Intellectual Honesty, A Theology of the Cross, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

My four-year-old daughter Hazel is a Sports Illustrated subscriber. It’s a complicated issue of expiring […]

Nick Lannon / 2.20.13


My four-year-old daughter Hazel is a Sports Illustrated subscriber. It’s a complicated issue of expiring airline miles; don’t ask. This week, the annual swimsuit edition was delivered. I remember, as a younger man, subscribing to SPORT Magazine (it was a cheaper monthly option than the weekly Sports Illustrated) and eagerly awaiting the swimsuit issue. SPORT, it should be noted, performed a service to its libido-crazed readership: it actually produced a normal sports-themed magazine to put around the models in bikinis.  In other words, when your mom looked askance at the cover, you could always complain that “it just took pages away from their groundbreaking NFL coverage” and that you were keeping the magazine for posterity to “see how their NCAA tournament predictions turned out.” As to why it was discovered months later, well-worn, and hidden under the bed…well, excuses were harder to find then.

I’ve never subscribed (as my daughter does) to Sports Illustrated, so I don’t know if SI ever provided this same service. All I know is, they don’t now.  I got my (um, Hazel’s) swimsuit edition on the same day as a normal copy of SI was delivered (the swimsuit edition is twice as thick), and as I dispassionately flipped through it (“I read it for the articles!”) I realized that there was absolutely no sports coverage in it whatsoever. No “Faces in the Crowd,” no “Dan Patrick’s Just My Type,” and no “Point After.”  Just plenty of, um, great SI photography.

And I say, “Well done, Sports Illustrated.” Even Playboy attempts to give its subscribers an excuse to subscribe (some of the best short-form writing around, or, um, so I’m told). Sports Illustrated, apparently, has decided to force an intellectual honesty on its readers that they might not have adopted on their own. These days, if you’re caught looking at the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, the only apology available to you is the honest one: “I, um, like to look at girls in bikinis. Sigh.”

Sports Illustrated has “called a thing what it is” as Martin Luther described the activity of a theologian of the cross. This is, though hurtful to those of us who are called out, a helpful thing, as it brings us sinners just one step closer to calling out ourselves…for a needed savior.

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8 responses to “Intellectual Honesty, A Theology of the Cross, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition”

  1. Embarrassed Anonymous Commenter says:

    I love the phrase, “I, um, like to look at girls in bikinis. Sigh.” Simple. Direct. Honest. Real.

    Sometimes, I’m not convinced that God wants us to “get better”. He’s more interested in saving us.

  2. Jim McNeely says:

    But, I thought the cross was enough for everything except actual sin, like looking at girls in bikinis. The cross doesn’t work if you actually NEED forgiveness, that would be antinomianism. Right? You’re not saying I can get away with looking at SI swimsuit edition! What kind of crazed heretic web site is this?

    I wonder if it is OK if I like to look at girls in bikinis, but I don’t actually LOOK at girls in bikinis? God can’t ask us to stop LIKING something, right? For the record, this is all hypothetical, because I hate looking at girls in bikinis. I swear.

  3. Nick Thurmer says:

    Great article! No longer have to hide from who we really are, both saint and sinner! Thanks for bringing it to the mystery of Cross theology. Suffering and the Cross. Law and Gospel! Praise God,

  4. M. Troupe says:

    Sarcasm, eh. But really, I doubt it is so much intellectual honesty as a boldness in crude things. Not all shame is bad… in fact “shameless” is a really great bible word to describe mature wickedness.

  5. Serene says:

    Wow! Only Mockingbird can bring a spiritual lesson to the SI Swimsuit issue! No sarcasm here at all, I’m dead serious! While we could all comment on the “sign of the times” that what used to be considered porn is now covered on nation news; you went deeper. We can go on and on with the shoulds and shouldn’ts but at the end of the day; you’re right….let’s call ourselves what we are and stop trying to dress it up or minimize it. There are no words to express how much I love Mockingbird!! Serene

  6. May I recommend the book “The Serpent and the Lamb”. This book is perhaps the best on the market for a history of the Lutheran Reformation. It details Cranach’s contributions to the dissemination of Lutheran Theology, with a few chapters dealing with how he did this through his use of nudes. Great book.

  7. I was reminded of this article this morning when I saw this:

    It also reminded me of when I was a teenager and my mom caught me with a swimsuit issue, she sent me out to my dad working in the garage for a talk. My dad’s woodshop was in the garage. He was a Lutheran pastor, he worked with wood for stress relief. I’m not all sure I remember everything he said in that conversation, but I do remember him saying, “You would have been better off with a playboy.” I was never caught with a swimsuit issue again…

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