catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 21 :: 2009.10.30 — 2009.11.12


Defense (clap, clap) defense!

With a collection of brief and candid essays, Ted Kluck has attempted to do what few others have done: create a “theology of sports.” The Reason for Sports is Kluck’s seventh book, his third by a Christian publisher (Moody) with Christians as his primary audience.

The subtitle for this short volume, A Christian Fanifesto, is curious for those who know Kluck’s writing and his record for saying things like, “I have a special hatred for the word manifesto….  I imagine people who write manifestos tending to be the type of people who wear lots of drab olive garments and have a poster of Che Guevara on their walls” (from The Reason for Sports, but also see his blog and Why We Love the Church co-authored with Kevin DeYoung.)

Although The Reason for Sports is not a true “public declaration of principles or intentions” (as the American Heritage Dictionary would have us understand “manifesto”), Kluck indeed declares his Christian principles and invites us “to begin formulating your own theology of sports with me.”

The book’s strength is the ground covered from chapter to chapter, and the thought-provoking approach the author employs. He asks as many (or more) questions as he provides answers while discussing topics as diverse as racism to sports movies, and steroids to fantasy football. Kluck’s theologizing is subtle and of a conservative evangelical nature. His scripture quotations are minimal and never read like Bible thumping. (See his other book with Kevin DeYoung, Why We’re Not Emergent, for more on Kluck’s theology.)

The first chapter, “It’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” may be the best, and is a good example of the book’s essays. The author addresses a rampant problem in professional sports: the lack of true, honest confession. He begins by listing a number of real-life sports apologies that sound something akin to: “I’m sorry the situation occurred and am embarrassed for the team and our committed fans. The best thing now is for all of us to move forward.” The disparity between this and a biblical model of confession is obvious. But Kluck ends the chapter by adding: “As fans, we need to realize our role models are human, sinners just like us, and extend the grace to forgive when they sin and act for their own self-interests. Perhaps the most Christian thing we can do is to pray for their ministry with other athletes and their walk with Christ.”

Throughout the eleven other chapters readers are continually challenged to re-think how they enjoy sports by an author that advocates “There is still beauty, truth, and redemption to be found in athletics,” Kluck writes.  He peppers the essays with stories from his own career in semi-pro football and shares his mistakes openly.

Weaknesses of this book may include Kluck’s “irreverent and contrarian” writing style (see the back cover), and his limited audience: Christian, suburban (white?) guys. Not everyone in this audience will get a kick out of needless zingers on John Eldredge or the emergent church. Also, Kluck’s examples from pro sports were almost exclusively limited to male athletes. What about the Williams sisters? Why not discuss the teenaged female gymnasts and ice-skaters who command prime time TV every Olympiad? What about all of the female athletes in our churches and families? Why not speak to them, too?

Despite these flaws, The Reason for Sports comes with a warm recommendation and a hearty, “Go, team!” By addressing the norms and the abnormalities of professional sports with biblical, critical thinking, Kluck will change the way many watch, play, and think about sports-definitely a book that should be read and discussed.

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