For the second year in a row, the Super Bowl has set a record for American television viewing.
The Nielsen Co. said Monday that an estimated 111 million people watched the Green Bay Packers outlast the Pittsburgh Steelers in professional football’s ultimate game. That tops the 106.5 million who watched the 2010 game between New Orleans and Indianapolis.
The series finale of “M-A-S-H” had held the title of the most-watched TV show in the United States for 27 years. It is now No. 3.
What should we make of the Super Bowl? Or perhaps more pointedly, what should we make of the massive ordeal it has become in America. If 111 million people are watching, it’s clear that it’s a big deal. Probably as many tune in for the commercials as for the game, not to mention the spectacle that the halftime show has become. Isn’t this all idolatry? Isn’t all this time, energy, and excitement devoted to this game amount to a massive waste of time?
Here is the issue with idolatry though–its a heart issue, and there are two types. First there is the worship of graven images–this would amount to valuing anything above the Lord. Second there is making an image of G0d (think golden calves) which amounts to making God out to be less than He is–Aaron said of the golden calves, “these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4). The latter type of idolatry is a bit easier to pinpoint as it diminishes or misrepresents God, the former has to do with how we spend our time, money, and energy and is harder to uncover (if we have made the SB an idol, it falls in the former category).
So are people too into the Super Bowl? Yes probably. Do I think its weird that churches schedule their events around it? Yes, it is weird because after all what you have in the Super Bowl is a bunch of grown men throwing a ball around and hitting each other–if we are honest, it is a little weird that we get so excited about that. Its also weird that such behavior draws such a massive audience (I am a football fan I just have to admit its strange that its as popular as it is). Do I think churches are wrong to change their schedule for the Super Bowl? No I don’t. Meeting together for the preaching of God’s Word, prayer, and fellowship are required of every local church (Acts 6:4; Heb. 10:24-25). So unless your church’s only meeting for preaching, prayer, and fellowship is on Sunday night during the Super Bowl, I don’t think you are in sin for rearranging your schedule for the big game. There is no weekly quota of preaching, prayer, and biblical fellowship in the Bible, those things are certainly more important than watching a football game but a categorical labeling of a church that watches the Super Bowl in the place of some secondary church activity is judgmental and unbiblical.
So the question of whether we are too excited about the Super Bowl is hard to answer. Some people probably are but then again some people have a fascination with cheeseburgers that borders on idolatry. We ought to be careful when using broad brush strokes to paint cultural events as sinful when its our individual relationship to those events that God cares about. Fighting sin on a cultural level is nigh on impossible.
There are some good things about the Super Bowl. One is that it involves a sport that requires some level of physical fitness which is good (we might debate this with regard to linemen and whether they are healthy but that is another discussion). Sports further promote team work, I happen to be a competitive soccer coach and I could share a great deal with you about the many benefits of team sports.
Additionally, I think the Super Bowl illustrates our desire for community and shared experiences which are God-given wirings. Most people don’t watch the Super Bowl by themselves and while there are certainly more eternally valuable things for us to center ourselves around–the Super Bowl at the very least gives people an opportunity to spend time together and reveals how much people want to be in community.
So how should Christians feel about the Super Bowl? I think that is up to the individual conscience. I won’t be boycotting it any time soon as I don’t think its fair to those I want to impact for the kingdom to accuse them of idolatry when I cannot honestly tell you if they have misappropriated the event. After all watching football is fun. I went to a Super Bowl party after teaching my community group Sunday night (we started watching from the beginning thanks to modern technology) and I had a great time despite how terrible the halftime show was! So how should Christians feel about the Super Bowl? I suppose the same way that we feel about everything else in the world–one foot in and one foot out (John 17:15-16).
P.S. Someone recently asked me what I thought of the halftime show and asked if I would consider writing about it. I did, consider it that is, and I couldn’t come up with anything other than the halftime show greatly saddened me. I saw someone on twitter write that they have never once wanted Kanye West to interrupt a performance more–I think I agree. If the average person watched that and was impressed … that is bad news for humanity.
P.P.S. Others have asked me what I thought of the commercials. I didn’t see all of them as we DVRed the game but Pop Matters has highlighted some of the better ones and Think Christian has thoughtfully discussed some others. I will say that the single commercial that irritated me the most was the Eminem’s Chrysler commercial and the most delightful commercial was definitely the Volkswagon little Darth Vader commercial.