The Pen

To a Christian Coach: An Open Letter to Dabo Swinney

Dear Coach Swinney,

Roll Tide.  I am a lifelong Crimson Tide football fan.  When I was 10 years old, I watched you and your University of Alabama teammates roll to an undefeated season and a national championship under coach Gene Stallings.  When I was 33, I was privileged to attend the CFB national title game in Glendale, AZ where the Tide once again rolled to a national championship.  This time you were on the losing side.  I think it was the best football game I’ve ever seen.  Some might argue next year’s rematch, where Clemson came out on top, was even better.  I always tell people the best football player I’ve ever seen in person is Deshaun Watson.  The second best player I’ve ever seen in person is Trevor Lawrence.  I watched him in smaller confines – Weinman Stadium in Cartersville, Georgia.  Like Trevor, I am a Cartersville Purple Hurricane and I still reside in Cartersville since graduating in 2000.  I write you today recognizing that you are one of the best football coaches in the world.  One of the reasons for your success, I believe, is your understanding that being a great football coach involves more than teaching Xs and Os.  A big part of the job is developing men mentally, physically, and spiritually.  I know you strive to do this.  I am writing you today because you are a man of faith.  Like many in our part of the world, I am passionate about football, but I live for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Of ultimate value are Jesus and the church for which he died on the cross.  I think you feel the same way.  So, I am writing you today about something much bigger than football.  I am writing you today about the spiritual health of you, Trevor Lawrence, and all the young men you look after at Clemson.  I think you and those men are in grave spiritual danger.

Today I read an article in Sports Illustrated entitled “Faith, Football and the Fervent Religious Culture at Dabo Swinney’s Clemson”.  I think it is great that coaches of faith like you and coach Bowden before you emphasize prayer, Bible study, and spiritual development in your football programs.  I think it is great that you share the gospel with the young men you take oversee at Clemson University!  God has given you a position of prominence and you strive to use it to honor him and help others come to know Jesus.  If the secularists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation don’t like it, well, you know where they can go.  I am however, genuinely alarmed to see that you attend and steer young men to NewSpring Church, where Trevor Lawrence was recently baptized.  Some people say College Football isn’t about developing student athletes, that it’s just big business.  I’m not sure about that but I am sure of this: NewSpring Church isn’t about developing Christians, it’s just big business.  Founding pastor Perry Noble has even said that church is a business.  After Noble was fired from NewSpring over his alcohol problems, he founded a consulting business called “The Growth Company” to offer consulting services to business and churches.  With no seminary degree or MBA he offered such services, on the basis of his experience growing NewSpring from nothing to a multi-campus megachurch where volunteers aren’t just called “members” but “owners”.  That’s nothing if not entrepreneurial.

Dabo, NewSpring once offered a money-back tithe guarantee.  Churches don’t do that, businesses do.

Dabo, Perry Noble once earned a rare public rebuke from the South Carolina Baptist convention for preaching, claiming that God gave him the message, that there were no such thing as the ten “commandments”.  After widespread criticism, Noble claimed that he misunderstood a teacher and Israel and gave a sermon based on that misunderstanding.  A pastor just can’t do that…but he didn’t lose his job over that and people kept coming to NewSpring by the thousands.

Dabo, Noble played Highway to Hell by AC/DC during Easter service at NewSpring and said, when criticized, he would do it again!

Dabo, Noble called church members who want to “go deeper” jackasses.

On top of these things, NewSpring has expanded its locations like a fast food franchise…and the fare offered at NewSpring is just as bad for the spirit as the food offered at a greasy fast food place is for the body.  That’s your church.  You steer young men there.  You have to stop.  I think God hates NewSpring more than Harvey Updyke hates Auburn, but with a righteous anger that can only come from the Almighty.

Coach, I think you know that the modern, successful football coach is something of a CEO, something of a vision-caster.  That may work very well for football programs and secular corporations but it’s not the New Testament model for pastors and churches. I’m afraid you see in NewSpring an effective way to bring people together for a common goal.  Perhaps you identify with that model but, please coach, get yourself and your young men out of that whitewashed tomb. It’s a business run by vision-casters. It’s not a New Testament church that grows people spiritually. Jesus didn’t found it, Perry Noble did and it exists in Noble’s image till this day.

In Christ,

Seth Dunn

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant