Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What would Jesus say about MMA: tap, tap, tap!

These days, its not unusual to watch a sporting event and be exposed to someones testimony to Jesus. For instance, many football players make the sign of the cross on their chest after scoring a touchdown, others look up and point to the sky to show their appreciation to Jesus for helping them score, and others give a verbal shout out to Jesus during post game interviews. Its not just football players who do this kind of thing though, many athletes, including boxers take a moment in post fight interviews to thank Jesus for helping them gain the victory. Given that, I suppose it is not too surprising that testimonies to Jesus are creeping into the cage these days, with many MMA fighters doing what they can to show their allegiance to Jesus when they fight. But recently, a new way of testifying to Jesus is emerging among cage fighters through the use of fight gear that prominently displays the slogan "Jesus didn't tap."

On the web site, the purveyors of this new Jesusified MMA clothing line explain what this freshly minted slogan means. According to the web site, "Jesus didn't tap" means that, "Jesus didn't quit after going through unimaginable suffering and pain when he was crucified on the cross." Of course, the use of this slogan is not merely a marketing ploy, it also doubles as a means of evangelism, functioning as a tool which "will help spread the Christian message of salvation to a whole new audience." Apparently, these entrepreneurs think that the "tap out" metaphor is a culturally savvy way of telling 18-35 year old men that Jesus was no sissy, and that if you want to be a Christian, you don't necessarily have to sacrifice your love of the Octagon in order to come to Jesus.

Its not just creative entrepreneurs who are mixing the gospel with MMA, clever pastors are jumping on the bandwagon too, using the Octagon as a means of reaching tough guys with the gospel. A recent article surfaced, on, relating how a St. Louis church is connecting Jesus to MMA in order to reach men. Quoting the pastor, Tom Skiles, the article says:

“The Ultimate Fighting is something we're doing to promote to the guys. We want to make Easter relevant again. We don't want to make it about lilies and nice dresses. When they walk in we'll have a chain link fence set up, it'll be set up like an octagon. We'll talk about fact that Jesus didn't tap out, he was an ultimate fighter.”‘jesus-didn’t-tap’-mantra-little-too-literally

It seems that Pastor Skiles thinks that a packaging problem is preventing too many guy guys from receiving the real Jesus. See, when someone talks to real men about Jesus dying on the cross for their sins, they hear, "Jesus wants you to be soft, vulnerable, and feminine," which is obviously an unpalatable message for the masculine species. It is just that kind of packaging, promoting a touchy-feely Jesus, that leaves real men with no other option than to say "no" to Jesus and stay home from church and watch football and NASCAR. The all too obvious solution to this problem is to slap a few tattoos on Jesus and throw him in the cage with his cross, and then men will start coming to Jesus in droves, having found a masculine Jesus who they can finally relate to.

Well, all this brings me back to the topic I want to address here, which is, JESUS DID TAP. I realize that this won't be a useful marketing slogan for the hard to reach tough guys, but, facts are facts, and the glaring fact is, Jesus "tapped out." To put this in MMA parlance, Jesus was "submitted" by His Father on the cross. After experiencing six hours of hell on the cross, Jesus said, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." (Matthew 27:46) After that we are told that he said, "It is finished" in John 19:30, meaning he had endured all the agony he needed to in order to atone for human sin. Finally, just before dying he triumphantly exclaimed, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46).

Now, if that is not "tapping out" I don't know what is! Clearly Jesus is saying that he is giving up. When he says "I commit my spirit" he is literally saying that he is giving his soul to the Father in an act of submission. You see, he did not die simply out of physical agony. We know that is true because we are told that the two thugs crucified to the left and right of him were still alive after he died and had to have their legs broken in order to finish them off. In fact, ancient sources tell us that it was not uncommon for victims to hang on a cross for more than 24 hours before they died. All this underscores the point, Jesus died not because his body couldn't take it any more, he died as an act of SUBMISSION to the Father. The Father required his death, after the atoning act of suffering, as the final act of obedience which satisfied God's wrath against human sin. Without that wilful act of submission, Christ's redemptive work would have been incomplete, and there would be no possibility of salvation.

So that is the first thing Jesus would say about MMA: I DID TAP, SO STOP USING THIS RIDICULOUS AND INACCURATE SLOGAN TO SELL YOUR SUPERFICIAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOSPEL and your lame fight gear. We will have to examine some of the sayings of Jesus about violence and fighting, in view of the broader context of scripture, to establish what Jesus would say about MMA in general, and whether Jesus would mind if fighters used him as a model of inspiration for fighting. One thing I am very certain Jesus would say to Christians who do fight in the cage or to MMA clothing entrepreneurs is, "don't misrepresent what the cross means in order to have a catchy slogan to put on your fight gear." Jesus is not honored by his disciples perpetuating a false understanding of the cross. Think about it, if you really do believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins in order to save you from God's wrath, wouldn't it be fair to assume, without knowing much else, that Jesus would not want you to misrepresent that enormous truth; and, wouldn't it be fair to say that since he went to the great length of dying for our sins that we should not trivialize that fact with silly slogans that promote our own selfish ends?

Jesus may or may not support MMA, but he certainly does not support distorting the truth about the gospel. He also does not support Christians using gimmicks to "sell" the gospel. Men have been reached with the gospel for 2,000 years without the use of steel cages and MMA metaphors, by the simple means of preaching the gospel from the scriptures, in a clear and straightforward manner. So Christian entrepreneurs and clever pastors, drop the antics! Jesus does not need your creativity to grow his church. If you do wind up using distorted images of the gospel in order to grow your business, whether that be a fight gear business or a church, be aware of the fact that you are not doing Jesus any favors, and rid yourself of the delusion that you are truly reaching anyone for Jesus with such silly slogans and juvenile ideas about how to get more guys into church.