ATLANTA — A Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) teaching elder and church planter, who also heads a faith-based non-profit organization and is chairman of a youth-focused group run by a bishop in Atlanta, Georgia, recently promoted and partnered with a secular non-profit organization to present an NFC Fight Night. The unconventional fundraiser, held at a local brewery and complete with “Vegas-style casino games,” served as an effort to benefit groups working with inner city youth.
Westside Fight Night was held on Nov. 2 at Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta, and was presented by X3 Foundation and Next Generation Foundation, the second of which is chaired by Danny Iverson, who also founded Shalom City Church and is the CEO of the organization Restore Life.
“We believe it’s possible to have fun and change lives at the same time,” a description for the event reads. “On November 2nd, X3 Foundation and Next Generation Foundation are teaming up with the NFC to host the 2nd annual Westside Fight Night.”
“This red-carpet event will provide an opportunity for Atlanta’s most influential people to directly impact the future generations of Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods. Here’s the thing, this will not be your normal fundraising event,” it states. “It’s a night full of official NFC fights, Vegas-style casino games, beer from Monday Night Brewing, and supporting the work in Atlanta’s Westside. That’s a pretty exciting Friday night, if you ask us.”
Ryan Denton of Christ in the Wild Ministries told Christian News Network that he disagrees with the concept of a church planter and faith-based non-profit leader promoting and participating in a Vegas-style fight night—no matter that it was a secular event.
“Christians are called to be exiles and sojourners in the world,” he said. “We’re called to be holy as Christ is holy. We’re called to be set apart. Intentionally meshing with the world [and its ways] … is still a matter of offering strange fire on God’s altar, since God most definitely never prescribed such a move, especially for those who are supposedly Christian leaders.”
2018 is the second year that Iverson is involved with the fundraiser. Iverson, who is a fifth generation church planter and received pastoral training at Reformed Theological Seminary, moved to Atlanta in 2013 to undergo a residency with Perimeter Church, and soon was sent to plant a church in the Grove City area on the northwest side of Atlanta, and to conduct holistic outreach in the community.
Iverson became the CEO of Restore Life in 2014, and works with various groups in the community to “see all sectors of Grove Park flourish through the dignified empowerment of its leaders, specifically in the areas of dignified housing, job development, and family flourishing.” It works with the aim of “unit[ing] community assets around the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Over the last 13 years, Danny has specialized in reaching children, teens, gang members, drug addicts, and the homeless and marginalized of society, and recently has begun teaching and empowering other leaders in the Grove Park community through his experiences and expertise,” Iverson’s bio on the Restore Life website reads.
According to a newsletter released by Iverson earlier this fall, Iverson was asked to chair a new organization called Next Generation Foundation, led by Larry Corker, a bishop from Generations Outreach Ministries, who also worked with Iverson in his house church efforts with Shalom City Church. The nonprofit seeks to develop and support “high-impact and relationship-driven organizations and programs that build character in youth resulting in productive citizens for our community and city.”
Next Generation Foundation partnered with X3 to put present the fundraiser this year, as Iverson outlined in his newsletter, “We partner with X3 Foundation to put this high-end Vegas-style event on.” It further states that the event was held at Iverson’s brother’s brewery, Monday Night Brewing, and is the second year that Iverson has been involved with the fundraising effort.
In 2017, the event was marked as being presented both by X3 and Restore Life, of which Iverson serves as CEO.
“Last year, we had our first Fight Night fundraiser at Danny’s brother’s brewery, Monday Night Brewing. It was a great success! This year we are doing it again and taking it to the next level,” the newsletter update reads. “But we need your help! We still have 4 tables to sell and are looking for sponsors. Please come, and if you can’t, please consider sponsoring someone else from our community to be able to enjoy this event.”
Iverson also promoted the event numerous times on his various personal social media platforms, writing, “Check out our new Westside Fight Night promo video. Enjoy. Be challenged. Join the fight. Get a ticket or sponsor someone from our community to be able to come. It’s gonna be an epic night” and “Let’s go!!!! 5 days away!”
“A lot of people want to support our fight night fundraiser, but can’t make it to the fight. A lot of people in our community want to come but these tickets are a bit outside their budgets. Solution – sponsor a community member ticket!!!!,” he wrote in part in another post, adding the hashtags #westsidebestside ##Nextgenerationfoundation #X3sports #Warriorlife #Restorationstudios #Mentorlife
“Here we go. Getting started for a great night. If you would like to give to help us reach our goal tonight, there are three ways,” Iverson posted on the day of the event.
The X3 Foundation, which is a part of X3 Sports, says in its description that it “works to improve the health and social outcomes for youth living in struggling communities through the power of sports,” and that it provides “Atlanta’s at-risk youth with the athletic opportunities, support, and assistance they need to build productive futures for themselves.” It lists the NFC and The MMA Alliance among its partners.
Iverson also is a Jiu-Jitsu instructor with the organization Warrior Life, and writes in his newsletter, “Jiu-Jitsu and Jesus really go well together, and we are super excited to see God develop body, mind, and Spirit through this ministry.”
Photos from the event show Iverson on the red carpet, and he noted on Instagram that “I go on stage after [the] fourth fight” to speak to attendees. While distancing himself from the fundraiser when asked about the matter by deferring to X3 Sports, Iverson told Christian News Network that he believes X3 has helped a number of young people through their MMA offerings.
“They use mixed martial arts to help mentor at-risk inner city youth, and have had great success in helping many kids succeed,” he stated. “Martial arts is a great discipline that helps many people emotionally and physically, and has been proven to help many youth coming from traumatic backgrounds.”
Follow-up questions inquiring about Iverson’s level of involvement and his views about being a part of such an event were not responded to by press time.
Westside Fight Night featured eight matches this year, including Jabril Malik vs. Melvin Molina, Nadeem Khattack vs. Jesse Miele, Mohammad Ibrahim vs. Kendall Hemmings and Jesus Diaz vs. Koyya Russell.
A promotional video for the 2018 event shows footage from the 2017 fundraiser, complete with poker, beer, and the various fights—which included one competitor falling in the ring as he was knocked out by his opponent. Some attendees cheer on fights and/or record segments with their cell phones.
“Tonight, we fight together for the sake of our youth,” it says, “to knock poverty to the ground, to help our youth fight for their futures.”
Following the event, Iverson posted a thank you to his Instagram, writing, “What a night. Thanks everyone for the support and hard work to pull this off.”
In addition to his part in Westside Fight Night and founding of Shalom City Church—which is now reportedly on pause, according to a post on Iverson’s blog site—and service as CEO of Restore Life, Iverson also is the manager of Restoration Studios, which seeks to mentor young people and give them training and opportunities in the recording industry. His premier artist is the hip-hop/rap group Gapp Stars, which stands for “God’s Anointed Purpose Pointing Sinners to a Risen Savior.”
The group’s posted videos include performing hip-hop in church settings. One video Iverson posted was of his son dancing in a church while Gapp Stars raps wildly in front of him. Another video in which Iverson was tagged shows young boys dancing to a rap song with the hashtag “#mentorship.”
Last month, Iverson posted, “So last night at the show, we had an after party that turned into a spontaneous time of worship and free styling. Somehow I ended up with a mic and my 20-year-old punk rock self emerged. smh. Payload (my punk rock band from college) will rise again.”
In October, Iverson told the outlet By Faith, the online news outlet of the Presbyterian Church in America, about his philosophy for his work in the community.
“[People] often start with the Fall, ‘Hey, you’re a sinner. You shouldn’t be doing this.’ [But] people we work with already know they’re sinners,” he said. “They already know this world is jacked up—the amount of abuse, and systemic stuff from families and generational poverty. No one hides that stuff.”
“But when you start with the fact that everyone can be a blessing because they’re made in the image of God, that they have intrinsic value given to them by their Creator, it calls out the dignity we all share and opens up doors for honest conversations and deeper relationships,” Iverson stated.
However, Ryan Denton of Christ in the Wild Ministries, who preaches at universities, abortion facilities and other locations nationwide, and who formerly served as a pastor in New Mexico, told Christian News Network that he disagrees with Iverson’s methodology for reaching the lost.
“Iverson’s comments assume that just because someone knows they’re a sinner, they understand the direness of it. I agree it’s wrong to start with the Fall when it comes to sharing the gospel. But it’s even worse to start with man,” he said.
“Rather, we should start by telling people who God is. We should explain what it means that God is just. We should explain God as creator and the rights God has over humans because of it. That will bring out how heinous sin actually is,” Denton continued. “The fact that people know they are sinners doesn’t mean they hate their sin, nor does it mean they know how devastating sin actually is.”
He outlined that what is happening—whether or not it is realized—is the exaltation of the sinner, rather than the exaltation of a holy God, who commands all men to repent and believe.
“Iverson wants to skip both God’s glory and man’s sinfulness and get right to some kind of exaltation of the sinner, which the Bible nowhere condones,” Denton stated. “The Bible says ‘stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?’ (Isaiah 2:22). It’s true that man has ‘intrinsic value’ since we are made in God’s image, but this is exactly why the sin of man is so monstrous. We are the only creatures in the universe made in God’s image, and with the exception of fallen angels, we are the only creatures who rebel against God’s commands.”
“Iverson wants to give people mushy half-truths about how great they are so that it ‘opens up doors for honest conversations.’ Why not just start with an honest conversation to begin with and see what God does with it?”
The late preacher and author Art Katz exhorted in his sermon “And They Crucified Him,” “[W]e ought to look different, speak differently, act differently, that there ought to be such a savor and fragrance about us of Christ that it is a savor of death unto death itself and life unto life to others. The fact that the world can so easily tolerate us, the fact of the almost complete absence of reproach, let alone persecution, it itself a shameful testimony that we are so [much] like the world that we cannot be distinguished from it. We have lost even the difference, the sense of difference, between that which is sacred and that which is profane.”
Christian News Network sought to reach out to Bob Cargo, the director of church planting for Perimeter Church, but multiple phone calls were not returned.