The latest issue of Anvil is now available online, with essays on Christianity and Sport.
‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’: Sport and the Point of It All
This article traces the rise of ‘modern sport’ since the middle of the nineteenth century and notes both a corresponding decline in church attendance over the same period and the use of sport in the service of religious (missionary) ends. The author asks whether sport itself may be said to have any religious dimensions. Having answered in the positive, a theology of sport is sketched with the notion of self-transcendence taken as the key idea around which such a theology might cohere. Finally, some cautionary theological observations are made regarding sport – relating to such matters as the distorting effects of competition. Sport mirrors, and perhaps sustains, some problematic notions of class, ethnicity, and gender, and its commercialisation also raises questions of which the theologian should be aware.
In Praise of Folly: Sport as Play
This paper considers the relationship between Christianity and sport under three headings, each broadly representing a different era in the relationship between religion and leisure: ‘puritanism’, ‘muscular Christianity’ and ‘sports evangelism’. It argues that each has led to impoverished experiences and understandings of sport. The first tended to condemn sport, along with other leisure activities; the second, exemplified by ‘Muscular Christianity’, tended to instrumentalise sport for moral gains, with mixed results; and the third, labelled ‘Sportianity’ by some commentators, has attempted to combine evangelism and the values of modern sport in ways that have arguably compromised both. The paper argues that a missing ingredient in each case is ‘play’ – a constituent element of any definition of sport which has so often been lost. It concludes with some practical and theological reflections on putting play back into sport.
Towards a Theology of Sport: A Proposal
This article seeks to understand sport in light of the Christian doctrine of creation. It does so by highlighting first a systematic connection between the ontology of the creature and the reality of play. Within this framework, sport is then argued to be the ritual celebration of contingency, a ritualised way in which we chime with the non-serious nature of our being. As a result, I propose that sport – though distinct from the Christian act of worship – needs to be accorded a rightful place within the life of the Sabbath-shaped creature.
‘Nearer My God to Thee?’: Theological Reflections on Mountaineering
Is mountaineering a sport, a game, or a lifestyle, and what might it have to tell us about the nature and meaning of sport? These are the questions discussed in the first part of these personal theological reflections. Central to the attraction of climbing is risk but that, the article argues, is only a simulacrum – albeit an instructive one – of the risks involved in Christian discipleship. The final section of the article argues that spiritual reflections on outdoor activities, including climbing, can be theologically and spiritually misleading both as to the nature of ‘nature’ and as to how the God who addresses us in Jesus Christ is known.