Promise Keepers (an update) – Part 5

(June/July 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 5)

The Teachings of Psychobabble

Promise Keepers appears to have two primary goals:

1. To develop godly men — “Promise Keepers is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to uniting men through vital relationships to become godly men who influence their world” (Men of Action, Fall 1993, p4).

2. To unify Christians and churches — “We believe that we have a God-given mission to unite men who are separated by race, geography, culture, denomination and economics” (Ibid).

In an earlier study (Promise Keepers an update, Part II) we examined in detail the ecumenical nature of Promise Keepers and found its stance in this area to be unbiblical. It is the subject of developing godly men that we wish to address at this time. We applaud Promise Keepers’ stated desire in this area and we do not wish to question their motives. Our concern is with the “how-to.” How do men (and women, for that matter) grow in godliness?

We have seen previously (Promise Keepers — an update, Part III) that Promise Keepers promote growth through:

The Keeping of The Seven Promises

Scripture, of course, would disagree with Promise Keepers on this issue. For example, Colossians 2:20-23 and Galatians 3:2,3 are clear that man-made rules have an appearance of godliness, but cannot produce godliness.

Only the Spirit of God, as we walk according to the Word of God, can produce godliness. Promise Keepers’ promises can lead to morality, but morality is a cheap substitute for the Spirit- led Christian life. What Promise Keepers prescribes is purely legalism. It is an attempt to bring the Christian back under the Law. For example, it is true that godly men do not cheat on their wives, but not cheating on one’s wife does not produce godly men. The legalists have things backwards by believing that good living produces godliness. Instead, Scripture teaches that godliness leads to righteous living.

Small Group Sharing Without Doctrine

Promise Keepers’ seventh promise reads: “A Promise Keeper is committed to pursue vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs his brothers to help keep his promises.”

Vital relationships with men in a small group setting is, according to Promise Keepers, necessary for godliness. Sounds good, but does it pass the test of Scripture? While fellowship within the body is important, and while God’s people have always encouraged each other in a variety of settings, the Bible never teaches this widely popular method for growth.

We find instead that God has given gifted men to the church to teach the Word which will in turn result in spiritual growth (Ephesians 4:11-16). Gil Rugh says, “When the church teaches people the Word, the people will grow spiritually and will no longer be “tossed” around by bad doctrine. As the Spirit of God enables men of God to teach the Word of God, the people of God will grow and mature. That is God’s plan for godliness. We do not have the right to decide that we have a better plan” (Promise Keepers, p21).

Enthusiastic Pep Rallies

While some true biblical instruction is given at the Promise Keepers stadium events, the rallies succeed on the back of hype and emotionalism. Men are not packing stadiums in order to hear detailed exposition of biblical truth (oh, that they were). They are coming for the music, fellowship and pep-rally atmosphere.

This is where the Charismatic influence (see Promise Keepers — an update, Part IV) is so powerful. Our primary concern is with the frequent revelations from God tossed about by many of the Charismatic and Vineyard leadership. I recently attended a Promise Keepers’ Pastors luncheon during which the Promise Keepers’ representative repeatedly reported God speaking directly to him. At one point he said, “I believe that God speaks to us today don’t you? You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.” — At that point I would have left, but I was still eating my ice cream.

There is one more prominent means used to develop godly men by Promise Keepers, and that is what some have called psychobabble. This is the futile endeavor, so widely accepted in Christianity today, of attempting to integrate secular psychology with the Scriptures. The result is always a disaster as we will see. The approach we will take is to cite several examples from the materials promoted by Promise Keepers based on their acceptance of psychobabble.

Winning the War Within

Psychobabble has absolutely inundated the Evangelical church. “Most Christian radio stations are saturated with Christian psychology programs, yet the vast majority of listeners to these programs know very little about the doctrine or church affiliation of these speakers. These men unify Christians, not on the basis of Scripture, but on their psychological influence which is trans-doctrinal” (Promise Keepers by Gil Rugh, p14).

A good example might be the first official book released by Promise Keepers, Winning the War Within. It is instructive to note that this volume was not written by theologians, bible teachers, pastors or other students of the Word. Rather, it was written by two counselors with training in secular psychology, Gary Smalley and John Trent. These two are probably best known for their association with James Dobson and their “right-brain/left-brain” theory (myth) that supposedly explains why men and women think differently (see their book, The Language of Love). This theory has been widely accepted in some Christian circles although it lacks both scientific evidence and more importantly, is not supported by the Word. In Winning the War Within, Smalley and Trent endorse an even more widely accepted myth, that of low self-esteem, as being the cause of most of our problems. For example they say:

“The degree of self-control you have in your life is in direct proportion to the degree of acceptance you have for yourself. Put another way, if you don’t value yourself, you won’t ‘pull in the reins’ on actions and attitudes that will affect you for the worst” (p44). They go on to say that addictions, guilt, pride and apathy are all caused by a distorted view of ourselves as a result of the damage caused to us by others.

So, if our sins (which is what addictions, pride, etc. are) are caused by low self-esteem, we would expect to find that Christ has come, at least in part, to save us from our own bad self-image (see Beyond Promises, p79). Bill McCartney seems to believe this when he says in Trent and Smalley’s book, that he came to Christ in order to “Gain some real satisfaction,” since he “wasn’t feeling good” about himself (p11).

Of course, the Scriptures do not sanction the low self-esteem theory — it is thoroughly out of sync with the whole message of the Bible. “The problem of the natural man is not that he fails to esteem or love himself enough; it is that he loves himself too much” (Beyond Promises, p81) — is the true message of Scripture.

Even though a salvation from low self-image is not a biblical teaching, it has found great acceptance Robert Schuller’s theology. In his infamous book, Self-Esteem, the New Reformation, he says, “As we focus on Jesus Christ, we shall discover a new theology, one that offers salvation from shame to self-esteem” (p39). Again, “God wants us to reclaim and redeem lost humanity. We must tell people everywhere that God wants all of us to feel good about ourselves” p58). Once again, “To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image — from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust” (p68).

What makes this critique of Promise Keepers’ teachings on self-esteem so vital is that Promise Keepers, like Robert Schuller, have not only distorted the biblical teachings on sanctification, but they have also distorted the message of the Gospel. The self-esteem gospel minimizes sin, points us inward instead of to Christ, ignores the true purpose of the cross and presents Christianity as a feel-good, self-oriented religion, instead of a call to deny self and follow Christ. Are those who respond to the gospel of self-esteem truly Christians, or have they been deceived? Paul’s attitude toward those who preached a false gospel was to condemn them (Galatians 1:6-9), not to join them!

Isn’t it amazing how most conservative Christians can see through the heresy of a Robert Schuller, but swallow completely the same garbage from a supposed psychological expert?

Bible Study Guides

One of the key elements in the Promise Keepers’ system is the use of small group Bible studies and sharing groups. What kind of materials are encouraged by Promise Keepers to be used in these small groups?

Keeping in mind that “theology” is off-limits (because it is divisive), what kind of materials could be used without stirring up trouble? Apparently those that are psychologically oriented. An excellent example is the Masculine Journey Study Guide, published by Navpress, and officially representative of Promise Keepers. Here are a couple of “Bible” study activities that the groups are to enjoy as they discuss their phallic, or sexual side:

The leaders are first warned that if the men in the group are having problems talking openly and empathetically with each other about their sex lives, they are to stop and talk about why they are having difficulty (p32). ~~And you wondered why so many men suddenly wanted to go to Bible studies.~~

After the leaders get beyond that hurdle here is one of the discussion questions: “Our culture has presented many initiation rites, or passages to manhood, that are associated with the phallus. Which ones have you experienced? Do you have a story to share with the other men about one such event? Some examples are: When were you potty trainedand when did you stop wetting the bed? Pubic hair and growth. An unfortunate experience with pornography. My first dating experience. My first really embarrassing moment with a girl. The wedding night. Conceiving my first child.”

Another activity starts out like this: “Man’s primary fantasy is ‘having access to as many beautiful women as desired without risking rejection,’” says Warren Farrell, who polled 106,000 men and women from all walks of life. Farrell also tabulated many secondary fantasies, some of which are listed here. From these options choose the one that best completes the sentence for you: ‘The daydream, wishful thinking, or primary fantasy that recurs for me is. . . .’”

Does this stuff sound like Bible study or Freudian psychology? Isn’t it interesting that Christian men can be united as they practice and apply godless theories from godless men, but they cannot discuss the Word of God!

The Masculine Journey

The Masculine Journey by Robert Hicks (the book as opposed to the previously mentioned study guide), is a classic example of what passes for biblical teaching in many circles today. Rather than turning to the Bible for truth, Hicks finds a concept in a secular book, then goes to the Scriptures to see if he can find some way to support that concept. Failing at that, he forces the Scriptures to mean whatever he wants in order to accomplish his purpose. He then passes off his views to unsuspecting and apparently ungrounded believers, who swallow every line.

Hicks’ book is built on the premise (not found in Scripture and unproven in research) that men pass through (or at least ought to) six stages of life. This theory did not emerge from the study of Scripture, but from secular psychologist Daniel Levinson’s book, The Seasons of a Man’s Life.

Hicks then identifies six Hebrew words that he believes dovetail with Levinson’s teachings. No Bible scholar would agree with Hicks’ exegesis but that does not stop Promise Keepers from endorsing his book. Hicks says that males were meant to pass through the following stages: Noble savage, phallic (sexual), warrior, wounded, maturity and mentor.

Since Hicks develops his thoughts through a combination of personal experience, psychological theories and biblical principles, his views are a mixture of a great deal of error with just enough truth to deceive poorly taught Christians. Yet, amazingly Howard Hendricks, long time professor of Dallas Seminary, endorses the book.

Space does not permit a thorough critique of The Masculine Journey, but we will attempt to point out a few of the more obvious areas of concern:

Hicks’ primary resources are secular psychologists, etc. His book is full of references to Freud, Jung, Levinson, Margaret Meed, Gail Sheehy, etc.

Hicks all but glorifies war and violence that is characteristic of the warrior stage. In addition, he does not recognize the element of pride that is behind much of this conflict. For example, he says with approval, “To be a male warrior is to be characterized by strength, competing to be superior, using one’s energy to be prominent, or vying to be important or to gain significance” (p77). The believer might think of James 4:1-3 in light of such a statement.

Borrowing from Robert Bly (secular men’s movement leader) and Carl Jung (self-confessed demon-possessed contemporary of Freud), Hicks claims that, “In order for men to discover what manhood is all about, they must descend into the deep places of their own souls and find their accumulated grief” (p99). Nowhere in Scripture is anything like this taught but it has become a fad among many Christians, thanks to the writings of men like Larry Crabb (see Inside Out, by Crabb).

Hicks apparently has a low view of Scripture. The most blatant example of this is found on page 114: “I call the Psalms of David the musings of a manic-depressive.” The Holy Spirit is surely impressed with such a statement!?

He clearly soft pedals sin. In an interesting paragraph concerning “Christian” homosexuals, Marxists and Catholics that he has known, rather than confronting such people he confesses, “I have learned that the way to look at the world is not necessarily through the lens or categories I currently believe are the correct ones” (p134).

In an incredible statement on page 177 Hicks says, “I’m sure many would balk at my thought of celebrating the experience of sin. I’m not sure how we could do it. But I do know we need to do it. For example, we usually give the teenagers in our churches such a massive dose of condemnation regarding their first experience with the police, or their first drunk, or their first experience. . . with sex or drugs. Maybe we could look upon this as a teachable moment and a rite of passage. Is this putting a benediction on sin? Of course not, but perhaps at this point the true elders could come forward and confess their own adolescent sins and congratulate the next generation for being human” (p177). —Unbelievable!!!

He has an almost blasphemous view of Christ. He claimed that Jesus experienced homosexual temptation (p181). A careful study of Romans 1:18ff would reveal his mistake here.

He makes numerous erroneous statements about male sexuality, claiming that the second stage of manhood is the phallus (penis) stage (p48). Hicks goes on to state, “The phallus has always been the symbol of religious devotion and dedication” (p51). Also, “Improper teaching on phallus will drive men into sexual sins because their spiritual God-hunger is not satisfied. Sexual energy is essentially spiritual” (p55). Again, “Our sexual problems only reveal how desperate we are to express, in some perverted form, the deep compulsion to worship with our phallus” (p56).

I trust that the complete ridiculousness of such statements (that spring from the well of godless psychology, not Scripture) are obvious to any student of the Bible.

Due to an outcry of criticism concerning The Masculine Journey, Promise Keepers has recently attempted to distance itself somewhat from the book. They no longer sell it, but on the other hand they have not retracted their support of the book, nor repented for promoting its teachings.

As a matter of fact, in its official letter in answer to criticism, they turned the tables on the critics by claiming that the problem was not with the content of the book, but “In the way that the book is read.” If we are offended by the teaching in The Masculine Journey, that is our problem, not theirs. Is this the way “men of integrity” are supposed to apologize for error?

Promise Keepers goes on to say, despite the books’ faults it is, “A biblically-centered, frank and honest account of a man’s journey with God. We were convinced that it would help men pursue Jesus Christ amidst the challenges of the twentieth century. . . . We endorse it because we believed that it would be a tool that challenged men to grow in Christlikeness, to become “zaken” or wise men of God, as Hicks writes.”

As is obvious, “The issue is not whether or not Promise Keepers teaches doctrine. The issue is really whether or not it teaches true doctrine” (Beyond Promises, p109).

Unfortunately, we are discovering that in far too many cases — it does not!


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