Monday, 17 November 2014

Lincoln Harvey 2 – 1 Peter J. Leithart

Lincoln Harvey’s A Brief Theology of Sport is an impressive piece of theology; you can read my review here. Peter J. Leithart has also reviewed Harvey’s book (in First Things), and he picks up on Harvey’s idea that sport is the liturgical celebration of creaturely contingency, the one thing not geared towards the glory of God. Leithart writes:

This is an odd conclusion, partly for an obvious reason: It puts sports outside rather than within creaturely existence, since creaturely existence is classically understood to be entirely directed toward God. In celebrating creatureliness, Harvey removes sport from the God-directedness that is constitutive of creatureliness. It’s odd too because Harvey applies his point narrowly to sports. Why is music-making not autotelic in just the way that sport is? Why is ballet not a liturgy of contingency from which God withdraws to order to take his place among the spectators?

Harvey has published a response to Leithart, also in First Things. In A Theology of Sport: On the Rebound, Harvey argues that, unlike ballet, sport is intrinsically competitive. Sport has winners and losers, which means it perfectly captures the dynamic of creaturely contingency:

We know in Jesus Christ that life, not nothingness, has the first and last word, and that is why we prefer victory; winning is our future, so to speak, whilst losing is a backwards glance into the impossibility of nothingness.

But what particularly interests me in Harvey’s response is the sustained attention he gives to the related matters of providence and divine presence.

A variegated description of divine presence refuses to reduce providential action to causality alone—the uniform feature of presence—but looks to accommodate a rich account of divine purpose simultaneously within that one act. At times God directs his creation with a strong providential hand, so to speak, at other times with a lighter touch. But holding tight and letting go are both equally divine within the one sovereign act.

And if that is so, we can complement an account of God’s occasionally intensified presence with its opposite. Are there not times where God steps back, so to speak, maintaining only the lightest of touch to allow that which he is creating, sustaining, and guiding, to momentarily resonate in its substantial actuality as neither God nor nothing? Or—to highjack the image Leithart uses—is the triune God much more balletic than an account of uniform presence would suggest?

The question for me is whether these comments apply only to sport; I don’t think they do. Regardless, there’s some real theological gold here to be mined.

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