Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Nice Guy's Rebuttal to No More Christian Nice Guy

In a season of flux for me, I sought out a small men's group. I was deeply drawn to the small group of men who gather on Saturday mornings. The subject of our study was going to be Paul Coughlin's book, No More Christian Nice Guy. The title itself begs for men to rally around the frustrations they have felt culturally, spiritually, and in their marriages. In the group dynamics, the book was the conduit of strong, open and transparent sharing that is sometimes so alien to men. Important issues were turned over from the fallow ground of our walk, like cultural views of masculinity, childhood woundings, sex and relationship in marriage. This was all good food. I have been attending the class for almost two months now. Then I got to chapter eight.
Throughout Mr. Coughlin's book, there have been uncomfortable verbage and tone in his writing. This is not discomfort brought on by a stirring or conviction of the Spirit. I was uncomfortable with the assertion in chapter two that Jesus was disrespectful to authority and sarcastic. Instead, I found that I was uncomfortable with what I perceived as a latent venom that laced Mr. Coughlin's words. It was as if Coughlin wanted to validate his position about not being Mr. Christian Nice Guy (CNG) by using provocative concepts and tone.
Having been involved in Christian counseling ministries, I walked through the early chapters with a strong measure of grace (surely the sign of a CNG, instead of a Christian Good Guy, Coughlin's alternative goal for men) and churned on ahead. There was enough productive fruit from the subject matter being presented that the text could be overlooked; the lack of substantial Bible scholarship to support the position, ignored, because as men we were bonding in an uncommon way that could only produce health.
Chapter eight of No More Christian Nice Guy, entitled Nice Guy, Naive Guy: How Being Nice Hurts Men at Work. Already the title had set me up to fail. My life was marred less by my issues with mom (though those are plentiful) but with my issues with my Dad. The largest of those was what a dissappointment I seemed to my Special Forces father because I was a soft, introspective, non-athletic artist, not the image of power he perhaps had hoped for. There is no place for a person like me as a child to find solace or anything but ridicule in Mr. Coughlin's book.
Being nice is a character flaw. Following this thread long enough brings us to a crossroads with the Scripture. However, chapter eight uses Scripture so sparingly that the crossroads are never reached and the reader is swept on Coughlin's diatribe to his point about being the indominitable figure in the workplace.
The chapter is so laced with his own issues about authority in the workplace, paticularly "Christian" businesses that it was becoming a distraction. Then he began to go sideways with his theology.
On page 140, Coughlin boldly states, "you have a right to be wrong". While I understand the heart of this poorly worded statement, it is essentially Scripturally inaccurate as Colossians 3:23 admonishes us to "do all things as if doing them for the LORD." That translates to aspiring, striving in the Spirit to excellence. The excellence is not personally subjective but to the one we are submitted to.
The following section is a diatribe on Christian men as bosses and the discernment from good bosses and bad.
"Being a Christian doesn't automatically qualify anyone to lead," says Coughlin, "Good bosses are good bosses--you'll see it in their actions."
This statement is essentially true but it doesn't give a license to treat authority that is not qualified to lead, the same respect his position garners. Even Jesus, the Creator of the Universe (John 1:3) recognized that Pilate (certainly a poor example of leadership) had a level of authority, even over him, and that this authority could only be achieved because it was given by God Himself (John 19:11). This is when Mr. Coughlin's most serious Scriptural errors are made.
On page 150, Coughlin begins to explore what he sees as Christian employers exploiting the concept of Christian spiritual covering, a theology that is readily taught in seminary and has been considered an orthodox theology for evangelicals for hundreds of years.

---Christian Nice Guys are fodder for such manipulation; they need the strong people in our churches to defend them against this nonsense (receiving the blessing and covering from an employer), because this eisn't even close to the worst of such ideas. Some CNGS even come to believe that not only are they to seek their boss's "blessing", they are to identify themselves with actual slavery, a kiss of death for a passive person. This is the message of one of the best selling authors ever of books for Christian men, a man who has helped other men in many ways, but not in this one important area. He inserts two words into Scripture to give his ideas some glue: "Slaves (employees), obey your earthly masters (employers) in everything" (Colossians 3:22).
This influential man is saying that an employee's labor or services are similar to that obtained through force, that their physical beings are regarded as the property of abother person, and that employees are entirely subject to their boss's/owner's will. Christian men have been told to identify themselves with slaves, who, for the most part, since earliest times, have been legally defined as things;"

No More Christian Nice Guy-pages 150-151
Perhaps the sting of Coughlin's thesis would be lessened if he had chosen a different Scripture.
"Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ." (Ephesians 6:5kjv)
This Scripture says exactly the same thing as Colossians 3:22, but instead of the term 'slave', the King James version says 'servant', as the terms are interchangeable. However, this verse doesn't give the out of saying that slavery is immoral. It concisely speaks to the attitude with which we serve anyone in authority over us.
The book of Philimon is a letter to a master in his relationship with his slave. The first rule of theology is context. The Bible simply recognizes that servants and slaves were a simple fact of life in the times of Jesus; a caste or class anagolous to the McDonald's burger-flipper. Those people are no less trapped in their caste or class as the slaves of that time period. Just because a Christian writer featured the concept of the spiritual covering of authority, doesn't mean it is a new concept. Philimon was admonished about his spiritual role in the slave's life and to deal rightly with him. Slavery in those days was often used as a method of paying off debt.
Coughlin says on page 153 in a manifesto-like statement, "It's foolish and destructive to lay down your rights in the workplace because you fear what will happen if you don't." That is true.
I fear what will happen if I disobey the instructions of my LORD when it comes to work. If I walk in the light and my employer is being unjust, it heaps coals on his head. Otherwise, I am opening the door for consequence and judgement into my own life.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23)
Hmm...someone like that sounds like a pretty nice guy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Take Me In (From the Outer Courts)

Take me past the outer courts;
To the Holy Place,
I hunger and thirst for Your righteousness
and it's only found one place.

Take me into the Holy of Holies
Take me in by the blood of the Lamb
Take me into the Holy of Holies
Take the coal
Cleanse my lips
Here I am

I recently began attending a new ministry for me. It harkens me back to my early days in the faith when I was deeply involved with the Promise Keepers movement. I will not spend time here deconstucting the pros and cons of coach McCartney's brainchild. That has been done ad nauseum.
There is a significant number of men in this ministry (which will remain nameless, because the points I will bring up, I'm sure are universal) who are either unemployed, low-income, or struggling in recovery. At first, I didn't perceive this as a problem. Indeed, since my last posting, I have had a relapse of sort that cost me dearly. Still, my heart and longing are for a deeper, richer, more cerebral encounter with God that will spur my emotions.
I have realized that the very dynamics of emotion versus intellect creates a theological stereotype that is as worldly as it is fallacious. I am intellectually stimulated...this is where my passion is. Therefore, the expectation is that because I am intellectually motivated that my theological POV will be seminarian and middle of the road...palettably acceptable. Conversely, the expectation that emotional driven people will respond like a BF Skinner experiment, reacting to each prodding of the Spirit...staying in the moment.
This was made clearer to me when I attended a second meeting of this ministry. The leadership is well-meaning. However, I don't know if I can remain there. I want to feed myself but the trappings of the seeker friendly church pervade the gatherings. The theology has been thus far, esoteric at best. Testimonials...door prizes for recalling one line Scriptures...and the brooding specter of recovery always just below the surface.
I want my emotions lit up by a rapturous epiphany of intellectual understanding. My salvation experience was like that. I likened the moment to walking in the rain for 30 years and suddenly realizing I am wet. I am no example for any person to follow in my walk with God. The only true assurance that I have is that I am saved. Everything else is left to the quality of my lackluster obedience.
If I struggle so mightily with obedience and I believe I have a fairly seasoned understanding of the Scriptures, how much more flaccid will be the walk of those who do not have that experience. Where are the systematic inductive Bible studies that so many women's ministries seem to have? Do we challenge the emotional to intellectual growth as much as the intellectual have been challenged to emotional response.
I don't want to exclusively nail this malady to the mega-church concept, but the fact is that often this becomes the way of the large congregation. There is no model for the mega-church in the Scripture. On the contrary, the teachers were intinerant and home churches were often left to study the Scriptures and allow the Spirit to reveal through the logos what the rheyma is saying.
This may simply be my own issue. I have a deep restlessness in me. I don't know as much as I want. But I want to be affected by that knowledge. I pray in tongues, I know my Word, and my spirit perks up when I hear error that unsettles it. I want His Word to be so familiar to me that I don't need to pull out the Book.
I no longer want to be the one on the outer courts. If you love Him with only your intellect, you are still in the outer courts...the same with only your emotion....
"Thou shalt love the LORD your God with all of your heart, mind, and soul."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gigantic Problems

It has been awhile since I have posted. Those who actually read my blog...that would be you, Mike...know that since April I have been writing a novel whose premise is that a very tall basketball player comes to believe that he may be one of the Nephilim of the Bible. I am writing a new blog which you can check in my profile. In it, I bring up one of many oddities that I came upon while I was researching. As I go on in the next few weeks, I will share in both blogs some of the conundrums that have challenged the bedrock of my theology.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From the Outside Looking In

I had the most interesting viewing experience recently and it was both impacting in its content and inciteful in its ability to show the shallowness that pervades the Evangelical church in the post modern era.
Like many people, I was mesmerized by Morgan Spurlock's devestating expose of McDonald's, Super-size Me. So, while I walk in to viewing his follow-up television series, 30 Days knowing that he carries with him a strong ultra-liberal agenda, I was keenly interested to see the conflagrations that he came up with. The one I will comment on here is a second season episode where an atheist moved in with a young Evangelical family in Texas.
The 40 something atheist mom was a stereotypical, affluent, progressive liberal. She was kindly and sensitive, well-considered and hopelessly locked into her position of atheism...a turn from her previous experience as a young person where she was a practicing Christian for half of her life, though to what extent and level of piety is not revealed on the program. However, the muddiness of what happens is the Christian family she was placed with.
First, they can only be described as "cookie-cutter" Evangelicals. They lived in Texas, the heart of the Bible belt, were members of one of two mega-churches in their town, and the faithfully attend Bible study or small group twice a week. The husband was something of a caricature of what Spurlock views Evangelicals as. He was brash, eager to challenge the atheist's position, incredulous at her position, and, frankly, not well-spoken when it comes to defending the faith. Indeed, their small group also showed the same incredulity and lack of depth when brought face to face with this opportunity, which Spurlock subtly turned into a successful dig at the buffoonery of the Evangelical community.
I do not judge the family. Indeed, the only hero portrayed by Spurlock in the Christian family, was the softening of acceptance on the mother's part, bonding with her on mothering issues. This is not surprising since female Believers are often perceived by the left as unwilling drones in a patriarchal faith system. It is logical in Spurlock's paradigm that the only redeeming matter was the obviously progressive acceptance by the oppressed female.
No the clue to culprit was seen when the camera observed the family with their atheist guest attending service. The sanctuary was a lavish auditorium with full staging and lights, the worship was somewhat choreographed, and the message, most greivously, was esoteric and shallow. How then can I expect a paritioner to be challenged to know his Lord with all of his mind. This is a common theme in what is now called the Emergent church. This atheist would have had a different, more challenging, intellectual experience had she sat at Grace Community Church and heard John McCarthur teach. She may well have still disagreed. But it wouldn't have been for lack of intellectual engagement balanced with a strong dose of grace.
I know that Spurlock carefully orchestrated this episode reflecting the liberal position of tolerance and understanding. Don't we as believers have a responsibility to be defenders of the have such an unconciously close relationship with the Father that in those moments, we need only listen close to His still quiet Voice and speak exactly the right thing at that time. Even a novice Christian can see that the Father of this house was ill-prepared for this engagement and Spurlock pounced on the opportunity. To his credit, Spurlock actually did make the episode bringing the two divergent positions together,...perhaps next time he will make sure the Christians are armed for the battle. Moreover, maybe the Church can start passing out the ammunition.
I will continue with this thread in future notes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Biblically Sufficient

I was just browsing some other blogsites and I came across one who had a trove of Christian books on living, self-help, etc. It has struck me even as I examine my own library about how many voices I allow to help me divide the Word. What happened before Christian mass media. How is it in an age where there is unlimited amounts of accessibility to Christian resource that the world is so unsalted by those resources and the theology aspoused is so flawed and ununified? Before such benefits our culture was much more strongly influenced by the character of the Christ. This may seem oxymoronic and yet as we abandon traditions, familial relations, and intimacy to the isolation of technology, media, and culture this becomes more clear. In the next couple of weeks, I will be tackling issues of error by the Church in these areas. The running theme through all of this is God's grace being sufficient and therefore, God's Word being sufficient.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Anecdote on the Appearance of Holiness

I just returned from a three month job experience in Alaska, in the fishing industry. Those who know this business seldom cross paths with those who write and comment on theology. So it was with incredible naivetee that I entered into the job I found myself in this summer as a chef on a processing boat.
I am in no way a pinnacle of Christian virtue. I state that catagorically so that this episode will have its intended effect. I struggle every single day to make more good decisions than bad decisions. By the grace of God, I am not a serial killer. Having said that, I found myself in a closed environment for 86 days with a decidedly worldly and mostly unsaved crew. To say that they were salty would be an understatement. I also realize that my life as a beleiver has insulated me from exposure to that life...a life that was not so different from my own 20 years ago.
Soon after my arrival on board, I experienced a different kind of insulation.
The crowded small, almost claustrophobic quarters, neccesitated me taking my Bible and other devotionals into the common area of the galley, to read, write and meditate in relative comfort. No one disturbed me and it seemed fine at first. Soon, however, I saw a pattern in the way I was 'not disturbed'. I was noticed and people would sit at least 3 to 4 seats away in the small 40 seat galley. In my periphory I could see them watching. There was a look of trepidation, unease and yes...holy fear. As if these books I was reading, and these things I was writing were an actual point of such awe and mystery that a safe distance was kept. Soon after this revelation, I noted that most of the salty folk were working hard to not belch out colorful metaphors and cuss with their usual vigor in my presence.
The epiphony was simple and yet large for me. The Word of God was written on their hearts. I would wager that most of those people had never read the Word. But in their spirit, they knew what it said. Submit, obey, repent.... These fundamental concepts pricked their flesh even from the safe distance of my personal Bible devotion time.
This strange reaction later morphed into the erroneous idea that I had some sort of higher knowledge. Often, they would venture closer to me and, like the pilgrim climbing a mountain to speak to a sage, inquire about my devotions. Before I left for Alaska, I agreed with the Lord not to go with the intent to prostelytize the crew. But I did feel free to answer inquiries that were genuine and I was blessed with many. Often though, this was perverted into the idea that I was smarter than most in all facets of life and like Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof", was being asked questions that would 'cross a Rabbi's eyes'.
It was sweet of God to show me that there really is no innocence and certainly no ignorance. In our deepest places, we know that we know, that righteousness and holiness are in conflict with both our flesh and the culture of the world. My brief incursion into worldly domains was an epiphonous moment for me. One that continues to expand my grace for the nonbeliever and drive me to know (yadda) Him and His ways more and more.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fundamental Symmantics

It is an ingenious and compelling way to eliminate or marginalize an opponent. Give them the rope and let them hang themselves.
So it is with evangelicals in the post 9/11 era. Eager to rush into the suddenly soft center of the population and fill the void of helplessness left by the carnage of the attacks, Christian leaders have unwittingly joined a subtle methodology that will serve to further disenfranchise Fundamentalist Christians even more in the US.
One of the first early by-products of the attacks was the bumbling attempts by Christian leaders and left-leaning media to quickly characterize Islam to their paticular benefit and ideology.
The government and the media both went to great lengths to mitigate potential backlash, retaliations, persecution and prejudice against Muslim Americans and other foreign nationals in the wake of their identification of Osama Bin Laden as the prime suspect in the attacks. Lengthy articles and television pieces appeared pontificating Islam as a "religion of peace" and that the attacks and other acts of Islamic terrorism, do not reflect the essence of the Muslim people and their faith.
Anxious to contrast the wholesomeness of Christianity against Islam, Evangelical leaders like James Dobson, and others, pointed out that these were innaccurate depictions of Islam and that "radicals" were a constant in the faith. Painting Muslims as the "Klingons" against the "Federation" of the Judeo-Christian world, Evangelicals have inadvertantly walked into a trap of symmantics which could prove to be the mechanism that brings about further Christian marginalization in the post-modern world.
Both of these positions are fellacious,...based on erroneous world views.
The government and the media used American Muslims to demonstrate the unfair perceptions of Islam and to characterize the terroists, in contrast, as a fringe element. Both label the combatants against the US occupation of Iraq as "insurgents" or "fundamentalist extremists". One can hardly believe in suicide bombers when we see these communities in the US blended so well into the melting pot of American culture. All of these spokesmen and media portrayals of Islam have been secularized, Westernized, Muslims, living in our culture and far removed from the true faith practiced in Mecca or Medina. While they do represent a contingent of Islam, they no more represent a true view of Islam any more than a liberal Methodist church could represent true fundamentalist theology. Having live in Saudi Arabia for an extended period, I have seen the iron-handed administration of Islam. War, ethno-centrism, mysogony, and suicidal zeal are all aspects of fundamentalist Islam. Islam, like Christianity, has sects and denominations, each with its own distance or closeness to the truer, fundamentalist original. The Bible supports this view of Islam when God blesses Ishmael and tells him that he and his decendants will multiply but always be in contention with their neighbors. This, of course, is supported by the landscape of history and current events.
The House of Saud, the ruling family of the Kingdom, decended from Bedowin nomads, learned this quickly. To maintain their precarious hold on the oil and the country, the secular, oppulently wealthy royal family realized that they must maintain Saudi Arabia as the most stringently fundamentally Islamic nation on Earth. They realized that secular, westernized Islamic nations don't survive. Lebenon's constant turmoil, Iran before the Shah are examples.
Most disturbing though is the media and government's rhetoric about "Muslim fundamentalists". The implication is that fundamentalist are extremist and do not represent the true faith. They are outside the main stream. The media has married the term fundamentalist with the term extremist and I contend that it will serve a further purpose. Fundamentalist Christians and the government/media are often polar opposites, usually diametrically opposed. Even the conservative Republican party would be more content if the social agenda of the Religious Right wasn't having to be appeased...the Religious Right...the fundamentalists...the extremists. Ruby Ridge and Waco were extreme examples of government intolerance of unpopular expressions of Christian or Constitutional fundamentalism.
The core point is this. Blind support of a war on non-secular, fundamentalist Muslims could serve to set a precedent for the culture to further marginalize Christian fundamentalists...especially as the Church itself is becoming more wordly and secular. The true faith will only stand more glaringly in the light of Laodecea. The Social War gets fought in high profile arenas like abortion-rights, gay marriage and seperation of Church and state. It could be lost in the more innocuous battles the symanntics of words like "fundamentalist".
80 percent of Americans say that they identify themselves as "Christian". Yet, those who support fundamentalist, evangelical theology account for a dramatically smaller portion.
One of the lessons of the history of the Church, that it may be doomed to repeat, is that the Emerging Church has been so concerned with its call to Evangelize, that it ceases to work out its own salvation with fear and trembling. Confident in the rightness of its position and purpose, Evangelicals have joined in another crusade against Islamic fundamentalism, aligning itself with a culture that despises its theology and ingraining in the secular masses the opposition to all things
fundamental". In a nation and culture where religion is so marginalized and secularized, the symmantic easily translates from Islam to Evangelical Christianity in the sound-bite, fast-food information age of the secular world. This secular world view accepts religious conviction as long as it is "personal" and non-invasive.
Conversely, fundamentalism, both Christian or Islamic, seek to impact and win the world for their faith.
Islam demands that a code of behavior be adhered to and enforced on the population, rejecting all other beliefs and in some cases, conquering non-believers to conform them to the true faith, even to the costs of their own lives in martyrdom for their god.
Fundamentalist Christianity demands adherance of obedience to a code of righteousness that was demonstrated by Jesus and brotherhood with a non-believing world that, by the Holy Spirit, would stand against the prevailing world-view and permeate the society. A true Believer in Christ may be called upon, and should be willing to, lay down his life for his God.
The correlation is too great to ignore.
For Evangelicals the error in judgement comes from a fellacious understanding of Scripture. It comes from a failier to agree with the Biblical admonition about the assuredness of moral entropy in the culture. Instead of working on personal holiness which best reflects Jesus and therefore best effects the world, like battling a tsunami with a sandbag, Evangelicals seek to change moral fiber by activism and aggressive opposition. This forsakes the command to be in the world and not of the world. It is also hard to love your enemy while you are supporting a war to kill him.
Instead, we have Christian talking heads joing the teeming masses of secular talking heads in opposition to the evils of Islamic jihad. Some day there will be a time where those secular talking heads will be giving scathing analysis and editorials about the dangers of Christian fundamentalist extremism.