Does Jesus Like Raymond Carver Better Than Joe Namath?



I am the world’s second least interested male when it comes to sports. The reader is asking himself who the first is. You don’t know him, but his name is Don. He’s a close family friend of the Lapsed Episcopalian, and, thus, a friend of mine. Don and I try very hard to make up for our un-American male-hood by appreciating Outsider music. We go way back.

I was also an English Language and American Literature major, which I taught for several years. I have a personal rule against things like favorites, but my favorite American short story writer is Raymond Carver. The tale-teller of “pared down urban dismay,” he has been dubbed the American Chekov and crowned the king of “dirty realism.” I am working my way currently through an anthology of American short stories edited by John Updike. I confess that I jumped hastily to Where I’m Calling From. I don’t know how many times I have read that piece, but every time I do I am inspired. 

So what?

Well, I was conversing with a cultural redeemer recently. He said:

“I agree with what [so-and-so] says about football and I think it brings up what we ‘transformationalists’ (if that’s what you would like to call us) understand about the role we see Christianity playing in culture. There are aspects of culture which we don’t care about (i.e. football – OK, at least I don’t care much about this) and there are aspects we do care about. If we are going to talk about where we want to see culture transformed I think it’s a good idea to talk about what is important in culture first. So unlike football, literature really does transform people’s thinking and outlook on life.”


It always seems to me that there are two sorts of cultural redeemers. While both share the Kuyperian sloganeering about Jesus claiming “ever square inch,” they both take slightly different tacks. When asked if there is such a thing as Christian pottery, the one will try with all his might to bring redemptive principles to bear on this creational enterprise and he will answer in the affirmative. It never works out very well, unless there really is such a thing as a Christian ashtray. The other doesn’t see the antithesis being between things of this age and the age to come. Instead, he puts the antithesis back into this age and, predictably, sets up a ranking of things temporal from the trivial to the enduring. And, of course, it is the latter which gets Jesus up out of his seat, while the former lies outside his range of interests. Then out pops something about literature transforming people and football, well, not so much.

The irony is two-fold. First, those with a two-kingdom perspective are usually accused of neutrality. That is, evidently, in our haste to make the point that living with a proximate justice is superior to questing after an exact one, we think everything should be a free-for-all. This despite the repeated point that Jesus rules both the spheres but in different ways—the world by law and the church by grace. (I can’t speak for everyone, but this two-kingdomite doesn’t readily understand what is finally so laudable about victims seeking a suspension of justice and a display of forgiveness on their earthly enemies—if my daughter’s classroom gets mowed down by a gunman I want me a sheriff who’ll dole out some justice, not grace.)

Second, if there is no square inch of human existence ignored by Jesus then what gives on assigning a divine yawn toward football? In point of fact, it would seem that certain cultural redeemers flirt with neutrality. I’m not sure what else to make of the division between “things we care about” and “things we don’t.” After all, when you don’t care about something that is usually the very definition of apathy and neutrality.

As I by-pass ESPN and pick up Updike’s anthology, I’d love to believe Jesus doesn’t care about football nearly as much as he does the modern short story or Outsider music. But not only is my Calvinism intolerant of my snobbery, I actually believe what Kuyper said about the sovereignty of Jesus over every square inch. The beauty is that even if I don’t care much for certain quarters of creation, he does.

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30 Responses to Does Jesus Like Raymond Carver Better Than Joe Namath?

  1. RubeRad says:

    I am the world’s second least interested male when it comes to sports.

    So you recognize my primacy then?

  2. Zrim says:

    Don, is that you?

  3. Chris Sherman says:

    Doesn’t common grace pretty much cover every square inch?

    I’d like to think of myself as being the 3rd least interested in sports person. I’d contest your 2nd most, but that would be too much like sport.☺

  4. Zrim says:


    Yes, that’s pretty much my point. But I have become more convinced that the language of “providence” is much better than “common grace.”

    The Lapsed Episcy is trying to get our trek last year to the US Open to be a regular thing, which I am up for, so I’m not completely disinterested. Besides, I gotta help the guy out. It has been a family tradition dating back 20-some years to attend the Indy 500, which runs on a Sunday. I hate that I have to leave him in the lurch anymore.

  5. Chris Sherman says:

    as long as he is not in the emerging lurch

  6. Bryan Peters says:

    “…I have become more convinced that the language of ‘providence’ is much better than ‘common grace.'”

    Very interesting. I would tend to agree. I would really be interested to hear more about your thoughts on this matter.

  7. Zrim says:


    Well, for one thing providence is literally confessional language.

    But also, common grace seems to be the language used by those who have an eye toward some form of cultural redemption. Others seem to use the term common grace and mean providence, so why not just go with providence? It’s not that I nurture an inner Protestant Reformed (that God’s grace is always particular and never common), but really just a matter of a better, more precise language in light of so much cultural redemption going on.

    What do you think?

  8. Pingback: Raymond Carver or Joe Namath? « Heidelblog

  9. Chris Sherman says:

    Common providence or special providence?

  10. Bryan Peters says:

    You’re on target about the language of the confessions. As far as I know, the only Reformed confession to use the phrase “common grace” was the Canons of Dordt… in reference to the Arminian view. I also think you’re right to identify a connection between common grace language and programs of cultural redemption. Maybe not in every case, but there’s certainly a tendency there. I’m pretty sure that the term itself originated with Kuyper, right?

    I may nurture an inner Protestant Reformed at times, but I am rather wary of this language. Sure, you can define “common grace” in such a way that I would have no problem with it. However, I’m afraid that the language carries too much baggage with it to be easily redefined (if one could possibly find good reason to engage in such a task). You’d have to be explicit that this “grace” is not redeeming… a formidable task.

    I see a marked similarity with the discussion over “grace” and “faith” before the fall.

  11. Zrim says:


    I think the term providence seems to imply something common over against something special; so common providence might be sort of redundant and special providence wouldn’t make much sense. I think I’m good with providence.


    I think you’re onto something. But it’s probably only because I agree with you.

  12. GAS says:


    If you want to get to the nuts and bolts of the Reformationals mindset you need to go beyond particular cultural endeavors and understand how the jewish concept of Shalom controls their thinking.

    Give Corny P. a call.

  13. Zrim says:


    Yeah, the last few times he has filled our pulpit “shalom” was clearly a controlling theme.

    I thought “-ie” was the suffix for the nickname and “-y” the form for disparagement?

  14. Chris Sherman says:

    Was just kidding around

  15. GAS says:


    You’re the English major.

    I’ve known a few crusty Cornies and I doubt they would know the difference.

  16. D G Hart says:

    Zrim, does Zach Condon qualify as outsider music? (He’s great, the guy behind Beirut.)

    Football is one time I’m with the neo-Calvinists; I sure do want it transformed so that my Eagles don’t play on the Lord’s Day. I have a devil of a time each Sunday trying not to think about the game or wonder what the score is. (During the World Series the Lord’s Day was virtual hades.)

    Your comments about sports confirms what I suspected — you’re light in the loafers, but in a metro way.

  17. Zrim says:

    Chuck you, Farley. I don’t even wear loafers. The Lapsed Episcy has a pair, though, with tassels and he loves football. But, you’re right, I am metro.

    So you can dodge George Carlin’s implication that baseballers are wusses?

    Re Condon, no, he does not qualify. He has musical talent.

  18. D G Hart says:

    Zrim, so it’s outsider music because you have to listen to it outdoors?

    You’re right about Condon. I can’t imagine what kind of music he’ll be making when he’s my age.

  19. Zrim says:


    You can listen wherever you want. I’m thinking of making it the official music of the OH for what I think may be obvious reasons. Besides, I can’t resist something subtitled “notes in the key of Z.”

  20. RubeRad says:

    Well, for one thing providence is literally confessional language.

    But “common grace” is a particularly favorite term of MGK…

  21. GAS says:

    Hart and Zrim,

    I don’t know who ya’ll are talking about but would Motorhead qualify?

    Lemmy guess.

  22. Zrim says:

    But “common grace” is a particularly favorite term of MGK…

    Like I said in the post, I have a personal rule against “favorites.” But like I also implied right after, rules are made to be broken, so let MGK keep his favorite term, mine is becoming “providence,” and the forms are on my side.


    No, Motorhead does not qualify for the same reason Condom doesn’t.

    Since nobody seems to be going to the links I provided, let me just quote Barbara White here: “The term ‘outsider music’ was coined in 1996 by Irwin Chusid, who defines it as a ‘mutant strain of twisted sonic art that’s so wrong — it’s right.’” Outsiders have nothing the world recognizes as talent. They can barely score studio time. They think they have talent but they don’t. They sing off-key, etc. and think they are dead-on. Their music is foolishness to those who are perishing, it’s very theology-of-the-cross.

  23. Baus says:

    In real neocalvinism/Kuyperianism there is no hierarchy of culture. Various activities and/or spheres have different places (or we have various vocations to them), but a believer can certainly be unfaithful in sport as they can in reading literature. I care very little [ie, none at all] for sport myself, and have never been able to understand J. Gresham Machen’s obsession with college football. Every man has flaws, I suppose.

  24. Zrim says:


    So are you light in your loafers in a metro way (DGH’s term for me), like me, or some other way?

    Like Hart, I’m still trying to grasp just what “real neo-calvinism” is over against a false one. I can work with sphere sovereignty and every square inch no problem, but in a two-kingdom way instead of a neo-Calvinist way, real or false.

    You seem to be in a “league” all your own. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  25. John Yeazel says:


    I, like R.C. Sproul, love sports but I don’t let him influence my political thinking. That was a random thought.

    I got a little better insight into who you are after reading this blog. You even have D.G. Hart and Scott Clark commenting here- or, is that you just making everyone think it is them commenting? I have a tendency to stick my foot in my mouth frequently.

    I wondered why you write so clearly- now I know. You do not waste time watching sports or dashing around the internet commenting on blogs like I do. It is becoming an addiction. I just added the internet monk and now the confessional outhouse to my favorite internet sites. Plus you are wading your way through Updikes short stories.

    I am glad I got a clear definition of outsider music now and would probably join you in that interest. However, this light in the loafers talk may scare me away.

  26. Zrim says:

    Welcome, John. It’s about time you showed up.

  27. John Yeazel says:

    Appreciate that Zrim- I have come to respect your thinking and I learn a lot from you. So, what’s new in the New Jerusalem? I have spent much time in Grand Rapids (went to Calvin and lived their for 6 years- have driven that drive from Chicago about 100 times) and still love visiting their. I had many White Horse Inn type discussions at the Friday’s on 28th street and the Beltway with former philosophy grad’s from Calvin. One discussion that still rings clear in my head was about the asceity of God. This was with a guy who told me he was going to write the next great American novel and he was a former student of Wolterstorff when he was still teaching at Calvin. He also told me he had some severe doubts about Christianity but he respected Wolterstorff a lot. He went to Calvin just to take some classes from Wolterstorff. Had some good times their.

  28. I’m not much of a football fan (if you’re talking American Football). It’s just girly-boy rugby with protective headgear.

    I prefer football (i.e. soccer). Here in Britain, if a sport has no organised violence surrounding it, it’s not worth following.

    Zrim, you’d like the Kings of Leon. They’re not big in the states, but they’re from somewhere in the deep south. They’re so bad its good.

    Great post BTW.

  29. Zrim says:


    It’s still a great place to raise kids, etc. but also quite un-transformed (imagine that). Division Avenue is still what it was when you were here.

    But I was in CTS’s newly designed building a couple weeks ago. It’s very nice. Muller’s office is still a sty, but the chapel is quite fetching.

  30. John Yeazel says:


    You always go transfomationalism or two-kingdom theology on me. I suppose GR has the potetial to turn into a mini-Amsterdam. I guess the violence is escalating on that side of town also. My oldest son Brian still lives there (he graduated from Calvin 2 years ago) and he told me that not too long ago.

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