I agree with Michael Mckinley: “The New York Times seems to be on a mission to make Christians look stupid, and we keep giving them the stick with which to beat us about the head and neck.” McKinley is referring to a NY Times article on the emergence of mixed martial arts (MMA) ministries in evangelical churches. Often formed to attract young (18-34 year old) men, these groups seek to interject some testosterone into the Christian experience (sponsoring events like fight nights, where attendees and visitors can watch MMA events on large screen TVs).
For the sake of full disclosure: I agree that passivity in men today is a problem. But passivity and hyper-testosterone are (unfortunately) not incompatible. A man can be physically tough and athletically-oriented and yet be utterly passive in his faith or with his woman. Likewise, gentleness and tenderness are not emasculation. The mature man is tough and tender, strong but not violent, a leader who channels his strength for the service of others. Secondly, I enjoy Jack Bauer. But I don’t confuse him for a representation of Jesus. Jesus conquered through humiliation and surrender to torture. Yes, He’s coming back in part to carry out vengeance on His enemies, but that’s not our fight (Rom. 12:17-21), though there is a role for Christian police officers, soldiers, and CIA or FBI agents (as ministers of the state, Romans 13). Lastly, I don’t think it is necessarily sinful to watch (or participate) in an MMA fight.
But Mark Dever once said it well, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” (@Tim Bertolet) In sum, McKinley’s concerns are spot-on:
1. It’s derivative and unoriginal. It was lame when Billy Sunday was doing it 100 years ago.
2. It makes the gospel man-centered. Coming to Jesus isn’t a way for you to deal with your daddy issues. I get it, your dad didn’t hug you when you were little and you want to be a different kind of man. How about you go hug your kid then? Jesus didn’t come to help you get in touch with your inner MMA fighter.
3. Like it or not, the gospel is at least in part about weakness. It’s about the almighty becoming weak to save us. It’s about us being helpless and unable in our sins. There’s no way to Christ that doesn’t start with brokenness and an admission of impotence. Yes, Jesus is the strong man who binds the adversary, but he bound him by suffering, humiliation, and weakness.
4. It discourages and mocks godly men who aren’t macho. There is an undercurrent of disdain in all of this. Proponents of this testosterone Christianity can’t help but take shots at guys who wear pastels and drink cappuccino. You might not like guys with manicures, but there’s absolutely nothing morally wrong with it. A reserved, quiet, well-groomed man can be a good Christian. Believe it or not.
And pastor Eugene Cho (quoted in the NY Times piece) also says it well:
While there are clearly stories about Jesus’ “toughness” [Jesus topples tables and whips moneychangers in Mark 11, Matthew 21, and Luke 19/20], I also seem to remember that:
* Jesus washes the feet of his disciples
* shows compassion to the poor, lepers, and paralytics
* feeds the hungry and heals the blind and sick
* pursues justice and loves mercy
* embraces the women and children, marginalized, and scandalized
* demonstrates amazing grace to the prostitute woman in John 8
* enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna
…and eventually goes to the Cross to die for humanity.
Who do I live for? I live for this Jesus!
Amen and amen.