Book Review: A Brief Theology of Sport

I must begin with some of the authors closing words:

We are nowhere near speaking the final word on the subject. Instead, we are hopefully igniting a debate, encouraging Christians to think through the question of sport in light of the good news of Jesus Christ’ (p. 113)

Amen. As a recreational sailor with some incredibly sporty siblings, and a passing acquaintance as an undergraduate with  the invaluable ministry of Christians in Sport, I was eager to get my hands on Lincoln Harvey’s ‘A Brief Theology of Sport’. This is a very helpful, concise little book that opens up an often ignored conversation to interested readers.

Noting throughout the similarities between sport and religion, Harvey divides his book into two parts. Firstly, we are treated to his ‘Historical Soundings’, as he surveys  the link between ancient sports and religion, before moving through classical sports to the view of the early Church. This section concludes with valuable case studies, examining sport in relation to the Medieval Catholic Chruch, and closing with a fascinating consideration of ‘Sport, Puritans and Muscular Christians’. With the groundwork laid – and this section is peppered with helpful illustrations and observations – Harvey moves on to think about some constructive theology.

The second part of this book are the ‘Analytic Soundings’, and it is here that the central arguments of the book are illuminated. It is worth mentioning that this part of the book is perhaps  a little more challenging for some readers – one notable chapter is entitled ‘The Liturgical Celebration of Contingency: A Brief Theology of Sport’, but Harvey is an assured and gospel-centred guide to the issues raised. It is worth noting that Harvey grounds a great deal of his discussion in what he identifies as our ‘deepest identity as the ones freely loved into existence by God’ (p. 88). A closing chapter deals with seven key thoughts regarding sport and Christian living, which are thoughtful and comprehensive, in my reading.

Once Harvey got going with the analytical element of his work, I was encouragingly reminded of G. K. Chesterton. I was struck by Harvey’s observation that ‘All Christians should enjoy being unserious in some way or other. Sport is a great way to do it’(p. 108). This observation regarding seriousness, joy, and the Christian life reflects the tone and posture of this informative little book. I would have liked to see a little more reflection on the competitive nature of  sport, but there is much to affirm and celebrate in Harvey’s call to ‘commentate on sport’, because, ultimately, sport is, in his words, ‘a wonderfully unnecessary but internally meaningful way to chime with their own unnecessary but meaningful life as creatures of God’ (p. 113). I would warmly recommend this book to those seeking to think theologically about sport, and to leaders in CIS groups, or those leading particularly sporty small groups!

 

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