Baseball and Theology

The World Series will soon be over. If you’re like me and you don’t have dog in the hunt (even though I would like to see the Diamondbacks win, but that seems very unlikely with them down 3-1 in the Series and down a run in the 7th inning of the fifth game. Yes, I have watched parts of all but one of the games.

For those of you going into baseball withdrawal, here are a few reviews of books that discuss baseball and our Christian faith. For another review mine on a similar book by John Sexton, president of New York University, titled “Baseball as a Road to God, click here.

James S. Currie, The Kingdom of God is Like… Baseball: A Metaphor for Jesus’s Kingdom Parables 

(Eugene Oregon, Cascade Books, 2011), 114 pages. 

I know the author’s brother, Tom Currie. In the acknowledgements, James acknowledges Tom as a better baseball player and a more “perspicacious theologian.” I’ve not seen Tom play but have been blessed to be in the presence of  his keen theological mind. I have also heard him speak of his love of the game. I even attended a night game with him in Pittsburgh this summer. When he mentioned this book, I decided to pick it up. And now we’re in a World Series where I’m not really excited by either team, I picked up this book to read and I hope to get this review out before the Series is over!  

Each chapter appears they could have been sermons. The author explores Jesus’ kingdom parables using baseball stories. TThe first chapter digs into the theme of failure and freedom in which we hear stories of great games by mediocre ballplayers and how you are more likely to be out than to get a hit… From there, he explores themes like joys, hope, community, hard work, unexpected heroes, reflecting society, communion of saints, and home. If you count them up, there are nine major chapters in this book just like there are nine innings in a baseball. And, as it sometimes happens, there is one last chapter for the extra innings. 

This book is a joy. The baseball fan will be reminded of many stories, some well-known and others less so. The Biblical scholar may come away with a new way of approaching Jesus’ kingdom parables. 

Marc A. Jolley, Safe at Home: A Memoir of God, Baseball, and Family (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005), 139 pages, a few photos.

This is a delightful book in which Jolley recalls childhood memories with his father on up to the time he became a father himself. Jolley links these life transitions together with his love of baseball and his growing faith. Like baseball with more strikeouts than home runs, Jolley’s story contains sadness along with joy. There’s the time he failed to make his high school team. Then there are the casualties experienced by those, like Jolley, on the sideline during a political battles between fundamentalists and more moderate members of his denomination (Southern Baptist). These were tough times to be in seminary as Jolley completes his MDiv and PhD.  Jolley also deals with depression. Through it all, Jolley’s parents and wife support him. In the end, Jolley discovers family to be the medicine needed to help keep his depression under control.  

As a white Southerner, I have never understood fellow Southerners who root for the Yankees. As a child, it was always St. Louis and then Atlanta, when the Braves moved there. The Yankees were despised.  I recently learned this was also true of many African-Americans in the South (at least in the 50s).  I would have thought they would have seen the Yankees as liberators (a good thing), but the New York Yankees was one of the last teams to integrate.  Instead, African-Americans supported the Dodgers, who brought up Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in baseball.[1] 

That said, Jolley and his father were Yankee fans.  He describes entering Yankee Stadium with his son to watch their first game with the details of an architect entering a cathedral. Reading about this trip, I was excited for him.  I was almost as excited as I was three years ago when I saw my first game at Yankee Stadium.  Like his son, a Diamondback fan who rooted against the Yankees, I attended a Yankee-Detroit cheering on the Tiger’s.  Baseball has a way of bringing people together and providing a good time even though in my game it rained and the Tiger’s lost by 12 runs.

Jolley’s father’s love for the Yankees’ was tested when they pick up Reggie Jackson as a free agent. His father couldn’t stand Jackson saying he had no respect for one who bragged about himself and talked bad about others. But Jackson, Mr. October, backed up his loud mouth with homeruns. Sadly, Jolley was never able to attend a game at Yankee Stadium with his father.  When he was able to take his own son, his father was in a nursing home. But his smiled and enjoyed the stories when he heard about the trip Jolley took with his son.

I also appreciated how Jolley wove in many of my favorite authors into his narrative. Will Campbell’s Glad River makes an appearance as he reflects on his father’s faith (even though he was never baptized). He quotes William Styron and credits him with getting through depression.  Dante’s Divine Comedy makes an appearance as does W. P. Kinsella.’s classic, Shoeless Joe” upon which the movie “Field of Dreams was based.”

This is an enjoyable read and I highly recommend it. As Jolley points out in the quote below, there things baseball does better than the church in the disciple-making business: 

I never learned to respect enemies at church. I learned a lot about hate and divisiveness at church. I learned nothing about a common goal, or a purpose. Not until much later did I ever figure church out.  Playing baseball that year, I got a head start on what church was supposed to be.”  (Page 60)

I read and reviewed this book in 2017 in a blog that’s no longer available. The author confided in me afterwards that he and his first wife divorced and he has remarried. That said, the book is still a good read.

[1] On race and team loyalty in at least one corner of the south, see Melton A. McLaurin, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South (1987, Athens: UGA Press, 1998), 142-145,

12 Replies to “Baseball and Theology”

  1. Good morning! I always enjoy your spirit, love of life and of course some of your favorite things in life. I’m not a huge sports fan, but I always enjoy listening to those that are! I’ve been trying to focus on as much positivity as possible, there’s always a light just keep moving towards it and appreciate everything regardless of those negative vibes that try to force their way in!

  2. Sage
    I am a Tiger fan, and my father took the whole family to Detroit to see double headers against the Yankees, in old tiger stadium.

    I have worked 5 years for the Traverse City Pit Spitters.
    And will go to the library to get Jolly’s book.

    1. Of course, you’re a Tiger’s fan! I enjoyed going to games there many times and have adopted them as my AL team. I never knew Traverse City’s minor league team was the pit spitters. What a name! But it goes with the cherry capital and better than Savannah’s old minor league team, “the Sand Gnats”

  3. Baseball and theology are two of my favorite subjects, so I should definitely check these out. I think I remember your 2017 review of Safely Home and thinking I should read it, but never did. Happy to get the reminder.

    1. It is good to blend baseball and theology–they seem to go together. Be sure to check out the older book, if you haven’t yet, about Baseball as a way to God. It’s also good.

  4. I honestly didn’t know the World Series was being played until the morning’s news highlights mentioned that it is now over. Even though I have never been a baseball fan, I have always known when the World Series was being played so either I’m slipping or the news has decided it hasn’t been news worthy compared to the endless talk about the two wars.

    1. The two teams in the World Series didn’t exactly create a lot of excitement. If Philly had won, or another large market in a different part of the country, I think the viewership would have increased.

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