Good Game by Shirl James Hoffman

March 20, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

Christian athletes who feel compelled to pray for outcomes in sports contests, then, are caught in this trap: they must either ask God, in a most un-Christian-like way, to limit his blessings by granting them the victory; ask God to allow opponents to win and work to achieve that end, thus undermining the spirit of the game; or ask God to grant victory to their opponents but work hard to prevent that from happening, thus making a mockery of their prayers. It seems to me that the only way this puzzle can be solved is for athletes to refrain from praying altogether about the results of contests other than that they will result in profound joy being brought to the players’ lives.

Good Game, p. 259

Synopsis (taken from publisher): 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 critiques, a Christian vision of sport 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.

In his new book Good Game, Shirl Hoffman, Executive Director of the American Kinesiology Association, retells numerous fascinating stories from the world of ancient and contemporary sports and draws on the history of the Christian tradition to answer “What would it really mean to think Christianly about sport?” He challenges Christians to thoughtfully consider topics like:

  • The Killer Instinct—what is the true cost of competition?
  • Building and Sacking the Temple—why Christians should avoid violent sports…including football!
  • Sport and the Sub-Christian Values—do competitive sports really develop character?
  • Touchdowns and Slam Dunks for Jesus—how sports evangelism alters the gospel
  • Prayers Out of Bounds—why the athletic field is not the place for prayer

Review (mine): This is a very long (300+ pages), dense and thoughtful book. I didn’t always agree with the arguments Hoffman set forth, but he does an excellent job at thinking critically about a topic that needs further exploration – namely the intersection between Christian faith and sports.  A point that Hoffman often comes back to is that Christians have been influenced by sports more than the other way around.

The first half of this book is a history of the church’s relationship with sports. This was an important section, though I found it hard to get through at times. It felt more like a book I would read for class rather than for pleasure. The second half of the book was more contemporary and tackled the issues bulleted above. I enjoyed this section much more and would recommend reading it first if you are interested in this treatise and don’t have time to go through the whole thing.

Overall, I found this book well-researched (the bibliography is massive) and necessary. Hoffman is an expert on the topic of faith and sports. He uses many stories and anecdotes across generations that I had either never heard or were buried in my mind and does a masterful job weaving it all together. Sports need to be brought into the conversation between Christ and culture. Hopefully, this book will open some much-needed dialogue regarding some insidious aspects of sports and competition. It gets into some solutions at the end, but just being aware and surfacing issues is an important first step.

Rating: 5/5 (Would be excellent required reading for seminary classes.)

The book was provided for review by The B&B Media Group. To learn more about this book or purchase on Amazon, click here.

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