This movie was everything I hoped it would be and nothing I expected.
As a connoisseur of Christian Americana I expected to watch yet another expose on “a bunch of dumb rednecks” who “just didn’t get it.” But Wrestling for Jesus is so much more than that. Much, much more.
The focus of this film is a non-profit wrestling ministry called Wrestling for Jesus. It’s run by a guy named T-Money(stage name), who along with Matt Cruze and their wrestling friends try to bring the gospel to the people of South Carolina by wrestling people to the cross, so to speak.
Believe it or not, I think these guys are every bit as creative in their attempts to share the gospel as any cutting edge church or innovative celebrity pastor. It would be easy to write these guys off as dumb redneck, but they have a mission and they are every bit as intentional in how they execute that mission as any mainstream, super successful traditional ministry.
Granted, this isn’t the path I would take, and yes it is difficult to take things seriously when there’s a huge wooden cross sitting next to the ring and the guys wearing tights, flying off the top ropes are also the ones telling you how much you Jesus loves. However, T-Money and his friends do exactly what so-called “cutting edge churches” do in their own communities. They see a need for the gospel in their community, they understand the culture of their community and therefore what means might be most effective to “reach them”, and then they use their “gifts and talents” to work through that medium of communication to share the gospel.
It’s certainly packaged in a different way than I am used to, but when it comes down to the basic philosophy and approach the Wrestling for Jesus group uses is really different than churches that meet in coffee shops or movie theaters, or who use rock music and a high tech stage presentation to reach the Apple generation.
If rock and roll, known for so long as “the devil’s music”, can be transformed into Sunday morning hymns, then why can’t a wrestling ring be transformed into an altar? At least, that seems to be the philosophy of the guys in Wrestling for Jesus. As someone who’s currently writing a book on how the church’s call to holiness is built on her ability to redeem, reclaim, and repurpose everything and anything for the kingdom of God I think these guys might be on to something. Even if it’s not something I would do.
Then the movie takes a turn I never saw coming.
When we first meet T-Money at the beginning of the film he’s clean cut, passionate about his wrestling ministry, and optimistic about the future. When things turn a full 180 in the middle of the film (I won’t spoil things and tell you what happens), everything has changed. When we hear from T-Money again he’s disheveled, scruffy, and sitting on an old tire in the middle of the woods, trying to figure out what went wrong.
In the second half of the film, we see just how complex these people are. In the ring everything is simple. Heels fight heroes in the immortal struggle between good and evil, between the devil and God. The drama of the ring, of course, is scripted, the outcome is always under control. Outside of the ring, life for T-Money and his friends is almost the complete opposite.
There is no script. Everything seems to spiral out of control. Unexpected tragedies lie just around the corner and no leg drop or choke hold well keep disaster at bay.
For me, this is the real strength of the movie. It’s what takes its from a look, albeit a fascinating one, at the phenomena of Christian wrestling, and transforms it into a raw, honest portrait of people whose lives are far more complex and interesting that their wrestling persona would lead you to believe. Instead of the ubiquitous, Michael Moore-esque voice over, Nathan Clarke allows the characters to speak for themselves, letting the story unfold naturally, even if its sometimes uncomfortable to watch. For that, I thank him.
Simply put, Wrestling for Jesus is a first rate documentary that I can’t recommend enough. Whether you’re a wrestling fan or not, a Christian or not, this is a film you need to watch. So, stop doing your TPS reports for five minutes, head on over to Amazon and pick up your copy of Wrestling for Jesus right now. I promise you won’t regret it.
I can’t wait to see what Nathan Clarke and Fourth Line Films do next.
Might I suggest American Jesus: The Movie? Wouldn’t you love to Jack Chick, Mark Driscoll, Ken Ham, and Steven Anderson all together on film?? And of course you could obviously have Kirk Cameron star in it! Ahh, a guy can dream.
Anyway, thanks again to Nathan Clarke for letting us review this fantastic film.
Grace and peace,