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The Reason For Sports: A Christian Fanifesto Paperback – September 1, 2009
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This is not your normal sports book. Nor is it your normal Christian book. Here’s to some abnormal reading then for those seeking a different point of view.
-Kenny Mayne, ESPN sports journalist
Ted Kluck helps us think about sports Christianly without the Christian clichés and worn-out sports piety. He’s an athlete and a fan whose writing implicitly reminds us why God created sports: for the joy of play.
-Mark Galli, Senior managing editor, Christianity Today
Ted Kluck is passionate about sports. He’s even more passionate about the gospel. You won’t read any athletic rags-to-riches stories or find any cheesy quotes about ‘leaving 100% on the field’ in The Reason for Sports. Instead, you’ll find insights into God, the gospel, and the sometimes crazy, sometimes wonderful world of sports.
-Stephen Altrogge, Author of Game Day for the Glory of God
Ted makes it clear that while we do love our sports, the only real sports joy is found when honoring Jesus Christ. With much humor and much love, Ted gives enlightening and biting perspective on the athletes and events we remember most. What a treat to be convicted of our own idolotry of sports and, at the same time, laugh out loud! How can you not embrace a book that quotes both Allen Iverson and J. C. Ryle? Not a lot of sports guys reference 19th century evangelicals. (Ryle, that is . . . not Iverson.)
-David Stein, Host, Sporting News Radio Network
Most Christian books on sports are books about Christians playing sports. Not enough are books that give a Christian view on sports. This book fills the gap admirably. The writing is funny, honest, and provocative, and the subject matter is relentlessly interesting. Ted Kluck knows sports and knows how to write. We need more books like this one.
-Kevin DeYoung, Author of Just Do Something
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With these things in mind, how should believers approach and engage sports?
Ted Kluck (Why We're Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church) attempts to help us think through this question, as well as provide numerous funny, poignant, and telling stories from his experience as a sports writer, in his new book, The Reason for Sports. More a collection of short essays than a unified whole, the book addresses issues such as: jock apologies, steroids, honesty, fantasy football, sports films, humility, and race relations, among others. The book is far from a complete treatise on the issues presented, but Kluck clearly understands two things well: the culture of sports and athletics, and the gospel.
My favorite chapter was probably the one on Mike Tyson and Ricky Williams. Kluck previously wrote a full book on Tyson, and some of his anecdotes about the boxer were very poignant. Both athletes, he points out, are a rare breed in professional sports, in that they are willing to be honest with people. Kluck states he'd rather listen to Williams discuss "his weaknesses than listen to Kurt Warner thank God for his Super Bowl performance" (p. 50). This isn't a knock on Warner, who I greatly respect, but it's nice to hear a Christian author give permission to find non-Christian athletes intriguing. He thinks like an evangelist, not a Christian desperate to find a successful Christian athlete to co-opt as one of our own and hold him up to the world as a shining example that yes, Christians can win (there's also a chapter where he talks about how this has been done with Tony Dungy as well).
The discussion on sports movies was also interesting. I don't agree with everything Kluck says about Braveheart (he's not a fan), but the discussion about what made Chariots of Fire so good was great, and something Christian filmmakers need to seriously consider (listen up Sherwood). Another favorite chapter was on humility called "Why I Love Muhammad Ali (but Why He Also May Have Ruined Sports)". Kluck's discussion of the way athletes behave in the me-first culture of sports today was spot on, while avoiding Christian clichéd responses.
I think that's what I enjoyed most about this book. He doesn't fall back on the traditional Christian responses to things. He doesn't make everything black and white either (for example, can my favorite athlete be someone who is known to be a bad guy off the field?). The discussions are nuanced, exploring the genuine contradictions that are present for many Christians who love sports. These questions need to be addressed. Kluck doesn't answer them all, but he'll get you thinking, and provide some enjoyable reading in the process.
The Reason for Sports is "A Christian Fanifesto," according to the subtitle, a series of essays on the subject. So it is not a cohesive A-Z kind of look at the topic and neither is it an apologetic for professional sports. Instead, it is a book that moves from one topic to the next, often based around articles that have been expanded from ones first printed at ESPN or elsewhere. Thus the strength of the book is not so much in the book as a whole, but in the scope of the topics it covers. Those topics include apologies (something athletes seem to have endless opportunities to practice, though few get it right), steroids and performance enhancing drugs, honest and dishonesty, pride and humility, the emptiness that the most popular athletes may feel even when at the top of their game, sports in popular film and the often perilous link between sports and sexuality. Like I said, this is a book with a broad scope!
Kluck writes from a near-insider's perspective, having played semipro football (Arena League), having trained with pro athletes and having spent many years as a journalist in the field. The back cover says the book offers an "irreverent and contrarian look at the world of sports." And I guess that about says it. It's not that he is irreverent in his view toward God, but more toward sports in general. He tries to forgo easy answers in favor of thoughtful ones. And often his answers cut across the grain, so to speak.
If there is such thing as a theology of sports (and I'm sure there must be) this book is a good place to at least begin developing one. Its nature as a book of essays means that the reader will not walk away with a thorough theology, but he will still have a lot to think about as he attempts to integrate sports and faith. I can't imagine the book will appeal much to those who care little for sports, but for the fan, this book will prove a light and enjoyable read.
Sometimes it's embraced whole-heartedly, other times we're convicted for placing too much significance on how well a man can hit a ball with a stick, shoot a ball through a hoop, or run with a ball while other guys try to catch him. The "good Christian athletes" are exalted, but if the questionable characters are star performers on our team...well, we still kinda like 'em.
All this to say and reaffirm that, in a nutshell, Christians love sports.
If you identify with this group, you need to read "The Reason for Sports". In this book, Ted Kluck has written a number of sports essays that feel - from a quality standpoint - like they're right off the page of the latest issue of SI or ESPN. And throughout, Kluck appropriately and thoughtfully weaves in a biblical perspective. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable, insightful read on athletes, egos, apologies, race, etc. I don't think there's any other book on sports from a Christian perspective written as well as this one.