ad maiorem dei gloriam posted an interesting little piece on athletes giving glory to God for their accomplishments. The piece is very balanced, raising questions like: Should athletes give glory to God for allowing them pummel their opponent senseless in the ring? Does Jesus give the victory to the person on the field who has the most faith? Is the signal of praise to God done by the athlete given in genuine faith, or is it a branding tool — who actually gets the glory, God or the athlete?

I find it interesting that athletes who deliver such salutes tend to invoke “God” or “Jesus” or “my Lord.” They seem to be referencing some kind of transcendent being who has “phenomenal cosmic power” but “itty-bitty living space” (specifically, in the athletes “heart”).

What is being invoked is a deity who has no relation to the Creator of the heavens and earth, or his Son, who became incarnate, died, rose, and ascended, and is coming again. In other words, is the “Jesus” they are giving credit to the Jesus of the Scriptures? Or a Jesus of personal success and empowerment, an Oprah/Dr. Phil Jesus?

So, when athletes point to the sky, or give “praise to Jesus” for making it to the Super Bowl, is that really evangelism — does it connect people to God’s saving work in Christ? Or encourage people to seek after a God who will give them stuff?

BTW — I’ve never seen the “loser” give glory to Jesus because his words in Mark 8:34-38 have been fulfilled. Or, as Bonhoeffer put it: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. … we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. … When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. …death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die…”

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  1. Evan Gaertner May 27, 2010

    I also read the article in and thought of our work in the left hand realm. How go we give glory to God?

    Giving glory to God in the wordly realm is not found in pointing to heaven everytime something good happens. Glory to God is found in faithfully using the gifts that he has given to us for the purposes he has given them to us. God is glorified when his gifts are used.

  2. Peter Elliott May 27, 2010

    Dear Dr. Kloha,

    Thanks for the article. Various examples of this phenomena have bothered me over the years. It seems like most of these athletes receive praise (not persecution) for their actions. In fact, a certain athlete from my home town always quoted Philippians 4:13 for his success. In turn, our community worshiped him and praised him for his faith and humility (and his church advertised based on his success).

    On another note, though, I have seen one athlete praise God for his sports failures: Matt Stover, kicker for the Indianapolis Colts. Stover points up to heavens after every kick, make or miss. Because he points up after he misses, it creates some interesting fan and announcer reactions. Caught on tape during these last NFL playoffs, the announcer had to explain that Stover realizes that he missed the kick; he just always points up. Now, this action of Stover is not necessarily good. It could still be done with false humility, and certainly, pointing up to the skies is not the Gospel! However, it does throw in another interesting option for consideration.


  3. Peter Elliott May 27, 2010

    After I posted, I saw this on a facebook post: No comment.

  4. Jonathan Kern May 31, 2010

    “BTW — I’ve never seen the “loser” give glory to Jesus because his words in Mark 8:34-38 have been fulfilled.”

    I agree that it’s rare to see the loser to give glory to Jesus on national television, which is why I was so surprised when I saw Colt McCoy’s interview following the BCS National Championship game in January.

    You can watch a clip of his interview at

    41 seconds into the clip of the interview, McCoy actually gives glory to God even though an injury in the first series of the game kept him from being able to play in the biggest game of his football career and possibly cost Texas the championship.

  5. Dennis W Matyas June 3, 2010

    It’s either superstition, or a Christian athlete’s failed attempt at evangelism (or both).

    After every game this NBA post-season, Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) would mention how they have to “keep believing” or “put our trust in God”… The Magic were blown out 3-1 by the Celtics. Now what, God? I guess we didn’t believe enough – either that or you don’t care about our victories (which in the grand scheme of creation mean absolutely nothing anyway).

    Look at Rip Hamilton: before EVERY free throw attempt, he dribbles twice in front of his body, once off to the side, breaths out once, and shoots. It’s a ridiculous superstition, he looks like an idiot, and it hardly guarantees him a winning ptc. To me there’s no difference between that and a batter crossing himself before he swings a bat. It’s an empty superstition that treats God like a good-luck charm.

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