Figuring Out Fighting

I remember reading Mark Driscoll’s blog a few months ago about his trip to Vegas, and while on the whole it was an interesting play-by-play of his vacation, there was one particular line that caught my attention, spoken about MMA fighting:

I would strongly encourage all pastors and Christian leaders to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the fast-growing sport that is capturing millions of young men and ask yourself why.

This really caught my attention, for some reason. I think it’s probably because, as Driscoll usually laments/jokes about, a lot of churches today do seem as if they’re run and decorated by and for women. The church where I grew up, for instance, has light purple paint on the walls, darker purple/magenta carpet, and an assortment of flowers and plants all over the place. So I do think that this is part of something that sees guys my age avoiding the church. It just seems like heterosexual, firm-wristed men don’t belong there.

Earlier in the same entry, Driscoll does in fact explain why he thinks MMA is so popular (and consequently, in part, why the church isn’t):

Curiously, it is most popular with men ages eighteen to thirty-four–the exact group that most churches are abysmal at reaching and retaining, in part because most churches and pastors have no idea what to do with men who are not motivated by a weepy worship dude(ish) singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.

I think his caricature here is not totally unfair; like I said, I’ve been in some of these churches, and sang the same songs. It’s not that these churches are feminine in the fullest sense of the word, because that doesn’t have to connote mere cheesy sentimentality and mauve decorating schemes. But they are feminized. And that’s part of the problem.

I’ve really been wondering about this whole MMA deal as my own fascination for it has slowly grown as well, and so I’ve been asking that question Driscoll recommends to myself periodically since late September. Why are guys my age so fascinated with this? I don’t really remember any other organized fighting being all that popular, other than pro-wrestling (har). But, something else I’ve been reading has started bringing some light to why guys are into UFC et al.

 

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”

 

This is part of Paul’s indictment of depraved humanity in Romans 3. This observation first hit me as I was talking to a guy I sometimes work with who described a bar fight he’d been in the night before over an inconsequential thing he couldn’t remember. These verses leapt to mind that I’d been reading around that time. It seems to me one of the biggest reasons that young men flock to this sport is because evil hearts love violence. I mean, even look at the secular hip-hop culture. The violence glorified there isn’t just competitive–it’s murderous. The way of peace they have not known, and they have no desire to walk in it.

So I do agree, part of the reason men are so uncomfortable is because what happens at a lot of churches isn’t something they can respect, or feel like they maintain a distinctive physiological difference from girls while doing it. But, part of it is that they’re evil, animal-like creatures in their lusts. Obviously we don’t see any great mystery (or compelling methodological conviction!) in the male mass-fascination with sex and pornography. Men are just crooked. And what they need is a simultaneously masculine presentation of what it means to know the universe’s king, and a strong challenge to be meek and lowly like him.

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Meek Jesus the Lord

Tonight I watched the movie Amistad with a group of friends. It tells the story of a ship bearing slaves that eventually free themselves and then overtake their captors, only to be put on trial for murder and then claimed and counter-claimed by numerous would-be masters. I always find it hard for movies like this to move me, because the whole time I know that what I’m seeing isn’t real. I can see in Black Hawk Down a man whose body terminates at his waistline, dragged to safety by his friends, and be totally dispassionate, and then cut my thumb deeply and (even feeling no pain) nearly faint. Plus, as I get older and learn more of the Bible, I am less moved by movies, and instead ask myself why they would move me, and why they move other people.

All that to say, watching Amistad raised a nagging question I’ve dealt with for a while. Before I started looking at the Bible in a more Van Tillian sense, I would often be perplexed, and even scared, by various criticisms of the Bible that are merely rooted in modern culture. One such criticism would be that the Bible nowhere condemns slavery; it in fact gives instructions to masters on how to be better masters. For a lot of Christians, this can be extremely embarrassing. But as I’ve learned and grown, I now realize I don’t need to fear criticism of the Bible, because those that would attempt such a thing have no legitimate ground for doing it (e.g. a naturalistic culture has no way of justifying human rights in any ultimate sense).

It’s easy to react emotionally to a movie like Amistad, but its hard to find a biblical warrant for such a reaction if we think merely in terms of ‘slavery’. And dogmatism is what I want to avoid. I’ve always been afraid of discussing this idea because I’m afraid people will just think I’m a primate, a sad product of an archaic worldview. But it seems to me that Christians who make merely an emotional appeal and don’t seek for substantial biblical reasons (which I am convinced do exist, btw) they completely empty their argument of any strength. One can appeal to intuition to say that slavery is wrong, and so save face with a skeptic, but that isn’t a Christian defense.

After the movie, I decided to raise the issue, and a really fruitful discussion followed. A real help in my thinking about this had actually come just a few weeks ago, when I read 1 Timothy 1:10, which condemns ‘enslavers’, the literal Greek for which is ‘man stealers’, leaving no room for doubt: a slave trade is out. But when I was in school learning about the glorious outcome of the Emancipation Proclamation, we celebrated the end of slavery. But do we get to this celebration from the Scripture? Yes and no. Like 1 Tim 1:10 establishes, slaves aquired by ‘man-stealing’ are acquired sinfully. Even if a hundred percent of slaves in America weren’t acquired that way, it still seems prudent (props to Scott Nason for this label) to outlaw the whole enterprise. What’s interesting to me is that the master/slave relationship is not outlawed in the Bible, and in fact is analogous to the relation Christians have with God. We pretty up our translations with words like ‘servant’ or ‘bondservant’, but the meaning in Greek is clear: we are slaves.

One of the more interesting instructions to Christian slave-owners is to “stop your threatening,” (Eph. 6:9), and the reason given for this is that their Master is in heaven, and will show no partiality between earthly slave and master in judgment. So a good master doesn’t threaten (and would presumably do this to get obedience). So a good master treats his slave with justice and fairness (Colossians 4:1) and this kind of master is to be obeyed by a slave “with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as [they] would Christ,” (Eph. 6:5). Fear and trembling, but with a sincere heart. They are not to only do what may please the master by way of eye-service, but with sincerity and a fear of the Lord (Col 3:22). I think here it is appropriate to consider the parable of the unforgiving servant, as well.

This is how God would have us understand the relation of master and servant. The master is just and fair, and the servant fears and is sincere. Obviously this is not the full extent of our relationship to God; we could still talk of adoption, especially. But nevertheless, we don’t have to view slavery in itself as evil. Seizing and selling and enslaving are explicitly condemned, but it’s only a Western culture that idolizes freedom above anything else that would condemn slavery with no distinctions. They know nothing of the way Jesus is master. The servant he finds hopelessly indebted, he not only forgives — not only justifies even the ungodly — but he then enriches. He unites them to himself, and they share in his status as heirs of all things, as lords over heaven and earth for all eternity with Christ.

This is our answer to the skeptic who finds so painfully absent a prescription against slavery altogether. Instead of apologizing, we show them their desire for autonomy is sinful, and explain and exult in the kind lordship of Jesus for those who trust in him.