The Christian at Play

by Robert K. Johnston

Robert K. Johnston, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena CA 91182. Prior to that he was Vice-President and Dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.

This book was originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in 1983. Prepared for Religion Online by Rev. Herbert F. Lowe.


(ENTIRE BOOK) An exploration of Christian attitudes toward play.


  • Introduction

    Johnston explores current attitudes toward and descriptions of play, then looks at three representative theological positions in hope of clarifying the reader’s understanding of the human player — life-style, mission and opportunity.

  • Preface
  • Chapter One: Play: A Problem for the Contemporary Person

    America’s continued belief in a work-dominated value system has obscured its vision of life’s possibilities. The experience and concept of play might provide the contemporary person with a way into these larger realities. What can Christian theology offer to help us out of our cultural and spiritual malaise?

  • Chapter Two: Play: A Matter of Definition

    Play is where you realize the supreme importance and the utter insignificance of what you are doing. Play can open us to the gifts of God’s goodness.

  • Chapter Three: Play: Three Theological Options

    Play is not for the sake of anything else. It is part of that “area of freedom” which has its own justification, The writings of two theologians — Sam Keen and Jürgen Moltmann examine play as a way to celebrate life or a way to change the world, both making play a means to an end. The thoughts of non-theologians — Peter Berger and C. S. Lewis — are better suited to fit into an adequate theological formulation which recognizes play as part of our God-intended humanity.

  • Chapter Four: Play: A Biblical Model

    Christians have most often been content to allow Western culture to shape their understanding of the human at play. In contrast the author analyzes three models of a theology of play: Greek, Protestant, and Hebraic. He demonstrates that Scripture, (including Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Proverbs, Hosea, and the gospel accounts of Jesus’ friendships, for example) has much to say about play. As Christians we have failed to allow Scripture to speak to us authoritatively about our need to play.

  • Conclusion

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an example of a Christian who balanced his work and play. He lived the God-intended rhythm which all Christians, if only they would be attentive, could hear Scripture proclaim.

  • Selected Bibliography On Play (and Work)