But I wondered if I would ever hear a homeschooler say they had extra time and the kids were spending it on their sport.
Do some activities, such as music, have more of a positive image to Christians while others, such as sport, a negative image? Many Christians I meet have this stereotype, but why?
1. Mind/body: Is it because some things are seen as more intellectual and therefore more positive for Christians? The Protestant faith has always had an emphasis on sound intellect. And rightly so! We are reminded that we are to be transformed, not by mystical feelings or assumptions, but by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). Reading the Bible and understanding what Jesus has done for us is a positive intellectual task. But if polarized, this view downplays the physical things such as the use of the body in sport. This results in the creation of a dualism in our idea of mind and body. This is not a Biblical view but more closely linked to ancient Greek philosophy. The Greek view was that the mind is of the highest order. On the other hand, the body is seen as worldly, corrupted and negative. The problem with this Greek view is that it ignores the Bible's teaching on the incarnation (that God would become flesh, John 1 verse 14), the physical resurrection of Jesus (bodily resurrection) and the physical bodies Christians are promised in the new earth. The Bible affirms our bodies and even physical exercise ("For physical training is of some value" 1 Timothy 4 verse 8).
2. Product: Is it the usefulness of an activity that gives it a more positive Christian value? (The utilitarian argument). For example, music can be played at church during a service and is therefore seen as useful. However, a bench press during a worship service doesn't serve any purpose or utility. Does the product of an activity govern whether it is godlier than another? Another example: the idea that sport might be ok for children but they should do something more "useful" with their spare time when they grow up. Music has a long heritage in Judeo-Christian circles and has a product many people enjoy. Sport, on the other hand, doesn't produce anything useful (so the argument goes). Of course this ignores the physical, emotional and social benefits of sport.
3. Or is it the specious argument that sport is associated with negative behaviors/virtues such as drinking, cheating and gambling? It is true that sport can have links to these. For example, in Puritan times sport was actively discouraged because of its association with gambling. But this argument assumes sport has a monopoly on these negative behaviors and the church has never had any ethical problems (such as wars, divisions, sexual impurity, legalism etc). It also assumes that sport, and not the human heart, is the core of these problems.
4. Breaking the Sabbath: Or is it because sport and the Sabbath have always been negatively linked together? Sport or recreation on the Christian Sabbath (Sunday) has often been seen as breaking the fourth Commandment. For example, I have been frowned upon for running or riding my bike to church. In Scotland a few centuries ago a father found himself in trouble for rowing his family across a flooded river to get to church. But what about playing the piano at home on the Sabbath or reading Monday's paper (printed on the Sabbath). The whole argument ignores what the Sabbath really is: In Exodus 20 the Sabbath points back to God's completed work ("rest") of creation. In its other occurrence in Deuteronomy 5 it points forward to the rest God's people will find in the Promised Land. Both of these are signposts pointing to the completed work of Jesus (John 19 verse 30, 1 Timothy 1 verse 15) and the ultimate rest we find for our souls in Jesus (Hebrew 4 verse 8). Yes, we are to rest on the Sabbath and keep it for the Lord. But what this looks like needs more thought than just a blanket idea that walking more than a mile on Sunday is breaking the Sabbath.
5. Or is the competitive nature of sport frowned upon? Should Christians strive to pursue goals or is this too extreme? Does entering a race and beating others dishonour Jesus' servant doctrine? The problem with these ideas is that using our God-given gifts is a Biblical mandate and competition is not an ungodly activity, even in sport ("Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." 1 Corinthians 9 verse 24).
The church loves a winner but…
The irony is that many church leaders love an opportunity to get an elite Christian athlete to speak at their church building but frown upon a member training hard at their sport or seeing it as a ministry.
I don't have any answers, but simply make these observations as someone who has been in church leadership, studied sport sociology and also made to feel like a Christian weirdo because I exercise regularly.
I think our presuppositions influence our worldview more than our theology. And our theology is often developed more from our worldview than the Bible. The key is a deeper understanding of the Bible and the place of sport in our culture and lives.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html