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The Development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain
Nick J. Watson
York St. John’s College, University of Leeds
Christians in Sport, UK
York St. John’s College, University of Leeds
 The development of Muscular Christianity in the second half of the nineteenth century has
had a sustained impact on how Anglo-American Christians view the relationship between sport,
physical fitness, and religion. It has been argued that the birth of Muscular Christianity in
Victorian Britain forged a strong “. . . link between Christianity and sport” that “. . . has never
been broken” (Crepeau: 2). The emergence of neo-muscular Christian groups during the latter
half of the twentieth century (Putney) and the promotion of sport in Catholic institutions, such as
the University of Notre Dame, can be seen as a direct consequence of Victorian Muscular
Christianity. Modern Evangelical Protestant organizations, such as Christians in Sport (CIS) in
England and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in the U.S., have resurrected many of
the basic theological principles used to promote sport and physical fitness in Victorian Britain.
 The basic premise of Victorian Muscular Christianity was that participation in sport could
contribute to the development of Christian morality, physical fitness, and “manly” character. The
term was first adopted in the 1850s to portray the characteristics of Charles Kingsley (1819-
1875) and Thomas Hughes’ (1822-1896) novels. Both Kingsley and Hughes were keen
sportsmen and advocates of the strenuous life. Fishing, hunting, and camping were Kingsley’s
favorite pastimes, which he saw as a “counterbalance” to “. . . education and bookishness”
(Bloomfield: 174). Hughes was a boxing coach and established an athletics track and field
program and cricket team at the Working Men’s College in London where he eventually became
Principal (Redmond). Not just writers but social critics, Kingsley and Hughes were heavily
involved in the Christian Socialist movement and believed that the Anglican Church had become
weakened by a culture of effeminacy (Putney). Kingsley supported the idea that godliness was
compatible with manliness and viewed manliness as an “antidote to the poison of effeminacy -
the most insidious weapon of the Tractarians - which was sapping the vitality of the Anglican
Church” (Newsome: 207). From this, the doctrine of Muscular Christianity was adopted as a
response to the perceived puritanical and ascetic religiosity of the Tractarians, later known as the
 Aside from the religious motivations for the evolution and advancement of Muscular
Christianity, the Victorians’ preoccupation with health is arguably the most significant factor.
“No topic more occupied the Victorian mind than Health . . . they invented, revived, or imported
from abroad a multitude of athletic recreations, and England became in Sir Charles Tennyson’s
words, the world’s game master” (Haley: 3). Haley suggests there were three main reasons for
the prominence of the concept of the healthy body in the mid-nineteenth century.
 First, the Industrial Revolution brought about a Leisure Revolution within the working class
population (Cunningham) and played a major role in focusing the Victorian psyche on health.
Paradoxically, the automation of industry had led to sedentary lifestyles and as a consequence an
exponential rise in cardio-vascular and respiratory disease. In addition, poor conditions and long
arduous working hours in the factories resulted in many contracting occupational diseases.
Second, the nineteenth century witnessed a number of major developments in medical science.
The founding of physiology as a distinct discipline separate from biological science, and the
emergence of physiological psychology engendered a holistic understanding of health and an
emphasis on the mind-body connection. Third, and often less publicized, there was a real threat
of war from a number of European countries and the Americans. Responding to this, the
intelligentsia saw the need to protect the British Empire and produce leaders that were well
educated and “manly” (Haley). Kingsley and Hughes, amongst other Protestant elite, saw
Muscular Christianity as an appropriate vehicle for advancing British imperialism and increasing
the health and well-being of the nation (Putney). Through the medium of sport, Kingsley saw the
potential for spiritual, moral, and physical development:
. . . in the playing field boys acquire virtues which no books can give them; not merely
daring and endurance, but, better still temper, self-restraint, fairness, honor, unenvious
approbation of another’s success, and all that ‘give and take’of life which stand a man in
good stead when he goes forth into the world, and without which, indeed, his success is
always maimed and partial (Kingsley cited in Haley: 119).
 The aim of this essay is to provide an understanding of the historical and theological
development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and how this has contributed to the
relationship that exists between Christianity and Sport today. Discussion will focus on the
historical and theological roots of the movement and its manifestation in the late twentieth and
Historical and Theological Roots of Muscular Christianity
 The origins of Muscular Christianity can be traced back to the New Testament where St. Paul
and others used athletic metaphors to help describe the challenges of the Christian life (1
Corinthians 6:19; 9:24-25; and 2 Timothy. 4: 7).<1> However, the explicit advocacy of sport and
exercise, in the guise of Muscular Christianity, did not evolve until the mid-nineteenth century in
Britain, and the source of the idiom has been a point of debate amongst scholars (Redmond). It is
commonly accepted that a review of Charles Kingsley’s Two Years Ago (1857) for the Saturday
Review, written by the cleric T.C. Sandars was the first place the term appeared (Simon and
Bradley). Ironically, Kingsley abhorred it and wrote a vitriolic response to the author who had
used “. . . that painful, if not offensive term, ‘Muscular Christianity’” (Haley: 109). Thomas
Hughes, a friend and supporter of Kingsley, then used the concept in a follow-up to Tom
Brown’s Schooldays (1857), called Tom Brown at Oxford (1861). In contrast to Kingsley, who
seemed worried about the negative connotations that may have been attached to the secular
phrase “muscular”, Hughes used it to promote the athleticism that was so pervasive in his novels
(Winn). This said, Rosen notes that he was careful to clearly distinguish the concept of
“muscular Christians” from the “musclemen” (athletes without Christian beliefs): “the only point
in common between the two being, that both hold it to be a good thing to have strong and well-
exercised bodies . . . Here all likeness ends”, the Christian belief is “. . . that a man’s body is
given him to be trained and brought into subjection and then used for the protection of the weak,
the advancement of all righteous causes” (Hughes: 99).
 Interestingly, Redmond has noted that a closer examination of other children’s literature long
before the birth of the concept in Kingsley and Hughes shows that the general thesis of Muscular
Christianity was implicit within works published between 1762 and 1857. The work of writers,
such as J.J. Rousseau, William Clarke, Dorothy Kilner, William Howitt, and S.G. Goodrich all
possess glimpses of the Christian muscular gospel that flowered in the literature of Kingsley and
Hughes. In his classic, Emile (1762), Rousseau emphasizes the importance of physical education
in the development of moral character: “Give his body constant exercise, make it strong and
healthy in order to make him good and wise . . . The lessons the scholars learn from one another
in the playground are worth a hundred fold more than what they learn in the classroom” (cited in
Redmond: 9). In conclusion, Redmond suggests neither Kingsley nor Hughes can be accredited
with the original “athletic gospel” but they “reaped the harvest” that gave birth to the Muscular
Christian movement during the Victorian period.
 Their personal lives, education, and political and theological affiliations heavily influenced
Kingsley’s and Hughes’ ideas. The period between 1850-1900 was characterized by social unrest
and political instability in the form of labor unrest in the working class population and serious
problems with public health (Clark). Both Hughes and Kingsley had been sympathizers of
Chartism, a political movement that developed in response to the social injustices suffered by the
working classes. As a rector and author of social novels such as Yeast (1848), Westward Ho!
(1855), and Alton Locke (1850), Kingsley became widely known as the “Chartist clergyman”
(McGlynn). Following the House of Commons’ decision to reject the Chartist Petition in 1848
and the subsequent demise of Chartism, Kingsley and Hughes continued to support the
grievances of the working classes as leading proponents of Christian Socialism. They joined
forces with other Christian Socialist thinkers such as F.D. Maurice (1805-1872), J.M. Ludlow
(1821-1911), and Thomas Arnold (1795-1842). It was Ludlow who convinced Kingsley and
Maurice that Christianity and Socialism could be integrated to offer an antidote to the political
doctrine of Chartism (Bloomfield).
 Although the Christian Socialist movement had a similar goal as Chartism, its primary focus
was on providing solutions to social ills through educational and moral change, not change in
political legislation (Norman). At the time, this was a radical idea. Before the late 1840s, the
Church of England’s attitude to implementing social reform was conservative with leading
evangelicals emphasizing the hierarchical class system, thus marginalizing the poor and
downtrodden. They saw poverty as being self-inflicted through various sins such as self-
indulgence and intemperance (Parsons). The class system was also reinforced during the late
nineteenth century by the fashionable concept of Social Darwinism. In short, the primary
concern of the Victorian Church of England before the mid-nineteenth century had been to “save
the lost” (i.e., to win converts) with concern for social welfare often coming a poor second.
 The Christian Socialists heavily criticized the Church’s advocacy of the classic political
economy and hierarchical class structure, which had contributed to the dehumanizing and neglect
of the working class population during the early nineteenth century (Norman). In respect to
Muscular Christianity, Kingsley had stressed the social benefits that accrue from participation in
athletic activities, especially in terms of demolishing class divisions. Nevertheless, the Christian
Socialist idea of a classless society often concealed “. . . a deeper belief in the class system and
in the bourgeois hegemony” which is personified by the middle-class boys depicted in Hughes’
Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Allen: 120). And although implicit, there seems to be what Allen calls
a “conceptual dilemma” in Hughes’ classic work, between “the classless democracy of the
athletic body and the hierarchical structure of the class system” (120-21). This tension was also
evident in what Hargreaves calls a “leadership cult,” which existed in middle-class public
schools where society’s leaders were being nurtured.
 The Christian Socialists, a small but very influential group of academics and Protestant
clergy, disseminated their ideas primarily through two journals, Politics of the People (1848-
1849) and The Christian Socialist (1850-1851). F.D. Maurice, who is recognized as the
movement’s most influential and leading thinker, also founded the Working Men’s College in
London in 1854, which ran evening classes, thus acting as a vehicle to educate the working class
people. The theology that underpinned the Christian Socialist thesis and which complemented
Muscular Christianity can be mainly attributed to Maurice. Heavily influenced by the idealism of
Coleridge he believed that the Kingdom of God should be accessible to all members of society, a
theology of universal brotherhood (Norman). In Maurice’s book The Kingdom of God (1838)
and in a later controversial publication Theological Essays (1852), he championed an
Incarnational theology, which provided an elevated view of humanity with a stress on the
importance of educating the masses to recognize their place in God’s Kingdom.
 During the first half of the nineteenth century, there had been an emphasis on the
Atonement within theological circles. Nevertheless, the advent of the Christian Socialist
movement, especially in the work of Maurice, saw a shift “. . . to promote the study of social and
political questions in the light of the Incarnation” (Norman: 30). This it was argued, has a sound
biblical basis in the teachings of Jesus (e.g., Mark 3:20-30; Matthew 12:25-32; Luke 4) and
provided the basis for Kingsley’s theological position, which recognized the significance of the
embodied soul, and in turn the goodness of athleticism and physical strength in the formation of
character. Donald Hall has noted that the frequent reference to the body in the Politics for the
People and other Christian Socialist literature provides evidence that “. . . the metaphors and
pedagogical goals of the Christian Socialists and muscular Christians are inextricably linked”
(48). This highlights the importance and significance of Hughes and Kingsley’s work within the
Christian Socialist movement and its impact upon social and cultural change during the Victorian
period. Of the two, Kingsley has written more on the muscular Christian ethic and deserves the
credit for providing Muscular Christianity “. . . with a cohesive and conscious philosophy,
consisting equally of athleticism, patriotism, and religion” (Putney: 12).
 It can be argued that the most significant idea to evolve from Kingsley’s corpus of writings
is “Christian manliness.” His doctrine of masculinity had been originally based upon his “. . .
instincts which told him that the life of a clergyman was compatible with married life and with
that of a sportsman” (Haley: 111). From this, he sought to provide philosophical and theological
justification for his feelings and borrowed from a diverse group of thinkers. The philosophical
lineage of Kingsleyan masculinity is derived from Plato’s concept of thumos, which he
interpreted as a primal manly force involved in sex, morality, and fighting (Rosen). Although
Bloomfield acknowledges that it is speculative, she suggests Kingsley’s work may have also
been influenced by the mystical and occult philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).
There are a number of clear parallels in their work and perhaps most significantly their “. . .
desire - to seek the relationship between soul and body” (173). Due to the influence of Plato’s
mind-body dualism and the liberal philosophy of Swedenborg in his work, his more orthodox
contemporaries frequently accused Kingsley of Neo-Platonism and Pantheism, an accusation that
he angrily refuted. These philosophical roots were formed while he was reading Classics at
Cambridge University, where he gained a first class degree. He then developed and focused his
ideas into a doctrine of social action and reform through reading the works of, and collaborating
with essayist and social historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) and theologian F.D. Maurice.
 Carlyle had been influenced by the German Romanticist thought of Herder and Goethe. In
trying to synthesize what Kant had described as the noumena and phenomena, Johan Gottfried
von Herder (1744-1803) had promoted the “. . . veneration of the body as being natural, beautiful
manifestation of life and vitality, a vehicle through which, by means of gesture, the soul could
speak” (Bloomfield: 180). Hence, it is possible to trace certain elements of German Romanticism
in the thought of Kingsley. Haley proposes that Kingsley’s notion of the muscular Christian or
“healthy hero” was primarily based upon three of Carlyle’s ideas: the body is an expression of
the spirit and therefore the obedience to healthy impulse is a sign of constitutional harmony; the
state of health is acknowledgment of the laws of nature and compliance with these laws; and
heroism is a life of action made possible by observing the laws of health (111-12). In light of
this, neither Kingsley, Maurice, or Hughes accepted the entire “vague theistic gospel” of Carlyle,
but nevertheless it had a significant impact upon their work. Primarily, it was the “. . . angry Old
Testament rhetoric of Carlyle’s social criticism,” which was a “. . . brutally direct stimulus to
social action and intervention” that most significantly influenced the Christian socialist theology
of Maurice and his associates (Vance: 59).
 In Alderson’s analysis of Christian manliness in Kingsley’s novel Alton Locke (1850), he
contends that “the imperatives of a counter-revolutionary and Protestant culture . . . enabled the
Kingsleyan sense of the ideal male body to become so central to the masculine self-definition of
Britain’s rulers” (43-44). In addition to the fears within the Protestant elite of the feminization of
the Victorian Church, the rise of evolutionary theory and in the late nineteenth century Freudian
and Jungian psychologies also helped strengthen Kingsley’s notion of masculinity (Rosen). The
doctrine of masculinity has been absorbed into the “deep structure” of society and continues to
have a pervasive influence in athletics, religion, and men’s movements within modern Anglo-
American culture. For example, twentieth century men’s movements that “seek to rid men of the
problems of pre-sixties’ macho and post-sixties’ sensitivities” owe much to Kingsley (Rosen: 39-
40). And in relation to sports participation, Harris proposes that “. . . the muscular novel
according to Kingsley and Hughes contributed to the immense vogue of athletics from the late
sixties onwards” (11).
 In light of the widespread and prolonged influence of Kingsley’s notion of the muscular
Christian, there were notable Victorian and post-Victorian writers, such as Gerard Manley
Hopkins (1844-1889) and E.M. Forster (1879-1970), who strongly disagreed with Kingsley’s
ideas (Putney). Forster suggested that those educated within the movement ended up with “well-
developed bodies . . . and underdeveloped hearts” (5). Likewise, in a contemporary analysis of
values, sport, and education, Grace suggests, “the irony of muscular Christianity is that it
elevated sport more than the Gospels” (17). There were also staunch criticisms from a number of
leading professors within American academia, especially before 1880. A major reason for this
was the American Civil War. Soldiers hardly needed to prove their manliness on a playing field
after demonstrating it on the battlefield and thus often derided the concept of Muscular
 One of the key figures in the Oxford Movement, Catholic theologian John Henry Newman
(1801-1890), had also publicly voiced his criticisms of Kingsley’s philosophy. In his novel
Westward Ho! (1855), Kingsley attacked the Catholic Church, and specifically its asceticism and
condemnation of the flesh, and judged what he called “Mariolatry” as a major reason for the
feminization of Victorian culture (Schiefelbein). According to Schiefelbein, this points out that
Kingsley himself had been prone to confusion between his ascetic impulses and his sexual
desires. The result was the most unfortunate (for Kingsley!) and infamous Kingsley-Newman
controversy, which centred on a disagreement over the anthropological nature of man. Kingsley
promoted a vision of the “divineness of the whole manhood,” a synthesis of mind and body, and
an education wherein “. . . one did not need to attend a university to form a manly character”
(Haley: 119). While Newman agreed with Kingsley’s understanding of the wholeness of man, he
rejected his anti-intellectualism and emphasis on the corporeal dimension within the Christian
life. In agreement with Newman, Fasick has argued against Kingsley’s “hyper-masculinity”
commenting, “despite his homage to gentleness and patience, Kingsley’s real attraction is
apparently to the displays of power and aggression with which he adorns his novels” (109).
Haley notes that Newman adopted a more sophisticated approach arguing, “the man of
philosophic habit has ‘illumination,’ not an inborn, infallible guide to conduct,” which in turn
differentiated between manliness and what Newman called gentlemanliness (Haley: 118).
Kingsley had frequently criticized a number of High Anglican and Catholic clergy, but when he
personally attacked Newman, Newman was quick to respond producing Apologia Pro Vita Sua
(1864), a rigorous defense of Catholicism. In the eyes of the intelligentsia, this won Newman the
debate, much to Kingsley’s embarrassment (Putney).
The Fruits of Muscular Christianity: Socio-Cultural Developments in
 Following the rise of Chartism and Christian Socialism, and shifting theological
perspectives during the mid-Victorian period, a significant number of the Protestant elite,
especially Kingsley and Hughes, advocated the use of sports and exercise to promote the
harmonious development of mind, body, and spirit (Hall, 1994). Mathisen identified four models
of Muscular Christianity that had developed from the ideas of Hughes and Kingsley by the end
of the nineteenth century. These are the classical model, evangelical model, the YMCA model,
and the Olympic model. The promulgation of sport and physical pursuits in English Public
Schools such as Rugby, Eton, and Uppingham, was arguably the most significant socio-cultural
development to evolve from “classical” Muscular Christianity.
 During the late 1850s, the tenets of Muscular Christianity became an integral part of the
public school educational system. The primary reason was to encourage Christian morality and
help develop the character of the future captains of industry and political leaders, and in turn
strengthen the British Empire (Wilkinson). Edward Thring (1821-1887), headmaster of
Uppingham between 1853-1857, sums this up when he states, “the whole efforts of a school
ought to be directed to making boys, manly, earnest and true” (Rawnsley: 12). The main impetus
for the integration of the muscular Christian ethic into Public Schools was Thomas Hughes’
book<2> Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), a story of a boy whose character was shaped
playing sport at Rugby School. Hughes had been heavily influenced by Rev. Dr. Thomas Arnold,
his headmaster at Rugby during the 1830s, who instilled in him “. . . a strong religious faith and
loyalty to Christ” (Brown: x). Although, it is Arnold that is most frequently cited in the literature
as the driving force behind sports in public schools, the Rev. George Cotton had masterminded
the sports program at Rugby School under Arnold. Cotton was perhaps the prototype of what
Mangan called “a novel kind of school master - the athletic pedagogue” (23).
 The Muscular Christianity movement within public schools relied heavily upon the notion
of Kingsleyan manliness. The sport of rugby was particularly popular as it gave plenty of
opportunity to “take hard knocks without malice” (Mason 1981), a desirable trait in possible
future leaders of industry and the military. Rugby, Dobbs suggests, was almost the perfect game
for the promotion of Muscular Christianity, and if it had not already existed leaders of the
movement would have invented it:
If the Muscular Christians and their disciples in the public schools, given sufficient wit, had
been asked to invent a game that exhausted boys before they could fall victims to vice and
idleness, which at the same time instilled the manly virtues of absorbing and inflicting pain
in about equal proportions, which elevated the team above the individual, which bred
courage, loyalty and discipline, which as yet had no taint of professionalism and which, as
an added bonus, occupied 30 boys at a time instead of a mere twenty-two, it is probably
something like rugby that they would have devised (89).
 Dobbs’ reference to rugby as an activity that would distract boys from vice and idleness was
closely associated to the two unmentionables of the Victorian period: masturbation and
homosexuality (Dobre-Laza). It was hoped that “games and religious worship . . .” would “. . .
offer the Muscular Christian substitute gratifications for sexual desire . . .” which may otherwise
be expressed in the perceived vice of masturbation (Harrington: 50). Homosexuality was also a
major concern of public school masters. Holt has commented that “. . . at precisely the moment
when the new norms of maleness were coming into force, the incarnation of the opposite of
‘manliness’ was defined in the form of homosexuality, which for the first time was generally
designated a crime in 1885” (90). Thus, Kingsleyan masculinity acted as the antithesis of
homosexuality and aesthetics during the Victorian age (Dobre-Laza).<3>
 A number of modern sports historians are skeptical about the motivations behind the
original muscular Christians and the implementation of these ideas in nineteenth century public
schools. For example, Baker (2000) argues that the ideologies behind the promotion of sport in
Victorian Schools were primarily related to class, the Protestant work ethic, and the idea of
manliness that was pedaled as an antidote to the feminization of the Church. As Grace has
argued, Baker presents a purely functionalist thesis, which has some merit but is a rather narrow
and simplistic analysis of a movement that has offered much to our understanding of sport and
Christian values. In summary, the birth of Muscular Christianity in nineteenth century public
schools has been one of the most significant factors in the development of sport and physical
training in our modern educational systems (Mechikoff and Estes).
 A form of Muscular Christianity was also adopted as an evangelical tool by a number of
individuals and groups during the Victorian period. C.T. Studd (1860-1931), a world-renowned
cricketer and leader of the so called Cambridge Seven, and the American lay evangelist Dwight
L. Moody (1837-1899), both recognized the compatibility of sport and Christianity. However,
their philosophy was not directly in line with “classical” Kingsleyan Muscular Christianity,
which was largely a liberal and high Church phenomenon. As evangelicals, they emphasized that
sport, although a valid recreational activity, was unimportant compared to gospel ministry. The
story of Scotsman Eric Liddell, Olympic athlete, international rugby player, and Christian
missionary in the early 1920s, powerfully depicted in the Academy award winning film Chariots
of Fire (1981), closely resonates with the type of Muscular Christianity advocated by Studd and
Moody. Liddell’s decision not to race on a Sunday, due to his Christian faith (Exodus 20: 8), so
missing the 100 meter final of the 1924 Olympics and his decision to give up a distinguished
athletics career to become a missionary in China (Liddell), demonstrates many of the virtues of
the muscular Christian ethic. Vance highlights that Liddell was a popular speaker at evangelical
rallies and in universities where students were keen to listen to the testimony and ideas of the
“flying Scotsman,” and that Liddell has “carried the neo-evangelical version of what was
essentially Victorian Christian manliness into the middle of the twentieth century” (172).
 Muscular Christianity also influenced the founding of the British Young Men’s Christian
Association (YMCA) in London in 1844 by George Williams. However, at its inception the
YMCA emphasized “. . . bible-study, prayer and education” and had frowned upon sport and
athletic activities as an unwanted distraction from evangelism. But they found it increasingly
difficult to retain members due to competition with these secular attractions (Vance: 168). Over
the next twenty to thirty years more liberal views crept into the philosophy of the YMCA, which
had previously been characterized by evangelical piety. Towards the end of the nineteenth
century Kingsleyan manliness became a pervasive theme in evangelical literature and rhetoric,
and the concept of Muscular Christianity was thoroughly institutionalized into Victorian culture
and the YMCA (Rosen). The result was the proliferation of gymnasia and health and fitness
programs within the YMCA on both sides of the Atlantic.<4>
 The main impetus for the founding of the YMCA in Britain had been the unhealthy social
conditions arising from the industrial revolution. Young men, who had previously worked in a
rural setting, worked ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week, in factories with generally
appalling conditions. Shortly after the founding of the YMCA in Britain, a number of American
Protestant ministers from various denominations, along with Captain Thomas Sullivan, formed a
YMCA in Boston in 1851. This was based upon the British model and in time led to the
development of the YMCA in numerous major American cities. Two hundred and five were
established across the states by 1860 (Putney). The lay evangelists Dwight L. Moody and John
Mott (1865-1955) were heavily involved with the American YMCA during the latter half of the
nineteenth century. Many young men were sent abroad as missionary-like YMCA secretaries and
war workers. This was a major dimension of the significant missionary outreach by Christian
Churches around the turn of the century (YMCA).
 In terms of promoting Muscular Christianity, Dr Luther H. Gulick (1865-1918), an
instructor in the YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA, was perhaps the most influential
figure within the YMCA (Putney). Gulick created the distinctive triangular emblem of the
YMCA that conceptualized fitness as an integration of mind, body and spirit, and in turn
emphasized their muscular Christian ethos. Putney suggests that Gulick campaigned to “. . .
Christianize the gym” (Putney: 71) and in turn reinforced the growing relationship between sport
and Christianity. The founding of the Boys’ Brigade by Sir William Alexander Smith (1854-
1914) in Glasgow in 1883 further strengthened the synthesis of sport and Christianity during the
Victorian era. Sport and other activities were used in addition to drills as a means of building
Christian manly character. Smith identified the use of outdoor adventure in building character
and manliness, and was intrigued by the scouting methods used by soldiers in the Boer war. This
led to Smith asking Sir S.S. Baden Powell (1857-1941), a hero of the war, to re-write his Aids to
Scouting for the Boys Brigade. Eventually, this resulted in the publication of Scouting for Boys
(1907) and the formation of the Boy Scouts in Britain in 1897, an independent organization,
which unlike the Boys Brigade evolved into a mainly secular organization (Vance). The
Americans soon followed suit with a number of YMCA staff members playing a key role in
establishing the Boy Scouts of America in 1910 (YMCA).
 Commenting on the significance of the YMCA and the movement of Muscular Christianity
in which it is embedded, the prominent American psychologist G. Stanley Hall stated with great
insight that “among all the marvelous advances of Christianity either within this organization
[the YMCA] or without it . . . the future historian of the Church will place this movement of
carrying the gospel to the body as one of the most epoch making” (377). Over the last one
hundred and fifty years the YMCA has evolved into a worldwide organization and respected
Christian institution that has made a significant contribution to the promotion of sport and
physical training in a Christian context.
 The development of the Modern Olympic Games in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin
(1863-1937) also had strong links with the ideology of Muscular Christianity. Notably, early in
his life de Coubertin had contemplated entering the priesthood, having been brought up in the
Roman Catholic tradition and attending a Jesuit school. However, he could not accept the dogma
of the Church and advocated what has been termed “the religion of humanity”<5> (Baker 2001:
15). Nevertheless, “Coubertin wrote in his memoirs that for him ‘. . . sport is religion with
Church, dogma, cult . . . but especially with religious feeling’, thus Coubertin . . . clearly had a
religious understanding of Olympism” (Kortzfleisch: 231-36). Widund has also noted the
similarities between de Coubertin’s understanding of the Olympic ethos and St. Paul’s writings,
which encourage us to run the “good race” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). Addressing the members of
the International Olympic Committee at a banquet in London, de Coubertin said “the importance
of these Olympiads is not so much to win as to take part . . . The important thing in life is not the
triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well”
(Widund: 11). This became the core message of the modern Olympic movement and was borne
in part from de Coubertin’s engagement with the Muscular Christian ideal.
 After reading a French translation of Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays and
consequently visiting Rugby School, de Coubertin saw the athletic traditions of the English
public schools system as a vehicle for rebuilding the character of France after the Franco-
Prussian war (Vance) and as a perfect model for the rebirth of the Ancient Olympics (776 B.C.).
In his own words, the philosophy of the games was “to unite ancient spirit and modern form”
(Lammer: 107). He viewed the sports arena as “. . . a laboratory for manliness . . . an
incomparable pedagogical tool . . . and it was all the invention of the Reverend Thomas Arnold.
The Rugby School experiment, he said [inaccurately!], gave birth to ‘muscular Christianity’ . . .
a Greek formula perfected by Anglo-Saxon Civilization” (cited in Lucas: 51). In his Pedagogie
Sportive (1934) de Coubertin credits Kingsley and Arnold as totally altering the direction and
definition of non-professional sport (Lucas). This is certainly true and our next task is to briefly
outline how Muscular Christianity has impacted upon the modern world where “. . . the
invocation of God and Christ in the world of sports has reached epidemic proportions” (Crepeau:
The Legacy of Muscular Christianity in the Modern World
 Sport in the modern world has become what Pope John Paul II states is a “. . . paradigm of
mass psychology” that permeates all levels of contemporary society (in Feeney: 80). The Pope
himself enjoyed swimming, skiing, and mountain climbing during his younger years, and is a
strong advocate of the philosophy of Muscular Christianity (Feeney). In an address to the
National Olympic Committee in Rome in 1979 he commented, “the Church has always been
interested in . . . sport, because she prizes everything that contributes constructively to the
harmonious and complete development of man, body and soul” (in Feeney: 60). Just prior to the
2004 Athens Olympics, the Vatican recognized the importance of promoting ethics in sports and
formed an office for “Church and Sport” within the pontifical Council for the laity. The
Council’s statement states that the new office will strive to foster “a culture of sport” that is “an
instrument of peace and brotherhood among peoples” (Glatz: 12).
 In line with this, many Catholic colleges and universities, such as the University of Notre
Dame, have emphasized the importance of a holistic education that includes sport and athletic
activities. Notably, Lawrence Dallaglio, the English rugby union ex-captain who is often
venerated for his leadership qualities and who epitomizes “manliness,” is a former pupil of
Ampleforth College, an English Catholic boarding school. Following the tradition of the
nineteenth century public schools, the college is renowned for its sporting prowess, especially its
twelve rugby teams. Their mission statement is imbued with the ideals of Victorian Muscular
To share with parents in the spiritual, moral and intellectual formation of their children . . .
to work for excellence in all our endeavours, academic, sporting and cultural . . . to help
Ampleforth boys and girls grow up mature and honourable, inspired by high ideals and
capable of leadership, so that they may serve others generously.
 The use of sports and outdoor pursuits as a method of instilling character in leaders has not
been restricted to academic institutions. A Devon based Bible College, the Riverside Christian
Centre, has recently incorporated “extreme sports” into its curriculum. Sports such as rafting,
potholing, abseiling, white-water canoeing and surfing are used as “. . . part of the development
of Christian leaders of the future” (Saunders 2003a). This is further evidence of the resurgence of
the original muscular Christian ethic adopted by nineteenth century public school headmasters.
In part, this has contributed to the establishment of academic research centers, such as The
Centre for the Study of Sport and Spirituality at York St. John College, England. Other
institutions have developed sports ministry centers that offer undergraduate and postgraduate
courses in sport and theology.
 In the United States, the University of Notre Dame and Neumann College formed a sports
ministry partnership “. . . with the goal of bringing a faith-based approach to Catholic youth
sports programmes in parishes across the country . . . a renewal of Catholic youth sport
organizations . . . in the 1920s and 1930s” (The Mendelson Centre and Neumann College). A
key part of this venture has been the establishment of the Centre for Sport, Spirituality and
Character Development at Neumann College and the Mendelson Centre for Sports, Character
and Community at the Notre Dame campus. Dr. Edward Hastings and Len DiPaul, co-directors
of the Centre for Sport Spirituality and Character Development, have “. . . a vision of sports as
an educational enterprise which promotes the inescapable spiritual and ethical dimension that
exists within athletics.” The center offered one undergraduate and two undergraduate modules,
titled Sport and Spirituality, The Soul of Athletics and The Spiritual, and Moral Dimensions of
 Similarly, the British Protestant Evangelical organization Christians in Sport (CIS) has
recently established a one-year course at All Nations Christian College, called Sports and
Intercultural Leadership Studies, which is validated by the Open University as a Certificate of
Higher Education. Modules offered on the course are Theology of Sport, Sports Mission, and
Sports Leadership. Graham Daniels, General Director of CIS, suggests the course will allow
graduates to view the world of sport as a mission field. With around twenty-five million people
participating in sport in England during April 2003, Daniels sees it as imperative not to “. . . take
Christians out of this mission field!” (Saunders 2003b:7).
 As sport is a major socializing agent in the western world, evangelical groups such as CIS,
have been quick to pick up the mantle of the original muscular Christians. Many Protestant
evangelical organizations have been founded in the United States. The Fellowship of Christian
Athletes (FCA), Athletes in Action (AIA), and Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO) are three of the
largest, and are active in nearly all intercollegiate athletic programs (Crepeau) - an approach
wholeheartedly sponsored by the famed evangelist Billy Graham. Graham’s regular use of
famous sports people in his crusades became a significant mode of evangelical Muscular
Christianity from the 1940s until the 1990s (Ladd and Mathisen). Organizations such as the CIS,
FIA, and others are active worldwide, sending “Sports Ministers” to third world countries such
as Africa, Latin America, and south-east Asia, to deliver the gospel message.
 Literature in this area is limited; however, recent publications such as Sports Outreach:
Principles and Practice for Successful Sports Ministry (Connor) and Into the Stadium: An Active
Guide to Sport Ministry in the Local Church (Mason 1982) acknowledge a growing interest.
Many well-known sportsmen and women have used their status and popularity as a means of
witnessing for their Christian faith. Examples are Olympic triple-jump champion Jonathan
Edwards, European golfer Bernhard Langer, and ex-track athlete Kriss Akabusi, who have all
been actively involved with CIS and have published autobiographies or biographies describing
their lives as Christians in elite sport.
 Triple jumper, Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the most well known Christian sports person in
Britain and has often been portrayed as a modern-day Eric Liddell (Folley). As the British trials
for the 1988 Seoul Olympics were on a Sunday, Edwards bravely decided to follow in the
footsteps of Liddell and not compete. The media created a furor, much to Edwards’ surprise, but
some writers clearly saw virtue in Edwards’ actions:
A religious athlete is a contradiction in terms in our psyched up, hyped up, drugged up days
of sport. Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire, was already an anachronism when he refused to
compete on a Sunday in the Paris Olympic games. But that was 1924 when there were still
a few Christians left in Britain. They have become an endangered species who surprise the
rest of us with their eccentric belief in God and the soul and other such things you can’t
buy with a credit card. Jonathan Edwards might as well be a time traveller, hundreds of
Years old, who’s come along in his personal Tardis to shake things up a bit (cited in Folley:
 Edwards clearly saw his Christian beliefs as more important than sport and money, I am
sure to the delight of many evangelicals! He admitted at the time that his decision had not been
directly influenced by the story of Liddell and that he was flattered at the comparisons that had
been made to the great Scot. He had much respect for Liddell, “. . . an exceptional man . . . who
won Olympic gold, but we remember him as a man of faith . . . He committed himself to serve
God and, though he could have used success by staying in Scotland and sharing the gospel, he
bravely went as a missionary to China” (Folley: 61). Nevertheless, in time Edwards reconsidered
and decided to compete on what he had previously viewed as the one true holy day in the week.
Using Romans 14:15, which states that “one man considers one day more sacred than the other;
another man considers every day alike” he argued that modern-day Christians are not under any
requirement to observe the Old Testament law of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8). This decision
provoked a mixed response from family, friends, media, and the sporting world.
 Aside from the question of competing on Sunday, there is no doubt that Edwards has had a
tremendously positive influence on the world of sport and wider culture. Having recently retired
from professional athletics, Edwards continues to use the platform his fame and popularity have
provided to promote the gospel if not always through explicit evangelism. Like Liddell, he has
often spoken at evangelical conferences, and on Easter Sunday 2003 presented the well-known
BBC program Songs of Praise. Recently, Edwards has also become a member of a board that
oversees standards of taste and decency on television and radio (Buckeridge). To a much lesser
degree, this is reminiscent of the work of Kingsley and Hughes, who also strove to reinforce
Christian ideals and implement social reform within Victorian culture.
 Through the example of his life in sport and beyond, Edwards and other Christian athletes
provide a welcome response to the “. . . egotism, cynicism, nihilism . . . obsessive focus on
money, and win at all costs mentality” (Spencer: 143) that is so pervasive in modern sport.
Paradoxically, recent scandals surrounding athletes at the explicitly Christian Baylor University,
“. . . who have been pursuing a very public quest to become America’s Protestant Notre Dame”
(Armstrong: 1), emphasize the disparity between the muscular Christian ideal and today’s
dominant sports ethic, especially in the United States. Revelations of under-the-table
scholarships and drug use have caused much embarrassment. In America it is common place for
“. . . coaches and players to make the sign of the cross and spew references to their faiths during
post-game jubilation . . . and from their celebrity pulpits . . . encourage their followers to
subscribe to their faiths” (Elliott: 1-2). However, it is legitimate to ask how much of this outward
witness is demonstrated in athletes’ personal lives. Although a high percentage of Americans
assert a belief in God, this is not reflected in “. . . ethical conduct inasmuch as many sense that
the nation is in moral discord” (Spencer: 145). Writing in Christianity Today, Armstrong
suggests a need for a twenty-first century Thomas Arnold to resurrect the genuine Muscular
Christian message in American sport and education:
. . . the darker side of the “athletic ethic” [in the United States] . . . has little to do with an
excess of evangelistic zeal, and everything to do with the usual muck of life in a country
too rich and self-indulgent for its own good. Perhaps the memory of the original ideals will
spark some modern reformer to usher school athletics, as a prodigal son, back to the father
 The decline in ethical and moral standards within professional sport has predictably been
absorbed into the Olympic Games. Modern day Olympics have been polluted with drug-taking,
political boycotts and cheating. Volkwein attributes this primarily to professionalization and
commercialization of top-level sport, which has distorted the notion of fair play and the true
spirit of sport advocated by de Coubertin at the end of the nineteenth century. Following the
rising tide of world terrorism, fuelled by religious fundamentalism, there were serious concerns
raised over the safety of athletes and spectators at the 2004 Olympics in Athens (e.g., Bone and
McGrory). Fortunately, no such terrorist atrocities occurred. Predictably, there were a number of
high profile drug scandals that tainted the games. Embarrassingly for the hosts, it was the
controversy surrounding the Greek sprinters, Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, which
received the most media attention (e.g., Bose). Despite these depressing facts, the bond between
Christianity and the modern Olympics has certainly not been severed. The Olympic Charter
includes a reference to freedom of religious worship, which has led the Church and evangelical
sports organizations to recognize the opportunity for witness and service at major sporting events
 Explicit Christian ministry at major sporting events started at the 1972 Munich Olympics,
with chaplains providing an “unofficial” service to athletes. However, major events ministry did
not begin until 1988, at the summer Olympics in Seoul and the Winter Olympics in Calgary,
Canada. The International Bible Society produced an evangelistic booklet in the form of a
souvenir program for the 1988 games, which proved to be a major success and a significant
development in the history of sports ministry. From this, the use of “non-crass” evangelical
literature was a key strategy at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Christian publishers also created
many other resources for the 2000 games, such as CDs, websites, and Sports New Testaments.
More than one million Christian sports resources were distributed during the period leading up to
the Sydney games and perhaps most notably two-hundred and twenty-five thousand Sports New
Testaments were sold. Christian outreach also played a major role with approximately forty-five
denominations and para-Church ministry groups and seven hundred Churches involved in
service and witness across Australia. A conservative estimate suggests that there were two-
thousand, two-hundred and twenty-five commitments of faith during the Sydney Olympics
(Weir, 2004). Predictably, this success has resulted in the evolution of sports ministry into a
 It was estimated that sport ministry, in some form, occurred in-between one-hundred and
two-hundred countries throughout the period of the 2004 Athens Olympics. In Athens, the
Church of England’s Greater Athens Chaplaincy and the local Greek Evangelical Church
corroborated to form a group of forty Protestant Chaplains to minister to Olympic athletes for the
games in August and the Paralympics in September. In addition, many evangelical sport
organizations sent representatives to Athens for the 2004 Olympics. At the 2000 Olympics in
Sydney, AIA sent seventy volunteers “. . . to promote the good will of sport and help in a variety
of ways” (AIA: 1). Unfortunately, Coffman may be right in suggesting that although the ethic of
Muscular Christianity is still alive in “. . . fit and fresh faced Christians” who “. . . make the best
ambassadors for faith . . . you just won’t hear about it at the Olympics” (3).
 The aim of this essay was to examine the historical and theological development of
Muscular Christianity and how this has impacted upon the relationship between sport and
Christianity in the late twentieth and twenty-first century. It can be argued that Muscular
Christianity and its rebirth in the form of Sports Ministry, has provided the basis for much of the
research and scholarship on Christianity and sport today. During the last thirty years and
especially in the last decade, there has been a significant increase in literature exploring the
relationship between sport and religion (Novak 1976; Hoffman), the use of Christian prayer in
sport (Czech et al; Kreider), spirituality in sport (Hastings; Götz) and sport psychology (Watson
and Nesti), and the relationship between Judaeo-Christian ethics and sport (Grace; Spencer;
Stevenson). Hopefully, this will provide a much needed corrective to the negative influences so
pervasive in modern sport.
 There is vast potential for research and scholarship on the relationship between Christianity
and sport. Professor Michael Novak, renowned social theorist and author of the seminal text The
Joy of Sports (1976), recently noted that “. . . research into the multiple dimensions of sports
(religious, psychological, anthropological, philosophical) continues to go deeper . . . sports have
an intellectual and moral depth that has been too neglected in academic life” (Novak 2003). The
revitalization of the Muscular Christian ethic could be a useful means of combating the obesity
pandemic that has engulfed the Western world. Alongside the promotion of sport and exercise,
the Christian doctrine of gluttony could be used as a valid method, amongst others, in combating
this growing health and social problem. Other areas that are worthy of further investigation
include: the effectiveness of sports ministry and evangelism in the modern world; the ethical,
sociological and political issues that may surround sports evangelism; the use of sports and
outdoor activities in modern educational systems and in training Christian ministers and youth
workers; and the spiritual and religious dimensions of the Olympic movement.
Acknowledgement: The authors would like to express their gratitude to Ms. Kate Hutchings for
her invaluable help with proof-reading.
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