Q&A with biblioblogger and FSU fan Chad Chambers about National Championship Game and Theology

Chad Chambers and I decided to celebrate the National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn University (of which we are fans respectively) by answering a few questions about the game itself and the connections between football and theology. You can find my answers to his questions on his blog – Cataclysmic.

1. Given FSU’s recent success coupled with starting an unknown redshirt freshman at quarterback, what were you expectations for FSU coming into this season?

My expectations for FSU this season were they would have a good, not great, season. I thought a 10-2 record was most likely, with us losing to either Clemson or Florida and one game we shouldn’t.

Although 11 players were drafted from last year’s team, my optimism came from the simple fact we have better players than just about every team we face (Clemson and Florida being the possible exceptions). I thought even if Winston struggled at times, like most first year starters, the talent surrounding him would be enough to win most games.

2. At what point during the season did you begin to think, “This team could be really good?” And then, “This team could play for a National Championship?” Why?

I will highlight four things:

A. Winston’s performance in the 1st game of the season against Pittsburgh was extraordinary (25-27, 356 yards, 4 TDs/0 Ints). After the game, many FSU fans, myself included, thought if this a true picture of what kind of QB he would be then this team would be really, really good.

B. After the Boston College game the defense made several changes, most importantly moving Christian Jones from LB to DE. Up to that point, the defense had been good but not great especially against the run. After the personnel changes, the defense became dominant. The one concern was meeting a big, physical power running team because the defense is built to stop spread offenses. That concern was highly diminished as Florida’s season crumbled (and perhaps after Auburn beat Alabama see prediction below).

C. In the first quarter of the Clemson game, it became obvious this team should finish the regular season undefeated. It was no guarantee, but it was assumed FSU would be a double-digit favorite in the rest of their games (and some have them as double-digit favorites against Auburn).

D. It has been the cumulative effect of winning big every week. This team never let down, never played down to competition or had an off week. Basically, it had one off quarter all year against Boston College and trailed by 14 points, but it responded with a 35-3 run in 2nd and 3rd quarters. The ability to focus on every game and not just win but win big reminded me off the great FSU teams of the 80’s and 90’s.

3. As a Southerner, I am very familiar with the way sports, especially football, and religion are intertwined. As Christians and football fans, how should we respond to those who integrate religion with sports? Does this mindset open doors for honest discussion or make discussion more difficult?

The saying “Football is religion” is burnt into my head from my upbringing. I can remember playing games on Friday nights and even as an arrogant and stupid teenager thinking this is crazy! Don’t get me wrong I lived for Friday nights and reveled in the attention but I still knew something was wrong.

To fully answer this question the way football and religion are intertwined would take way too much space (this is a blog post not a book!) because there are so many different layers to it. I want to discuss only one side, the sense of belonging or participating that comes from following football or sports in general. Being a fan involves a collective emotion as you witness your team’s fortunes rise and fall during a game or season. It sparks conversations, relationships as you share in ecstatic moments of joy and despair but more than that it involves a loss of one’s self in a ‘higher’ purpose. The me becomes we, and it is not just us fans banding together in support of a team; we as fans we feel like we become part of the team.

It is this experience of becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves that in part drives us to talk about sports like they are religion. Religion is meant to offer meaning and hope to the whole of life, but all to often Christianity has become me and Jesus and it loses the communal, the me becoming we. So sports are often used to fill the void. They are used as a way to find a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, a purpose, and a hope. All religious language. All longings that cannot be filled by sports, even if your team wins the National Championship.

Therefore, how should we respond as Christians? More of our churches need to move out of the simple come to Jesus and go to heaven mentality. We need to become places that reach the whole of life by being places of belonging, meaning, purpose and hope centered around the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Our places of worship must mold us in a community of living witnesses to the transformative power of the gospel. And we should foster active communities who seek to understand scripture more fully and witness to it more clearly.  

4. What do you think about the current move to pay college athletes? Is this a case of systematic injustice or is the system fair? Is this a moral issue the church should be discussing?

As someone who was ‘paid to play’ baseball in college, I have thought about the question a lot because I get asked about it quite often. But to be honest, I do not have an answer. The world of college athletics is different now and the money is so much more, I can’t relate to the experience of today’s athletes. Furthermore, the difference between being a player at a big-time football (even some basketball) program is a world away from playing in a non-revenue sport. I will say, if it becomes a situation where universities are required to pay every athlete in every sport it may very well be the end of college athletics as we know them.

As to the last part of the question, yes the church should be involved in discussing these issues because it should be interested in discussing all moral issues.

5. There has been an intensifying discussion recently concerning the physicality of football and the relationship to Christian ethics. Do you consider football inherently “violent”? What is your definition of violence? Does the Bible address this issue, and, if so, can a Christian faithfully participate in football as a player or fan?

Answered by Mike Skinner (contributor at Cataclysmic who writes a lot about violence. And as you can see also a football fan).

I confess I would have to answer this question with an asterisk: I am a football fan.  So upfront, I fully own up to a bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to my nonviolent christological commitment and my love of football.  My ad-hoc definition of violence would be: “an intentional action against another in which permanent (or lethal) physical, spiritual, and psychological damage is a real possibility.”  I do, however, think there is a tension between the physicality (/violence) of football and the call to Christian living embodied by Jesus and encouraged by the Scriptures.

I think the tension is found in three places: 1) football has the tendency to glorify violence (who doesn’t get a little satisfaction out of a BIG hit), 2) it has a tendency to promote a hyper-violent/angry/competitive vision of masculinity, and 3) it is a sport that often dehumanizes the athletes at the expense of entertainment (long-term damage to bodies/minds, etc).  [I think there is a spectrum here – with sports like UFC being on one end and sports like basketball being on the other end – in terms of violence].  I think questions of intentionality (are the players really “trying” to hurt each other?  are we really “attempting” glorify violence, etc?) and inherency (does it have to do these things?  Is it inherent to the sport itself or simply inherent to individual/corporate nature of humans?) are legitimate responses to my above analysis, however.

Ultimately, I think the Bible does call us to an awareness of how our lives are shaping our own moral character and affecting those around us.  The things that we watch, pay money to attend, cheer for, and spend time doing are always forming us as virtuous creatures (whether we want it to or not).  Indeed, out of all the popular sports in America, football has a very distinct liturgical shape to it.  Thus, it shapes our own character, our society, and has long-term effects for certain men who are “sacrificed” for our entertainment.  All of that might seem a tad “much” for the average Christian – and I again want to acknowledge that I enjoy being a fan of football.  There are many good things that football does as well (particularly in shaping discipline, teamwork, critical thinking, community among fans, etc).  And on a list of what is wrong with the world, I would consider it towards the bottom (if indeed it is a problem).  As a nonviolent Christian, I’ll worry about the violence of football when we can stop things like unjust drone strikes.  Until then, I’ll be praying that the Texans draft Johnny Manziel.

6. What are the keys for FSU to be successful against Auburn in the National Championship game? What is your prediction for the game (winner and score)?

The key for FSU is slowing the run. I know this is obvious, but that does not make it less true. Auburn’s game plan seems to be simply to outscore the other team and it has worked because Auburn’s running game, especially in the last half of the season, has been unstoppable. I am still not sure whether to call it a power running game since it relies more on zone blocking schemes rather than power blocking, but regardless it works. Yet, I do not think FSU has to stop Auburn because they should be able to score on Auburn’s defense, but they do need to slow them down.

I can see the game going three ways:

          A. FSU slows Auburn early and jumps out to double-digit lead. From         there the two teams trade scores with the FSU winning something         like 42-28.

          B. Neither team is able to consistently slow the other and we get a   good-ole Western (Pac-10 football since in California) shootout. In         this case, I think FSU has the better defense and will make the one       stop needed to make a difference. Prediction in this scenario, FSU    wins 45-42.

          C. Very similar to the last version except both teams come out tight,          rusty after 30 days off and so the score ends up being in the 20’s    rather than the 40’s.

Since you asked for my prediction not predictions, I think the first option is more likely, so I will go with FSU 42 and Auburn 28.

 

Scholarship and Christian Charity

Yesterday I was reminded again by a good brother of how important it is to speak with love and humility towards those with whom we disagree. This has me thinking today about Christians and scholarly engagement with one another’s differing theological stances. Of course, I’m also reminded of this because of the continuing debate about Calvinism within my own denomination. The following is not really an argument for anything or a set position on what it means to have charity in Christian scholarship, just a few thoughts about the subject.

First, as I think about this issue, I’m reminded of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4 that the church, the body of Christ, is unified in Christ. When we engage other brothers and sisters on matters in which we disagree, our first thought ought not to be how I can win the argument but how I can love and be unified with my co-heir in Christ. I’ve encountered the statement elsewhere that “unity is accomplished through the truth,” and while I understand this on one level – the church MUST guard against false teaching – I do not in many cases think this is the best approach. On second and third level issues, where the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints” is not at stake, such as Calvinism, I doubt that the way to unity is continued argument until one side capitulates. When we engage fellow believers on these types of issues we certainly ought to do so with conviction, but shouldn’t that also be coupled with a strong dose of humility? I know that I am not right about everything, nor will I ever be, and so the idea that I can only be united in fellowship or missional cooperation with my brother if he “comes to the truth” (i.e. agrees with me) about a certain matter seems to me to be the exact opposite of humble. The idea that everything is a first order issue – that if you don’t agree with me then we are of a different faith altogether – seems to me to fall under this category.

Second, I have heard writers, speakers, theologians, and preachers mention Luther (or some other such person) and his tone towards those with which he disagreed as evidence that a certain invective tone is permissible in theological argumentation. Again, this seems wrong headed to me for a few reasons. No one theologian is ever correct about everything, and this includes the tone they use. I’m not so sure that Luther, giant as he is, ought to be commended for the vindictive way in which he speaks of his opponents at times. Further, our culture is 500 years separated from his, and while I abhor some of the ways in which “political correctness” has permeated our speech, we do not swim in the exact same linguistic, cultural, or emotional waters as the Reformers. Then there’s the fact that none of us is Luther, or any of the Reformers for that matter.

Finally, I also have noticed an increasing amount of people, whether Baptist or Anglican or Methodist, Calvinist or Arminian, egalitarian or complementarian, liberal or conservative, who seem to be waiting for someone, usually a “celebrity” pastor or theologian, to say something upon which they can pounce. Why do we do this? Part of the answer, I think, is that controversy is what draws people to books, blogs, websites, tv shows, and even churches and pastors. And so, in our American sub-conscious desire to rise up, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and get rich and famous, we stir the pot. We nitpick at each other.

This all bothers me. And it bothers me that I am so easily ensnared in it. I do all of this and more, and so I am not in any way trying to pull out anyone else’s speck while ignoring my plank. But I hope that we, as the body of Christ, bought by his blood and raised to new life by his Spirit, can treat each other with more Christian charity and humility than I have seen of late.

Worship “Bands”

I could not be more appreciative of this post by Justin Taylor on the difference between congregational singing and a worship concert. I have long been troubled by the celebrity status of many of the most influential pastors in modern evangelicalism, and our treatment of their churches’ worship leaders as rock bands only exacerbates the problem. This came to a head for me 4 or 5 years ago when I attended a conference with many of the big names in conservative evangelicalism lined up as speakers. A few of these pastors brought their worship leaders from their churches to lead us in worship. One of these worship “bands”, right before they were about to play their first song, announced that their new CD “release party” was happening at such and such a time and such and such a place. They then proceeded to blast my eardrums and sear my soul for 30 minutes.

“Release party”? For a “worship” CD? And playing “worship songs” like you’re Metallica? Combine that with our zealous following of many of the biggest names in evangelicalism and I think what we have is a capitulation to the American celebrity culture. What we have is close to idolatry (if it’s not that already). Does this kind of thinking and performing in our churches lead to congregational worship? I don’t see how. Sometimes at conferences I want to look around and yell, like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, “are you not entertained?!”

Celebrity pastors don’t help this situation either. I’ve heard of one of these men telling an audience that of course he wouldn’t ever let a campus pastor preach regularly at one of his sites because God had obviously blessed this celebrity pastor with gifts of preaching and leading 10 times more than that campus pastor. What is that saying other than, “my celebrity is what draws people, and I’m not going to trust the Spirit of the living God to raise up faithful men elsewhere, even among sites we’ve planted?”

I say all this having fallen trap to much of it. I still brag that I slipped behind security and spoke with (and hugged) one of these celebrity pastors at a major conference. I have complained about music because the “quality” wasn’t as good, instead of singing to and being sung to by my brothers and sisters around me.

May God turn our hearts away from celebrity and toward his Son through the power of the Spirit.

Americanism

This quote from Peter Leithart (Between Babel and Beast, xiii) cuts deep:

Remember who you are, and to whom you belong. Remember that you belong to Jesus first and last; remember that the church, not America, is the body of Christ and the political hope of the future; remember that no matter how much it may have served the city of God, America is in itself part of the city of man; remember that the Eucharist is our sacrificial feast.

 

Biblical Masculinity

Or, “why you don’t have to watch UFC, own lots of guns, hunt, love sports, and/or avoid anything remotely “feminine” to be a godly man.”

I am a solid and committed complementarian in respect to gender roles, both in the home and in the church. I am concerned, however, that our conservative evangelical culture (and by that I am referring to a group that includes a whole host of pastors, teachers, theologians, etc.) sometimes lays down hard and fast lines concerning what it means to be godly man that are not found in Scripture.

In the Bible, the godly man is one who is “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable . . . not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:2-3; I left out “able to teach” since a godly man doesn’t necessarily have to be an elder). The godly man is one who “loves his wife, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:25-28). He is a man who lives with his wife “in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7).

In these passages and others, the godly man is one who leads his wife well by pushing her towards Christ and giving himself up for her sanctification, who loves his neighbor by being gentle and hospitable, and who loves God in all of it. There is no mention of masculinity being defined by doing or not doing chores in the home or what types of entertainment he enjoys.

There also is no indication that a man should not be nurturing and caring towards his family or others. The opposite is in fact the case, especially when we look at how God is our Father. In Scripture God reveals himself to us as a loving parent, a God who is tender towards his children (Hos. 11:3-4), who weeps over them as a mother hen over her chicks (Matt. 23:37), and who is a good and loving Father who gives good gifts (Matt. 6:26-34; 7:7-11). Additionally and in terms of gospel ministry, Paul compares himself and his companions in their ministry to the Thessalonians to a nursing mother in the way he cares for the church there, nurturing them in gentleness and love (1 Thess. 1:7).

I sometimes wonder if we have forgotten God’s care for us and Paul’s care for the churches when we think of what it means to be a man. I wonder if we’ve forgotten that the only concrete definition we get in Scripture is that a man is to lead his family and especially his wife in holiness, love his neighbor in gentleness and hospitality, and love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

You don’t have to grow a beard to be a man, or have a deep voice, or like football, or hunt, or only listen to rock music. You don’t have to tell your wife that you don’t have to help out around the house. You don’t have to ask your boys to avoid toys that help them understand what it means to nurture and love another human being. You can listen to classical music and love art and read British lit or whatever it is you do with your spare time, as long as it is isn’t sin and helps you love Jesus.

To be a godly man you need to love your family, your neighbor, and your God with all you have.

NOTE: I’ve avoided mentioning names in this post because I believe this issue is widespread amongst complementarians but on the particular issue concerning boys and baby dolls I have to mention one because of the proximity of this post to his article. Although I appreciate greatly Owen Strachan’s ministry, I have to respectfully disagree with him on this particular point. I should also say that although Owen’s article got me thinking more on this issue, I’ve been concerned for quite some time about the picture of masculinity given by conservatives for some time. Most of what I mention in this post has little to nothing to do with Owen’s view of masculinity.

Cheaters Never Prosper

The Provost at CBU, Dr. Jonathan Parker, just sent us this infographic about students and cheating. It would be great to be able to say that cheating doesn’t exist or that it’s on the decline, but it appears the opposite is the case.

In my classes, we use something called SafeAssign to detect plagiarism on papers. I also use the time-tested method of noticing changes in font size, font type, or color and Googling the phrase.

If you teach, what methods do you use to deter cheating?

NC Amendment One and President Obama

I usually avoid political discussions, or at least I try to do so more often than I did in my late teens and early twenties. In college I would argue with anyone who didn’t walk away – my hope now is that I point to Christ more than I do to politics. I’m sure I inevitably fail at this, but I at least try to make sure that my hope and message are Christ and not any political party or stance.

The last 24 hours, however, have had my thoughts in overdrive, and I think the same can be said for the rest of the country. I can’t help but respond here.

(If you live under a rock, NC passed Amendment One, defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and President Obama announced today that he is in favor of legally acknowledging same-sex marriages.)

I’m both troubled and provoked to thoughtfulness because of a number of things concerning both Christian and non-Christian responses in the last 24 hours.

First, I am struck by the lack of biblical literacy from virtually every voice in this discussion. Let me start with Christians. It seems that we have little sense about what politics does and does not achieve. My brothers and sisters, “we won” is not an appropriate response. Patting ourselves on the back is silly. Moving forward with anything less than continual proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ with the somber realization of the lostness we face is simply missing the point. Politics does not bring victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave – Jesus does. Laws do not change people’s hearts – the Spirit of Christ does. Elections will not bring this country to be a picture of God’s Kingdom – God the Father and his electing purposes will do so when he sends his Son to restore all things at the end of the age. Don’t get me wrong, we ought to vote in a way that reflects God’s Kingdom, and in doing so perhaps some will be confronted with the reality of God and his created order. But please don’t act like temporal laws in a temporal government will ever bring about the true spiritual change that’s needed to redeem hearts, minds, souls, and bodies for Christ.

On the other hand, for those who support gay marriage, there is one camp  that says “who cares what the Bible says.” There is another, though, that seems to think that the Bible actually supports homosexual marriage, relationships, etc. I saw one man post that God gave the Ten Commandments but Moses gave Leviticus, so we just need to look to the Ten Commandments and not the rest of the Law. That clearly indicates a lack of understanding about the purpose, both historically and literarily, of the Law in the Old Testament. Leviticus is not so easily dismissed. Then our President says today that he is being biblical by paying attention to the Golden Rule, to love our neighbors as ourselves. What the President seems to forget is that the first part of the Golden Rule is the Great Commandment, which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The clear command there is to love not just any God, but the God of the Bible, and the God of the Bible has very clear things to say on how he made men and women and what kind of relationships he intends for them.

Second, it makes me sad how angry everyone is. Responses that I have seen from all sides are bitter and resentful at best and angry and hateful at worst. My first prayer is that everyone will walk and talk with more respect and kindness towards those who disagree than they have in the past 24 hours.

On that note, what I truly do not understand is the condescension happening from those who support gay marriage towards those who want to be biblically faithful. There are those who ridicule evangelical Christians, comparing them to slave owners, racists, and bigots. The comparison to slave owners is just silly – no one is forcing homosexuals to do hard labor for no wages, beating them for not doing their job correctly, etc. Yes, homosexuals have been killed for their orientation, and that is absolutely reprehensible. But those crimes happen not through a government-approved oppressive institution, but because a proportionally very small number of individuals in this country are actual bigots and homophobes who cannot deal with anyone different from them other than through violence. They are not Christians, and they do not represent all those who oppose the legal recognition of gay marriage. And as far as racism and bigotry are concerned, yes there are those who act as if homosexuals are less than human, and again that is absolutely reprehensible. But that is not representative of the evangelical Christians I know or of Christ’s teaching that we attempt to follow. So please, let’s stop the comparisons with the Confederacy, Jim Crow, and Bull Connor.

Furthermore, this condescension comes not only from non-Christians but from Christians, with sarcastic comments about how terrible NC (and the Christians in it) are. Christian who do this, where does your condescension come from? My sense is that it comes from the fact that you don’t, in some way, see the Bible as our foundational document as a people. If believing that the Bible ought to guide our faith and practice is a ridiculous notion and worthy of your condescension, then you ought to level that accusation at Jesus as well. Look through the Gospels and see how Christ continually affirms the full and complete authority of the Word of God.

Even as I say this, though, it is no surprise to me that the Church is ridiculed for taking biblical stands – we should expect this. We should expect to continue filling up the afflictions of Christ, to be rejected for following him, and to only persevere through the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I hope common sense will prevail in the rest of this conversation moving forward.

Third, we appear to be attempting to define marriage around romantic love. If you feel emotionally, erotically, and romantically strong for someone, that must mean you’re “in love” which means you should be committed for life. This is not the biblical picture of marriage. Marriage is messy, hard, lovely, and wonderful at the same time, and for a specific purpose – to glorify God in Christ by being a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Marriage is not about romance, but about redemption. And that is precisely why it must be recognized as God intended, not as we attempt to redefine it.

Fourth, and related, the Church needs to stand up for all marriages and proclaim that the gospel has the power not just to redeem your soul but your relationship with your spouse as well. We ought to be pouring our energies into sustaining and cultivating healthy marriages in our own congregations as signs of the power of the gospel.

Lastly, sexual attraction does not define who we are as persons. Being able to have intercourse with who we want is not what the image of God in us is about. It is about reflecting God’s image to the world, about being fruitful and multiplying God’s image bearers throughout creation, and taking care of the creation he gave us. I think we have put too much stock in where our libido leads when we think about what it means to be human.

I’ll end by saying this – my hope here is not founded in political action but in the power of Christ to redeem sinners. All kinds of sinners. Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual (I’m looking at you, Sheldon Cooper). Addicts, murderers, liars, slanderers, dividers. Christ came to save sinners, of which I am the foremost. I pray that our focus will not be on political action for its own sake, but for spreading Christ’s Kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel.

A Timely Warning

A warning from a man born half a millennium ago for those who think vague religiosity or spirituality is sufficient:

…they think that any zeal for religion, however preposterous, is sufficient. But they do not realize that true religion ought to be conformed to God’s will as to a universal rule; that God ever remains like himself, and is not a specter or phantasm to be transformed according to anyone’s whim.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. I, p. 49