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Are rugby players the best theologians?

A friend and I were discussing the negative impact of a certain theologian on the evangelical landscape.  (No, not him.  Nor him.  I haven't blogged about this guy).

Anyway my friend brought up an aspect of his personal life that exemplified the problems in this theology.

I said, "Yeah, but when discussing this publicly, you can't raise that."  He said "Why not?"

Hm.  Good question.

I found myself falling back on a sporting analogy (which is a sure sign you've lost the theological argument).  I said "Well, you need to play the ball and not the man."  There was a pause on the other end of the phone line.  My friend's thick Welsh accent came back:  "You're not a rugby player then?"


rugby tackle.

See, in  rugby you watch the ball and you take out the man in possession.  You take him down with a ball-and-all tackle and you pile on.  And if the ball goes to someone else, you take them down.





You don't play the man without the ball - but if he's got the ball, your orders are to 'terminate with extreme prejudice.'




My friend continued... "Just read the theological debates of the reformation.  They played the ball and the man.  You can't separate them.  Theology is personal."

Well, what could I say.  I'd been exposed.  I could only pray he wouldn't ask me what sports I did play.  You see my winter sport was hockey.  And not ice hockey - that would be a fine Lutheran pursuit wouldn't it?  You can just imagine a huge body check on Erasmus, face pressed into the plexiglass.

No, my winter sport was field hockey.  You know - the game where the referee blows foul every 30 seconds because of some kind of obstruction, stick check, foot violation.  It's the most clinical of sports.  You play the ball only.

And my summer sport?  Cricket.  This abstracts man from ball by a good 22 yards.  But actually it leads to a very passive-aggressive atmosphere.  You bowl the ball, and it doesn't matter who's at the other end.  But off the ball, in between deliveries, the fielding side take the opportunity to cast aspersions on the batsman's technique, girth and sexual orientation.

The lesson?  Never debate a cricketer.  They're all clinical and polite on the surface - dressed in white for goodness sakes.  But you just know they're dissing your momma behind your back.


Anyway, what do you think?  Do we take the man out along with the ball?

And how do your sporting experiences shape the way you engage theology?




0 thoughts on “Are rugby players the best theologians?

  1. codepoke

    I'm too old to bounce like a hooker anymore, but I'm all about playing the man.

    Yeah. If I see a man who will engage me at the scriptural level but pretends to be from the planet Krikkit, I'm going to finish the current discussion and unsub. No man has the right to protest he's got theology right when he's short with his wife, long with other women, impatient with the dull, or flattering to his posse. It may not be something I can confront, but I can disengage.

  2. Will

    Well you haven't finished by telling us about this fellow's issue so I assume you draw the line somewhere! :o)

    Peter seems to play the man in 2 Peter 2, but surely there is a distinction between denouncing false teachers who are not actually christians, and getting stuck into a fellow brother on some issue.

    Of course with the christian it won't be a very good argument anyway because even if your target has some issue surely he'll have a teammate who'll be just as godly as anyone else. You'd end up having to take out the whole team!

    Re the reformation debates, Mike Reeves made an interesting point in a talk on Martin Luther on the Theology Network I listened to recently. He quoted from a Luther letter to the Pope in which he said he had no issue with him personally!

    Also of course, we must be self-critical about such methods because of the danger of false motives etc. I myself could only take out a man in good conscience if I had first lost many hours of sleep over the state of his soul, prayed and wept for him. Barring that I could safely assume that deep down I was criticising him for some other reason, such as jealousy or a love of theological combat.

    My sport (Australian Rules football) is probably a better analogy than rugby - it is as tough and bruising a sport as any in the world but most of the body on body stuff comes when the ball is in dispute, not when you're actually tackling someone who already has the ball.

    Better game too.


  3. Glen

    Code, when did you learn about rugby then (or enough to know it has 'hookers')?

    Yes when you see such inconsistencies it at least tells you not to take the guys doctrine seriously.

    Will, aerial ping-pong huh? You know the more I think about it, the more I see how the practice of theology is very Aussie Rules-like. Theologians do indeed seem to get most aggressive when the ball itself in dispute, i.e. the biggest punch-ups are over the millennium, church government, modes of baptism, etc. Now whether theology *should* be like that is a very different matter!

    I loved what you said here:

    "I myself could only take out a man in good conscience if I had first lost many hours of sleep over the state of his soul, prayed and wept for him. Barring that I could safely assume that deep down I was criticising him for some other reason, such as jealousy or a love of theological combat."

    Yes indeed - and only after challenging that life-style inconsistency yourself.

  4. Glen

    ... especially because he "opposed him to his face" - not very British at all!

    the crime? "not *walking* in line with the truth of the gospel"

  5. codepoke

    Well, I don't know enough to tell you whether my son played rugby or Australian rules football, but I learned enough to work with him between practices. I could pass the ball with a kick or underhand, and I could do a couple drills.

    I was jealous the whole time he was out there, but after I shredded my knee playing soccer I gave up ligament-tearing sports. 5 years was a long time for me not to play tennis, and I'm not anxious to repeat that experience.

  6. Craig

    Interesting observations. My thought would be that perhaps many misunderstandings that result from debates result from one participant playing by cricket rules, and the other playing by rugby rules. The cricket player thinks the other person has crossed the line. The rugby player is offended that the other person seems aloof and won't really engage!

    A good thought for me to keep in mind when entering discussions. Look at the field markings and the shape of the ball. Try to play the game of the host team. (is this an appropriate time to insert the verse out of context of being all things to all men?)


  7. Craig

    I suppose one should also consider if you are in a "sportsman like friendly duel" or a "battle to the death" if it is a battle rather than a sporting engagement, one might contend differently.

    Just a thought.


  8. Mark

    I'm an American and a Rugger, so I always argue with people about the supremacy of Rugby over American Football. Don't get me wrong, I love playing my country's perversion of Rugby. Ball-carrying in Football is sooo luxurious: I have blockers, the sideline is not my enemy, I can stretch for extra yards in the tackle without losing the ball, I don't have to look behind me for support, and running east and west is somewhat excusable as long as I eventually turn up field. But luxury should keep its grimy fingers off of contact sports; so Rugby beats Football in this as well.

    To get on with the point, my sporting experiences shape my engagement of theology in this way: Some people believe that God should protect us from hardship and tragedy, but this line of thinking results in us questioning God and losing trust in Him when we inevitably suffer such things. God does not protect us from pain. He lets pain take us, but He stays close and comforts us while giving us the strength to keep possession of our sanity.

    God is not a blocker in American Football - charging ahead between us and adversity. He is a rucker. He is the one we can count on when the enemy has tackled us and we can no longer hold on to the ball ourselves. He is the ever faithful forward - never out of position, never too tired or too slow to be in support, never hesitating to put a shoulder to our enemies and stand over us when we've been forced to the ground or have lost our footing by our own accord.

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