The young man was a member of a fight team at Xtreme Ministries, a small church near Nashville that doubles as a mixed martial arts academy. Mr. Renken, who founded the church and academy, doubles as the team’s coach. The school’s motto is “Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.” (source)
Actually, this kind of thing has been around for a long time. I've certainly heard of Christian Karate Academies. And if you want to go back even further, you'd find the very foundations of the martial arts to be the spiritual arts. The oldest forms of codified fighting styles in Asian were developed in monasteries to both promote the health of monks and help them defend themselves from opportunistic criminals who might assume monks or nuns would be easy targets.
The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”
The outreach is part of a larger and more longstanding effort on the part of some ministers who fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility. (source)
One thinks of the boxing clubs in the inner city that helped many young men learn how to control their strength and discipline their lives. Cultures have been training young men to harness their aggression for millions of years with very productive results. This is pretty much the same thing, just "Christianized."
Some of the bigger (and more important questions) that come up from this have to do with the shifting cultural norms of masculine identity. Just as women's roles have been changing, men's have, as well. I think that even the more regressive-sounding conservative Christians that quote Paul's "Household Codes" to say that men should be the head of the family are still positing a very different vision of manhood than what our forefathers knew. Whether we think the Gospel calls us something very much in line with the feminist movement (Cf., "In Christ there is no longer male nor female"), or into something that looks more like enlightened patriarchy, it's still a change from what we grew up with.
The book and later movie Fight Club from a few years ago touched a nerve when it explored the issue of manliness and in our age. The movie is premised on the dissatisfaction many men feel with masculine identity in our culture. First they find relief by fighting each other in a relatively controlled, yet bloody, way. Later, this evolves into an anti-corporate campaign. This notion that masculine identity must be reclaimed from consumer-culture is, in my opinion, right on. I really wish our ideas about manhood came from somewhere other beer commercials.
Yet there is lots of room for critique of efforts to build up a kind of new way of being a man that are so linked with violence.
“What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay,” said Eugene Cho, 39, a pastor at Quest Church, an evangelical congregation in Seattle. “I don’t live for the Jesus who eats red meat, drinks beer and beats on other men.” (source)
Indeed, the ultimate aim of Christian discipleship goes quite a bit beyond being a good fighter or even a good man. In Christ we are called to live a life worthy of the kingdom of God.
In some ways, I suspect that the emergence of this movement to create fight-church is a reaction to the mainstream's efforts to make church amenable to women and children. There are a lot of young men who would find what we do at Messiah, for example, to be quite boring and irrelevant. I have to admire church planters willing go after those guys, but I honestly don't think my particular church is called to that ministry!