The 200th Post: Towards a Theology of Baseball
Ah, baseball. The word brings joy to my mind every time I hear it. I grew up playing the greatest game on earth. And with no braggadocio at all, I was pretty good. It was my dream to be a pro and play for my beloved Atlanta Braves. Yes, for the discerning among you, that means I have been a Braves fan since long before they became good. They stank for the majority of my childhood! Baseball has been a significant part of my testimony. It is the one thing that prevented me from fully yielding to the call for a long time. It is the one thing that in my Christian youth I regretted giving up. You have no idea how I felt to watch the 1996 World Series and see Andruw Jones of the Braves (we were both all of 19 years old at the time) hit two homers in Yankee Stadium, and foolishly think to myself, "That could have been me. That should have been me." Now that I am a more mature believer, I can look back and realize that it wasn't really me who gave up baseball, but rather baseball gave me up as God had determined from before the foundations of the world. At my station in life now, I feel I can now look at baseball without a longing eye but with one that enjoys it. And after our recent revival at my church, Louisville Baptist Deaf Church, I was struck by the metaphor for the Christian life that our evangelist, Ricky Milford from Talladega, Alabama, presented to us. It is that of the bases of a baseball field. And with no further ado, I present to you a brief theology of baseball. The Batter's Box The batter's box is where everything begins for the man or woman in this world. In order to get on base, one must stand in this box and hit the ball that has been pitched to you by the pitcher. You cannot hit the ball anywhere else but inside the box, or you are out. In the Christian life, to be out in God's ball game is to be sent directly to Hell. First Base In the Christian life, we stand before a holy God who demands our obedience to Him in order to be saved. God stands on the mound, His throne, holding the ball, the Law, in His hand. He requires of us to hit the ball pefectly and safely in order to get a hit and reach base. This means that first base represents salvation. But we have a problem. God is throwing this special pitch called the Law at us harder than Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson combined. Imagine a fastball coming at you at 200 mph! You could never hit it, let alone see the ball clearly! That is what the Law does to us - it is thrown at us so hard and fast that we fail to hit it at all. We feebly swing in hopes of hitting it. And as such we strike out miserably. The Pinch Hitter But God, from eternity, had a game plan. He knew that when we got into exactly this situation, we would strike out. So instead of us performing what is required of us, He sent Jesus His son to bat in our place. Jesus is our pinch-hitter. Jesus alone can hit the ball and reach base safely. And He actually accomplishes this! Jesus has hit the ball, run to first base, and reached it safely in our stead. Salvation is now accomplished for all whom God has elected to pinch-hit for. Now, here comes the neat part. Jesus, having reached first base safely, now turns to us, sitting on the bench, and commands us to get off the bench and run the bases! That's right, this is the effectual call illustrated. We cannot finally resist the call of Jesus, just as a baseball player cannot finally resist the orders of his coach. To those on the team (the elect), they will obey. To those not on the team, the fans and spectators (the non-elect), they will simply sit where they are and watch. Maybe even boo, hiss, and jeer. But by faith you and I get off the bench and trot to first base where Jesus is waiting patiently for us to take the salvation He has secured for us. Jesus then leaves us with the Holy Spirit as our base coach to guide us around the rest of the bases. Second Base Second Base is now possible for the runner, the believer. The believer can now be baptized and join a church. This means second base represents baptism and church membership. But a runner does not take second right away. He must either steal second or be advanced by the next hitter. This means that a believer must first mature to some degree before he can be baptized or join a church. This is what in baseball is called "taking a lead," that is, legally cheating a few steps towards second base. The parable of the seeds becomes heavily relevant here. A runner taking a lead can still be picked off. If one has truly accepted Christ, one cannot be picked off. If one has not really accepted Christ, one's lead is not enough to return safely to the bag when attempts are made to assault your faith. Those whom are like thorny or stony ground to the Gospel will get picked off easily. These were never truly saved, never truly believed. Those whom are good soil will always be able to take refuge in Christ their salvation. One cannot advance to second base unless one truly possesses first base. Then when the Holy Spirit gives the church, our third-base coach, the green light, the church will call you to be baptized and accept you as a member. Third Base Third base is famously known as "the hot corner." I played third for many years and can attest to the heat that rises from this position. But once you have joined a church, what's next? One must serve in the church. This means third base represents Christian service. Think about this. Why were we saved? Ephesians 2 tells us that we were saved to do good works, and God had set things up before hand that it would be this way. See, God has a game plan! In baseball terminology, this means God desires for us to "manufacture" runs instead of swinging for the fences. We have to work for the bases! The only difference is that Jesus has already secured first base for us, and instead of working the pitcher, we accept Jesus' base hit in our stead by faith. We truly work out this salvation in fear and trembling! Home Plate What is home plate? It is where the runs are scored. It is the reward for faithfully and fervently running the bases. The runs don't count until one crosses the plate. In the Christian life, home plate represents eternity with God. Think about all the previous bases. Unless they lead to eternity with God, they are worthless. That's right, worthless. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is worthless if it does not send the repentant sinner to the Father with eternal life. Church membership and baptism are worthless because it actually does not send people into eternal life. Christian service is also just as worthless because it cannot give eternal life. This is why first base is so very important. In baseball, if you miss first base but touch second and third, all the opposing team has to do is tag first base with the ball and you are out. Oh-yew-tee, OUT! This should be sobering for us as Christians. We cannot, cannot afford to miss first base! It is the well from which all other bases spring forth. You cannot have church membership without salvation, nor can you have true Christian service without salvation. It is sad to see many of our churches violating this simple principle with an unregenerate membership. And, as Paul says, if Christ did not actually do what reaching first base was intended to do, we among all people are most to be pitied. But His resurrection is the evidence of a secure first base, because He was then able to order us to get off the bench and run! He was not dead in the batter's box, He has risen indeed! And because of this, we can run confidently to second and third, and mosey home safely scoring the run for all eternity. Well done, good and faithful servant.