is that Christianity can help athletic performance”. Don’t react negatively to that statement. It is as far as it can be from any sense of “God made me win”. What he is saying is rather that a Christian athlete who understands that his significance is not based on their performance in the game is free to compete without stress.
A good example of how he argues against any kind of performance driven identity is: “Athletes who allow their performance to ‘mean everything’ are setting themselves up to perform out of fear. Christian athletes, on the other hand, know that their value does not come from performance. They know that God loves them unconditionally and that their value is demonstrated by the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. They perform to glorify their value, not earn it”. And again “Christian athletes are motivated to glorify God through performance; they are not forced (driven) to perform”.
In the UK there has been a concern among sports coaches that a player who becomes a Christian will lose his motivation. Smith nails that one too: “It would be a mistake to think that Christian athletes perform with less determination because they are pursuing spiritual fulfilment”.
He uses the example of a golfer standing over a three-foot put, arguing that a three-foot putt is mechanically no more difficult if it is to win a tournament than in a practice round. It is rather that the pressure of what it means makes it seem harder. This is where the Christian has an extra dimension: “The Christian athlete plays with a sense of peace and contentment that does not rely on the outcome of a putt or any other play or shot. They are complete and fulfilled through God’s love no matter the outcome”.
We may be familiar with the concept of playing for an audience of one. Smith takes this a stage further as we are invited to understand that “Christian athletes do not just perform knowing that God is watching them; they perform with the Holy Spirit in them”.
To sum up the thesis of the book is that for the Christian athlete:
Winning is not about coming in first but rather is about competing as a representative of Christ:
Playing with the right sports theology allows athletes to see performance for what it really is and therefore allows them to play the game;
Sports theology enables athletes to understand that they are created in God’s image, which changes their view of themselves, performance and life.
This review does not do justice to the book. Get it and read it!