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SPORTS: Taking sports captive for Christ

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–My spirits always tend to rise a little at this time of year.

Spring training is upon us. Baseball season is close. Spring is near. Life is good.

Many of you can relate — if not to baseball, then to your favorite sport. Maybe you get a little antsy near the start of football season. Maybe the thought of stepping onto the links for the first time each year gets your blood pumping a little more than usual.

I’ve been a rabid sports fan my entire life. Baseball is by far my sport of choice, but I like most others as well. My office is decorated with all kinds of baseball pictures and memorabilia. I play fantasy baseball. I read baseball books. I go to lots of baseball games.

But are such interests godly in nature? Is there a spiritual side to being a sports fan? Isn’t it easy at a ballgame to behave in a way that’s unbecoming for a Christian? How do you know where the line is between leisurely diversion and unhealthy obsession?

A recent article I read at byfaithonline.com by Peter Enns, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, articulates many of the answers to questions like these.

Like me, Enns is a rabid baseball fan. While I’m passionate about the St. Louis Cardinals, he’s equally enthusiastic about the New York Yankees. His wife even sent him to a Yankees fantasy camp for his 40th birthday.

“But here’s the rub,” Enns writes. “I am a Christian, and I sometimes have a hard time reconciling my devotion to sports, especially baseball and the Yankees in particular, and my devotion to Christ.”

Sound familiar? It certainly did to me.

But Enns has good news. Being a sports fan can actually help you think more deeply about God.

“For all we know, the Lord does not give a hoot about baseball or any sport, but he does care about us,” Enns writes. “And it is important for us to be aware of this deep connection we feel with sports and to be honest about it. It is more than just ‘fun,’ like a momentary and superficial rush of a roller coaster. For some, like me, it is a source of joy, in the same way C.S. Lewis used the word. Joy is a word he uses to describe something that sparks in us a longing for something eternal (independent of whether we realize it at the time).”

The joy that I get from hearing the crack of the bat, watching a well-executed hit-and-run or teaching my son how to hit can actually point to something infinitely more fulfilling than sports, Enns argues.

“I do not chastise myself for feeling good about something so ‘unholy’ as a sport,” he writes. “Rather, I remember … that all of creation belongs to the King, and He uses any means to remind his people that all earthly pleasures are just shadows of a much richer joy that is truly lasting. For Christians, such joy is a reminder of what we have already begun to know in Christ. For non-Christians, it is a bit of grace to show them … that their earthly source of joy will always disappoint if not fulfilled by the real thing.”

But like everything else in creation that’s good, sports can be subject to abuse. How do we know we’ve gone too far in our devotion to sports?

Enns has developed a rule for himself that when he allows the emotions of a game — good or bad — to occupy his thoughts for more than a few hours, he knows he’s gone too far. A love for sports has then become an end in itself, rather than a tool that points to a greater end.

“But the answer is not to keep away from sports,” he writes. “Rather, it is to ‘take sports captive and make them obedient to Christ.’”

Such action will help all of us in our pursuit of godliness, no matter what the season.
Tim Ellsworth is a regular columnist for BP Sports, online at www.bpsports.net. Write to him at [email protected] or visit his blog at www.timellsworth.com for additional commentary on sports, religion, culture and politics.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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