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Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers

8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0742562479
ISBN-10: 0742562476
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Editorial Reviews


With the skill of a journalist and the diligence of a researcher, Krattenmaker makes a persuasive and compelling case that conservative Christian groups have a virtual religious monopoly in professional sports―and that there signs of change. Remarkably fair and readable, insightful and important for anybody interested in either Christianity or sports. (Marcus Borg, New York Times best selling author and author of The Heart of Christianity)

I have been waiting for someone to write this book for years, and Krattenmaker does not disappoint, Onward Christian Athletes fills the gap in our understanding of the way religion and religious organization shapes the players and the teams we follow. Anyone serious about understanding 21st century sport needs to read this book. (Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation and author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States)

Onward Christian Athletes is compelling, judicious, prophetic―and deeply disturbing. This is a superb book. (Randall Balmer, professor of religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University)

Tom Krattenmaker―in my opinion―is one of the most informed and relevant writers on the Evangelical movement today. His critique is fair and his knowledge is impressive. (Kevin Palau, executive vice president, Luis Palau Association)

In this fascinating book, Krattenmaker maintains that 'spontaneous' displays of faith on or off the playing field (including team prayer huddles) are not so spontaneous at all, that they're part of a concerted effort on the part of a 'network of evangelical chaplains and sports ministry organizations' to join Christianity―in particular the Christian Right―with pro sports. The author makes a persuasive argument that athletes are encouraged, sometimes even cajoled or pressured, to make public statements of faith, and that being a pro athlete can mean committing to becoming a spokesman on behalf of Christianity (and, by extension, a supporter of the Christian Right's political agenda). Yet this isn't an attack on religion in sports; the book argues its case but does so in a largely balanced manner. Expect both book and author to attract criticism and controversy from many on the Right; Krattenmaker won't mind; he's all in favor of a spirited debate. (Booklist)

Tom Krattenmaker leveled a comprehensive critique of the evangelical Christian message that, as he laments, permeates so much of the sporting world at both the college and professional levels. Krattenmaker correctly traces evangelical influence in sports to the 'muscular Christianity' movement so popular in America between the Civil War and World War II. He expresses appreciation for the moral influence of evangelical Christians and Christian conviction within the lives of athletes. Nevertheless, he is clearly alarmed by evangelical displays of the Gospel. (Albert Mohler Crosswalk.Com Blogs)

Tom Krattenmaker's new Onward Christian Athletes is a brilliant and much-needed investigative analysis for those viewing post-game, on-field prayer meetings as foolish displays of exclusionary, only-through-Christ silliness. . . . This is a book that many Americans, and many sportsfans, have been waiting for and Krattenmaker has performed a public service in his rigorous and often funny investigation of something everyone sees in sports and then lets go by like a Miller Lite commercial. . . . Thank you Tom Krattenmaker! (Uppity Wisconsin)

This is a remarkably interesting read. (Bill's 'Faith Matters' Weblog)

Krattenmaker has a keen awareness and knowledge of conservative evangelical Christianity, which promotes a particular brand of faith in all the major professional sports. This is a creative treatment of a serious problem in sport and society more broadly. Highly recommended. (CHOICE)

This work should appeal to both academics and the general public, no matter what religious persuasion, who have an interest in and concern about the place of religion in sports today. (Library Journal)

An incisive, example-filled look at the often overlooked, seldom-examined ways in which sports and faith converge. (Between the Lines)

About the Author

Tom Krattenmaker is a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors and a frequent contributor to its weekly On Religion series. His work has also appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, and Salon. He resides in Portland, Oregon.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (October 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742562476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742562479
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Robert P. Jones on October 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Insightful journalist and commentator Tom Krattenmaker has given us a steady diet of compelling, nuanced snapshots of the changing role of conservative Christianity in America through his USA Today columns for years. Now, with his lens tightened to the professional sports arena, he gives us a detailed portrait of how conservative Christianity has taken on (and taken over) professional sports, transposing athletic field to mission field.

One of the strengths of this book is Krattenmaker's careful construction of the recent history, beginning in the 1990s of well-organized, well-financed sports ministries that encouraged (and sometimes expected) athletes to use their pre- and post-game cameos as opportunities for religious testimonies and evangelistic appeals. One contribution of Krattenmaker's analysis is that it shows that the seemingly spontaneous religious overtures by individual players and prayer huddles after games are supported and encouraged by a conservative Christian institutions, deploying a cadre of chaplains in ballparks on each Sunday of the season, that often remain out of view of the cameras.

One of the original contributions of this book is the integrated way Krattenmaker wields investigative journalism, fair-handed social critique funded by empathy for a world that is not his own, and an appeal to democratic values that undergird a free, pluralistic society. Krattenmaker is not out to undo religion, or even conservative Christianity, in sports. Rather the book aims to bring it out into the light and make it more accountable and representative of the wider religious public.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dan Merchant on December 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As an observer and commentator on the precarious intersection of faith and culture in America, Tom Krattenmaker has established a reputation as fair, thoughtful and controversial. Controversial in this sense: Tom is convinced it is better to talk about things, particularly the things we don't agree on, than it is to divide into teams and shout each other down. From his excellent USA Today columns, to his pivotal interview in the award winning documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers to his insightful new book Onward Christian Athletes, Tom helps us connect the dots and provides much needed perspective. Tom's exploration into the corner of the public square known as professional sports is expertly researched and well written. By turns the book is challenging and generous - depending on where you stand personally and it's this dynamic that gives Onward Christian Athletes it's staying power. If you don't understand why Jesus let Kurt Warner throw a game changing pick-six to James Harrison just before halftime in the Super Bowl then you need to read Onward Christian Athletes. Okay, in all fairness, the author doesn't know why either, but we can decide God loves the Steelers best or we can discuss it civilly. You make the call.

- D.M.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Big D VINE VOICE on February 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Essentially, this is a non-evangelical Christian writing on the appropriate role of religion in pro sports and he leaves no stone (no pun intended)unturned. Evanglical Christians will consider this book an attack on them, but it's not. It is fair and for the most part even-handed. Good book, but at times the reader may be reminded of the sermon that went on and on and on and seemed to never end. At times, the author overstates his point with too many examples and dampens enthusiasm for the read

But it's worth the read, especially Chapter 8 when he asks the question: "Where would Jesus be today in the high dollar, political savvy world of pro sports?" A good, provocative question and his answers and thoughts make that chapter alone a must read.

Goes over the edge a little when discussing racism in pro sports, all of the usual concerns--lack of of minority coaches and top administrators---are all very real and valid concerns. But he misses the mark, as Paul would say, when he suggests that Tony Dungey, a Christian and the first African American coach to win the Super Bowl should have used the trophy presentation ceremony as an opportunity to raise racial concerns rather than saluting his team and coaching staff. Dungy put the team above social concerns...and isn't that what teamwork is supposed to be about...not us against them and us against one another, but team....and there's still no "I" in team.

Evangelicals won't like this book, and neither will team officals in the NFL, NBA and MLB. The author raises questions that need to considered and addressed. But this is not an attack on evanglical Christianity. It is, rather, a detailed look at the intersection of faith and sports in our world today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Pauls Toutonghi on January 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was impressed -- but not surprised -- when I heard that Tom Krattenmaker was one of four finalists for the Oregon Book Award in General Nonfiction. This is a strong and balanced book, a sober-minded look at a topic -- the use and abuse of religion by athletes -- that doesn't get much middle-of-the-road coverage. Here's someone who's not afraid to discuss the importance of religion, but also willing to criticize, where it's necessary. This is as close to an unbiased book about religious belief as can be written, and it strikes me as a very honest book.
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