Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Sports and Sabbath

1. For the record, I'm not personally invested in this issue. I rarely watch sports. 

2. American culture idolizes sports. And that's hardly unique to American culture. The idolization of sports is a global phenomenon. 

That presents Christians with two basic options. On the one hand we can constantly bitch about the inevitable. Constantly bitch about what we can't change. We can boycott it. Be separatistic. 

On the other hand, we can view sports as an opening for the Gospel. We can infiltrate sports. Take advantage of what we can't change. 

Christian coaches can mentor the next generation of men. They can reach the unchurched. They can reach boys and men who don't normally have occasion to be exposed to the Christian faith. Not to mention boys and men who wouldn't normally take the Christian faith seriously because they haven't seen representatives of the Christian faith they can take seriously. But a coach is an emblem of manhood, and there are boys and men who will give the Gospel a respectful hearing because they respect their coach. 

3. In addition, the secular progressives loathe masculinity with a passion. But sports can be a haven for common grace masculinity at a time when manliness is under sustained attack. In that respect it's more important than it used to be.

4. It's ironic that his daughter plays on the boys' team. That's functionally equivalent to the transgender movement. 

5. Jones sometimes writes useful things, but he's a classic company man. He epitomizes the "confessional Calvinist" mindset.

Although I defend Calvinism on a regular basis, I've always maintained a certain distance from the Reformed community due to its cliquishness and clannishness. I'm not suggesting that's distinctive to the Reformed community. You find that mentality in just about any religious community–as well as other kinds of communities. 

Theological traditions are off-the-shelf packages. And you always have dutiful adherents whose mindset is to robotically check every box. 

The motivation isn't primarily theological but sociological. Because human beings are social creatures, there's a powerful incentive to assimilate to your peer group. To be a loyal team-player. Where creeds simply function as a litmus test for membership in the club.

That reduces theological fidelity to playacting. Guys like Mark Jones and Scott Clark are actors who recite a script. Memorize a script. It's not first and foremost about fidelity to God but playing a role to be a member in good standing with your peer group.

John Frame used to get into hot water because he was too smart for his own good. By that I mean, he wasn't an actor. He wasn't just reciting his lines. He's an independent thinker whose priority is to be true to God's truth. As a philosopher and apologist, he cares about the quality of the arguments. 

His mentor John Murray had the same outlook. That's authentic, God-honoring piety. Instead of paying lip-service to sola Scriptura, it is serious about having biblical justification for what we think and do. The piety of John Owen, Richard Baxter, and Archbishop Leighton (to name a few), who avoided partisan entanglements and blandishments.  

It's not enough to believe the right things. We need to believe them for the right reason. As I say, Mark Jones is a recognizable personality type. Keeps the uniform well-ironed and spotless. Polishes the brass buttons. Smartly salutes and clicks his heels.

The psychology is interchangeable across theological and ideological boundaries. The confessional Baptist, confessional Presbyterian, confessional Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Rad-Trad Catholic, party-line Democrat, pious Muslim. Credal expositions like the WCF, WSC, LBCF, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism are wonderful summaries of Christian faith. But they're no substitute for Scripture. To be a team-player won't help you on your deathbed, facing into eternity. We're ultimately answerable to God. 


  1. Thanks, Steve. Your description of me represents well what I aspire to. As does your example.

    1. Uh,you're not the John Frame referred to here. Perhaps some pastoral counseling is in order?

    2. C. M. Steve was J. Frame's TA for some time iirc. I wouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly...

    3. Check his profile, it's not John Frame the theologian

    4. I checked his profile. It seems like John Frame the theologian to me. Otherwise what makes you think it's not John Frame the theologian? For example, both have the same name including middle initial. Also, presumably Frame knows Robert Landrum from RTS-Orlando. And presumably Frame has known Don Kistler since Pittsburgh.

    5. Moreover, Landrum calls him "Professor Frame" here:


    6. Or perhaps Landrum knows Kistler.

      Why would a different "John M. Frame" weigh in to thank Steve for what he says in his post?

      Anyway, all this doubt seems kind of silly to me.

    7. Seems like a false profile to me, to gain cred for his comments. The only thing on it is a 10 year old blog. I'm willing to be corrected.

    8. "Seems like a false profile to me, to gain cred for his comments. The only thing on it is a 10 year old blog. I'm willing to be corrected."

      1. Well, I mean, lots of people have old or defunct weblogs. Not sure this fact alone necessarily implies they're not who they claim they are.

      2. As I said above, the "Worldviews" weblog features Frame with Landrum and Kistler. It sounds like Landrum started the weblog, then invited Frame and Kistler to join, which they did, though I don't think they posted much before the weblog apparently died. However, it would make sense Frame knows Landrum from RTS-Orlando. Maybe Frame knows Kistler, too, from his days in Pittsburgh. And Landrum did address Frame as "Professor Frame" back in 2007, which, if it's a fake account, would mean he's been faking it since 2007.

      3. Anyway, short of the sorts of things I said above, I'm not sure how anyone could convince you otherwise? After all, if "John M. Frame" claims he is the real Frame, I doubt that would convince you. Maybe if Frame makes a public video or does an interview saying he's the real Frame, or something like that, but that seems like a lot of trouble to go to convince one guy online. I guess the easiest thing to do would be to just email Frame directly and ask him? Just a thought.

    9. Or perhaps he could simply link his profile to his actual work instead of a terrible old blog upon which he posted nothing but one comment. Just a thought.

    10. Given you're the only one who seems to doubt his identity, shouldn't you be the one taking the initiative here? Just another thought.

    11. I'll defer to what Steve thinks, this topic has played out to its end for my part. Take care...

    12. C.M. Granger

      "I'll defer to what Steve thinks, this topic has played out to its end for my part. Take care..."

      1. Well, to be fair, I think it played out long ago. This whole thing has been pretty trivial.

      2. I think you could defer to Einstein and it wouldn't settle the matter for you. Just contact Frame directly and ask him. That's probably the easiest way for you to best ensure a reply as well as be personally convinced.

  2. "That reduces theological fidelity to playacting. Guys like Mark Jones and Scott Clark are actors who recite a script. Memorize a script. It's not first and foremost about fidelity to God but playing a role to be a member in good standing with your peer group."

    That's a harsh accusation. Is it merely being Confessional that informs it, or do you have other reasons?

    1. It's a question of what motivates confessionalism. So often it's just social psychology. And that's easy to see from how they have a token affirmation of sola Scriptura, but in reality their creeds are the unquestionable filter.

    2. 100% agree with this. The 1689 is practically elevated to the place of Scripture among Reformed Baptists, even though many will oppose this assertion proposition ally. However, for some, it is practically so because they cannot determine Scripture's meaning outside of it.

  3. I'm not a Sabbatarian. Between that and my Old Earth Creationism that's the two things that probably set me apart from the circles I run in.

    So I understand what you're getting out. You need to go against the pack for what you believe is true sometimes. Not everything is first-level importance.

    Although the article makes a good point about the standards he's committed to uphold. Is there an exemption allowed for this one point? Then that's fine.

    As long as he's upfront with his view on the Sabbath.

  4. I'm not a Sabbatarian. In fact, many (most?) in the continental Reformed tradition are not. That partly stems from the fact that we use the 3 Forms of Unity and not the Westminster standards. So denominations/federations like the URCNA don't have a unified view on this.

    That said, I take a pretty dim view towards modern sports culture. It has become a pathetic replacement for true religion. Seeing grown men getting so invested in a game or "their team". Sitting on a bar stool, shaking their beer at the TV screen, living vicariously through the activities and accomplishments of others. Armchair quarterbacking and debating arcane minutiae and statistics.

    But I see the issue of children participating in sports as a distinct issue. There are real opportunities for character-building, regardless of career prospects. But even here these junior leagues should structure the schedule so as not to interfere with public worship, which for most is on Sunday mornings.

  5. Mostly unrelated to sports, but what are your thoughts on high school kids (or Christians for that matter) playing video games of the violent variety (i.e., Grand Theft Auto) as a form of entertainment? The reason I ask is because my high school kid is very persistent about wanting to play that particular video game with his friends. He says he knows the difference between reality and video games and that the role playing aspect is fun; most of the role playing is as a criminal, stealing cars, shooting/hurting innocent people, etc. He says that the version that he would use (the “online” version) tames down much of the adult themes. He wants to know why if playing a bad guy in a movie isn’t wrong, why playing a bad guy in a video game is wrong. I’m just hoping he finds a better outlet for his time. I know this is my battle, but any thoughts? What scripture would speak to this issue? The video game has evidently grossed over $6 billion in sales, so I can’t be alone in this.

    1. It would be nice if we had video games based on medieval action stories like Beowulf, the Song of Roland, and Arthurian romance.

    2. I hope Steve chimes in, but GTA V is an immersive title (I've played through the single player story) with highly entertaining mechanics and memorable characters. It's also a sandbox in a moral vacuum, so ultimately what kinds of choices your characters make will be constrained by what kind of player you are. The game is also filled to the brim with irony. As your son already sees, no one who understands literary devices will think Michael or Trevor (who is a sociopath!) are role models or that the long series of selfish decisions that define their lives are in anyway virtuous. (Personally, I spent the entire game laughing at how awful they were.) It reminds me of passages from Proverbs that exaggerate the faults of the fool.

      My kids love video games, but I usually restrict their time and make them do chores and play outside in order to play more. They play games on the Switch (Nintendo), which are both social/cooperative and far less violent than game series like GTA. If your son loves video games, it might be best to point him toward different titles or platforms than to try to cut it out completely. Teenage boys like the camaraderie of cooperative or competitive (often violent) games. Fortnite is all the rage right now, and it's far less violent than GTA V.

      It's not all a waste of time: like many people my age, in university I played Halo with guys and bonded over it--some of them are still my friends to this day.

    3. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an immersive medieval RPG that creates a realistic depiction of living in the HRE. I could see this type of framework applied to mythological stories.

    4. “It would be nice if we had video games based on medieval action stories like Beowulf, the Song of Roland, and Arthurian romance.”

      Might Skyrim count? ;)

    5. As far as mythological stories, God of War is all the rage at the moment. It’d seem to run into the whole violence problem though!

  6. I've read Mark Jones' article you link and Steven Wedgeworth's comments on FB. Wedgeworth and Jones minister together in the same PCA congregation in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

    I'm sympathetic to what both men are saying, but the problem we have with the Sabbath is that the Sabbath can't really be the Sabbath without social conditioning and things like blue laws. We don't live in a society that honors the Sabbath, which makes it difficult to honor the Sabbath. 24/7/365 commerce is the norm. Many people, not just athletes, have to work in establishments that don't provide necessities.

    The particular day chosen for worship need not be fixed. Larger churches, especially in major cities, often offer Saturday or Sunday night services. Alternatively, churches and presbyteries could commission chaplains to attend to the needs of players, coaches, managers, etc.

    Players often play on the road. Then again, military men and business men are often on the road. One may often be absent from one's home church. Would "on-the-road" professions be forbidden to Christians due to the lack of intimacy with one's home congregation this creates?

    It's a conversation worth having, but we should be quick to extend charity and understanding.