Book Review by Scott J Watson- Former CSRM Board of Trustee
A former student developed a motto when she was in the seventh grade. “Stay human friends“.
In his books Characters of the Bible: Finding my Stories in Their Stories, and Holiday Characters of the Bible: author David Waddell allows readers to consider what it is like to be fully human.
The story of Waddell is the story of all of us. Cut from the cloth of the wonderfully flawed, David Waddell is honest, vulnerable and always humorous as he details his various successes and failures to date. It would be so easy to judge but his honesty and tone allow the reader to see so much of themselves in every story.
So what of the Bible characters? David, Moses and Joseph were human – though time seems to have deified them. Chapter by chapter, Waddell tells a tale about his life- like the time as a young man he was found to be in a women’s bathroom. The Bible is full of stories about people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. And each chapter reintroduces the reader to a character and provides a laugh and lesson as well.
Waddell’s book is an easy and fun loving read. It is appropriate for anyone age 12 and up. It would serve as a useful teaching tool for parents who struggle to make biblical concepts relevant to the cell phone generation. It also can serve to renew and freshen the faith of “hardened believers”. Frankly, Waddell has crafted a book short on theory and long on practical ideas and stories that allow us to “stay human”. It's a very useful read.
Those in sports ministry can synthesize the lessons for coaches and participants alike. Chapters could also be easily summarized and used for chapel services before or after sports ministry events. The book is published by West Bow Press and is available through CSRM for $24.95 and would make a great pre-Christmas (or other holiday) read.
Book Review - by Dr. Greg Linville
In The Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship
In the Arena is a good book…perhaps the best of its genre to be released this year. Unlike many authors of books designed to integrate faith and sport, David Prince is rare, in that he combines a baseball player’s and football coach’s “solid grip” of the sporting experience, with a biblically-based comprehension of the theological and ethical issues of sport. The book sometimes reads like a personal biography of his and his family’s sporting experiences; sometimes like a bible exposition; and at times delves into a bit of “hero-worship,” but remains throughout a most engaging treatise.
Chapter #1 – Sports Matter
This is a solid chapter and at the risk of sounding rather arrogant, it would appear that Prince sat in my classes or read my writings, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I heartily recommend not only this chapter but the entire book. I have two basic concerns about the content of this chapter: a) the lack of a comprehensive and systematic theological apologetic for competition; and b) it seems as if Prince is stating the only way sport can be fully participated in by a Christian would be if all athletes and coaches were Christians and adhering to Christmanship.” Regardless, most readers will find this chapter enlightening and helpful in conceptualizing their sporting endeavors. Prince rightly understands playing sports is not sinful, and individuals can retain a joy even during or after a loss. These are found among many other keen insights that will serve to greatly enhance all reader’s sporting experiences.
Chapter #2 – Sports and Fandom
I found the most powerful spiritual insight of this chapter was connecting the analogy of the desire to be a member of a group of fans with each person’s desire to be part of a community…a family. Prince does a masterful job of relating this in-born desire to be a pre-cursor of our need to be in God’s family. Another strong section of the book extols the virtues of baseball…particularly honing in on the absolute beauty of a child and a parent (dare it be said in today’s society a dad and a son) playing catch with their mitts and baseball. I’ve personally experienced the blessing of being able to play catch with both my dad and my son (and of course with my mom and my daughter) and thus can affirm his emphasis on how sports can bind the generations together.
The most troubling section in this chapter however, has to do with his statements on football (American football) not being violent. Simply put, as it is currently coached, played and officiated, it is violent (along with a few other sports) and no amount of re-engineering the argument will change the fact millions of injuries occur, including many that end with severe disabilities and death. Simply put, American football does not adhere to the Christmanship “Honor Code” rubric and cannot be defended as currently organized, coached, played and officiated.
Chapter #3 – Sports and Spiritual Warfare
There is much to like in this chapter…not least of which is Prince’s short overview of some of the Greek words found in the original Bible texts that have sporting roots. If there is an overall critique of this chapter it is nothing more than it doesn’t go deep or far enough in unpacking this most important aspect of thinking theologically about sport. There are two specific points that do cause me problems. I do not agree with Prince when he states: a) sports are trivial; and b) that God created sport. Sports are no more trivial than any other vocation, pastime or passion; they have immense worth and value, in and of themselves. Also, God did not create sport but rather created the possibility of humankind inventing sport. The first critique points out a profound and significant foundational tenet of any theology of competition and sport, whereas the second is a more minor clarification
Chapter #4 – Sports and Christian Discipleship
I have significant issues with Chapter #4. The first is, I believe it is mistitled…a rather minor critique when “all is said and done.” I say this because it doesn’t so much explain the inter-relationship between sports and Christian discipleship as it does share some great tips on how parents can engage with their children about ethical issues surrounding faith and sport. The second critique has to do with the inaccuracy concerning Eric Liddell’s sister. Having done extensive research on Liddell including interviewing many people including Liddell’s daughter and a fellow prisoner-of-war camp member, I know for a fact that Jennie Liddell was an ardent supporter of her brother’s athletics. The movie simply used a theatrical license to use Jennie to voice the collective voice of many who did not support his athletics. She loved and was Eric’s biggest fan.
The most significant issue in this chapter has to do with church involvement and sport. This book review is not the place or format to discuss this in depth but I would be remiss if I didn’t call all readers to study this issue in depth including (at the risk of seeming to be self-serving) picking up the books, blogs and articles I’ve written about this topic. Prince takes one strong step in (rightly) insisting his own children participate in church on the Lord’s Day…forgoing any game or practice that a team may have. Yet, to say sports take precedence over church activities the other six days a week is treading on very dangerous ground.
Chapter #5 – Sports and Self Esteem
Much more than discussing self-esteem, this chapter drips with sage wisdom and demonstrates Prince’s sweet spot…communicating how parents can help their children navigate the turbulent waters of youth sports. I’m particularly in agreement with his comments regarding “every child is a winner” and about co-gender sports activities for kids. I believe these are two of the key fundamentals of a truly Christo-centric theological foundation for sport. True self esteem can only emerge from being created in the image of God, not sporting endeavors and that image is both male and female…but while similar, each gender is very unique and a church’s sports outreach should recognize this and administrate its sporting endeavors accordingly.
Chapter #6 – Sports and Safety
Again, there is much good in this chapter…many great insights, but I’m troubled by much of this chapter. It’s not an either / or proposition. It’s not: a) have dangerous sport which produces strong faith or b) have safe sport which produces weak faith. Safer sport can indeed challenge and produce strong faith. This is where having a systematic theology of competition which leads to biblically-based sport which in turn produces opportunities for faith development is clearly needed. Understanding the “Honor Code for Determining Biblically Defensible Sports” provides the needed theological structure from which to envision a true “Christmanship” ethic for all sports.
Chapter #7 – Sports and the Church
This chapter tells two great stories. The first is about Prince’s coach who made a profound impact on his life. The second is the inspirational story about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Readers looking for inspiration will find it. Readers looking for insights into sports and The Church, will need to look elsewhere.
Prince wraps up his book by outlining eight summary statements concerning sport and faith. They are helpful but fall short of a compelling and comprehensive foundation of the theology of sport.
New Concept Found in this Book
There may some things that are new to those who have just started down the road of integrating sport and faith, and certainly there are a number of helpful insights that may be new to parents of youth sports participants, but overall the only truly new concept Prince reveals is his use of the analogy of the desire to be a member of a group of fans with each person’s desire to be part of a community…a family. Prince does a masterful job of relating this in-born desire to be a pre-cursor of our need to be in God’s family.
Points of Agreement
Points of Contention
The following points of contention can best be understood by the phrase: “I detest criticism but love critique.” These points are not judgmentally critical but rather offered as supportive critiques as in the spirit of the “loyal opposition.”
Simply put: Born to Play is the most excellent and succinct book of its kind! Authors Stuart Weir & Graham Daniels combine a lifetime of sporting experience, personal reflections, conversations with competitors and interactions with thinkers, researchers and theologians into a concise primer on how to compete in the image of Jesus. This is a must read for all athletes and coaches who proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior.
This book is not designed to be an Academic textbook, nor a comprehensive theological tome but rather a simple (but not simplistic) and clear overview of how to view and interact with teammates, coaches, "opponents," success, referees/officials and sport itself. This short (in length) book is long in helping disciples of Christ conceptualize how to envision and engage in sport.
Suggestions for use:
Where to get the book
Simply stated: This is the best sports related devotional that I have read!
The Sporting Guide to Eternity devotional is written by a man who is a "two world walker:" a) he is well acquainted with sport (Collegiate and Professional American Football player); and b) he is well versed and trained in Biblical theology. In other words...he "gets it." He gets what it means to be passionate about sport and Jesus. He also gets how to communicate faith through sport as well as sport through faith, and because he has walked in both worlds, he is able to communicate in ways truly understood by athletes and coaches.
The writing style is engaging, insightful, encouraging and informative, but most of all spiritually challenging. What is really impressive, is how Dr. Conner has crafted his devotional to be relevant for those who would describe themselves as "non" religious; those who are mildly religious; and yet also, those who would say they have a deep faith!
The devotional has over 70 daily entries, each with a Bible verse, brief meditation, reflection question, prayer and related quote. The reader's interaction with the devotional can be brief (each entry can be read in just a few minutes) or provide fodder for a more lengthy time of contemplation for personal application. I recommend starting your day with its content and yet contemplating its relevance as you go about your day.
The book itself just feels good to hold as the solid hardback edition is pleasing to the eye and to the touch and comes with a self marking ribbon so as to keep your place from day to day. It contents include topics such as: anxiety, beauty, competition and prayer. Perhaps Dr. Jerry Root said it best: "I recommend it to everyone who wants to connect love of sport with a life of faith." In fact the author himself says of the devotional: "Christianity can have a transforming effect on the life of sports-minded men and women of every discipline."
How the book can be used.
1. As a personal devotional for either considering the claims of Jesus Christ or to deepen one's faith in Him
2. As a basis for an athletic team's "huddles" - small group discussion / accountability groups
3. As a gift for an individual sports person
4. As a gift for your coaches and/or other volunteers in your ministry
This devotional is a must for any "sporting person" who is considering a life of faith or is already a few more steps down the journey of faith.
Sports Ministry Today - Fulfilling the Great Commission Through the World of Sports - by Elliot Johnson
Book Review -by Dr. Greg Linville
Sports Ministry Today – Fulfilling the Great Commission Through the World of Sports
By Elliot Johnson
Cross Training Publishing – 2009 – Kearney, NE – ISBN: 978-0-9821652-6-3
Elliot Johnson has another “hit” with his latest book – “Sports Ministry Today.” Johnson’s previous literary endeavors have developed quite a loyal fan base and while this book is a slight departure from his normal inspirationally-based genre, it is sure not to disappoint those who have been encouraged by “coach” in the past.
This book is a leadership primer. It is full of tried and true leadership principles Elliot has garnered and perfected over his nearly 30 years of coaching at the collegiate level. I particularly appreciate Johnson’s focus on evangelism, as the sub-title for the book establishes. I recommend this book to all veteran sports ministers who are looking to sharpen their leadership skills or perhaps gain a new insight into areas they want to review. This book would also be excellent for anyone starting out in sports ministry as the principles found in this book would serve as great foundations from which to build a ministry. For that matter, this book is recommended for anyone in any ministry, as the leadership principles that work in the world of sport will work anywhere.
Chapter #1 is an overview of history and includes a brief survey of 1st century Greek, Roman and early Christian sport and faith integration. This is followed by stories throughout history of how Christians interacted with sport. Profiles include Protestant Reformers such as Luther, Muscular Christianity personalities, and a few pioneers from the Sports Outreach Era of the mid to late 20th Century.
Chapter #2 outlines 12 underlying presuppositions for Sport Ministry. These provide a great foundation for anyone desiring to begin a ministry based upon solid Biblical principles.
Chapter #3 provides a wonderful template for how to maintain a Biblical worldview when involved in athletics. It would be especially helpful for school coaches and athletic directors.
Chapter #4 is where Johnson’s expertise shines: coaching. There is a particularly helpful section for local church sports pastors and all who coach pre-adolescents. This is a must read for anyone who coaches youth as it provides much needed insights and research about why kids play sport and, more importantly, why they quit playing sports. Coach Johnson also includes a number of principles which are incredibly relevant for parents of athletes.
Chapter #5 simply “drips” with sage advice on how to be a leader. It is entitled: “Administration of Sports Ministry Programs” but the jewels outlined in this chapter are relevant for leaders of all stripes.
Chapter #6 is entitled “Sports Ministry to Women” and provides the reader with insights into some of Coach Johnson’s perspectives about the uniqueness of women in sport.
Chapter #7 has a few nuggets on how to engage in prison ministry including a solid template of proper prison ministry etiquette.
Chapter #8 is a brief attempt to address local church sports ministry.
Chapter #9 shares how people with writing and speaking skills can utilize them for ministry.
Chapter #10 is a discussion about the attendant positives and negatives of sports ministry.
Chapter #11 lists a number of the selected sports related ministries
New Concept Found in this Book
What may be new to some who read this book is the fact coaching needs to be different for different ages. Grade school children need to be handled differently than College or Pro athletes. This is known by many but needs to be implemented by all.
The chapter on writing, speaking and media may open the eyes of some on who may for the first time realize these avenues could be God’s call to ministry.
Catch Phrases Worth Remembering
I have been involved with or around the world of athletics my entire life. My father was a football coach for over forty years, beginning as a high school coach, moving on to the collegiate level and spent the final sixteen years of his career as an offensive line coach in the NFL. I began participating in various sporting activities at a very young age, and played football, basketball and baseball through my four years of high school. After high school, I attended Penn State University on a football scholarship and was the team's starting quarterback for three years. During that time I was awarded the MVP of the Sugar Bowl when the Nittany Lions defeated Georgia to win the National Championship.
In 1983 I was drafted by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and played professional football for seven seasons, retiring in 1989. The very next year I began a career in sports broadcasting and have continued in that profession to this day. I give you this background information simply to confirm the statement that I have been involved in sports, in some form or fashion, for my entire life. In 1980, as a sophomore at Penn State, I made the most important decision of my life by accepting Jesus Christ as the Savior of my life and declaring Him as the Lord over my life, dreams, goals and future. This marked the beginning of a challenging new adventure as my worlds of sports and faith intersected.
From the early years of my faith journey until now, I have been interested in understanding how these two powerful passions of my life can appropriately blend and work together. I know that some people believe sports and competition can have no connection with genuine faith in Christ. I've heard others suggest that the "sacred" and "secular" parts of our lives are both valuable but need to remain separated. I am of the belief that it is possible to live a life of worship, expressing gratitude and praise to our Creator God, through anything we do, including participation in sports.
No one that I have met in the thirty-three years that I have walked with Christ has taught me more about the dynamic relationship of sports and faith than Greg Linville. My relationship with Greg started when I competed both against and with on recreational basketball courts and softball fields including winning a state softball tournament. Eventually, we spent time together in home bible studies and men's groups. During our time together, I learned about and witnessed firsthand Greg's theology of sport and competition and his concept of "Christmanship."
More than anything he confirmed my belief that Christian athletes should be the hardest working, toughest and most dedicated members of any team or in any athletic competition. As true "ambassadors of Christ" Christian athletes should set the standards of integrity, humility, fair play and respect for the game being played.
Greg has always supported his teachings and theology with a deep understanding of Scripture and practical applications of how to live out our faith through athletic competition. As his University and Seminary students can well attest, Greg's knowledge of the Bible and how it relates to sports and competition is unprecedented and is bolstered by his understanding of the practices and training methods of ancient Greek athletes. I found it fascinating to learn from Dr. Linville about the Academies, where Olympic athletes were trained. The concept of training the total athlete: body, mind and spirit was widely recognized and utilized in the ancient world. It leads one to consider the possibility that the best way to maximize the full potential of a modern athlete is to take a similar three pronged approach to training.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who aspires or feels led to be involved with sports and recreation ministries. The interest in sports and competition has never been higher in our society than it is today. Likewise, the ugly issues of cheating, poor sportsmanship, greed and scandal have never been more prevalent in the world of athletics than they are now. Athletes and coaches at all levels in all sports need to be taught, and encouraged that there is a better way, a higher way, to enjoy sports and competition. Sports ministry is growing worldwide and with it the opportunity to transform and redeem the way society views competition. The potential harvest is enormous and we desperately need more workers to invade the playing fields, courts, stadiums and gymnasiums all around us. Hopefully, as you read and study this book by Dr. Greg Linville, you will be more equipped to share a new vision to athletes and coaches of competing for Christ, and expressing our deep gratitude to God by the way we play and instruct.
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
Beyond the Gold: What Every Church Needs to Know About Sports Ministry - Reviewed by Dr. Greg Linville
If you are only going to read one book about Sports Ministry this year, make it Beyond the Gold by Bryan Mason. Not only is this the best Sports Ministry Book of the year, it is in the top five of the last decade. What makes it required reading for all Sports Outreach Ministers is how relevant and practical it is. The people who have influenced Bryan, and whom he generously credits, reads like a who’s who of the Sports Outreach Era’s Leaders: Rodger Oswald, Steve Quatro, Steve Conner, Stuart Weir, Graham Daniels and many more. Mason insightfully weaves the best of what he has learned from others and from his own extensive international experiences into an easy to understand model for local church Sports Outreach.
By Josef Solc
Review by Kiristina Bolton
When Josef Solc left his home of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to pursue a life of a pastor over professional athlete status, he took with him a wealth of knowledge about the skeletal fundaments of sports and building upon them the body of Christ. Although widely known for his natural stardom in the arena of tennis and ice hockey, Solc gave up this path and picked up a new direction in the field of ministry. His calling to evangelism and life within the church was in direct contrast from the communist rule governing his country. In his book, Communication on the Playing Field, Solc recalls the process of laying down sports for himself and picking up sports for the sake of sharing the Gospel with others.
By Tim Conrad
Thistle Productions – 2010 – USA – ISBN: None
Reviewed by Dr. Greg Linville
Conrad “connects from long range” in his second Sapphire Lake Novel: Go the Distance. This delightfully written basketball novel is highly recommended….
“Go the Distance” is a sequel to the much heralded “Game Plan.” It reunites the hard luck Wyatt, and his emerging star and friend, Anthony with all their Sapphire Lake teammates on a road trip to compete in a national basketball tournament. “Go the Distance” combines an excitement and intrigue geared to pre-adolescents who will be riveted by the adventures and dilemmas of the young athletes who compete for coach Calhoun on the Sapphire Lake Tigers team. The fictional southern town of Sapphire Lake is where the Tigers hail from but the journey to Miami and the National Tourney is where most of the action takes place. Any kid who has played for a traveling team will identify with the twists and turns of a “road trip.” Themes of dealing with a grandparent’s death, injuries, the homeless and how to cope with referees, overzealous fans and “huge” opponents will resonate with the pre-high school crowd. Once again, Conrad superbly connects the “echo boomer” generation to issues of faith through a story based upon a sports experience. Once again, this Sapphire Lake story is geared for children (highly recommended for the 10-14 aged crowd), but may have more impact on the parents, coaches and league directors who will read it to their children or team.