A brief theology of sport (book review)

By Lincoln Harvey
SCM Press. 152 pages. £19.99
ISBN 978 0 334 044 185

(view original article here)

I must begin with some of the author’s 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 the light of the good news of Jesus Christ’ (p.113).

Amen. As a recreational sailor with some sporty siblings, and a passing acquaintance 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 little book that opens up an often ignored conversation to interested readers.

Noting the similarities between sport and religion, Harvey divides his book into two parts. Firstly, we are treated to ‘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 Church, 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 constructively.

Enjoying the unserious

In 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 section is perhaps challenging for some: one notable chapter is entitled ‘The Liturgical Celebration of Contingency’, but Harvey is an assured and gospel-centred author. It is worth noting that Harvey grounds 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, I was encouragingly reminded of G. K. Chesterton, and I was struck by his assertion 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 shows the tone and posture of this informative book. I would have liked to see 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 warmly recommend this book to those seeking to think about sport, leaders in CIS groups, or those leading particularly sporty small groups!

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe for monthly updates