*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 22nd of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

In 2002 the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame opened. The Scottish public voted on the first class of inductees. There was a clear favorite- the Chinese-born missionary, rugby player, ordained minister, and (most famously) Olympic sprinter: Eric Liddell.

Liddell was the inspiration for the 1981 Oscar award-winning movie: Chariots of Fire. His life brings together a couple of different threads in Christian history- from Sabbatarianism to the opening of Chinese Missions and the “Muscular Christianity" movement.

Liddell was born in 1902 in Tianjin, China, to Scottish Missionaries. They came back to the United Kingdom on furlough when he was five. He and his older brother would be enrolled at a boarding school in England for the children of missionaries. When his parents and sister would come home from furlough, they would live together in his parent’s native Scotland.

Eric joined his brother at the University of Edinburgh in 1920, where he excelled in both running and rugby. In 1922 and 1923, he joined the Scottish national rugby team (just last month, he was inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame on the anniversary of his first cap 100 years ago). He was exceptionally fast in the 100-meter dash, and after several victories, he was selected to join the British Olympic team for the 1924 Olympics in France.

As is detailed in Chariots of Fire (with a decent degree of historical accuracy), he withdrew from his best race, the 100-meter race, on account of the finals being held on a Sunday. As a Sabbatarian (a common Christian conviction in his day), he could not race on a Sunday. He instead joined and qualified for the 200 and 400. In the 200 Meter race, he won bronze. IN the 400, he sprinted the first 200 meters- a very unorthodox approach as it would leave the runner gassed in the second 200- Liddell sprinted the last 200 meters as well- taking the Gold medal and claiming a world record.

But the following year (1925), he remained true to his conviction and calling and joined the London Missionary Society in China. In 1932 he came back to Scotland on furlough, studied at the Congregational College, and was ordained in the Congregational Union of Scotland. He returned to China and married another missionary- the Canadian Florence Makenzie (with whom he had three children).

In 1941 with the escalation of the Sino-Japanese war ( a war parallel to WW2 between China and Japan), all western foreigners were called home by their own countries. A pregnant Florence and her two children left, and Eric joined his brother at a rural medical mission. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war by the US and UK, Eric and other westerners were taken to an internment camp in Northeastern China. Others noted him in the center as an indispensable leader. However, harsh living conditions and the development of a brain tumor led to his death in February of 1945- months before allied troops liberated the camp. (While he died on the 21st, the Church of England celebrates him today because of a full calendar and John Henry Newman already having the 21st).

His context in the first generations of Protestant Chinese missions puts him in the stream of luminaries such as Hudson Taylor (whose mission his parents were a part of).

HIs Sabbatarian views- which while in the minority- and subsequent decision not to race on Sunday made him a hero to many Christians and a reputation as a man of conviction by non-Christians.

And while today we might not see anything peculiar about a Christian athlete sharing their faith- this was new in the early 20th century as an outgrowth of the movement known as “Muscular Christianity.” This was a reaction to a perceived feminization of the Victorian church and saw popular athletics as a means to evangelize young men.

You can check out the story of Eric’s Olympic career in “Chariots of Fire” and his post-Olympic life in 2016’s “On Wings of Eagles.”

Born in 1902, Eric Liddell was 43 when he died in 1945.

The Last Word for today comes from Isaiah 40- a favorite of Liddell’s

Do you not know?
 Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
 and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
 and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
 and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord
 will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
 they will run and not grow weary,
 they will walk and not be faint.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose own version of muscular Christianity has seen jazzercise and pilates become his favorite midweek activities at his parish. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who has run on the West Sands beach in St. Andrews while humming that theme song. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.