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Muscular Christianity : Evangelical Protestants and the Development of American Sport,9780801058479

Muscular Christianity : Evangelical Protestants and the Development of American Sport

Format: Paperback
Pub. Date: 6/1/1999
Publisher(s): Baker Books


The definitice guide to the increasingly popular field of sports ministry.

Table of Contents

Preface 7(4)
Introduction 11(11)
The Rise of Evangelicals and the Development of Sport in America
The Engagement of Religion and Sport
The Disengagement of Evangelical Muscular Christians from Sport
Toward the Reengagement of Evangelicalism and Sport
Institutionalizing Muscular Christianity since the 1950s
Interinstitutional Muscular Christianity: Church, College, and Sport in Modern America
Interpreting the Ethos of Modern Evangelical Muscular Christianity: Religion and Sport in New Patterns of Cultural Reinforcement
Afterword: Could There Be Another Disengagement? 237(10)
Notes 247(35)
Index 282


Chapter One

The Rise of Evangelicals and the Development of Sport in America

Perhaps no one reflected the idealized version of the mid-nineteenth-century muscular Christian as did Henry Ward Camp. His life stood as an icon to a generation of evangelical Christians who came to see participation in sports as a training ground for living and dying. Henry Camp was one of numerous muscular Christians on college campuses whose experiences reflected those of the mythical Tom Brown.

Educated in the public schools of Hartford, Connecticut, Henry Camp was described as a thorough athlete, strong and compact. One of his teachers indicated that he attracted all who knew him.

I never had a pupil who possessed a finer character or more completely won the respect, and even admiration, of his teachers. He despised everything mean, everything vulgar; and his generosity and manliness in his intercourse with other boys made him a general favorite among them. He was remarkably truthful also, and this never from a fear of consequences, but with a spontaneity which showed that truth was at the foundation of his character. As a scholar he was very faithful, accurate, and prompt in his recitations.... No one stood above him in his class; and he took some prizes while in the school, for English composition and other exercises. But it was chiefly his uncommon nobleness of character which made him conspicuous then, as in later years....

At Yale, 1856-60, Camp was a campus leader, especially in athletics. As a member of the university crew, he rowed number three. A college friend wrote, "Those who saw his heart in this respect will cherish the revelations made to them as something sacred. I know one who was brought to Christ, who, had it not been for him, for his Christian character as revealed in his conversation, and for the sincerity and wholeheartedness of his trust in Christ, would not, as far as I can see, have ever been a Christian. Others I knew who were influenced by him whom he did not know or dream of--whom he knows now ."

After graduation, Camp taught school for a few months and then went off to war. He was killed at Richmond after "gloriously leading a charge." He asked to be placed in the first line, "where he fell riddled with bullets." Shortly thereafter, a life-size portrait of Henry Ward Camp was placed in Alumni Hall at Yale. Over his grave in Hartford, a granite and bronze monument bore the inscription, "A true knight: Not yet mature, yet matchless."

Muscular Christianity in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America

Although the seeds of the muscular Christian movement had been sown earlier on British soil, by the third quarter of the nineteenth century the movement had spread to other parts of the English-speaking world. And as early as the end of the Civil War, the term muscular Christianity had penetrated American society. Writing in a denominational journal in 1867, one writer concluded, "We like this phrase, though it is `new coined,' because it expresses the idea of that robustness and vigor which ought to characterize those who are strong in the Lord and the power of His might. It is suggestive of force and that high-strung, nervous energy which by constant exercise has developed its possessor into the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. We need such a Christianity now."

Broadly defining the concept, the writer advocated a personal muscular Christianity and a social context for it. By building up the individual, American muscular Christianity would have positive social benefits and create a more vibrant church. The writer concluded, "[I]f we shall evince that degree of `muscular Christianity' which we ought to possess, there will no longer be a doubt of our success as an independent branch of the church of Christ." That "success" would be tested by the ability of the church "to extend the kingdom of the Redeemer upon the earth, and little by little, as a foothold may be gained here and there, to push forward the great cause of true religion towards its glorious consummation in subduing the hearts of all men to obedience to the law of Christ.... [T]here is a pressing need for the full development and exercise of `muscular Christianity.'"

The term muscular Christian was by no means restricted to the religious press. In describing the new YMCA building in New York in 1869, the New York Times identified the term and lauded the concept.

But what the Association certainly will have is a splendid gymnasium--a gymnasium which in size and appointments will be unequaled in the City. This concession to the muscular Christianity of the time has been made, we are glad to hear, almost without dissent, nor can any one who appreciates the moral force of the sana mens in sano corpore find fault with the athletic character it is proposed to give the young Christians of New York. If the association succeeds in drawing to its gymnasium a large number of the young men of the City, and in giving them sound bodies and muscles of iron, as well as healthy religious principles and moral characters more enduring than steel, it will deserve and receive a double commendation. We may then hope for a next generation of New-Yorkers fully equal to the occasions of an advancing civilization.

Muscular Christianity was mentioned in a wide variety of sources. In his book The Indian Club Exercise in 1866, S. D. Kehoe attempted to connect the use of Indian clubs to muscular Christianity. Similarly, a book reviewer in Godey's Lady's Book in 1871 cited the increasing popularity of muscular Christianity as a stimulus for books on strength and skill. The term appeared as the field of sport was becoming a phenomenon in society. Whether muscular Christianity helped to develop sport or merely engaged itself with it is the focus of some scholarly debate.

While some Christians continued to debate the efficacy of sport itself, the focus of argumentation began to shift to the meaning of sports activity and how participation in sports fit into a theological construct. Justification criteria focused on gambling or physical harmfulness (sports such as boxing or bear baiting), cultural practice (limits on Sunday activities), or environmental concerns (such as playing in smoke-filled rooms). At the Methodist General Conference in 1872, a specific list of sinful amusements was identified, including "dancing, playing at games of chance, theater-going, horse-races, circuses, dancing parties or balls, patronizing dancing schools, and taking such other amusements as are obviously of misleading or questionable moral tendency." In the end, however, many agreed with the editors of the Spirit of the Times who at midcentury argued, "Let religion recognize and restrain them [sports] ... but let it throw around them its gentle and holy bonds, to make them pure, cheerful, healthful--helpful to the great ends of life."

Although appreciation for sports ran through various strata of American society, a group of eastern intellectuals, Henry David Thoreau, Calvin Stowe, Lyman Beecher, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, most effectively promulgated ideas with their pens and from their pulpits.

Higginson was one of the most significant of these early advocates for muscular Christianity. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1858, he specifically used the term. His muscular Christian message that America's development rested on a balance between spiritual and physical health emphasized the Greek concept of a strong mind in a strong body (mens sana in corpore sano) . In the nineteenth century this conceptual framework served as the foundation for a broad-based coalition to support the use of games and sports to create a new society. Muscular Christianity was a means for providing the message and lighting the pathways of human progress for the kingdom of God.

The impetus for sports and fitness was also nurtured by those who campaigned for moral reform as well as health and fitness. Helping fuel these moral reform movements were the efforts of American revivalists. The optimism of evangelical Protestant firebrands seemed unquenchable. Matthew Simpson, an outspoken champion of American manifest destiny, concluded that the United States held the "sympathy of the masses all over the world" and that "God could not afford to do without America." As theologian Stanley Gundry indicates, this was essentially a postmillennial view of Christianity as an all-conquering faith destined to convert the world and to turn it into one vast realm under Christ's spiritual rule. This view of America's place in the world and its role in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth was at the heart of Christian activity in the United States through the middle of the nineteenth century.

Yet there was a gradual transition in many Christians' views about the end of the world and Christ's return and in the motivations for Christian activism in the interim. While a majority of Protestant theologians continued to articulate a version of postmillennialism, the premillennial presuppositions of many evangelicals were clearly never far below the surface. And although discredited by William Miller's errant prediction of the end of the world in 1844, the premillennial position gradually reemerged with new force by building on a dispensational view of biblical history and an emphasis on literalism in Bible prophecy. As we shall see, the interplay between the two viewpoints is evident in the work of Dwight L. Moody and other muscular Christians.

Muscular Christians, energized by a postmillennial view of progress, a sense of duty, and a concern for health, used the dynamic environment fostered by the technological revolution to engage the gears of the sports machine in culture. The development of sport among Christians accompanied the great social movements of the nineteenth century--to free slaves, to improve sanitation, to incorporate rights for women, and to restrict alcohol. These movements, with individual and social consequences, would address society through two primary, overlapping institutions--education and religion.

Educators and religious enthusiasts were at the heart of these reform movements. And no one represented the reformers more clearly than Lyman Beecher, patriarch of one of the most significant families of the nineteenth century. The Congregational minister and his family dominated religious, education, and reform circles. Although other reformers may have had more influence on curricular development in education, Beecher, his family, and his friends made a permanent imprint on the institutional role of education and the extension of learning beyond school curricula. They were a unifying force providing a rationale for Protestant, missionary-minded individuals to support public schools based on "a new religious synthesis, one which would give members of the diverse sects a common faith."

Members of the Beecher family were muscular Christians even before the term was coined. All five sons studied theology and several became prominent ministers. Henry Ward Beecher was perhaps the most dominant pulpiteer in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The four Beecher daughters were equally renowned. Catherine was a leading physical education theorist, and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) galvanized the nation to action against slavery. For the entire family, education was the means for transforming society, and "schools and churches were allies in the quest to create the Kingdom of God in America." Through education the Beechers developed a rationale and a means for merging American nationalism and Protestantism into a national ideology. They saw the public school as the primary agency for such social progress, and physical activity as a vital tool of education. From their perspective, the school would teach basic morality to all citizens, including recent immigrants, many of whom were Roman Catholic or non-Christian. That philosophy of building a religious synthesis was the driving force not only for the development of the common school but also for the emergence of Sunday schools, for enhancement of Chautauqua and other educational associations, for opening colleges, and for driving myriad movements.

By the Civil War era, the American education system seemed to fulfill those aims. The school was serving as a common denominator for the American democratic experience. At the same time, the public schools were broadening the scope of education in America. Recreation and athletics were established within that context. For example, the fifth grade text of The American Educational Reader published in 1873 asked, "Must we attend to our lessons and labors all day long, and never enjoy any pastime? ... By no means! Idleness is forbidden, but not recreation. Indeed, recreation within due limits is as necessary to health and happiness as labor, especially in the case of the young, whom `all work and no play' would soon enfeeble both body and mind."

From the founding of the public school in America, most educational leaders had perceived its mission as extensive and inclusive.

Revivalism and Sport: From Adversaries to Allies

If educational leaders provided the theoretical basis for the legitimacy of sport in American society, it was through religious institutions, and evangelicalism in particular, that sport was sanctified for the individual to become fully involved. While sport and Christianity historically may have been adversaries, by the last half of the nineteenth century they were becoming allies. And, as we shall see, within the evangelical communities the work of the Protestant revivalists was of great significance.

Religious historians have described the important role revivalism played in shaping the social and moral character of America, beginning with the efforts of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Yet histories of physical education and sport portray a generalized picture of Protestant Christianity that seldom identifies various levels of commitment and enthusiasm or clearly distinguishes evangelical Protestants from other Christians. Even among the revivalists there were distinct differences. Besides theological distinctions such as millennial interpretations, there were significant social and cultural differences. For example, the urban revivals of the 1850s were different from the frontier revivals of the early nineteenth century. So too were the people they attracted and served.

Serving as a transitional figure between the rural and urban revivals was Charles Grandison Finney. When he left his law office in 1821 to devote his life to saving souls, he inaugurated a new era in American Christianity. Not only did he develop innovative techniques for promoting conversions, but he also transformed the philosophy and process of evangelism. Finney's theological view was essentially postmillennial, which reinforced the idea of improving society in addition to converting individuals. His perfectionist theology gripped converts with a sense of urgency and challenged them to work with haste to bring forth the kingdom. This position would provide the theological and philosophical underpinnings for Luther Gulick, James Naismith, and other second-generation muscular Christians to develop sports as character-development activities to improve society. The perceived goodness of masculine activity and sports was implicitly part of the vision to win the world for Christ and thereby usher in the millennium. Later, Gulick acknowledged this position when he asserted that the "first object of the Young Men's Christian Association Athletic League is to increase the good and decrease the evils in connection with athletic sports."

While Finney's theology drove the revival movement, it also directly affected muscular Christianity. George Williams, who developed the YMCA in England, was significantly influenced by him. Also, Luther Gulick, the leading theorist of the YMCA movement in America and the head of the YMCA training school at Springfield, came from a long line of missionaries. His grandmother had committed her life to mission work under Finney's influence. Moreover, the development of a nationally prominent program of physical education and athletics at Oberlin College was a direct result of Finney's leadership as president there during the formative years of the muscular Christian movement. For nearly half a century after Finney, Oberlin College served as the cradle for the fledgling physical education profession and the muscular Christian movement.

While Finney served as the prototype for evangelical revivalists, Henry Ward Beecher became muscular Christianity's first national preacher. The son of Lyman Beecher expanded his father's social and evangelical ideas when he became the minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Regarded by many as a liberal, Beecher at one time was identified with various Protestant movements. His connection to the evangelical revival of 1857-58 is one direction of his eclectic approach to ministry.

Beecher laid out the extended possibilities for social innovation combining education and athletics. He loved sports, and he could be quite partisan, as when he cheered on his grandson, the quarterback of the Yale football team. In an 1887 sermon, he thundered, "I stood yesterday to see Yale and Princeton at football. I always did hate Princeton, but I took notice there was not a coward on either side, although I thank God that Yale beat." As Michael Oriard indicates, one of Beecher's more consistent themes was "a muscular Christian emphasis on `winning' life's promised rewards."

Beecher was a broad centrist theologically and a postmillennialist who served as a legitimizer of athletics. He frequently described the benefits to individuals and the community. When advocating a new gymnasium for a YMCA, he claimed that "nothing can come more properly in the sphere of Christian activity than the application of the cause of physical health in the community. If general health is not religion, if it is not Christ, it is John the Baptist; it goes before him." For Beecher and other evangelicals, the need for salvation or revival rested on both millennial assumptions and ideas of human progress. And progress depended on opportunities for education. The coming of God's kingdom was predicated on the accessibility of education to all people. "The way to make a man safe," Beecher said, "is to educate him." The connection between Christianity and education was firmly established.

Beecher's approach to recreation and physical activity as "preceding Christ" required a diversity of activities to meet the needs of all those who would be brought to Christ's kingdom.

It is well, therefore, that so many muscular games are coming into vogue. Baseball and cricket are comparatively inexpensive, and open to all, and one can hardly conceive of better exercise. Boat-clubs for rowing are springing up.... This gives an admirable development to the muscles. But all these are yet but a little for the thousands who need exercise.

There ought to be gymnastic grounds and good bowling-alleys, in connection with reading-rooms ... under judicious management, where, for a small fee, every young man might find various wholesome exercises, and with all good society, without the temptations which surround all the alleys and rooms of the city, kept for bowling and billiards. It seems surprising, while so many young men's associations are organized, whose main trouble it is to find something to do , that some Christian association should not undertake this important reformation, and give to the young men of our cities the means of physical vigor and health, separated from temptations to vice. It would be a very gospel.

Reflecting a concept of progress and a passionate sense that right would always defeat wrong, Beecher argued that "there ought to be so many clubs under moral and Christian influences that it shall be the fault of every young man if he joins a bad one." In the end, Beecher believed that self-evident truths embedded in the gospel would persuade men.

Beecher's views reflected an emerging position in society. For example, the writer of an article on "Amusements" in the 1867 New Englander argued that games like baseball should not be denounced, because they were not "expressly discountenanced in the Bible." That writer maintained that "different persons need different forms of recreation. There are some who need excitement, while others need quiet. Some need bodily exercise, others need to have their minds diverted and soothed." Indeed, in matters of sport and spirit, Beecher was an ecumenist, "a man who sought to unite Americans of all faiths in the love of God and country." Beecher's views paralleled those of many in American society.

Because of Beecher's pulpit and his connection with the eastern intellectual establishment, he helped sanctify the sports arena for muscular Christians. William McLoughlin indicated that "Henry Ward Beecher's contribution to American religious development was to effect a workable marriage between the romantic, idealistic, individualistic aspects of transcendental philosophy and the conservative, well-ordered, institutional aspects of Christianity." Social action and personal salvation were pragmatically linked by Beecher, and one important connection was provided through recreation and sports.

If Finney established the theoretical underpinnings for the acceptance of sport in society, and if Beecher wielded the power of the mainline Protestant church with evangelical emphases on behalf of sports and recreation, then Dwight L. Moody was the champion of an indigenous, American brand of muscular Christianity in the final decades of the century. While scholars have firmly established Moody's role in American revivalism, his association with muscular Christianity has been largely ignored. The reasons for this are complicated and may result as much from the narrow focus of scholars of both evangelicalism and sport as from any bias among or neglect by historians.

Although reared in New England as a Unitarian, Moody converted to Trinitarian Christianity in his late teens. Shortly thereafter in 1856, he moved to Chicago to seek fortune. His entrepreneurial skills were evident, first as a salesman and then in "pitching" Christianity. Within a few years he had made his mark in business and then moved to full-time Christian endeavors. Working in mission churches and Sunday schools in Chicago during and after the Civil War, Moody aligned himself with two powerful forces--the emerging young business community and novel methods of evangelism, including muscular Christianity.

Moody associated with John T. Farwell, a prominent Chicago merchant. Later he extended his associations to Marshall Field and John McCormick, and then to a host of other national and international businessmen. These alliances provided a sound financial base from which he worked as an evangelist. They also aided fund-raising for the YMCA and other social agencies. But more important, they established a supporting network of relationships among evangelicals, businessmen, and sports enthusiasts for the development of muscular Christianity.

Moody's muscular Christian methods grew out of a personal involvement with the YMCA in Chicago. That organization was formed in 1858, two years after he arrived in the Midwest. The association demanded the "evangelical test" for all voting members. Any male of good standing in any evangelical church that held the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone could join. In 1865 Moody was elected president of the Chicago branch, a position he held for four years.

Moody's early work in the YMCA occurred as "his religious fervor was intensified by the urban revivals of 1857-58." Not only did these immediately impact his work with the YMCA, but they firmly connected him with the larger evangelical movement. Converts from the revivals with direct ties to Finney and Moody influenced the development of the YMCA.

As Orville Gardner's story and the experiences of Finney, Beecher, and Moody demonstrate, these revivals indirectly accomplished several purposes simultaneously. First, they provided continuity, linking the activities of earlier revivalists like Finney to their eventual successors, including Moody. Second, they moved revivalist activity into the domain of middle-class, urban-based males. Known alternatively as "the prayer meeting revival" and "the businessmen's revival," the religious enthusiasm of 1857-58 "found a ready audience in the business culture of large cities," especially on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Third, the YMCA was the immediate beneficiary of this time of revival that transcended restrictive denominational identities. "Local units of the YMCA found it easy to begin such [noonday prayer] gatherings. Some which had been struggling for survival suddenly attracted huge crowds." And fourth, revival catapulted some converts into a celebrity status hitherto unknown. For example, Orville Gardner's story was repeated for weeks in newspapers around the country. In one sense, he was the first American muscular Christian celebrity, antedating by a century scores of modern Christian sports heroes.

Historians continue to debate the importance of the revivals of 1857-58. For the purpose of this study, however, the revivals "showed that those who advocated revivalism, soul-saving, and rescue out of this world were the same people who wanted to devote virtually equal energies to the reform of the society." By connecting evangelical Protestants to the needs of growing cities, the revivals gave further impetus to the efforts of muscular Christians, especially through the expanding activities of the YMCA. Thus the revivals served as an early linchpin connecting social action, the cities, and the YMCA. Ultimately it aided in the engagement or alliance of sport and evangelical Protestants.

By the mid-1870s Moody's fame had spread throughout the eastern United States and to England. In 1875 he moved his headquarters from Chicago to Northfield, Massachusetts. Later that year he visited Princeton and helped spark a revival among students in the Philadelphia Society, the predecessor to the college YMCA there. Influenced by that revival, Luther Wishard later played a significant role in the YMCA and the development of the Northfield conferences in the 1880s. At the international convention of the association in 1879, Moody was enthusiastically elected president. He declined, arguing that he could not give himself to both evangelistic work and the national leadership of the YMCA.

Still, his efforts on the local level were significant. Under his leadership the Chicago branch had become a model for those who saw the association as a means for evangelism and social assistance. Every Sunday evening Moody preached to large audiences. During the week he visited neighborhoods to speak to community groups. The Chicago association's goal was to reach all without distinction of gender or age. Moody's work was directed to a large social constituency even though, in practice, his efforts focused on a more narrowly defined program of evangelism.

Moody's position was critical at this point in YMCA history. He represented one of two groups who fought for control of the associations. At the Albany convention in 1866, Moody forcefully proclaimed, "God wants us to go forth and preach the gospel to the whole world." He encouraged his audience to use the YMCA as an evangelistic institution. As was evident in his work with college students when he visited many campuses or when he convened the Northfield conferences, his focus was evangelism. He utilized his practical muscular Christianity, and his "manly, genuine, whole-souled personality won the students."

On the other side in the debate were those who held broader program goals, although perhaps among a narrower constituency. This group was led by Robert McBurney of the New York association, who opposed Moody's views so strongly at the Albany convention in 1869 that Moody believed McBurney was opposed to him personally.

The key element in McBurney's program was the use of the gymnasium. At first the gym was perceived as a means of drawing young men into Bible studies and prayer meetings. This enticement was soon expanded by attempts to meet the needs of the whole person, including the spiritual, mental, and social as well as the physical. The New York association, under McBurney's leadership, opened the first gym in 1869. This served as a prototype throughout the nineteenth century. When some criticized that the gym had turned the New York association into a social club, McBurney offered the following defense: "It is exceedingly difficult for an unconverted man to leave one of our meetings without a direct effort being made in his behalf. At all our meetings a personal invitation is given to all who desire to find Christ as a personal savior, to signify it by raising the hand. But we do not rest there. As men pass out of the meetings, if we do not know them, we ask them if they are believers, and if not, we endeavor to detain them and point them to Christ. I am not acquainted with a religious organization, mission, or church in this city or in any other place where such vigorous spiritual effort is put forth to win men to Jesus Christ."

McBurney remained singular in his dedication to serve young men. Over the next fifteen years, his philosophy gradually prevailed, as the YMCA program moved to meet physical needs.

In the meantime, Moody's experiences overseas affected his preaching, his fund-raising, and his theology. During a trip to England for the YMCA in 1867, he met J. N. Darby, the leader of the Plymouth Brethren, a small evangelical sect operating outside the established Anglican Church. Between 1867 and 1884, when Moody traveled to England five times, Darby influenced the evangelist to accept a premillennial position on eschatology which predicted that only Christ's return could establish his kingdom in a world becoming more evil. This was in stark contrast to the optimistic, postmillennial expectations of gradually making the world better so Christ would return. By the end of the 1870s the new directions in Moody's career path and theological underpinnings were firmly established. Though still aligned with the YMCA, Moody had gone far beyond its operations in establishing an outreach to the world. His visits to Britain, ironically, also broadened his views on athletics and the role of athletics in his ministry.

After McBurney emerged victorious over Moody, the evangelist moved to matters largely not involving muscular Christianity. When rejecting the presidency of the international commission in 1879, he said, "It is not the work of the YMCA to invite evangelists. Let ministers and churches do that.... The work of the secretary is too important for him to engage in anything but his distinctive work of reaching young men. I would recommend a gymnasium, classes, medical lectures, social receptions, music, and all unobjectionable agencies. These are for weekdays--we do not want simply evangelistic meetings. I've tried that system in Association work and failed, so I gave up the secretaryship and became an evangelist. You cannot do both and succeed." Yet even at the height of his career when involved in the Boston revival, Moody was still identified with muscular Christianity. Walt Whitman inveighed against Moody in the Sunday Times that he was not only "a mesomeric but also a muscular Christian."

Revivalists from Finney to Moody popularized an evangelical message that rode a rising tide of aggressive Protestantism, emerging nationalism, and social consciousness. In their efforts to bring about the kingdom of God in America, evangelicals embraced a muscular Christian doctrine as one means to that end. Although divisive conflicts over evolution, millennialism, and higher criticism would emerge later, by the 1880s muscular Christians in America were linked directly to Christian revivalism and evangelism. Both Moody and McBurney, though disagreeing on methods, represented this call to change lives through individuals' acceptance of the Christian message.

But the gradual ascendancy of a new American evangelicalism that accepted a dominant premillennialism forced a change in the way some muscular Christians operated. Since this emphasis was occurring at the same time sport was becoming institutionalized, it is small wonder that the society-saving imagery of muscular Christians became exaggerated and detached from social affairs. There was no longer a cohesive force such as the postmillennial ideal of making the world better. Even though "winning the world for Christ" had meaning for all who marched in the evangelical army, the meaning differed from one person to the next. The muscular Christian movement was a flexible consensus at best.

An Organizational Context for Muscular Christianity: Practitioners

During the nineteenth century, as educators and religious leaders were espousing a theoretical framework for supporting muscular Christianity, a platoon of evangelical practitioners emerged to lead the athletics and new physical education movement under its banner--Edward Hitchcock, who was the first college professor of physical education, Dio Lewis, who founded the first teacher training institute for physical educators, and Luther Gulick, who became the movement's main theorist as the head of a college dedicated to physical education.

Open about their Christian beliefs, many leaders in physical education and sport actively incorporated the practice of faith in their educational programs. For example, Edward Hitchcock emphasized his pietistic roots: "I put implicit confidence in God, by daily and sometimes hourly prayer--that he will bless and keep me and at least save me. I feel--and have for years--perfectly confident that God will save me in a better world simply because he says he will." That religious commitment guided Hitchcock as the "father of physical education" and in the development of physical education in American colleges during the nineteenth century.

Like Hitchcock, Dio Lewis was an extremely devout educator. Early in life he had anticipated studying for the ministry. The teacher training pioneer, who would later introduce the Swedish system of light gymnastics to America, indicated he was molded by the prayers of his mother. "We grew up with a very large estimate of the power of prayer. The day was never so dark at our house that mother could not go upstairs and open the clouds.... I believe in my heart that woman's prayer is the most powerful agency on earth." This same conviction enabled him to work so faithfully in other social action areas as well as muscular Christianity. Raised a Baptist, Lewis later affiliated with a Brethren sect and spent most of his adult life in the temperance and women's suffrage movements.

Even Dudley Sargent, who became the head of the physical education program at Harvard in 1879 and who was perhaps the most influential physical educator of the early twentieth century, was influenced by the revivalists. Though not an evangelical, he was attracted by the preaching of Henry Ward Beecher and had planned to study for the ministry at Tufts, where he also used his gymnastics ability to support himself. What these men and others shared was a vision of muscular Christianity proclaimed not from the pulpit but from the gymnasium and the playing field. But it was not the educators who would make muscular Christianity part of mainstream culture. That would be left to the Young Men's Christian Association.

Nowhere did the philosophy of teaching character and instilling values through games take on larger significance than in the YMCA. The association was one of several evangelical societies trying to reach young males in the cities. At first, the founder, George Williams, directed his efforts toward developing men through prayer groups in churches and in mutual improvement societies. His personal approach and his connection with the revivalism of Charles Finney produced an emphasis on religious experience rather than on doctrine. He believed that converted men, aware of the treasure within each unconverted soul and painfully aware of the "old Adam" within themselves, would need mentors "to turn this old Adam to good account in others." Converting young men to Christianity would improve society. Therefore, revivalism was a key ingredient in the development of the YMCA.

The emergence of the YMCA in Britain, though significant in its own right, is important in this context to identify the close connection of the revivalists with the organization of the association on both sides of the Atlantic. The central aim of the Young Men's Christian Association from its inception through the rest of the nineteenth century was to improve the spiritual condition of young men. Until the twentieth century, the YMCA avoided theological discussions or debates over social issues that might have divided the organization. This unity gave strength to the early development of the association and aided the legitimization of sport within the organization and within culture generally.

Robert McBurney expressed the goal of the association as being "to help men in their daily life." This was a concise statement of an attitude that became characteristic of the American YMCA. As the association emerged, its program was built on the general goal of character transformation. The early movement was more concerned with moral development and the role sport played in that development than with theology.

Meanwhile, American life after the Civil War was enmeshed in a civil religious culture which was becoming more pluralistic and less self-assured. Within the YMCA movement, when controversies arose in conventions or meetings, it was customary to "engage in prayer or sing a hymn." As described by Howard Hopkins, the YMCA chose to exhibit a movement not as a system of the law but as a "state of the heart." Thus, as the YMCA emerged, it generally implemented its goals by serving clientele through character development rather than by attempting to change structures that were social or environmental.

With an inclusiveness that reflected the evangelical thinking of both liberal and conservative, the movement evolved as an American institution. McBurney argued, "It is touching men's hearts and lives for Christ that is our business," adding that creeds and specific patterns of belief rarely helped in those endeavors. Moody tacitly endorsed a similar framework. When some conservative Northfield sponsors criticized him for inviting the more "liberal" Henry Drummond to the 1887 conference, Moody argued that Drummond seemed to be "so much a better Christian than I am." During this formative engagement with sport, the YMCA encompassed many facets of Protestantism in America. It stood before the world "as a recognition of the fact that the Church of Christ is one." McBurney believed that the record of the organization in the nineteenth century was an eloquent testimony to the practice of unity.

Although Moody and McBurney were able to subordinate their differences to the overall purposes of the YMCA, the fragile consensus among various Protestant groups was about to be tested and eventually found wanting. Following the Civil War, forces both outside and within Protestantism led to what religious historian Martin Marty has aptly depicted as the "two parties"--premillennialists and postmillennialists. These two parties adopted contrasting positions on nonreligious issues as well as on Christian theology and action.

While much of nineteenth-century theology and social activism (including muscular Christianity) was based on postmillennial assumptions, by 1875 premillennialists were strong and confident enough to convene the first of twenty-five annual Niagara Bible conferences "to hear the older evangelical doctrines confirmed and preached." From these conferences emerged seven periodically convened prophecy conferences beginning in 1878, as the premillennialists were both "broadening their own movement" and "accentuating the differences" between them and other Protestants. Not incidentally, many of the Niagara and prophecy conference speakers also would appear on the platform at Moody's Northfield summer meetings beginning in 1886.

Simultaneously, the endorsement for sport accelerated in the 1880s. Hopkins and others indicate that the YMCA quickly promoted recreational activity even to the extent of endorsing ball games. In addition, the organization encouraged other activities, such as billiards and bowling, which Christians had spurned because of associations with gambling or questionable environments. Although the YMCA was breaking new ground among its Christian constituents, it was also reflecting acceptance in the wider culture. In 1886 the editor of the New Englander and Yale Review lauded the role of athletics in society. And even though the YMCA endorsed other social movements such as Sabbatarianism and temperance, there were counterpoints to some of that activity. The YMCA became an agency for Sunday activity and for greater social freedom within culture. McBurney himself had counseled the convention of 1873 against becoming "prosecuting attorneys in connection with this or that other work."

One way revivalistic methods were used in a context supportive of sports was in young men's meetings. For example, in the 1880s at the New York City association, some of these meetings developed into a series of "Athletic Sundays" managed by Henry H. Webster. The gospel message was offered through the testimonies of prominent athletes such as A. A. Stagg, then a student at Yale; members of the Princeton football team; and Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player who had recently converted to Christianity. The meetings were developed to attract men who did not go to church. That "these speakers faced capacity audiences" and that "the young men's meetings came to be regarded as an index of the effectiveness of the Association's program" are clear indications of the developing engagement of evangelical Christians with sports.

Thus, until their deaths in 1899, Moody and McBurney served as an important tandem in the development of muscular Christianity generally and in the YMCA organizationally. Moody's greatest influence was an ecumenically oriented emphasis on the spiritual, though he continued as the association's best fund-raiser. McBurney's gift was organizational with an emphasis on the physical. At a joint memorial service in 1900, a YMCA secretary pointed to remarkable parallels in their careers. "These two men undoubtedly stand as the greatest figures in the history of the YMCA [for] each was an evangelist, a preacher of the gospel, a messenger of good tidings and a worker for the extension of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ." Described as having "minds of poets and hearts of women," Moody and McBurney were identified as brothers who shared the same vision and who followed a pattern of prayer, Bible study, and evangelism.

The development of the YMCA in the United States relied on a muscular Christian agenda to reach a white, middle-class culture. In Great Britain that cause was similar. Nevertheless, in the United States, the flood of immigrants added another factor. In his important analysis of the YMCA's development in the two countries, L. L. Doggett reported that "the percentage of foreign born inhabitants in the fifty leading American cities was in 1880 eighteen times as great as the percentage of foreign born persons in London." Half of the young men in American cities were foreign by birth or parentage, reflecting an essential naturism, Doggett believed. These young men were especially at risk. For the social managers of the YMCA, this class of young men was open to a "special temptation" and posed a particular challenge for early muscular Christians.

Although there were exceptions, which could be expected in a movement as diverse and expansive as the YMCA, by the mid- 1880s the work of the organization was narrowing. Most agencies began to concentrate on males as opposed to females, on boys as opposed to men, and then on boys from better homes as opposed to street children. This reflected changes in social dynamics and signaled the emergence of the middle class. The YMCA in its formative years had been a "sort of a cooperating agency for the advancement of any good work." During this new phase, the emphasis changed to developing manliness and moral character to win men to Jesus Christ. That position would be enhanced by the work of muscular Christians.

Setting the Stage for Engagement: The Studds

Perhaps no single family affected the muscular Christian movement among evangelicals in America more than the Studds of Great Britain. Members of the family personified the English-American linkage of muscular Christianity. They did it via Moody's revivalism. Edward Studd, a wealthy tea planter, converted to Christianity in 1877 during one of D. L. Moody's revival campaigns in England. In the next few years his son Charles (C. T.)was converted through his father's influence. Two other sons, George (G. B.) and Kyneston (J. E. K.), were converted shortly thereafter. The young Studds were international cricketeers, and their athletic renown gave them a platform for communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each served as captain of the Cambridge University cricket team in succession--G. B. in 1882, C. T. in 1883, and J. E. K. in 1884. C. T. was the best player of the three, rising to become a member of the All-England Eleven.

The Studds played athletics at a significant time in the history of Cambridge University and when cricket was the preeminent international game for gentlemen of the British Empire. Games between Oxford and Cambridge drew more than thirty thousand fans in the 1880s. And the English test team, of which C. T. was a member, toured throughout the world.

When C. T. returned from touring Australia, he found his brother G. B. deathly sick. While watching his brother hover between life and death, he thought to himself,

Now what is all the popularity of the world worth to George? What is all the fame and flattery worth? What is it worth to possess all the riches in the world, when a man comes to face Eternity? ... All those things [he said] had become as nothing to my brother. He only cared about the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ, and that taught me the same lesson. In His love and goodness He restored my brother to health, and as soon as I could get away I went to hear Mr. Moody. There the Lord met me again and restored to me the joy of His salvation. Still further, and what was better than all, He set me to work for Him and I began to try to persuade my friends to read the Gospel, and to speak to them individually about their souls.

Such a testimony illustrates the personal piety of many evangelical athletes. In 1885 C. T. forfeited his international standing in cricket to become a missionary pioneer. He became the first muscular Christian to gain international standing both as a sportsman and as an evangelical. As a leader of the Cambridge Seven, a band of missionary volunteers, he caught the attention of Queen Victoria and the imagination of the Western world when they sailed for China in 1885. For C. T. the obsession to serve God was little different from his obsession with cricket. After his conversion the focus of his playing changed, but he did not reject the benefits of playing cricket. C. T. wrote his brother, "By all means play and enjoy them [cricket or games], giving thanks to Jesus for them. Only take care that games do not become an idol to you as they did to me." This practical approach, "to play for the glory of God," paid evangelistic dividends when Studd entered the mission field in India in 1904 and "joined a cricket tour in order to get opportunities of holding meetings with soldiers."

The connection between the Studd family and other evangelical Christians interested in sports is vital to understanding muscular Christianity as it developed in the United States. As indicated earlier, the most direct tie was the elder Studd's conversion through the Moody campaigns. There were tangible results as well. C. T. gave away part of his personal fortune and contributed money to D. L. Moody for evangelistic purposes. And at Moody's invitation, J. E. K. spoke at a series of American colleges, which led to the conversion of John R. Mott and the founding of the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) as an outgrowth of the YMCA movement. As we shall see in chapter 2, the SVM and Mott played significant roles in the next generation by affecting the career choices of many muscular Christians. The relationship between the Studds and Moody was nurtured in England in the decade prior to J. E. K.'s appearance in the United States. Members of the English test team heard Moody and "one by one ... they had accepted Christ." They were often invited to the spacious grounds of wealthy patrons on London's outskirts, where Moody "would throw himself into games with as much zest as he took up all his other work." Since he did not like to lose, he generally secured "one of the brothers Studd or Mr. Steel to play on his side!" It was no accident that most of the Cambridge Seven were converts of or helpers to Moody in his mission in Great Britain.

For American muscular Christians, the Studd connection marked two important contributions. First, a financial dividend was felt immediately. Not only had C. T. given part of his inheritance to Moody, but Edward Studd had previously given Moody money to buy a home in Northfield, Massachusetts, a center for student activity. Moody's interaction with the Studds had given him a substantial financial base from which to continue his evangelistic work and develop a new means of reaching the world for Christ. Second, this new strategy combined Moody's early work of evangelism in the YMCA with the emphasis on sport which was emerging so prominently in the 1880s. Norman Grubb's analysis captures the essence of what muscular Christians came to appreciate most in sport: "C. T. never regretted that he played cricket (although he regretted that he had allowed it to become an idol), for by applying himself to the game he learned lessons of courage, self-denial and endurance, which, after his life had been fully consecrated to Christ, were used in His service. The man who went all out to be an expert cricket player, later went all out to glorify his Savior and extend His Kingdom."

By the mid- 1880s Moody was staunchly premillennial, and that theological shift affected the direction and outcome of the rapidly expanding muscular Christian program. The ironic result is that while Moody had fewer ties to the YMCA, his experiences with the Studds in England moved him closer to McBurney's social position on evangelism yet laid the foundation for evangelical muscular Christian activity at the Northfield conferences. Thus the stage was set, not only to make the "good of society better" and thereby usher in the kingdom (a postmillennial emphasis) but also to make the "bad of society good" before Jesus would return to earth (a premillennial emphasis). As we shall see, evangelical Christianity was moving rapidly toward an engagement with sport.

Copyright 1999 Tony Ladd and James A. Mathisen. All rights reserved.

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