Rethinking Sports Evangelism – Revisited

A few weeks ago I published a post titled: Rethinking Sports Evangelism.  I launched that post with a question about the profession of faith by ousted Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel.  I stated I did not know if Tressel is actually a Christian or not. I then moved on to consideration of the common objectives in evangelizing and discipling athletes, particularly high profile athletes.

Now I have found that former NFL player Jason Wright has offered some thoughts on the subjects of Jim Tressel and the relationship of Christianity and sports.

To answer my question about Tressel’s faith, Wright – who would know better than I – offers:

I believe Jim Tressel loves God. I believe he has faith that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. I also believe that he has a real personal relationship with the one true God. During my time playing for the Cleveland Browns, I was repeatedly told of the stellar job he did representing the faith at churches, parachurch fundraisers, and other Christian gatherings. I’ve heard equally positive reports from his former players. And I don’t think he was faking.

I am glad. I feel better knowing that.  And I have no reason to doubt anything Wright writes.

But it is what else Wright writes that is most intriguing.  As the title of the post reveals, Wright suggests: We Share Responsibility for Coach Tressl’s Fall.

This is a great and insightful post for Christian sports enthusiasts, well worth a few moments to read.

Al Mohler is Right

I wonder, have I stepped into a beehive?  I have yet to get any flack but I wonder if it is coming.  I posted an article on my Facebook page titled: “Let’s Be Honest, A Lot of Christians Are Guilty of Homophobia“.

The article is in defense of the defense Southern Seminary president Albert Mohler gave about comments he made about homosexuality:

The Associated Press quotes Mohler as saying that homosexuality isn’t something that people can “turn on and turn off.” Mohler went on to say that “only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ gives a homosexual person any hope of release from homosexuality.”

At the SBC Convention earlier this month Mohler was challenged to answer for his comments. His words of defense were:

“I made those statements. They are not alleged statements. I made them.”

According to reports, he then went on to outline how Southern Baptists had been homophobic and had misrepresented homosexuality. Mohler even called the Southern Baptists to repentance on the issue. However, he did all of this while maintaining that homosexuality is a sin that needs a Savior. One report…  said that the convention responded with applause.

On my Facebook post I commented that what Mohler said is also true in my denomination, the PCA, and is true of many Evangelicals.  Shoot, if I am honest with myself, it is probably true of me to some degree.  But the suggestion that some responses to homosexuality are themselves sinful is not tantamount to condoning homosexuality or the Gay Rights Agenda.

I appreciate what the author of the article pondered:

What did Albert Mohler say that was so outrageous? Was it the part about Jesus being the only Savior from sin? Was it the claim that our sinful nature goes beyond a simple choice? Any orthodox Christian should affirm salvation from our sin through Jesus and that we can’t simply decide to turn off our sinful nature.

That’s the thing. What is wrong with what Mohler said?  Is homosexuality merely a “choice”?  No doubt it is a choice in many respects. One can choose to indulge the desire or choose not to indulge the desire, just as with many expressions of sin.  It is this ability to choose that makes nonsense of the assertions that the Gay Agenda is somehow equivalent with the Civil Rights Movement of the Mid-Twentieth Century.  Folk could not choose to be Black of not.  Folks can choose sexual behavior.

However, what Mohler is pointing out is that sin is more than our behavior. However sin is expressed it is first  a condition of the heart and mind.  While choosing to not engage is preferable to hedonistic indulgence. it does not rid anyone of the condition or the consequential penalty. The wages of sin are death… Period.  This is true even if we suppress every inclination.

What Mohler is pointing out is that homosexuality is far more complex than a “choice” to act out on its desires and physical attractions.  He is reminding Christians that we need to recognize the true nature of sin – homosexuality and all types of sin.  And he is challenging us to realize we need a radical remedy. Fortunatley we have one. Mohler also reminds us of the power of the Gospel.

So, will I get any flack for concurring and posting the article supporting Mohler and his views.  Maybe a little.  But probably only from a few.  And hopefully not from anyone who actually takes the time to read the article.

Trophy Kids

Who would have thunk it? Parents being obedient to their kids.  It seems to be a growing phenomena.

I have been noticing it increasingly over the past several years.  Parents whose lives revolve around the unceasing activities of their kids – especially sports.  Parents desperate for the approval of  their children, and fearing rejection.  Parents who let their children decide matters like what the family will eat for dinner, and where (or if) the family will attend church. I don’t know how many times in recent years I have heard a parent confessing: “He/She does not want to come.  He/She says it’s not fun.”

In one sense I can understand the dilemma.  No conscientious parent wants to alienate their child.  Social scholars have for years pointed out the dangers of un-attuned parenting.  The Bible warns against exasperating our children. (Ephesians 6.4) Some translations use the words irritate, provoke, or embitter as things we parents are to avoid.  And we have seen the effects of some previous generations that seem to have been guilty of those very things.  Perhaps you even experienced it yourself.  So many parents have made conscious efforts to engage their children, to become involved in their lives, to sacrifice for them.  All noble intentions and ideals. Maybe even godly.

But sometimes it seems as if the pendulum has swung too far.  The parents stop parenting.  Instead, the aim for some seems to be to gain BFF status.  They become indulgent because, as we all know, the best way to win any campaign or pageant is to be “liked”.

Here I do not even have in mind those parents who seem to be trying to relive their own childhood and teens years vicariously through their children.  No, I am talking about mature adults – godly folks, who have a genuine love for their children.    Folks who coach t-ball.  Soccer moms.  Chaperones for the middle school dances.  I am talking about people I respect and admire.  I have in mind people whose desire it is to leverage their popularity with their kids to instill values, even faith. What harm could there be in that?

No doubt conscientious parenting involves interaction, effort, and time.  So I am not criticizing those things. In fact, I have made those things priorities in my own parenting.  But an article in the July 2011 edition of The Atlantic, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, prompted me to reflect on some of the trends in parenting I have been observing.  In short, the author of the piece, Lori Gottlieb, suggests that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of compliant parenting.

Continue reading

Steak on a Paper Plate

Steak on a Paper Plate

I am not sure I agree with everything he says, but Trevin Wax offers some very insightful thoughts worth considering about contemporary worship wars:

More and more churches are focusing on the centrality of the Word in worship.
The resurgence of Reformed theology among younger evangelicals, the reestablishment of a rock-solid belief in the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures…, the revival of expository preaching… this wave that we’re riding is about to collide with an even bigger wave: the dominance of contemporary worship styles across the U.S. and the world.
For many churches, the biggest requirement for a “worship set” is novelty. We’re aiming for an experience. So we put together a worship service that is more influenced by the latest hits on Christian radio than by theology or history.
We also try to put people at ease. “Good morning… Let’s try that again, GOOD MORNING!” There’s a chatty, street-level style of worship that has become prevalent in evangelicalism. And I’m not sure how our pursuit of novelty and casualness in worship is going to mesh with hearing the Word of God expounded upon in all its glory.
Can a contemporary, casual service bring worshippers face to face with the glory of God in a way that buttresses and upholds the magnificent truths being expounded from the Word? I think the answer is yes, but not always.
It’s like eating steak on a paper plate.
My wife is an excellent cook. Her Romanian dishes dazzle my tastebuds, and her American cooking is terrific too. In the past couple of months, she has been using paper plates frequently. I understand why. We don’t have a dishwasher. She wants to save time setting the table, and she doesn’t want me washing dishes after dinner. Paper plates are easy and disposable.
But after a few weeks of paper plates, I told my wife, “Your cooking is too good for paper plates.” Slapping down a hot dog and baked beans on a paper plate in the middle of summer is just fine. But when my wife makes her famous pork chops and rice, or her Romanian cabbage rolls, or steak and mashed potatoes, paper plates just don’t cut it. I said, “Let me wash the dishes. But at least give us dishes!”
When it comes to worship, we are frequently told that form doesn’t matter. Style is not what’s important. I get that. I’m not downing contemporary music or advocating a return to liturgy, organs and hymns. I’ve been in contemporary worship services that have put me on my knees before the holiness and majesty of God. Cultural forms adjust and adapt.
But in worship today, there is a tendency toward casualness. The emphasis on feeling God’s closeness in worship may short-circuit the possibility of being transformed by a glimpse of the Transcendent One. There’s hardly any room for feeling awe in worship, and I can’t help but think that part of our problem is the form.
Form and content mirror one another. A church with serious Bible preaching is going to have a serious worship service (contemporary or traditional isn’t what matters, but serious it will be). A church with a feel-good preacher is going to have peppy, feel-good music.
Christians need to sense the weight of God’s glory, the truths of God’s Word, the reality of coming judgment, and the gloriousness of God’s grace. Trying to package the bigness of this God into most casual worship services is like trying to eat steak on a paper plate. You can do it for awhile, but at some point, people will start saying, “I want a dish.”
Trevin Wax is an Editor at LifeWay Christian Resources, and former Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, TN. This article appeared on his blog, Kingdom People – Living on Earth as Citizens of Heaven and is used with permission. I first read this piece on The Aquila Report.

Rethinking Sports Evangelism

I had no idea disgraced ex-Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel professed to be a Christian.  I have no idea if in actuality he is or not.  But Tom Krattenmaker of CNN has penned a poignant piece, Jim Tressel Should Make Us Rethink Sports Evangelism, that might make some suspect perhaps Tressel could not possibly be.

Krattenmaker makes some valid points.  But  I don’t think that we should conclude from what he writes that, in light of his professional indescrtetions,Tressel is somehow disqualified from being a Christ follower. Flawed, certainly.  Disqualified, certainly not.  After all, any honest perusing of the Bible will reveal that all of God’s children are at least a little… well, warped.  Christianity is not fundamentally about those who profess Christ being good, but rather about God being good, just, and gracious to those who are not good enough.   But Krattenmaker’s article does give me reason to pause when thinking about our cultural tendency to deify athletes – then discard them when they no longer serve our purposes.  He has caused me to rethink how we might approach athletes with the gospel.

I have recently begun serving as chaplain of the Bristol White Sox, the Appalachian League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  It is an enjoyable ministry opportunity, and one I am familiar with. I served this same roll with one of the the Houston Astros farm teams several years ago.  And I pinch hit for the then-chaplain here in Bristol last Summer, when he was experiencing some health issues. So this article makes me rethink what it is that I want to do with the ball players I will interact with these next few months.

Here are some of my random thoughts about the subject:

1. The focus needs to be on encouraging heartfelt following of Christ, not putting athletes on a pedestal or soap box.  While there is truth that people will more readily listen to a professional athlete than some Joe off the street, this does not make the athlete any more qualified than the Ordinary Joe to be an ambassador of Christ.  In fact, in some ways this whole notion of propping up Christian athletes as spiritual role models seems contrary to the example of the Apostle Paul, if not even the gospel.  Paul noted that among the Corinthians that not many of them were anything special, as the world sees it. (1 Corinthians ) The pattern of early Christianity was not to target the great, but to serve the weak and ordinary masses.  Much of the power of the movement was that God took these Nobodies and made them his people.  I wonder if we have lost some of the culture changing power because we have shifted our focus.

2. The propping up of the Christian athlete as a celebrity does not seem to do the athlete any real favors either.  The message to them is contrary to the gospel. We tell them: “Be great in the world so that you can do great things for God.”  Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be great must be the least…”  That seems to be a pretty drastic difference.  Is it any wonder that many of these athlete-heroes stumble and disappoint us?  We have been directing them down the wrong path for spiritual formation.  We prop them up, send them out, watch them fizzle and then discard them for the newest model.

It’s not that star athletes should be excluded from public ministry. But it seems we would be much wiser to encourage personal spiritual formation, even at the exclusion of the pubic forum. In the long run we do the athlete  more good  equipping them with a faith that will serve as a foundation both for the challenges of their career and the challenges of the rest of their lives.  As they grow in genuine godliness they will influence for the better those who are around them. Maybe most will never speak to the masses, but so what?  Scores of faithful men will in time make more impact than one or two celebrity speakers.  And a few will still have both the stature and the opportunity in the Public Square.

I remember reading years ago that after Hall of Fame hoopster Julius Erving (aka: Dr J) became a Christian, his spiritual mentor instructed him not to “go public” for one year.  Some would probably mistake this for hiding, maybe even being ashamed of the gospel.  But I see this as wisdom. Dr. J’s mentor cared enough about him as a man that he wanted to take the time to see a firm foundation built.

By removing the emphasis of the spotlight we better serve the athletes and minimize the public disappointments like those Krattenmaker mentions.

Gone to the Beach

Headed to Virginia Beach for the week. No, it’s not a vacation.  I am going as a Commissioner for the 39th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.

General Assembly is a great time to catch up with old friends, but more importantly we oversee the work of the denomination. (We’re a different group than the ones getting the headlines recently for their compromise of Biblical authority and marital fidelity. That’s the PCUSA.)

For those interested, Webcasts of General Assembly events can be accessed and viewed by clicking: PCA GA 2011.

I hope to resume posting again next week.