Tuesday, February 23, 2010

UFC Jesus

read this article first: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/us/02fight.html

Okay, several months back I already touched a bit on this whole topic in my extensive series entitled, "What Would Jesus Say about MMA?" I made the case then, that, in principle, Jesus would not find either viewing MMA or participation in MMA competition as sinful. The argument was made that Jesus' judgement would be according to scripture, and scripture is full of martial imagery, scenes of violence, and makes copious use of fighting and athletic metaphors to describe the tenacity and determination required to live a sanctified Christian life. So, with that basic summary in mind, please understand that my response here is not a knee jerk reaction to this article on MMA churches, nor is it a condemnation of Christians who participate in MMA training or competition. What I am exposing is the shameful, pathetic, evangelical exploitation of pop culture trends, in order to build "designer" churches which cater to transient tastes and cultural fads.

Without trying to get into a history lesson here, let's say that the evangelical church over the last 100 years or so has pretty much buttered its bread by trying to find out what was culturally "cool" and then use that in the name of Jesus to reach out to people. Whether it is Billy Sunday, Amiee Semple Mcpherson, or Chuck Smith and his hippie style worship and church life, evangelicals have, for a few generations, been attracting crowds by appealing to cultural appetites of fickle masses. That is exactly how I see this whole MMA church trend. Except, I find this particular instance not only shameful, but also moronic.

Honestly, how many guys are really going to want to come to Jesus because he had his "Octagon" experience at the cross? The only person who is a bigger moron than the person who thinks like that, is the person who actually thinks such a message will attract guys and actually tries to use that message to sell his brand of Jesus. Think about the motto of the Xtreme Ministries fight team, "Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.” What person actually thinks that the "real guys" out there who are stubbornly resistant to the gospel are going to start flocking to Jesus once they catch wind of that uber macho motto?

Before I move on to my alternate proposal for preaching Jesus, I do want to take a moment to comment on what the so-called evangelical critics of UFC Jesus said in response to this article. One critical comment which really grabbed my attention, not because of its insightfulness but rather on account of its irony, was made by some pastor named Eugene Cho of "Quest Church" in Seattle, who said, “What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay.” Basically, all you need to know about Cho, and whether he is in a position to make a comment like that, because he supposedly stands above the fray of all these evangelicals who hock Jesus with cool, is look at the name of his church, "Quest." How much more transparent do you have to be than that, that you are using "hip" to reach people (the church name sounds like it was taken from a book title in the "spirituality" section at Borders). At any rate, I clicked on Quest Church's website and what did I see there but a cross draped with linens, a casually dressed band up front toting all the usual equipment, guitars, drums, etc., and interior walls painted the exact same colors you would find at your local Starbucks (hmmm, I wonder what kind of Jesus Cho is selling to people in Seattle). Then I clicked on Cho's twitter page and found out that the most recent set of sermons there is on what? You guessed it, relationships. Yeah, no one else is doing that! That is really different, and totally above the fray. I guess even in this case of an evangelical critic of UFC Jesus, we have an example of the pot calling the kettle black.

In view of all this, let me suggest a different way for evangelicals to start thinking about all these lame tactics they use as catnip to get people attracted to the terrible gospel of Christ. The principle I am thinking of, is rooted in scripture, specifically, in the qualifications of a minister or elder in the church. 1Timothy 3:7 says that a bishop must, "have a good reputation with those outside the church." The word for "outside" comes from a Greek word, exothen, which means, "someone not a member of a particular in-group." Paul is basically saying, "how would someone who is not a Christian, and who does not understand Christian doctrines and practice evaluate this man based upon his behavior?" He is assuming that most people, due to common grace, have a basic understanding of what constitutes normal, sane behavior. Let's plug that principle into this particular issue of trying to baptize what is cool, with Jesus, so churches can get more people through the door: how will turning Jesus into a UFC fighter play among unbelieving guys who have an ounce of sense in their brains? Honestly, to ask that question is to answer it. These people don't really look at UFC Jesus type Christians and think of them as creative and cool and edgy, as much they look at them and think of them as shallow, superficial, creatively challenged opportunists who will do anything or say almost anything in order to attract attention to themselves, get more people through the door, so they can build bigger buildings, stroke their egos, and line their wallets with more cash. Please don't tell me either, that the world is impressed after all, with these kinds of churches, with their counterfeit, Christianized pop culture, just because they say they love Jesus and volunteer to go to the homeless shelter once per month.

I appeal to the evangelical intelligentsia to put a stop to UFC Jesus and all the rest of these foolish ideas, and just go back to preaching Jesus and his cross. Just start doing church in the very simple, unadorned, sincere and authentic ways that the apostles did. Never do we find them renting out amphitheatres and putting on pankration events in order to sell a "gladiator Jesus" to the Greeks and Romans. In fact, what we find is that the apostles went out of their way to preach Jesus in a way that did not fit the cultural expectations of the Greco-Roman masses, because they wanted to exalt the message above culture, not cloak the message in culture. The reason they did that was because they wanted people to know that when they heard the true Jesus proclaimed that it was to Jesus they were being attracted and not to some cool new cultural trend (1Corinthians 2:1-5). So here is my appeal: stop preaching UFC Jesus, gladiator Jesus, rock-n-roll Jesus, cool Jesus, pot smoking Jesus, SUV Jesus, environmental Jesus, hippie Jesus, guru Jesus, Dr. Phil relationship Jesus, Starbucks Jesus, and any other Jesus you can think of, and just preach the Biblical, apostolic Jesus. When we do that, yes we probably won't be liked by the culture, but at least we won't be thought of as a bunch of morons who slap the name of Jesus on what ever thing is currently brand name, for the selfish purpose of attracting a crowd.

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