Touchdown Jesus: Onward (Ignorant) Christian Athletes

One of the more humorous parts of my travels from Kentucky to up north comes between Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. You've heard me talk about this before, so, the giant Jesus statue, which I refer to as Big Butter Jesus (after the song) or Touchdown Jesus (again, after the song), should be nothing new to you if you keep up with Pisteuomen. Anyway, the whole notion of a Touchdown Jesus is funny to me on a number of levels, which I don't care to get into right now. Instead, I'd rather talk about what even made me think of this absurd statue in the first place.

What jarred my memory was a recent interview I heard with sports & religion enthusiast Tom Krattenmaker. Krattenmaker is the author of a new book titled Onward Christian Athletes and in that work, he expresses his view that having religion and athletics meet can often be a good thing (e.g. values like teamwork, discipline, etc. are good, religious values). That's fine, I agree with that. But I also agree, 100% with his notion that athletes, especially Christian athletes, do their God and their faith quite a disservice when they try to act as if God won the game for them, helped them score a touchdown, took control of the bat and ball so they could hit a homerun, etc.

Again, I think Krattenmaker is spot-on here. I have 2 perspectives on this, one from a referee's point of view and another from a theological point of view. Firstly, as a football official, if I see anyone do this sort of thing after a play or a score, I will flag them immediately! You probably didn't expect a former preacher and aspiring professor of biblical studies to say that did you? Well, I did. And I will flag it every time because it is totally unnecessary. Whether the player is acting as though they are doing this for God or not is irrelevant because in the moment, what they are actually doing is drawing attention to themselves. In football, this is regarded as unsportsmanlike conduct. As the NCAA rules & regulations state: "College football is a team game and prolonged acts that draw attention to the individual are not consistent with that philosophy". Anyway...

From a theological standpoint, getting down on a knee and acting as though one is praying or pointing the finger heavenwards or painting a scripture verse on one's face or saying, as the recent Alabama bowl champions did that it was "God's will" for you to catch the ball and that He placed it in your hands, are just stupid and trite, not to mention, incredibly theologically flimsy. I mean, can we really imagine that if Jesus were sitting in a football stadium today, He would ask the Holy Spirit to do Him a favor and altar the game because His team was losing or not playing up to His standards? And then, can we really imagine that if someone were to score a touchdown and then ran over to Jesus' feet and bowed down, that it would be kosher? That Jesus would be flattered and pleased and feel glorified?

Yes, I get the "glorify God in all that you do thing" and I am an advocate of that! But my point is: Such things aren't God-glorifying, they are "show"! Whatever happened to praying in one's prayer closet or not letting others know about our good deeds? And what about writing a Scripture verse on one's face? So what if people read that one verse! Who cares? I would urge you to never read "one" verse! No, all verses must be read in both their social and literary contexts, that is, in light of all the verses surrounding that "one" verse as well as the culture out which that verse came! I fear that these stupid Scripture snippets do more harm than good. Yes Mr. Tebow caused people to tweet about a verse from the Bible but a couple days later the bandwagon stopped rolling and now what? Nothing!

Or what about saying things like this win or score was God's will? Clearly, these people have no freakin' clue as to what God's will, from a scriptural-theological standpoint even is. God's will is not some sort of micro-management plan and it certainly doesn't have to do with American football. In Scripture, God's will is monolithic, that is, it has one goal really and that one goal is the same for every single person. Thus, God's will for me isn't different than God's will for you or anyone else, it's the same for us all: To be in an intimate and genuine relationship with God and His people by accepting the invitation of salvation through Christ alone. To whittle this down to a football catch is not only absurd, it may even be borderline heresy.

And finally, what about the idiots who go on to say that God made them win and whatnot but then, when a loss or an interception or a fumble comes along, they say nothing about God? Using their logic against them: What if God did cause the bad play? And what if He chose to screw you over and to exalt someone else? Yeah, well, nobody asks that question and probably, most of the morons who point fingers to the sky and act macho-pious at the post-game press conferences are theologically incapable of even wrapping their tiny brains around such concepts. But alas, this is not the way it is and this is not the way it works, so, I'm moving on. By the way, can you tell that this frustrates me?

So, in conclusion, I have this to stay: If you're a Christian and you are an athlete as well, get over yourself and drop the pseudo-spirituality. If you really want to glorify God, stop with the errant theology and stupid gestures and start practicing some humility and servanthood. Oh, and if you want to hear the interview with Krattenmaker, click the player below:

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