Jason David Frank, a lifelong martial artist most famous as the Green Ranger on the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, has recently decided to get into mixed martial arts (“MMA”, or ‘cage-fighting’ for the uninitiated). He also has a clothing line…about Jesus. Check out the gloves in the above picture, as well as the t-shirt below:
// <![CDATA[// Seen guys wearing Tapout or Affliction t-shirts? Well, this is the Christian version…whatever that means. Here is the description from the website:
Jesus Didn’t Tap was one of the first Christian based MMA clothing companies to hit the scene. In the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, to “tap” is to quit or give up. The message of the Jesus Didn’t Tap line is that Jesus didn’t quit after going through unimaginable suffering and pain when he was crucified on the cross. The company aims to represent both the competitiveness of MMA and honoring God in all of their designs and hopes it will help spread the Christian message of salvation to a whole new audience.
First of all: there are more than one Christian MMA companies?? Oh well. The problem with this is that, in MMA, to “tap” essentially means to submit. And while they are correct that Jesus didn’t give up due to pain, they seem to overlook the fact that Jesus’ crucifixion was essentially an act of submission. Philippians makes this clear:
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
This plays on two facets of Jesus’ crucifixion, one of which is usually emphasized to the detriment of the other. One the one hand, the cross did display the power of weakness the shame the strong, the total abandonment of human power and the acceptance of a shameful and common death – the death of slaves and traitors. This is the Christology seen in Paul, who tells us that God’s power is “made perfect in weakness.” The cross is the prime example of this.
On the other hand, Jesus’ torture and execution required a great deal of fortitude, will, physical endurance and spiritual strength. Paul told Timothy that God gave us a Spirit of love and discipline, but also of power. The Bible is clear that the anointed of the Lord do receive power from on high – they slay Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, administer kingdoms, suffer torture and imprisonment. And so, while the cross is a display of weakness, it is also an exhibition of spiritual strength par excellence.
These are hard to hold in tension. For instance: Neoconservatives who love Jesus will emphasize power and control, the Pantocrator, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and the strength that comes from conviction and duty. Pacifists and many more Christians who trend left will, on the other hand, emphasize the weakness of Jesus (and the church) and the power of holy defeat to overcome the strength of the world. They are both theologies of the cross, but of very different varieties.
I respect Mr. Frank for being open about his Christian convictions, and for attempting (in his own fashion) to get “the message” out there. But here, as usual, popular expressions of Christianity lack both theological substance and intellectual nuance. Sigh. These folks mean well, and have given us a good opportunity to think about the meaning and message of the cross. There are worse things to sell than Jesus MMA shirts.
At any rate, Jesus did tap. Thanks be to God.