I’ve been thinking of writing this post for quite some time now, but have waited. Partly this has been to put my thoughts into a coherent shape. Partly it’s because I will speak strongly to criticise Christian brothers that I respect and admire.
Let me secondly preface this post by some personal context. I spent over 10 years training in Kung Fu, and a further 2 years in regular and intensive Krav Maga training. I am personally acquainted with the Martial Arts scene, and am not by nature inclined to pacifism.
The trend to portray a more masculine vision of Christian discipleship is a trend to be applauded in the Western churches, which have had an uncomfortable recent history of the feminisation of Christianity, to the point where men find it difficult to relate to churches, the faith, and Jesus himself. However, the shape that this masculine vision takes is one that is frequently under-resourced theologically, and over-resourced culturally.
‘Ultimate Fighting Jesus’ is a false and idolatrous view of Jesus.
Jesus pattern of incarnate male existence continually and consistently rejected violence as a socio-political option, as a messianic-eschatological method, and as a form of entertainment. There is little doubt that the early church for several hundred years considered pacifism to be the definitive ethical position for Christian disciples, and exercised ecclesial discipline on those involved with both military service and gladiatorial spectacles. Tertullian serves as a notable example of early and forceful opposition to the kind of spectacle the gladiatorial games provided. Thus, early church tradition accords with the biblical material.
Even if one holds a just war theory, the glorification of violence-as-entertainment is deeply disturbing and difficult to justify.
I cannot, insofar as I am regenerate, delight in the spectacle of one man damaging the body of another, the fleshly form of the image of God in the world.
The call that this is ‘cultural engagement’ also rings hollow. It is far more ‘cultural endorsement’ than engagement. Christians engaging the porn industry, by contrast, show far more integrity and discretion, than do those glorifying fight-culture. Some tattoos, a six-pack, and a 10-0 record in the ring do not a culturally-relevant Christian make.
Those who worship the Ultimate Fighter Jesus are often guilty of a reverse-reading of the New Testament. The New Testament scriptures regularly metaphorise the language of violence, to speak of spiritual ‘warfare’. They ground the conquest and victory of Jesus in his literal defeat and suffering. They oppose the idea that Christians engage in literal conflict, and offer a powerful counter-cultural paradigm, of Christlike non-retaliation and active nonviolence. Even in that most evocative of militant texts, the Apocalypse of John, the depiction of Jesus as conquerer is consistently and systematically reoriented to his death as sacrificial Lamb, and the theme of vindication is linked to Judgment, not contest. To take the language of violence, metaphorical in the New Testament, and re-concretise it, is a gross mis-reading of the Scriptures.
To those who continue to indulge their sinful flesh in the glories of violence, I call them to repent, and I am more than willing to engage them theologically on the issue. Ultimate Fighter Jesus is yet another mirror for the narcissistic exegete.