No More Christian Nice Girl by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. Degler, PhD. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010, 224 pp. paper $14.99
While No More Christian Nice Girl is co-authored by Paul Coughlin who wrote No More Christian Nice Guy (see my review) this book has a very different flavor. Gone are the majority of the over-generalizations (not all) and the often belligerent tone. However, Nice Girl is far more psychological in nature, as one might expect from the co-author Jennifer Degler who is a licensed psychologist. This book could be categorized as a self-help manual drawing almost entirely from psychological and observational sources. It is by no means, however, a book based on the Bible. Scripture is rarely used, and when it is it usually is taken out of context or distorted. There are references along the way of the assertive side of Jesus, and a helpful appendix doing the same, but the principles found within this volume do not primarily emerge from Scripture.
And therein lies the major flaw of the book. The authors offer numerous psychological insights to govern the lives of women. They repeatedly claim “research has found” (pp. 42-45, 48-49), yet much of the “research” is old, contradicted within the psychological community, and highly questionable (just attend any freshmen year psychology course and observe the numerous conflicting psychological theories). Degler’s own bias appears to be a combination of Freudian (unconscious choices—p. 121; passive-aggressive—p. 139), Rogerian (self-esteem—p. 125), and behaviorist (women become “nice girls” through a process of socialization—pp. 46-52). Nothing is ever mentioned of our fallen, sinful nature but much is blamed on socialization. The authors’ examples include putting a bow on a little girl rather than giving her a football (p. 46) and dressing girls in ruffles, pastels and bows while dressing boys in brighter colors and sports-oriented clothing (p. 47). And childhood is just the beginning. From childhood to sports to the workplace the authors seem to want to erase or at least greatly minimize any distinction between men and women.
This of course leads to a dilemma when wrestling with the submission passages in the New Testament. Coughlin and Degler offer some creative, and unfortunate, solutions to this problem. First, they take the bite out of 1 Peter 3:1-6 by claiming it is only referencing submission to unsaved husbands (an interpretation of the text with which I disagree) (pp. 137-138). When discussing Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19 they totally dodge the submission issue by saying that each marriage has “its own ‘flavor’” and “each couple need to do the challenging spiritual work of figuring out who God wants you to be in your marriage” (pp. 142-143). This is paramount to saying that the inspired Scriptures cannot inform us of what God wants so we must figure it out for ourselves. For a book promoting assertive action, speaking the truth in love and conflict as a means of building intimate relationships, this is surely a cowardly explanation of submissiveness. The authors do in fact have a view on the subject. From Degler’s observation and counseling she claims that seldom is the problem lack of submission; it is that men are “emotionally, verbally, spiritually, and/or physically abusive…The real problem is not her alleged lack of submission—the real problem is his abusive words, attitudes and actions” (p. 144). This is a theme that will play out well for women looking to blameshift. The fact is God obviously sees lack of submission on the woman’s part as a major contribution to marital conflict, just as He sees men’s lack of love as a major contributor. To air-brush submission out of the equation and shift all the blame to the men is not only harmful for marriage but also a blatant twisting of Scripture. While trying to hide it, the authors are egalitarians who have chosen to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and hide behind psychological research and antidotal observation (pp. 49, 91, 141-144). They also throw in some good old folklore and proclaim that women have a special intuition (p. 43) that men don’t have (p. 136); when in doubt women should listen to their “gut” (p. 176).
Regarding antidotal observation, the authors offer many pieces of practical advice. Some of these may prove helpful but the reader needs to keep in mind that these are mere opinions and may (or do) contradict advice given in other so-called Christian self-help books that are not based on Scripture. The authors may protest that they do base their views on Scripture, for after all they not only offer the examples of Christ but also a handful of women found in Scripture (pp. 92-91). What the authors do not recognize is the hermeneutical principle: “narrative is not normative.” That is, because someone in Scripture behaved in a certain way does not mean we are to duplicate that action. In addition, a story given in Scripture, such as Deborah’s (pp. 82-83), which is not explained or amplified by the text itself, is subject to many interpretations. For example, was Deborah’s leadership in the time of the Judges a good thing or an example of the spiritual corruption that had engulfed the people and of the principle found in Isaiah 3:12 that women ruling over the nation was a sign of Israel’s rebelliousness?
Other more contemporary examples for assertive women include: Wonder Woman (p. 62), Mother Teresa (p. 91), and Randy Jackson (p. 104), the American Idol judge who Coughlin used in his previous book (Jackson is somehow the perfect example for both men and women of a contemporary assertive person).
The authors are concerned that women, in the name of being nice, are too passive. Instead they see “nice” based on fear, cowardice and even sin in disguise (p. 18). They would have women be good, which translates into assertive women who speak the truth in love, knowing they will produce conflicts that hopefully will lead to better relationships. In their central theme they are correct; it is the process of unpacking all of this that is flawed. Coughlin and Degler, in essence, ignore Scripture and when they do use the Bible they use selective reasoning and highly questionable interpretation. There is a reason the Lord did not choose to write certain portions of His Word to women and other portions to men. The teaching of the Word is applicable to both sexes, even as the Lord mandates certain distinctives in the roles. With the Bible carefully domesticated by authors they apparently feel free to offer their own pattern for women. This is a serious mistake.