On Nov. 3, Paul Jackson, professor of biblical studies, and Todd Brady, vice president for university ministries, discussed proper perspectives on athletics as part of this semester’s Town and Gown lectures focused on sports and culture.
Jackson titled his lecture “I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me: Oh, Really?” He addressed the common misapplication of his title verse, Philippians 4:13, in athletic contexts. When opposing sports teams both use the verse to pray for victory, “you kind of put God in a pickle,” Jackson said. “Who is he going to bless? And is it necessarily only a blessing when you win?”
Jackson said the verse is not a prosperity gospel but rather is about contentment. “You ought rather to say, whether I win or whether I lose, I will be content, because Christ gives me the strength to handle either one of those,” he said. “Culture teaches us the very best thing that can happen is to win. … But there are some things you can win by losing. And can they be just as big a blessing to you as winning can be.”
Jackson said Christian athletes often misinterpret this verse by focusing on the word “do,” which they interpret as their own ability. If certain achievements are not intellectually or genetically “in the cards,” he said, they will not happen with any amount of optimism.
“Not even a misunderstanding of Philippians 4:13 is going to make it happen,” Jackson said. “Don’t you dare come into an exam [without studying] and say ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Because guess what, Jack? You’re going to flunk.”
Jackson applied this idea to the near impossibility of high school athletes making it to professional leagues. While one in five parents spends more than $1000 each year on their child’s sport, he said, only .03 percent of high school athletes become professionals.
“Don’t let a misinterpretation of this particular verse make you think you’re going to beat these odds,” Jackson said.
Brady spoke on “Faith & Sport: Getting Your Head in the Game.”
“Ours is a sports-inundated culture,” Brady said, listing many common sports metaphors such as “Down for the count,” “Hit a home run” and “Keep your eye on the ball.” He also showed a video about the growing demand for sports-themed coffins and headstones.
Brady said sports has historically served as a form of religion for many people: organized activities to honor and discuss one’s “gods.” This attitude is still present even among Christians today, he said.
Brady quoted author and theologian Lincoln Harvey as saying the Christian attitude toward sports should be neither “blind celebration nor debilitating suspicion,” but somewhere between the two.
“In so doing, we will be able to celebrate sports for what it is without confusing it for what it isn’t,” Brady said.
Sports a gift given by God, he said, which like all other gifts can only be appreciated in the context of who God is.
“By faith, the athlete reflects God and displays the fruit of the Spirit,” Brady said. “By faith, the fan’s enjoyment is deepened and his enthusiasm is tempered. … The person of faith enjoys sports more than the person without faith, for the person with faith thinks about the God before whom the game is played.”
While enthusiasm for sports is fine, Brady said, worship is not. “We are fans, but we are not fanatics,” he said. “We can be huge fans, we can be diehard fans, we can paint our bodies and yell and scream and root for our teams, but we cannot root our identity in sports.”