I am a Georgia fan. Those of you who read my regular blog have no doubt picked up on that, and you had to know that it would only be a matter of time before that would make its way into the conversation over here. Well, today that day has come.
I am the worst kind of Georgia fan there is. Lewis Grizzard, a longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who achieved national renown because of his take on Southern life, always said, “I’m Bulldog born, Bulldog bred, and when I die I’ll be by God Bulldog dead.” Well, I’ve got him beat cold. I’m a Bulldog fan by choice.
And Georgia is hurting these days. The football program is in a rather tenuous state, and the coach, Mark Richt, is in trouble–on the hot seat, as it were. Just a few days ago, Fran Tarkenton, a former Georgia standout who went on to have a long and illustrious career with the Minnesota Vikings, appeared on one of the local sports talk radio stations and said some things about Mark Richt that were none too flattering. (If any of you are by any chance interested in hearing this interview, here is the link. I would strongly recommend that you listen to it, just to get an idea of how passionate we Southerners are about our college football.)
In the course of that interview, the subject of religion came up. Now Mark Richt is an evangelical, and decidedly so. Over the years Mark Richt has gotten significant props from the evangelical segment of Georgia’s fan base, largely because of his outspoken profession of faith and the mission trips that he and his family go on every summer.
Here is what Tarkenton had to say about Richt’s expression of faith:
He is a wonderful guy. He’s a good Christian guy. He wants to be a missionary, goes on mission trips. That’s a wonderful thing. But do you know the religion of Nick Saban? Gus Malzahn? Or Chip Kelly, playing for the national championship? I don’t think we care what their religion is. That’s their business. But we hire them to be football coaches. If we are going to hire a religious instructor, let’s go to the Candler School of Theology [at Emory University here in Atlanta]…and get some of their people to come coach our football team.
And herein lies part of the trouble that Mark Richt faces. As an evangelical, Richt is part of a system that places an immense value upon such things as an outspoken profession of faith, involvement in church programs, and acts of service such as mission trips. According to the thinking that is prevalent in much of evangelicalism these days, full-time ministers and missionaries are the only ones who are living out the will of God in our world. If you can’t do either of these, then active involvement in church programs and going on short-term mission trips whenever you have the opportunity are the next best thing.
But Mark Richt has been given a vocation by God–football coach at one of the highest-profile college football programs in the country. This is a very demanding job, and in order to do it well he needs to be all-in. In other words, it can’t be just something that he does when he is not at church or on a mission trip.
Luther’s theology of vocation, which I alluded to here in an earlier post, states that God works through all people in all stations of life to advance His kingdom in this world–not just the full-time ministers and missionaries whom evangelicals are so enamored with. When we do whatever it is that we do in our regular station of life and do it well, God is using us to advance His kingdom. This goes for everyone–teachers, writers, garbage men, investment bankers, waiters, bellhops, doctors, lawyers, taxi drivers.
And major Division 1-A football coaches.
The point which Tarkenton made in his comments is that the best college football coaches are the ones who are singlemindedly focused upon their jobs and upon being the very best that they can be. The coaches whom Tarkenton references–Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, and Chip Kelly, are not evangelicals who are actively involved in their churches or who go on mission trips during the summers. If they are, we don’t know about it because they do not consider it important for us to know. It is not part of what they are hired to do as football coaches. (Nick Saban is the head coach at Alabama, which won the national championship last year. Gus Malzahn is the offensive coordinator at Auburn, which won the national championship this year. Chip Kelly is the head coach at Oregon, which was the runner-up to Auburn this year.)
If any of these coaches are Christians, then I would submit that they hold a much healthier and more balanced theology of vocation than most evangelicals do. Could we evangelicals accept such coaches if they were to claim to be evangelical? Or would their not making a big deal about church involvement and mission trips put us off?
Could we as evangelicals get to the place of acknowledging that all those mission trips might not be part of what God has called Mark Richt to do (in this season of his life, at least), or that they might actually be a deterrent to him fulfilling the vocation that God has called him to?