NFL fans know it's nearly impossible to get through a football game without reference to God. Whether Tebowing on the sidelines, giving a shoutout on ESPN, or pointing to heaven after a touchdown, plenty of players recognize that God's a part of the game.
Christians need to stop acting like that's a bad thing, according to apologist and theologian William Lane Craig. He's the one they should be praying to and thanking, says Craig, a professor at Biola University's Talbot School of Theology and author of Reasonable Faith.
CT's Kate Shellnutt spoke with Craig about prayer, providence, and pigskin ahead of Sunday's big game. (Craig, for the record, will be pulling for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.)
Recent polls have found at least a quarter of Americans pray for sports teams, and that number is even higher among evangelicals. As a theologian, what do these stats tell you?
I think it shows how deeply committed they are to their teams that they would feel compelled to pray about it! In fact, it's almost irresistible for someone who is on a team to pray that God would help him to do a good job and to win and to prevail. I don't think that there's anything the matter with that type of prayer, so long as one adds the caveat, nevertheless "not my will, but thy will be done."
What's the value in praying for God's will to be done for the outcome of a game if God's will will be done whether we pray or not?
Now that's a question about prayer in general. What good does it do to pray about anything if the outcome is not affected? I would say when God chooses which world to actualize, he takes into account the prayers that would be offered in that world. We shouldn't think prayer is about changing the mind of God. He's omniscient; he already knows the future, but prayer makes a difference in that it can affect what world God has chosen to create.
Peyton Manning is a Christian, but he says he doesn't pray to win games. He said, "I pray to keep both teams injury free, and personally, that I use whatever talent I have to the best of my ability." Is it wrong or should we feel bad for praying for a win?
No, I think it's fine for Christian athletes to pray about those things so long as they understand, as I say, that the person on the other team is also praying, and that some of these prayers will go unanswered in the providence of God. Ultimately, one is submitting oneself to God's providence, but I see nothing the matter with praying for the outcome of these things. They're not a matter of indifference to God. God cares about these little things, so it's appropriate.
I do want to say that there are far more appropriate things that the Christian athlete ought to be praying for. He should be praying for his own character and development, to be a person of integrity, fair play, good sportsmanship, self-discipline, civility toward the opponent, and so forth. Those are the really important moral qualities that I think God wants to develop in a Christian athlete.
We're also used to seeing football players point to the heavens in the end zone after they score or thank God on TV after a win. Why do you think some Christians are embarrassed by that? Why does that make us uncomfortable?
It might be because it exemplifies a kind of triumphalism, a sort of in-your-face, God-is-on-my-side attitude. It's entirely appropriate for the player to thank God that he's been able to do well, score a touchdown, catch a pass or something, but flaunting it in front of others isn't so good an idea.