Book Review: Game Day for the Glory of God

If I were to write down all the greatest moments of my life, probably about half of them would have to do with sports:
-Mizzou knocking off Nebraska for the first time in 25 years and being on the field to catch the goal post on its way down.
-Running into the streets of Downtown St Louis with thousands of people after the Cards won the World Series.
-Winning the District soccer Championship on penalty kicks against Jeff City my Junior year. (Just to name a few.)

I LOVE sports.

My guess is many of you can identify. I spent the large majority of my free time growing up (school nights, weekends, even summers) playing, practicing, and training for sports. These days I spend a large majority of my Saturdays in the fall preparing to watch and then watching OTHER PEOPLE play sports. Such is life.

Yet, with all the time and energy I devote to sports in my life, rarely do I ask myself the question: what is the Biblical view of sports?

Stephen Altrogge, a pastoral intern at Sovereign Grace Church, takes on that very question in his first book, Game Day for the Glory of God: A Guide for Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes.

The danger with a book about sports, of course, is the temptation to reduce the topic toward one pole or the other: either to over-emphasize sports and actually make God a servant of sports or to under-emphasize the place sports does and should play in our lives. It is the difference between saying “If you have enough faith your team will win” and “Sports is a waste of time and we should all go read our Bibles.” Both fall short of a nuanced, fleshed-out Biblical view of sports.

I think Game Day does a great job of not slipping into either of these false poles. Instead, Altrogge says his short book has 2 main goals: first and foremost he aims to acknowledge that the enjoyment and pleasure we derive from sports is undeserved to sinners like ourselves and the primary response toward sports should be a deep thankfulness to God for the sheer pleasure we have watching and playing sports. Second, he hopes that, as Christians, we will identify the fact that sports are a great training ground for Biblical virtue. Passion, trustworthiness, teamwork, and above all humility should be the defining qualities with which we play and watch sports.

My favorite part of the book is chapter 3 in which Altrogge tackles the question: what is it, exactly, about sports that has such a draw and moves us so deeply? His answer is essentially that all the things we love about sports are actually things that we long for in Christ. For example, when we watch Tiger Woods and declare: “He is excellent at what he does, he is the greatest,” Altrogge claims, “I experience joy in watching Tiger Woods because I’m catching a very faint glimpse of the glory and excellence of God.” Likewise, watching our team win, reveling in that pleasure, (what he calls “the joy of victory”) is rooted in our deep need to have someone be victorious for us, to be our hero, to defeat our most fundamental enemy: our sin.

Over all, this short book is good, but not great. You will not learn anything fundamentally new, it will not change your life, but it may change the way you think about sports (and for some of you like me, that is a BIG part of life.) Its strength lies in its deep-rooted gospel-centeredness. Sports, like all of life, are ultimately about Christ. Altrogge understands that truth and it is what makes this short book worth a few hours of your time.

Listen to CJ Mahaney (who authors an appendix in Game Day) interview Stephen Altrogge here. (20 min.)

Another resource to help you think about sports in a Biblical way is CJ Mahaney’s sermon, Don’t Waste Your Sports.

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