Dear Driscoll, MMA is not a Measure of Manhood — Jesus is

I am a man. I present this to you, not as a declaration that I am a “manly” man, but as a straightforward fact. It’s a difficult thing to talk about, not because I feel awkward about my gender, but because that simple declaration comes with a lot of baggage. When I say “I am a man,” a truckload of ideas will pop into your head as to what I mean by that, and your response will vary depending upon your experience.

I want to talk just a bit here about being a man, and I hope you will patiently hear me out. I do not have manliness figured out, nor do I claim to be a good man. But I want to be a good man. I want my son to be a good man. I want the boys in my church to become good men. I want them to be better men than I am. If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to give you a glimpse of my journey as a man, of the things that made me what I am today, and of some of the pitfalls of faux manliness from which the Lord Jesus has delivered me (and still is). It’s long but it’ll be important to this post’s point.

My parents divorced while I was still in the womb. My dad saw me every other weekend. I have one picture of my parents together, and that is a picture of us at my college graduation. I didn’t know my dad very well growing up and my mother didn’t paint a very lovely picture. I don’t blame her for this: divorce is painful.

I was an awkward boy. I didn’t learn masculinity from my father so I looked to my peers. They weren’t a very affirming group to look to and so I had no anchor or model to demonstrate who I should be, no example of manliness to aspire to. I wound up asserting myself as the group’s joker. I projected unseriousness because I couldn’t be taken seriously. I didn’t realize that every man ought to be taken seriously. I wish I’d known that then, and I wish I’d known why that was.

I spent six years in the Army National Guard after high school. I did basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and had Advanced Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. In college, I semi-joined the ROTC. I took a class that was basically “Army Ranger 101.” My instructor was a major from a Ranger attachment whose job was preparing future officers for Ranger school. After a long semester and a week in the bitterly cold wilderness with him, I decided I didn’t want to be a Ranger anymore. I liked to eat, sleep, and be warm.

I say these things because there are many boys out there who are exactly like I was then. They are trying to be men but they have no idea what that means. They work out, play sports, mimic “manly” movie characters, hang out at bars, chew tobacco, spit, cuss, join the military, and fight — or they might go a different route and get doctorates, watch indie films, visit museums, get a man purse, learn how to judge fine wines, get corporate jobs, and buy themselves a nice sports car. They do all of these things, and they do a million things in-between because even if they can’t feel like a man, they want to project that they are one. Not all of the things I’ve listed are bad — I’d like to have a nice sports car and I’m glad I learned to spit properly — but the problem is when our identity as a man is bound up in the image, or may I say idol, of what we do and what we like.

This brings me to Mark Driscoll and his promotion of the “Ultimate Fighting Championship” (UFC). It’s a sport where men trained in mixed martial arts (MMA) get into a cage and fight until one gives up, is knocked unconscious, or is declared the winner by the judges. I think the sport is terrible, and I don’t believe Christians should participate in a sport about beating another man for money and glory. (To be clear: I am not against learning martial arts — I encouraged my son when he pursued karate – nor am I a pacifist.)

But I don’t want to duke it out with Driscoll about the theology of the UFC today. Instead, I want to talk about Jesus. Driscoll claims that men were made for combat, that men will fight to establish dominance, and that getting in touch with your inner feelings and finger painting are sort of unmanly. This bugs me, not only because I think I might enjoy finger painting, but because the behaviors he lists have nothing to do with manhood. Further, he ties this alpha male assertion to Jesus’ character, which he also does in his latest UFC apologetic. I want to share one of the things that struck me in his article there:

Some Christians will vocally declare that we must reject MMA. Sometimes it’s because they simply do not understand the nature of the sport and misperceive it, and other times it’s because they are pacifists theologically who don’t condone violence in any form. Their picture of Jesus is basically a guy in a dress with fabulous long hair, drinking decaf and in touch with his feelings, who would never hurt anyone.

See there? The reason someone would reject MMA is because they either 1) don’t understand the sport or 2) they’re pacifists. First, Driscoll is mixing categories: I don’t reject MMA, I reject the UFC and the beating of a brother in Christ for money and glory or to establish my physical dominance over him. I could never knee a brother in the face, then roundhouse kick him as hard as I could in the jaw, no matter if the law and FOX Broadcasting say that this is a good way to express my manliness and make money. But this point is minor compared to how Driscoll brings Jesus into the equation. He writes:

Upon his return (he) will come again not in humility but rather in glory.

You see that little section in bold there? It’s a false dichotomy. Jesus’ glory is not in opposition to his humility. Driscoll identifies manhood too closely with chest-thumping, ground and pound, alpha male dominance, no matter what he says elsewhere about humility’s importance. His words betray that he finds beating a man more glorious than washing his feet. Do you want to show a man what it is to be strong? Show him how to stoop to conquer. A man’s glory is found in his compassion and kindness to the weak, not in his ability to throttle them.

Think of it, Christian. It’s easy to understand an all-powerful God laying waste to His foes. You don’t even have to be all-powerful to do it: Zeus did that to the Titans. What is unworldly, unnatural, and man-changing is the idea of an all-powerful God-man allowing weak, pitiful, wicked creatures to spit on him, beat him, and nail him to a tree. His glory is found in his groaning, not only in his roar. I don’t love Jesus because he can pin me to the mat: I love him because he didn’t. I love him because he never will. He is strong and mighty, but it’s his compassion for the weak that captivates.

Driscoll’s idea of Jesus is the opposite of the hippie Jesus he so abhors. His view of Jesus as a chest-thumping alpha male is not helping men be real men. God the Son was always able to kill us, but he had to endure the cross to save us. The vision that dominates my quest for authentic manhood is dominated by Jesus, who is both stronger and better than me, writhing in agony and humility on a cross for my sake. That’s the kind of vision I am going to cast for my son and the men of our church. That vision far exceeds anything you will learn from watching men fight for money and glory.

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • Tom

    Good work Brad. I had very similar thoughts when I read Marks blog…and I also like the monkey…its right up there with other Seth drawings i want made into t-shirts (zombie bears!)

  • Oliver

    Christ speaks to the meathead and the hippy…thats the beauty

  • http://www.fidesviva.com nate

    Oliver: But, what if, according to Archie Bunker, they’re the same?

  • http://opus.fm/ Jason Morehead

    What Tom said, both about the article and the t-shirts.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Man I gotta look into that shirt thing.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    I would buy a Seth inspired T-shirt, for real. His illustrations make all of my articles look interesting whether they are or not.

  • Carol

    “Their picture of Jesus is basically a guy in a dress with fabulous long hair, drinking decaf and in touch with his feelings, who would never hurt anyone”

    SIGH. As a woman and a married at that…..this statement (as with most Driscoll statements) exasperate me to no end.

    My husband is your typical alpha male. He’s aggressive in pretty much every sense of the word. Guess what? That hasn’t exactly been a boon to our marriage or the business that he runs. To be even more blunt – he’s run into some very serious sins over the years because of his aggressive nature. These sins have come home to roost recently and we have had some major house cleaning to do. Praise God for His grace – we are moving forward together in repentance and a renewed walk with Christ.

    Now…..my husband loves MMA and the UFC. He works out every day and it’s part of his job to encourage people to live a health and wellness lifestyle. But – he also loves to watch chick flicks with me. And on his own! Case in point – he watched Anne of Green Gables with me because 1) I told him how the books influenced me greatly as a child and how I loved the movies and 2) Because he wanted to find out what I was always raving on about. 5 hours later – he emphatically admits that Anne Shirley is a hilarious and wonderful character and the movies were great. Much to his chagrin he also apologised for making fun of them all these years.

    He also gets pedicures. He has very rough dry skin on his feet and they can get pretty feral so a tidy up now and then is very helpful AND relaxing – we go together. He tried getting a manicure – and hated it. Took too long and he was bored.

    He cries at one particular movie but that’s the only one. He used to be the strong silent type until that silence began to back up on him and cause some damage between our relationship and now he shares a lot with me. Sometimes he even cries during a particularly deep discussion – and he feels much better afterwards. Also – no one shows up to take away his man-card.

    He used to be one of those guys that don’t talk much to his guy friends cuz talking is for girls. But he recently repented of a lot of prideful attitudes and judgmental attitudes he had – and he’s found out that spending time talking to the guys in our small group is actually wonderful. He’s discovered some real depth to these friendships and in turn has been challenged to grow further in the Lord.

    My husband used to be the kind of guy who would probably beat someone up for breathing the wrong way around him. However – thru God’s grace, that is changing too. Just this morning he told me that he felt like he was a bit rude yesterday to a solicitor who was being very persistent and that he felt like he should have been more gracious. I believe his words were “And you know, that’s not very gracious…..I don’t want to be like that…..I don’t want to make some guy feel bad.” That’s what happens when a man is in touch with his feelings, his motivations and can finally be brave enough to not only critically assess himself but have the courage to admit wrong. You can’t do this unless Christ is working on your heart. My husband is not somehow weaker for not wanting to hurt someone or hurt their feelings. That’s what loving your neighbour is about! It’s not about asserting your dominance over other people.

    Jesus was the power of the living God embodied in human form. He could have done anything he wanted. He could have destroyed all the unrighteous – which would have been EVERYONE ALIVE at the time. But He didn’t. A man’s strength is not in the vain display of said strength. It’s in the ability to exercise restraint even under severe provocation. It is much harder to exercise self control, self sacrifice and unselfishness than it is just to let it all hang out come what may cuz you’re a manly man. Grrrr!!!

    SIGH. I love my husband deeply. He’s a terrible pain in my neck and he’s the love of my life. I don’t want him to be anything less than the man God created him as and I want him to go forward to become everything that God had in mind for him to be. I love him come what may and I forgive him for whatever he’s done to hurt me and I know he forgives me too. Again – it takes a lot to say “I’m sorry” and to say “I forgive you” then it is to simply assert dominance and force someone else to your will.

    I love that my husband has tattoos, yells at Chicago Bears games AND also loves to mess around with styling his hair with some nifty new hair product he saw on Amazon. I love that he can practically raise the roof roaring at the top of his lungs when his fave UFC fighter wins a match AND the next day be visibly upset cuz the black kitten we found in our garage decided not to stay. He is who he is – thorns and cotton wool. A big ol’ grizzly bear with a soft center. Who would spend 2 hours on the phone with a friend who needed to talk and who needed advice, at the expense of his work-out routine. Maybe Mark Driscoll needs to get in touch with HIS feelings and be OK that you know……he has them? It’s OK to be THAT guy once in a while.

    P.S. I’m against the death penalty, am a pacifist for the most part and I actually enjoy watching the odd UFC fight now and then. Driscoll has got to stop with the neat stereotypes with which to pigeonhole people. Life is much more vibrant when we are OK with who we are as people and strive to be who we were made to be in Christ – which has nothing to do with pre-set gender “norms”. And uh….I also yell at the Bears. That Jay Cutler….he gives me a stroke sometimes with his gunslinger ways!

  • Carol

    P.P.S. There is nothing unmanly about having fabulous hair. Long or otherwise. It’s really difficult sometimes to keep your hair looking civilised!

  • Amy Webb

    Great article. But as you and I both know from experience, the minister who preaches a “theology” that appeals to the sinful nature will always be the most popular, both within the church and without. Keep standing strong for Truth. You’re “big time” in God’s eyes ( :

  • kschaub

    Excellent article, Brad. Keep Drew in line down there.

    Kevin

  • Daryl Messina

    I have read an article here and there on christandpopculture.com (mostly because I know Seth, and his illustrations from FB make me curious about the article they are attached to), and this is by far the one I have read that resonated the most with me.

    Mis-association is easy, and Driscoll seems to do it enough to harm his credibility.

    His inclination to enjoy MMA as a sport for entertainment purposes is not in my opinion inherently harmful.

    Indeed, if you grade on a curve (though Christ does not), it is a far less offensive form of entertainment than many others (say, almost any movie or primetime television show) with which Christians allow their hearts and minds to become entangled.

    But it is a dangerous thing to toe the line and say “if you don’t participate, or if you dissaprove, then you are less Christian, less holy, or less mature than I. In fact, the door of conversation is closed, and if you respond negatively, you are not holy.”

    Of course Christ can be found in the midst of violent situations in Scripture. He violently threw out the Pharisees from the temple using a whip. He wrestled with Jacob in Genesis. He instigated the slaughter of whole civilizations.

    But make no mistake, Jesus has never, not even once, been violent for sport. When He returns again, He will be just and it will be violent, but He will not be there for sport.

    Please, do not mis-associate your personal hobby with God’s holiness.

    They do not compare.

  • Carol

    Darryl – great comment. I agree – the thing that gets me about Driscoll is how easily he draws a straight line between what is essentially his personal sporting preference to what the Scriptures say about manhood. And he does that a lot with a variety of issues.

    He came to my church to speak a few months ago and I remember thinking half way thru “I feel like I’m at the comedy club.” What he was speaking on was what the bible taught about husbands/wives/marriage/courtship in general. He made good points but most of the time it seemed like he was more about pitching pithy or funny comment or one liner than he was about getting into the Word and explaining it in terms of the complex issues we were discussing. I retained nothing from his bible talk that day except the one liners cuz they ended up having center stage.

  • Reader

    Thank you for this article. Gender is confusing enough without attaching our favorite hobbies to it and calling it Godly. :-P

  • Julie

    I really like this article and appreciate the critique of Driscoll’s stance on “macho manhood,” Brad–thanks. However, I find it worisome (to say the least) when we make Christ into the model of manhood because it detracts from Christ’s sacrifice as a representative of all of the sinful human race–male and female. I suppose what I mean is: if Christ is the model for manhood, what is the model for womanhood? How are women to look to Christ as a model for their character and identity (I think we should!)? Is Christ not primarily a model of perfect personhood–of being an image-bearer (of whatever sex)?

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Julie,

    I really appreciate your comment. It made me think through some things, and I thank you for that.

    First, I would say that Jesus is certainly the model for the human race–male and female. I would also whole-heartedly affirm that both men and women should look to Christ as a model for character. He is the perfect representation of all the fruits of the Holy Spirit. So yes, I believe everyone ought to imitate him to the best of their ability.

    However, I do believe that Jesus did some things as a man that would be inappropriate for a woman to do exactly the way He did them. The things that come to mind are the cleansing of the Temple and the way He lead the apostles and disciples. That is not to say that I do not believe that a woman can ever exercise leadership or correct injustice, but the way she does it would look different than the way Jesus did it sometimes. (Not all the time.)

    Really, your thought merits an entire post at the least and a book would not be a bad idea! But I would say that His attitude in general is to be imitated by everyone, everywhere, all the time. How that plays out in each gender might look different though. As for models for women, I would say that not only Jesus, but also Ruth, Sarah, and Ester come to mind. I don’t think that this short changes women any more than saying I could take Paul, Peter or Abraham for a role model. (Or Ester as well!)

    I hope that makes sense. I’d love to hear your feedback though.

  • Adam

    Hi Daryl,

    Just to clarify, Jesus whipped the animals out of the temple. Not the money lenders. He was violent to no man. Man was violent to him.

    Blessings

    Adam

  • Daryl Messina

    Adam: actually, John 2 tells us that he made a whip, and drove out both the people selling and the animals.

    No distinction is made in the Bible that He did not use the whip on people as He drove them out.

  • Adam

    Hi Daryl,

    I’ve read several versions and I believe you are wrong, but I’m not a Greek scholar and would be keen to know if it does indeed say he whipped people.

    (ASV) John 2:15 and he made a scourge of cords, and cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew their tables;”

    The whip cast all out of the temple: both sheep and the oxen. “All” would seem to imply all the sheep and oxen, not the people. It’s quite a crucial verse for arguing for or against Christ being violent.

    I’m open to being shown that I’m wrong…

    Blessings

  • Michael

    Adam – The ESV, KJV, & NKJV all seem to suggest that Jesus used the whip on the shopkeepers as well as the animals.

    I have had this page bookmarked, by the way, since the first time I read it way back when it was published. I just came back to read it again and it meant a lot. God bless you for writing this and for all you do! :)


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