No More Christian Nice Guy, by Paul Coughlin (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2005) 224 pp, paper $13.99
Paul Coughlin has recognized a real problem that exists in the Christian community and indeed throughout Western society. In the last couple of generations men have lost what it means to be men. In general, some men err on the side of aggressiveness while others become passive, even doormats in order to avoid conflict and trouble (pp. 83, 139, 217-218). It is the latter group that Coughlin targets, calling for masculine men who are neither passive nor aggressive but assertive (p. 93). The catalyst for the author’s concern is his own life as a passive, Christian Nice Guy (CNG) stemming from his abusive home life and his training in the church. Coughlin believes it is time for a new approach—one that he believes has not been in much use for 2,000 years (p. 27). The back cover tells us “John Eldredge gave men permission to be ‘Wild at Heart.’ Paul Coughlin shows us how to do it.”
I believe Coughlin is correct in his observation of many men. I recall a secular columnist, at least two decades ago, coining the term “the wimping of America” to describe the over-domestication of men in our society. There is little question that many men have abdicated their God-given role as leaders, protectors and providers. And as Coughlin correctly observes, in the Christian community Jesus has often been turned into some sort of “girly-man”—soft, tender, perfectly brushed hair, doe-eyed and infinitely passive. Such a Jesus never existed. Jesus was the epitome and perfect example of what a man is to be. Jesus was not only patient, loving, tender and kind—He was also fierce, bold, strong and ready to do battle. This balance needs to be restored, and Coughlin is right to say so.
Sadly, however No More Christian Nice Guy does little to correct the problem and draw men back to a biblical view of masculinity. This is true for a number of reasons:
• In an attempt to correct the meek and mild image of Jesus, Coughlin goes to the opposite extreme and portrays Jesus as a partier, “pottymouth,” one who swears, doesn’t have a job and lives off handouts (pp. 31-35). “Drinks are on [this Jesus].” This distortion of Jesus is worse than the distortion he seeks to correct and is due to mishandling the context and background of the Gospels. A good course in grammatical-historical hermeneutics would be very helpful for Coughlin’s understanding of Scripture.
• No More Christian Nice Guy is loaded with over-generalizations used to build the author’s case: he vilifies “the church” throughout, even as he uses quotes from “church” leaders to support his points (pp. 27, 61, 68-69, 92, 96-98, 106, 111-112, 115); he takes angry stabs at women in general (pp. 55-56, 59, 63, 126); he lumps most Christian business owners into the category of “wishy-washy,” manipulative, dishonest men (pp. 141-144); he claims, through some inexplicable means that emotionally disturbed boys outnumber girls four to one (p. 164).
• Coughlin’s most frequent over-generalization involves men themselves. He paints with a broad brush attributing the same characteristics to all CNGs rather than recognizing innumerable and complicated personalities and reactions to life. Coughlin draws a monolithic portrait of CNGs rather than understanding that the Lord has created us with infinite variety and uniqueness. Instead of recognizing this all men who have some of the characteristics on Coughlin’s radar are labeled as CNG.
• A revealing flaw in Coughlin’s solution to the CNG syndrome is his misunderstanding of what a masculine man really is. It is one thing to identify a problem; it is another to provide a solution. A solution cannot be offered if the goal is not clear. The author gives a reasonable definition: “Guys doing what God wants guys to do, and doing it in line with their true identity—before it was marred by human sin and especially shame—leading to a virtuous life marked by redemptive creativity, protection, purpose, and love” (p. 160). But when he gives examples of biblical masculinity he fails miserably. He offers three individuals that demonstrate his misunderstanding of masculinity: much like John Eldredge he sees a real man like a friend of his who cut and milled trees to build his own wilderness (no electricity) house, abandoned the church because he felt alien to its culture, road (and died) on a motorcycle and had “fire in his belly” (pp. 101-102). While his friend was admittedly rugged there is nothing in his life that defines a biblical man. An odd example is also given of Randy Jackson, the judge on “American Idol,” who, unlike the passive Paula Abdul and aggressive Simon Cowell, is assertive. But strangest of all is Frank Sinatra as one who “defined what it meant to be man for at least two generations. Blue Eyes is fine with me” (p. 134). When someone suggests that an abusive, womanizing, crime-connected, drunk is one of the best examples of what a “biblically masculine” man looks like, something is seriously wrong.
• Coughlin’s real problem is that he does not draw his understanding of a man from Scripture but from his own observations and a generous dose of psychobabble. He uses little Scripture throughout the book, and what he does use is often taken out of context or misinterpreted (e.g. pp. 41, 187-189). Rather, his source for truth is mostly himself and various “authorities” from psychologists and popularizers (e.g. Dale Carnegie, Dr. Laura, M. Scott Peck) to Roman Catholics (Mother Teresa) to mystics (Madame Guyon) to a wide scattering of Christian leaders. There is no attempt to define biblical manhood from the pages of Scripture. Why wouldn’t a book on this subject look at how God defines a real man in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, instead of quoting from numerous rabbis, mystics, psychologists and unbelievers?
• A good example of Coughlin’s capitulation to psychobabble is found in his rant about ministers needing to preach sermons like “How to Tell When Someone’s Lying to You” (p. 147). Later, when Coughlin offers his own “sermon” on the subject he makes absolutely no mention of Scripture, instead turns to debunked views on eye-contact, voice changes, body language, and when all else fails “gut instincts.”
• The author even spins history, telling us that the Holocaust is a result of CNGs, rather than hatred for Jews (p. 67). And he takes Martin Luther out of context quoting him as saying if you are going to sin, “sin boldly” (p. 163).
The draw of the book lies in its unrealistic promises:
Later I’ll explain how to escape the lifestyle that diminishes CNGs. Honesty and integrity will flourish in ways you always wanted but couldn’t enact. An unfamiliar power will flow once your “disease to please” is gone. Confidence, always so elusive, will replace crippling fear. Dreams will be dusted off and bolstered by newfound shrewdness, wisdom, and the good kind of cunning—three qualities Jesus exercised and said we should also. Purpose will finally enliven your days and bless your sleep. Hope will grow, and with it daring belief that God, who deep inside you thought was your greatest critic, is really your supreme advocate. Your better life will become a living testimony to his redemptive power and grace.
For Christian Nice Guys that presently feel surrounded by foes, this new reality will erase many dilemmas, phobias, and accusations, inner demons that collectively form a circular barbed-wire fence with no apparent gate (p. 24).
While Coughlin has recognized a real problem, he does not offer a biblical solution. He overgeneralizes, plays loose with Scripture, draws from corrupt sources and simply does not understand what a masculine man, as defined by Scripture, is. He is correct that our goal should not be to be nice but good. However he does not seem to know what “good” is, as God would describe it.