A Theological Reflection on the Winter Olympics

I find that watching the Winter Olympics is mostly unsatisfying, but not simply because I should be doing more productive things. Maybe it doesn’t actually break down this way, but it seems that more than half of the competitions in the Winter Olympics are decided by a panel of judges. Sorry, but that means they aren’t sports. Sports are decided by how fast you get down the hill or around the track. Winners are identified by scoring more goals or runs or some other tangible points than the other team.

Complaining about the ScoreSure, snowboarders, skiers, and figure skaters have tremendous athletic talent – there is no denying that. But figure skating is an art, and half-pipe snowboarding is impressive, and making competitions out of a stylistic event is, in my maybe-not-so-humble opinion, just silly. How many times have you heard a figure skater or snowboarder say something to the effect of, “I had a great run, but I guess the judges disagreed”? The person who ends up at the top of the podium is almost always debatable.

Time to get to the theological point.

We sinners prefer a salvation that is based on a subjective standard. We prefer to go outside of Scripture and God’s election to faith where and when it pleases the Spirit. We think that we will do better on our own, outside of predestination because, then, we get to pick what those standards of salvation are. And we really like to pick who judges according to those standards. If we don’t like how this panel of denominational judges do their scoring, then we simply pick another set of judges to fit our needs and desires. When the Scripture’s teaching of objective justification is denied, we are left to our own schemes to define what makes us right with God, and the floodgates open. People come up with all sorts subjective ways to judge what God thinks of them and others. Rather than believing the Gospel delivered in the Sacraments, people are pointed to pseudo-sacraments like their faith, their prayers (like the, “Sinner’s prayer”), and their spiritual life.

This theology points sinners inward to themselves and their faith which then becomes something sinners do. When this happens, we can never know for sure who “gets the gold” medal of salvation.

Salvation is not a subjective competition where we get to pick the standards. Salvation comes through justification by Christ who died to justify all sinners (Romans 3:23-24; 5:18-19; 2 Corinthians 5:19). Faith is the means by which we receive Christ’s forgiveness.

Faith that justifies entirely gains its worth from its object, Christ. Christ is present in faith, but in a hidden way, that is by means of a simple word. Christ is heard, not seen; even when the disciples had him in plain sight. The word is also not general, it is the concrete promise of Christ, and that promise is always the same: it is the forgiveness of sins to sinners who have no other hope of being right before God. That promise – in  order to be believed – must come with a person’s own name on it through preaching. Faith is in this particular word of Christ delivered by a preacher for you.[1]

chalice-1427662-mOf course the analogy breaks down, as all analogies do. But the plain and simple fact is that Christ is on your team, sinner (Mark 2:17). You win. Christ scored the infinite point on the cross, for you. Christ ran the perfect, unbeatable race, for you.

So, raise your hands in victory as your preacher hangs Baptism, Absolution, and Communion – the gold medal of salvation – around your neck. Take pride as the anthem of Christ is played and the cross is raised.


[1] Steven D. Paulson. Lutheran Theology (Kindle Locations 1693-1697). Kindle Edition.

About Pastor Sam Wellumson

Rev. Sam Wellumson is pastor at Christ the King Free Lutheran Church of East Grand Forks, MN. He completed his undergraduate degree at University of Northwestern St. Paul, MN and his M.Div. from the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN. Sam also currently serves as the Vice-chair for the AFLC’s Board of Publications & Parish Education. Sam and his wife, Sarah, have four children.


A Theological Reflection on the Winter Olympics — 8 Comments

  1. From the Paulson excerpt above: “That promise – in order to be believed – must come with a person’s own name on it through preaching. Faith is in this particular word of Christ delivered by a preacher for you.”

    Who are the preachers? Only ordained ministers? May laymen also convey “this particular word of Christ”? (1 Peter 2:9)

    Why only preaching? Yes, as Scripture says, faith comes by hearing. But does it come only by hearing? Has the written Word of God no power (Hebrews 4:12) until it is spoken?

    Years ago a representative of Gideons International came to my church with a story about how a man came to faith as he was reading a Bible in a hotel room. That sounded credible to me.

    “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:7-8

  2. @Carl H #4
    People have come to saving faith through reading the Bible; of that there is no doubt. Just like the thief on the cross came to saving faith without baptism, there are exceptions. But those exceptions should not become the rule.

  3. @Carl H #4
    I’d recommend reading Paulson. His first chapter lays it out pretty well.

    A quick summary:

    The Apostles are the first preachers (and preachers par excellence), and reading their writings (the Scriptures) is to hear a preacher.

    Paulson notes that the beginning of theology removes the “myth of the free will.” Then God gives a promise “prepared beforehand.” Paulson goes on to say that “the means of predestination are through preaching and sacraments.” He says, “Preachers do not come with information about an election done elsewhere, outside of time; preachers actually do the electing here and now, in the present, as Christ did for the thief on the cross, ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise.'”

    Again, I highly recommend Paulson’s book.

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