Joe Carter is a Marine Corps veteran and an editor at The Gospel Coalition.
A century ago, a novel called In His Steps convinced generations of Christians that Jesus would, among other things, oppose the sport of prizefighting. That novel became the ninth best-selling book of all time, and the book's thesis found new life in the "What Would Jesus Do?" movement.
Today, instead of wearing "WWJD?" bracelets, young men wear T-shirts emblazoned with "Jesus Didn't Tap," a reference to yielding to one's opponent in combat sports. Some modern churches use mixed martial arts as ministry opportunities to attract young men.
Ministries that focus on "ultimate fighters" are giving young men a deformed view of biblical masculinity. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus praised the meek, a word that in the Greek refers to taming wild animals: The lion is able to lie down with the lamb precisely because he is not given over to his hyperaggressive nature.
It is difficult to square the Good Shepherd of the Gospels with the hypermasculine ideal of the cage fighter. It takes an incredible leap of logic to conclude that since Jesus was a carpenter he would have enjoyed watching Christian men kick and beat each other until one is forced to "tap out."
The term "martial arts" is derived from the Latin for "arts of Mars," the Roman god of war. Preparation for war has historically been the primary purpose of martial arts training and is its most legitimate context.
During my time in the military, I participated in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, a course intended to develop a "warrior ethos." Such training was both necessary and ethical. ...1