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Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports
Author: Shirl James Hoffman
Publisher: Baylor University Press
Length: 341 pp.

Christianity and sports often appear to have a seamless marriage.  We hear sports analogies used in sermons, applaud athletes who mention God in their interviews, and cite sports as a building ground for character.  Shirl James Hoffman, a former coach and current professor of kinesiology, addresses the concept of “sportianity,” a term borrowed from a seminal Sports Illustrated article.

He poses some hard questions about the nature of fans to idolize the athlete and their activity, and the tendency to look the other way when participants bend the rules in order to succeed.  He examines the “faith in fitness” movement, and questions whether programs like Upward Youth Sports are achieving their desired effect.  He wonders about the participation of Christians in violent sport, and takes a hard look at whether this activity should be accepted by the church at large.

One concept that is posed: we consistently hear athletes invoking God’s name when things go well.  It is very rare that we do when the athletes suffer disappointment.  If we are promised failure and struggle in the Bible, would it not then behoove the athlete to acknowledge this and glory in it as well?  Hoffman’s contention is that this would be the true moment to witness to others, and that it rarely occurs.

Good Game challenges many of the traditional ideas concerning sports and Christianity, and does a very detailed study in the history of sports within the church, including exegesis of the passages in the Bible that seem to refer to athletic activity.  It is a book that is well thought out, logically argued, and one that causes any lover of sports (and of God) what the proper place and function of sports should be within our lives.  As a former sportswriter, coach, player, and referee, it certainly posed some questions for me to examine.  The only drawback, if there is one, is that it may be written a little too much in an academic tone, and the general public may not find it as accessible as they would like.

Brian A. Smith



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