Jesus Is Not a Cagefighter

I thought AoM’s Christian readers would appreciate a recent article posted on the First Things blog, (which is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute), called “Jesus Is Not a Cagefighter.

The author of the piece, Joe Carter, examines that perennial fixation of the Christian faith: the perceived feminization of the church. Carter outlines how, starting in the 60s and 70s, the portrayal of Jesus became much softer. He writes, “During those decades when the ideal of masculinity was in flux, Christ was portrayed as a sensitive, pacifistic, Phil Donahue-style guru (think “hippie Jesus”).” Carter argues that the pendulum has now swung back too far the other way, with churches using MMA as part of their ministries, emphasizing Jesus’ aggressive qualities at the expense of his meek and loving ones, and generally focusing on a “pugilistic Jesus.” This movement is an effort to attract men to the congregation, because they statistically attend church less often than women do, and if the man in the family comes to church, the rest of the family is more likely to go as well, more so than if just the mother attends.

While Carter makes it seem like this swinging pendulum between the feminized Jesus and the hyper-virile Jesus is a more recent phenomenon, this has happened before, most notably at the beginning of the 20th century. The highly popular and successful evangelist, Billy Sunday, sought to save Christianity from the feminization of the church that developed in the Victorian Age, and preached things like:

“[The church needs to] strike the death blow to the idea that being a Christian takes a man out of the busy whirl of the world’s life and activity and makes him a spineless effeminate proposition.”

“[The Christian man cannot be] some sort of dishrag proposition, a wishy-washy, sissified sort of galoot, that lets everybody make a doormat out of him. Let me tell you, the manliest man is the man who will acknowledge Jesus Christ.”

“Lord save us from the off-handed, flabby cheeked, brittle boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, ossified, three karat Christianity.”

Here are some questions for discussion:

1. Do you think the feminization of Christianity is something that is just perceived, or do you think it is real?

2. Do you think that incorporating things like MMA into church is a good thing that will attract men, or something that detracts from what you think the mission of a church should be?

3. Do you think that Carter is right that the portrayal of Jesus as an aggressive manly man has gone too far, or do you think that he is being overly-cautious?

Read: “Jesus Was Not a Cagefighter” (@First Things)

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay September 22, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I believe that the feminization of Christianity is a real and present concern in church and in society as a whole.

I am currently in my first year of seminary and have worked in the church for a few years before, and there are a lot more women than men attending church. It’s sad for me because as a man, I don’t believe my masculinity should be called into question if I love Jesus.

I think showcasing the whole identity of Christ is important., Showing that he’s tough, but loving is important. However, we must not show Christ as a gun-toting, truck-driving, America-loving good ol’ boy. Jesus is somebody who fights for justice, but that means helping the widowed and orphaned, the poor and the helpless.

Jesus is a wonderful man. I wouldn’t be devoting my life to his church if I didn’t think so. Sometimes we do have twisted ideas about him though.

Dax September 22, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Jesus represents both qualities in a perfect tension. If we take a look at the truth which he embodied, he was very compassionate and at times violent. He was neither a brute nor a fruit, he walked the line which swayed both sides of the pendulum. As the very image of God in the flesh, we see a perfect harmony with the God throughout the Bible, the one who’s “mercies are new every morning” and who delights in his children, but are not afraid to chastise those whom he loves and wants to save from death and destruction.

The church needs to take a close look at the character of God and avoid the extremes. There is a constant state of tension that a Christian man must live in.

“Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” Ecclesiastes 7:18b

Tsunami September 22, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I found this article a while back that addresses question #1. It also offers a solution in Orthodoxy. While Orthodoxy is not for everyone, the article does present a different perspective on approaching Christianity in a “manly” way.

Why Orthodox Men Love Church
http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/42390.htm

Fred Miller September 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm

What happened to balance. Jesus exhibits both qualities. He’s is perfectly loving and caring and perfectly masculine and tough. Would you expect any less from the creater of both all things. If through him and by him all things are into being then he must have the propensity to exhibit the traits that these created things exhibit. It’s only logical.

CJ Kelly September 22, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Jay wrote: “I think showcasing the whole identity of Christ is important., Showing that he’s tough, but loving is important. However, we must not show Christ as a gun-toting, truck-driving, America-loving good ol’ boy. Jesus is somebody who fights for justice, but that means helping the widowed and orphaned, the poor and the helpless.”

BOOM.

Great thoughts so far!

Jesus certainly is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but His present Kingdom is not of this world, and rather exists in the hearts of His redeemed followers. The ethos of the Kingdom is very different than the ethos of the empires of man which rule by force and violence. Jesus taught us to subvert evil with radical love and selflessness. If that doesn’t take an incredible amount of tenacity, integrity, and “toughness”, I don’t know what does.
That being said, Jesus didn’t mince words and wasn’t afraid to make a whip and go to town when He saw religious hypocrisy. I think that makes a pretty big statement in itself.

Thanks for this post, AOM!

Geoff September 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I thi k the feminization of men is not just present in the church, it’s apparent in all of our society. More and more men are expected to act like women. Let’s face it, those feminine men from romantic comedies aren’t real, they’re just characters.

It is indeed good for man to understand his feelings and be a good communicator. But it is also important for a guy to go push other guys around on the basketball court (or whatever your manly activity is). Jesus is a perfeslct example of many things, and he is a prime example of quiet strength, something often overlooked in our society.

Jonathan September 23, 2011 at 12:16 am

Dax, love the Ecc. reference. Good discussion all around.

Part of the problem with the above, is that Christians feel the need to bend Jesus to the current culture, as if he isn’t appealing enough on His own. They are afraid people won’t like Jesus unless He is effeminate, or an MMA fighter, or… Jesus already said the world hates it, so it should come as no surprise if someone has a problem with His message.

Another thing, is that all these different positions neglect the use of scripture when defining Christ. It’s easy to see who He was by reading what He did and said. Trusting another person’s description of him (“He is tough and so on and so forth”) without using scripture can be a dangerous thing.

The Bible shows Him as wearing a robe dipped in blood with a sword coming out of His mouth, turning over tables and driving men with a whip, playing with children, touching lepers, and letting his own body be destroyed on a cross. We can pick any of those to define Him, but the truth is that He is all of those things.

A great video that captures who He was and is based on scripture is this 3 min clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE Watch it and see for yourself if He is someone worth following.

Joshua Butcher September 23, 2011 at 12:35 am

“1. Do you think the feminization of Christianity is something that is just perceived, or do you think it is real?”

Yes, I think it is real, but it is also partly cultural perception. In the early church under the late Roman Empire Christians were considered effeminate, especially by 3rd century Emperor Diocletian, who blamed Christianity for the weakening of the Roman Empire. Cultures that prize exaggerations of “masculine” traits (virulence, physical strength, intellectual dominance) will find any religion that commends chastity, self-restraint, and service toward the lowly as “too womanly.” But who would argue, looking back, that any Christian martyrs who would stare torture and death in the face without flinching were effeminate?

“2. Do you think that incorporating things like MMA into church is a good thing that will attract men, or something that detracts from what you think the mission of a church should be?”

I don’t think it is a good thing, though it may attract more men for a period of time. I see it as a fad, another offshoot on the “seeker sensitive” branch of the Christian church–a movement that is very successful at drawing in newcomers, but very poor at retaining them once the novelty of the fad has worn off. If the major motive for going to church is because it has MMA, why would that individual stay there very long when he can get MMA elsewhere without the self-denying aspects of or the responsibilities of long-term commitment to Christianity attached?

“3. Do you think that Carter is right that the portrayal of Jesus as an aggressive manly man has gone too far, or do you think that he is being overly-cautious?”

The most important aspects of manliness don’t seem to be the ones getting all the attention. While MMA highlights masculine traits of strength, agression, determination, and conquest, it contributes little or nothing to the aspects of nurturing sons into husbands and fathers, raising daughters into wives and mothers, or being a pillar of stability and service in the home or community. Do popular masculine icons such as MMA instruct men how to uphold justice, defend the oppressed, or support the misfortunate ones of society? Do they instruct men on the wise use of wealth or the economic effects of consistent generosity? Even the concept of kingship in the Ancient Near East into which Jesus was born, raised, and ministered expected provision and protection from kings over and above conquest.

MMA might get men into a church, but what is going to keep them there is learning the traits of masculinity that build and keep families and cultures growing rather than collapsing. Any angry mob can bring a society to its knees by force of will and overwhelming numbers, but it takes a few wise men to build and maintain a culture that lasts for generations.

Robert Niles September 23, 2011 at 5:57 am

I agree that although physical contact sports are a good form of manly sport, and can even be seen as “Iron sharpening Iron”, the use of them to bring in worshipers can be overdone. As long as it is a balanced event, it shouldn’t end up appearing like a snake oil salesman.

Is it the steering towards violence that brings us towards cage fighting as the manly alternative? What other building frustration could be at this root? Is the Nation this physically challanged? Is this spirituality?

“God is not a man that He can lie”..and niether is “He” a woman. The difference is pretty clear, “He” the masculine tense is used because men are initiators,(Genderwise naturally), and women are responders, but I can tell you about one female army staff sergent that can roll from her bed with her Glock and you better not mess with her daughter…Mama bear is powerful..

So the Father,(male), goes after the lost, the sheep, and gives his life also for them. Hence “He” and the possible need for aggression, not the desire for it in everyday life.

Now Jesus was a man, and did physical work, but he didn’t prizefight so people could draw lots. What has happened to the physical aspect of working for a living where we need to see blood be spilled, in order to understand, that working men bleed every day, serving others? “If your not bleeding, your not working”, was something I used to know years ago. Then it became a quaint reminder joke told for a few years with the working class. Funny when I said that to a boss of mine who was concerned that I cut my thumb while working in a warehouse 5 years ago, he said,”Wow, thats old school” ??

And me working for my Dad, getting holes punched in my feet from stepping on nails, was an everyweek occurance. “Yeah just soak your feet in salt water later and lets get back to work son” Also had my share if damaged digits that I had to learn how to dress them, that was part of being a man. Beating other men was not, and was allways considered last resort of course…(Did I miss something there?)

Yes whats sad is that physical challange seems to have left life so much, that we don’t notice anymore that there is struggle and some form of violence in every phyiscal endeavor, and you can draw blood on the job, if that is your challange.

Personally, if Jesus shows up on a framing job, I’m gonna tell him to take the day off, hes done enough for me allready

JC Culpepper September 23, 2011 at 6:59 am

Geoff’s got it: “Jesus is a perfect example of many things, and he is a prime example of quiet strength, something often overlooked in our society.” Seeing Jesus as a man of quiet, gentle strength, is probably the healthiest way, if we have to reduce his identity to one description.

We’re talking about MMA churches, but I think (and hope) that those are few and far between. The greater instance of this re-masculization of the church is around John Eldredge’s Ransomed Heart ministries, which his book Wild at Heart kicked off. I’ve read his books over and over, looking for something to hold on to, but his insistence on a masculine Christianity never quite made sense to me. The Way of the Wild Heart was better, but I had a hard time reconciling his views with, for instance, the call to serve the least among us.

Personally, I think Deliverance is probably a better book to think through masculinity, although one won’t walk away from it with the same hope as from Wild at Heart.

Michael Clark September 23, 2011 at 8:49 am

I have to agree with Fred Miller’s comment. All of us (and I’m definitely including myself) have a hard time seeing the entire picture, especially all at once. We are designed to learn in stages. Limiting Christ to only one of those two extremes is not giving us the model we are suppose to mimic. That’s one of the reasons it’s called the Christian walk or in the first century it was also know as the Way. Paul indicated it was a race to be run our entire lives. We’ll go from cage-fighter to sensitive male and back as we are directed by the Spirit of God. The key is to listen and do what is right at the right time. Remember the primary job set before a man is to be the spiritual leader of his family and the model we are suppose to follow for that leadership is Christ and what he did for his family that we also call the Church. The definition of the Church is the body of all believers worldwide. If we set that example before us and strive to meet it each day, we won’t stumble very often.

Lee Coursey September 23, 2011 at 8:50 am

Recently I’ve been reading “No More Christian Nice Guy”, “Why Men Hate Going to Church” and “The Church Impotent”, so you could see how I might have an opinion on this…

However, it’s not the church’s fault – it’s the Church losing relevance and trying to regain it by being more like society at large. The problem is actually with the neutered male persona that has been propagated throughout the American culture. Lovable, kinda dumb, and prone to make mistakes that the female has to clean up after type-of-male examples are what we are presented with in the Middle Class white world and violent, drug dealing, women-are-things males in the black community have made for rediculous examples for young boys to see as men. Then you have Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men….

Church needs to stop being so passive. Study after study shows that women come to church for the “family” atmosphere. It’s less about Jesus and more about their family unit. Men come to church when they are empowered. Men simultaneously seek the mixed message that they should feel guilty about being empowered because women are their equal. It’s as though everything male has to be tempered by females, but it is a sin to temper anything female by males. Again, church as a whole failing to comprehend the impact of the 60′s and the baby boomers and making the mistake of believing that they have to now compensate for other people’s mistakes.

The fact that we can’t seem to have a discussion about masculinity anymore without someone – male or female – cautioning us against beating our wives doesn’t help. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that masculinity is aggressive and abusive if left untamed.

Sorry, this is rambling. I see the same things happening in all of the major institutions where men once stood strong – the church, the lodge, local politics. Masculinity is a scary thing. The establishment hasn’t figured out what to do with it in the post-feminism world.

noah September 23, 2011 at 10:11 am

now, i’m a jew, but i’m pretty sure jesus was a laid-back guy. he probably didn’t get into many fights, and i think he’d probably be mortified if he saw the whole party that people have been having in his honour for the past 2000 years. but i think he knew something about how we’re meant to treat each other, and i bet he was able to intuit some wisdom about the ‘bigger picture’ that was inaccessable to his contemporaries.

for what it’s worth:

there is nothing weak about standing up for what you believe in. it takes a good deal more guts than just throwing a punch – which i actually think is most often the easiest way out of an argument. moreover, i think the word ‘feminization’ is being specifically used here to mean ‘weakening’ (which is alarming). let’s ask ourselves if a more modern figure like gandhi was weak, or any less masculine than you are. if you agree with me that gandhi was a rock of a man, who had a masculine strength that few of us will approach, then it’s not a huge leap to extrapolate back to jesus.

Ian September 23, 2011 at 11:04 am

I am a Christian and I train in an MMA program, and I really dislike the MMA analogy. Jesus fought for something whereas the association with MMA is more or less gladiators fighting for fame and money. I study MMA for its inherent martial arts and their benefits, but I am not a fan of fighting and hurting other people for worthless causes. I think a knight or soldier for a righteous cause is a better, more manly analogy.

Also anybody who has ever been to a live fight knows it’s a charged atmosphere of hostility and hollow masculinity. Being a hardcore fan of MMA fights – especially for the guys who have no appreciation of the martial arts behind them – is a fairly obvious indicator of masculine insecurity. You feel you have to prove you are a capable male through violence or association with it. That said, I do have friends at the dojo who love it and lack these character flaws.

Men’s roles in Christian churches have been overly emasculated. I sometimes distrust the men who are overly gushy and touchy-feely at church, at least initially. And at my church it feels like an unspoken requirement for blending in. But swinging the pendulum into the land of barbarians and gladiators isn’t the answer. Balance is.

Critter September 23, 2011 at 11:41 am

Well the folks at the “Jesus Didn’t Tap” clothing company are not going to be happy to hear about this.

Tom September 23, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Have any of you ever sat down and actually read about Jesus, and what he preached? He was a violent man. His disciples were no better. Nasty, brutal stuff. He was one vengeful guy. Actually read the Bible, not the Sunday-school pap that is fed to believers. If you really believe in the Bible and its teachings, you should have no problem with the MMA comparisons.

Chris Rutledge September 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm

@Tom. Hmm. I think that mayhap we have differing versions of the Bible.

The Jesus I know and read about is not a man characterized by violence or by anger, though He began and ended His time of direct ministry this planet by kicking over furniture in the temple. His time on earth was characterized by great passion indeed, and this showed though in every area of his life. But it was a passion for people and for the restoring of lives and drawing them to Himself (I will direct you here if you have any desire for why I believe this to be His purpose http://jinkywilliams.posterous.com/thoughts-on-love ).

Regarding your concerns about Sunday school curriculum, I can personally appreciate where you are coming from, having had similar misgivings (and I still disagree with how things are taught, from time to time). However, let me provide you with this thought: Many times, minds and hearts are simply not ready for “the whole story”. I mean, heck, we as adults–I, being almost 30–am not ready for the whole story. There are times where telling the story in its entirety is not conducive for understanding and may actually be incredibly damaging.

Consider a 5 year-old who has to live with his aunt because his father was absent, abusive and hospitalized his mother and now has a restraining order from the family. How do you even begin to communicate that to the boy? If you tried to explain the situation to him like you would to an adult, much would go over his head and he may end up in a worse state than he would be if he had been left entirely ignorant and naive of the entire incident. Yet it would not be proper to keep him entirely in the dark, because he perceives the difference and does require input to help him make sense of things. So, one has to carefully consider what the point of the “story” will be that they tell to him. What is the best thing to convey? In a good story, everything included has been considered necessary to the communication of the truth to be found. So great care must be taken in how the situation is explained.

As the boy grows older and older and is able to accept more and more abstract and difficult truths, more and more is revealed to him *in the proper time*. So, even though the truth of the matter is that the husband fractured her skull and shattered her jaw, causing horrific pain and long-term (and possibly permanent) damage, left her family holding the bag for the astronomical medical bills and stole their only car… that’s not something you tell a five year-old. Yes, it is fact… but what is point of it? What truth do you wish to express through telling him these facts? More importantly, what truths will he learn by hearing them? Yes, we need to accurately communicate the truth that people can behave selfishly, and poor actions can have bad consequences. But this has likely already been observed by the boy. So we can say to him, “Daddy made some bad choices and was very mean to mommy, and because of those choices, we can’t see mommy or daddy for a long, long time. But your aunt and uncle love you very much and love to see you. So we are going to drive to their house, because they love you so much that they want you to stay and live with them because mommy and daddy aren’t home.”
(The above story was largely fabricated. I am personally not involved in a situation with all these concerns. However, I am also aware that multiple instances and variations of this–and worse–go on in a daily basis.)

I use the above as an example because the events in the Bible involves much human brokenness and poor decisions, and documents God’s response to those decisions. There are some responses that are incredibly difficult for me (as someone who has been in a relationship with God since I was 3) to fully understand and grasp the big picture of why God elected to act in the ways that He did (hardening Pharaoh’s heart, destroying the world by flood, and having Israel terminate the lives of entire nations, for starters). But I am also certain of God’s heart for His creation, and through my years of relationship with Him I have not found Him to be capricious or spiteful, but rather passionate for His creation, with all His actions being proven to be the most effective means to the single end of drawing the largest number of His most prized creations–us, humanity–to Himself to show love to and with the hope of reciprocation from us.

I am still asking God about these things, and we continue to dialogue on them. But this has been years, and I needed that firm foundation about His nature already established to have gotten this far in the conversation. Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” There’s a lot that I didn’t understand about why my dad did what he did. As I have gotten older, I have begun to realize the wisdom and intelligence behind so many of his decisions. So I have found it to be–and infinitely more so–with God.

So while telling primary school Sunday classes all the facts about a given situation will serve to inform them about the contents of the Bible, the facts by themselves may do nothing to help them understand the truth of God’s love for them in the midst of these things. Sunday school lessons are not the watering-down of the content of the Bible, but rather the selection of which facts to convey to the end of more effectively displaying what is true about God and the world.

Finally, I will agree with you regarding MMA/God comparisions, though perhaps for different reasons. Because I believe that

God is good. (Matt. 19:17)
All that He created is good. (I Tim. 4:4)
We cannot create anything that He cannot. (John 13:16)
All that is good is from Him. (James 1:17)

I can believe that there is nothing that can be created which is foundationally not good–that is, which cannot be traced back to some good impulse or desire, no matter how tortuous or obscure or lengthy the journey may be. In MMA there are many good qualities (strength, will, perseverance, discipline, courage, forbearance, camaraderie, respect, honor, attention to detail, friendship, commitment, etc.) that cannot help but direct one towards God, because of the truth of what He has created.

Sure, things can be taken out of context. But fact can always be taken out of context in order to lead one to a conclusion which is not true.

Thanks for providing an opportunity for me to get this out on “paper”.

Jayson L. September 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm

These are all good ideas about the idea of Jesus being either effeminate or masculine, but what we all, men and women, have to come into agreement with is the way Jesus submitted. Whether it be male or female, the sin that stains us both is lack of submission to the Father. We see the lack of submission in the Garden with Adam and Eve, Pharaoh, tribes, and even Israel. In each instance, even up until today, His overall message is to repent and turn to Him. It’s what Jesus preached, lived and willingly died and resurrected for. Our worry isn’t whether if he is masculine or effeminate, like if Jesus was only a man, our worry should focus on how we submit daily to the Father and listen to His voice. Its the very reason we have the Holy Spirit within us, to contend with the natural urge to rebel against the Lord.
Throughout the New Testament the theme to the growing church was their suffering, the justice for their suffering and the hope of Christ’s return to fulfill that justice. Just as they did, our desire is to see all the Earth come to know Jesus and to make Him known, But as Christians move forth, we do not war with carnal weapons, but with prayer, love and submission unto death, knowing we have been bought and paid for.
I love this blog and have read almost all of the posts, and will take a lot from them, but in my desire to be the epitome of a gentleman, i have to take into consideration the foundation of what a man is, and that is one who submits completely to his heavenly Father even when it might not be to his favor.

Tom September 25, 2011 at 12:31 am

Chris, this is the problem I have with religion. How do you decide what parts of the Bible to discuss and what parts do you leave out an pretend do not exist? If you make these choices yourself, why do you need the Bible in the first place?

God and Jesus in the BIble are vengeful, jealous and violent. Their dislike of women is rampant throughout the book. There are so many passages and stories in the Bible that highlight this behaviour that it is hard to pick just a few.

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak…. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home” (1 Cor 14:34-35)

“And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Math 19:28-29) – Forsake your family over me. Real manly stuff. He mentions this more than once.

I could go on and on and on. The evilness of homosexuals, the second-class status of women (“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”), the cruelty, the contradictions, etc. What exactly did he preach? It certainly wasn’t all peace and love.

And Jayson, the foundation of a man is not someone who submits completely to stories from a book. A man thinks for himself.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Math 10:34)

Kelvin September 25, 2011 at 8:54 pm

1. Do you think the feminization of Christianity is something that is just perceived, or do you think it is real? I think the feminization of Christianity is real, mainly because the church has strayed from its Divine calling to preach the Gospel and make disciples; and in the process attempted to reach the world with those things the world gravitates towards–the church has compromised its mission in order to be more accepted in today’s society.

2. Do you think that incorporating things like MMA into church is a good thing that will attract men, or something that detracts from what you think the mission of a church should be? It detracts from the church’s misson, because the gains of such an endeavor are temporary at best and self-destructive at worst. In order to attract men into becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, we as Christian men have to portray Christ Jesus to other men by getting to know Him past the religious stuff and by following the example He set for us to follow (1 John 2:6).

For too long, Christians in this country have let the worldview of our society dictate how we are to conduct ourselves, rather than the Bible. Conversely, we have looked at God’s word as suspect because the world does not like what it says. As a result, we find ourselves resorting to gimmicks to attract men into churches. There was a time when men stood up and dared to live Christ-like, not only among other Christians, but also in every aspect of their lives. Isn’t that what Jesus did–He did everything He could to help those who needed help, redirect those who were off-course, and exalted the Father in the process.

Roman September 26, 2011 at 3:18 am

I think the problem is that we keep trying to fit Jesus into these little boxes, pendulum, either or, it’s as if we’re more interested in trying to find the right way to perceive Christ then actually looking at Christ. It’s trying to find the right pair of glasses to look at something that should be seen without them at all.

Greg Blosser September 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Here’s a reply I posted to Joe Carter’s article at First Things. Please forgive any appearance of presumption. I am a Christian and was replying on a Christian blog, so my comment assumes some common religious perspectives. I’m not assuming readers here will share those same perspectives regarding God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. but neither have I taken the time to adapt the comment for a broader audience:

There is a relatively prominent “Lord as a warrior” motif in scripture. This runs throughout portions of the Old Testament and can be seen to culminate in the person of Jesus as described in the book of Revelation, particularly ch19. (see also Tremper Longman’s “the Divine Warrior: the New Testament Use of An Old Testament Motif” in the Westminster Theological Journal 44 (1982) p290-307)

Now one can say warrior is something entirely different than “cage fighter” but there’s more. In the ancient near eastern world of the old testament, there were many varieties of a sport/combat activity called “belt-wrestling”. The competitors uniformly wore belts in competition and the belt became a cultural symbol of heroism. In some forms the object was to fight so as to strip the opponent of his belt. This is reflected in 2 Samuel 2 and while the ESV uses “spoil” in verse 21, the term refers to a combatant’s “wrestling belt”. In 2 Sam 18:11 it is a wrestling belt that is the prize. Likewise, the concept of “girding one’s loins” found throughout scripture is derived from the practice of belt-wrestling, as competitors tied their belts around them securely in preparation for conflict. (See Cyrus H Gordon’s “Belt-Wrestling in the Bible World”, Hebrew Union College Annual 23, 1950-1951, p131-136).

To this day, cultural remnants of ancient belt-wrestling persist around the world. Most all martial arts utilize some form of belt as a recognition of one’s expertise or achievement in the field (like a black belt in karate or judo for instance). Sumo wrestlers wear belts and not much else. Boxing and MMA reward a belt to the champions of each weight division and the challengers are seeking to strip the champ of his belt. These things seem to be rooted in the practices of ancient belt wrestling.

But what about Jesus? Is Jesus a belt-wreslter? Isaiah 11:4b-5 speaks of the messiah in saying “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist and faithfulness the belt of his loins”. The messiah will be a belt-wrestler who will do combat against the wicked. He will strike, but with his mouth. He will kill but with his breath. And his wrestling belt will be righteousness and faithfulness. And he is meek and mild and gentle. All of these things are true of the messiah!

Now if we are looking for a suitable contemporary equivalent for ancient belt wrestling by which we might understand and teach texts like these, “Jesus as cage-fighter” seems a pretty suitable concept, does it not?

If the author’s concern is a loss of balance in the themes by which young men are encouraged to understand Jesus or masculinity, then simply say so and draw out the neglected themes (Jesus as Shepherd, Priest, Husband, Lamb, etc). But don’t say Jesus isn’t a cage-fighter. Because he sort of is according to scripture.

Maybe this will lend a little perspective. I’m a 38 years old presbyterian pastor and until recently I was involved in the sport of wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at a gym where most of the guys were training for and competing in MMA. It’s not at all the hyper-aggressive, thuggish culture one might expect. A good program will teach respect, honor, self-control, humility, teachability, perseverance, patience and the like. And as any skilled practitioner will attest, “hyper-aggression” gets you nowhere fast in these sports. Now of course, there is no accounting for general bone-headedness, but such behavior was neither encouraged nor tolerated in the gym where I trained. Instead, we bowed when we stepped onto the mats each day. An abbreviated handshake began each new sparring session with our training partners. More advanced practitioners were continually showing less experienced students how to improve. It was a really a wonderful environment for young men to test themselves, develop character, and see multiple models of appropriate masculinity. The concern that hyper-aggression and pugilism will make its way into the church and the home when the church recovers a view of Lord as Warrior (belt-wrestler!) or the use of martial arts based ministries to reach young men seems a bit misplaced and under-informed. If such attitudes do creep into the church (not as if they’ve ever been absent!) they are probably attributable to general bone-headedness rather than martial marts ministries or an emphasis on legitimately biblical “Jesus as warrior” themes.

Jim September 26, 2011 at 1:30 pm

The Lord is not a cagefighter, but he is a fighter, no doubt about it. He fights for our souls, he defends us against the accuser (Satan) and he is portrayed figuratively in the future as a warrior with a toungue as a sword and bronze feet ready to grind his enemies into the ground. Additionally the idea of combat and the paralells between the christian life are many. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.” Jacob wrestled with the angel, some argue that the “angel of the Lord” he wrestled with was actually the Lord himself. How many times in our walk do we wrestle to do the right thing?

Manliness has been redefined in the church no doubt. But thank God a true perspective is going to come with a balance. The world does not want strong men in the family, culture wants women at work and not at home, and it is rabidly defended, while a man cannot say he would rather his wife stay home without being attacked by radical feminism.

JM Smith September 28, 2011 at 9:46 pm

As a Pastor at the time and a lifelong martial artist and instructor, I wrote an article on this very phenomenon called “Ultimate Fighting…Jesus??”

Here it is if anyone is interested: http://www.examiner.com/methodist-in-national/ultimate-fighting-jesus

Scott Wakefield September 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I’m picking through the comments, and I’ve only skimmed a bit, so forgive me if this book has been mentioned. I recently finished a book called “Imaginary Jesus” and, in humerous story form, follows the author as he encounters the many incarnations of Jesus – Biker Jesus, Hippie Jesus, etc.

VERY good read!

And it looks like the author has written some more books. http://tyndale.com/Imaginary-Jesus/9781414335636

claude September 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm

“this is the problem I have with religion. How do you decide what parts of the Bible to discuss and what parts do you leave out an pretend do not exist?”

Talk about pot-kettle-black.

You’re taking a few phrases out of context and bending to what you want it to mean. Yes, you are to love God 1st. That is to say you do not discard God because your family doesn’t follow him. If you have studied the bible as you claim you have, you must realize that love of God is expressed through the care and love of your family, among other things.

And the gender issues? Hundreds of books have been written about that, including a resurgence in recent years. Men and women are not the same and have different roles in the world. Period. Does that mean a man isn’t nurturing and a woman can’t be a provider? Of course not. But to have a successful family or society, you must understand there are different roles to be filled and some are better suited to some roles than others.

Admittedly, i have not read the Old Testimate entirely yet, but i’ve read the New Testimate and I cannot think of a single example of Jesus being vengeful or violent. He stood his ground and stated the truth even in the face of death. But yes, he did give pretty fair warning that when he comes back, and he will, he’s not going to be as nice.

Tom September 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Math 8:32
Math 11:21-24
Math18:15-17 (this passage is why Jehovah Witnesses do not report child abuse)

Mark 6:11
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”

So, if you do not accept his disciples into your city, it will burn.

John 5:14
“Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” – Jesus heals a cripple yet blames him for being a cripple due to his sinning. Wonderful message.

I could go on and on and on but it is tiresome. If you claim to have read the bible yet could not find any mention of Jesus being vengeful or violent, then I can only wonder what version of the bible you were reading.

Tom September 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Oh, and different roles for women? If you take the bible as your teaching for how to treat women, I feel very very sorry for any females in your life. The bible is rampant with terrible, horrible things to say about women and to say that it is okay because they have different roles in society is despicable.

“And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” Romans 1:27
Paul is talking about the “natural use” of women, which is for sexual gratification

“2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
2:10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
2:11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
2:13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
2:15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” 1Timothy

Aggh. Enough. If you can read these passages yet feel there is nothing wrong with them because since the are in bible it must be true, then I am done.

As for taking phrases out of context, that is all religion does. When you learn about Sodom and Gommorah in Sunday School, you learn about how everyone was evil and so Jesus punished them all and turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt because she did not obey. Yet you never learn about how when the townsfolk came to Lot’s house looking to rape the angel sent from God, Lot refused them and offered them his virgin daughter for a gang rape instead. You also don’t earn about how Lot’s daughters got their father drunk and raped him.

All I ask anyone who professes to believe in the literal word of the bible, is just read the thing. Not just the parts that you are told to read, but the entire thing. If you can do that yet still claim that it is not a violent, hateful, vengeful book filled with contradictions, then …well, I just don’t know what to think anymore.

I will say it again. Real men grow up and stop believing in fairy tales and the Easter Bunny when they become adults.

Critter September 30, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Can’t say I’m a church person myself, but I think it’s poor form to bash on people’s beliefs. I don’t want them doing it to me, so I try not to do it to them.

-B September 30, 2011 at 1:23 pm

1. Do you think the feminization of Christianity is something that is just perceived, or do you think it is real?

I think the idea of Christianity becoming more feminized is a bit overblown, but it is based on something real. The idea of Jesus as a strong, virile warrior dates back to before He was born, as the Jews expected their Messiah to be just that. When he instead taught things like turning the other cheek, and forgiving those who do you wrong “not seven times but seventy seven times”, he was roundly rejected as the new Messiah.

Seems like Christians today are doing something very similar. Only instead of outright rejecting Jesus, they morph Him into whatever suits their needs.

2. Do you think that incorporating things like MMA into church is a good thing that will attract men, or something that detracts from what you think the mission of a church should be?

It’s a pretty lame attempt to grab folks who likely will be getting into the religion for all the wrong reasons. I’m a big fan of MMA, and I am a practicing Catholic, but one has nothing to do with the other. I believe the Church needs to be open to accept everyone who wants to join, but should not change their central teachings in order to do it. Folks who join based on a rushed feeling tend to not last long, as there will always be diminishing returns of that feeling on a weekly basis.

3. Do you think that Carter is right that the portrayal of Jesus as an aggressive manly man has gone too far, or do you think that he is being overly-cautious?

I don’t really see it in my daily life, but there is definitely an abundance of those “Jesus Didn’t Tap” shirts and whatnot. I don’t think it’s really going to cause much of a stir in the greater history of Christianity, but it is kind of corny and childish.

-B September 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

@Tom,

The “Sodom and Gomorrah” line in Mark 6 doesn’t appear in my Bible (the New American Bible). It ends with the “shaking the dust off of your feet” line, which is a testimony against those who reject them. Which Bible did you get that extra bit from?

In John 5:14, he doesn’t blame the man’s handicap on his sinning. He’s telling him that if he continues to sin, he will have a fate much worse than simply being crippled.

Romans 1:27 – The NAB version has it written “the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.” Obviously not something many people are inclined to agree with either, but it says nothing of the “natural use” of women. Even if it did, though–that is obviously referencing reproduction, not sexual gratification.

As for your last bit about the Easter Bunny, I’ll leave you with this quote:
“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”

GT October 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm

@Critter – if you think that people should not be mocked for adhering to some idiotic cult that believes that worshipping a genocidal stone-Age Sky Wizard (who loves the smell of burning offal and made a pact that involved payment in foreskin), then you’re part of the problem.

The Jeebus death-cult (being derivative from the Old Testament lunatic tribal penis-snipping cult, but no less idiotic) is a blight on humanity. It is Tony Blair, institutionalised – by which I mean it spruiks all manner of pablum about light and love and ‘doing unto others’… all the while using the ignorance and gullibility of its audience to fleece them (and to grift from them, so that its leaders can continue to live in palaces) – and of course keeping them as stupid and ignorant as possible (although not as bad as Chabad or Hasidic numbskulls, perhaps).

@B – odd that your quotes are in English… but of course the sort of dill who simply believes anything written down by an ‘authority figure’ will fall for florid prose every time.

The fact that someone crafted a piece of drivel (blah blah put away childish things blah blah) that appeals to your prejudices, doesn’t mean that there’s an invisible man in the sky who loves the smell of blood and fresh foreskin. (also – the knots that these ‘biblical literalists’ will twist themselves into… God tells Ezekiel to eat shit, and they find a way to spin the ‘text as written’).

The overarching point that the article was trying to make is that bands of lunatics in the US are trying to engage weak braggarts by sticky-taping MMA into their death-cult. Most MMA fans are weaklings who WOULD tap – whereas anyone who listened to Jeebus (speaking in English, of course) would have a SWORD, dammit… for is it not written –

“… and he that has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (ref: http://bit.ly/q5NArt )

Old Jeebus would prefer folks to be nekkid than unarmed. Yeeee-haw!

Rationalists have since Epicurus pwned God, that religious nuttery is the dumbest kind of nuttery, because it REQUIERES ignorance. (If you understand logic, then the ONLY reason that’s left for worship is that God is the toughest SOB in the universe – worship of naked power. That makes worshippers no better than Paul Wolfowitz or Bill Kristol).

Also… Hitler. Hitler loved him some Jeebus.

Catholic October 9, 2011 at 5:00 am

I write from Rome, where the Church tries to stick to the Bible and the original Christianity.

The Bible it is very clear:
Corinthians 14:34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.

Instead in America I see all those women singing, even preaching in church, reading the Gospels, talking (crying as well, but I hope it is just in TV)
Maybe if you stop to convert churches into places for socializing, instead of considering them as a place for spirituality and silence, they would look less effeminate.
Men should to go to church for God, not for MMA or for making friends!

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