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.