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"I love the sense of satisfaction that I get when I’ve done a swimming workout or race, and know that I gave my whole being and heart to God in every moment of the swim. It’s the best worship I can offer him."

Penny Heyns

Sport and the Christian Religion

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Nick J. Watson and Andrew Parker, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014 ISBN(10):1-4438-5503-0

The aim of the book is to review empirical research and scholarship on sport and Christianity seeking to “identify, critically appraise and synthesise scholarship, empirical research and practical initiatives”.

The review is structured around six themed sections which comprise:

(i)theologies of play in sport,

(ii) sport, religion and popular culture,

(iii) muscular Christianity and sports ministry,

(iv)theological ethics in sport (with psychological considerations),

(v) institutions and governance of sport; a case study of the modern Olympic Games, and
(vi) emerging research topics.

Having just read Greg Smith’sSports Theology: Finding God's winning spirit. I was interested to see that the authors raise the issue of whether it is “theologically plausible to consider that the Christian belief of an athlete may lead to enhanced performance, and/or winning?”

We are familiar with the concept of Muscular Christianity, this book helpfully introduces the theme of how sport has interacted with other religions.

The observation and analysis of trends in Christianity and sport is excellent. Take the following paragraph as an example: “it is important to recognise that, in general sports chaplaincy practice in America is sometimes more closely tied to the evangelical concerns of sports ministry organisations. However, in the United Kingdom, the practice of sports chaplaincy has a tendency to operate in line with a more traditional model focusing on the spiritual, pastoral and broader welfare needs of athletes and support staff. Of course ,the degree to which this statement is true varies greatly in relation to sporting/institutional context, denominational practice, and the specific settings within which chaplains work”.

The book rightly bemoans the lack of empirical qualitative on “how Christian athletes negotiate the paradoxical cultures and norms of elite-competitive sport and Christianity”. aThey note that while there has been in recent years a significant amount of scholarship on sports and Christianity, there is a distinct lack of primary empirical research in the area. The book lists 12 emerging research areas including disability, prayer, youth sports, women and chaplaincy.

The contribution of Andy Parker and Nick Watson to the study of sport and Christianity has been immense. This is another “must read” book for anyone who is interested in thinking seriously about how faith and sport interact.

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