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Monday, October 10, 2005

A Manifesto For Authentic Christian Manhood And A Polemic Against Pseudo-Christian Effeminacy

A Manifesto For Authentic Christian Manhood And

A Polemic Against Pseudo-Christian Effeminacy

A Review

By Forrest W. Schultz

Paul Coughlin, No More Christian Nice Guy: When Being Nice -- Instead of
Good – Hurts Men, Women, and Children (Minneapolis, MN:
Bethany House, 2005)

The book under review here carefully distinguishes authentic masculinity from two different distortions: (1). a nasty, malicious perversion of masculinity and (2). a wimpish, effeminate abdication of masculinity. The author focuses his polemic against the latter distortion because this is the one which is most prevalent in contemporary American conservative Protestantism, which is the book’s intended readership. It is to this pseudo-christian effeminacy that the author refers by his term “Christian Nice Guy”.

The book’s topic is a timely one because the nice-guy syndrome has proliferated to such an extent and to such a degree that the virile robustness once associated with evangelical manhood has now been vitiated into a bland spinelessness which could be aptly designated as evanjellycal, which is more appropriate than Francis Nigel Lee’s term “evanjellyfish”, because at least the jellyfish has a sting! The book’s message is very important because a genuine revival of the church will not occur unless the “Christian nice-guys” heed the message, forsake their spinelessness, and assume the challenge of adopting the authentic Christian masculinity

Since the author is a radio talk show host, it is not surprising that the book is written in a provocative and often humorous style. And it consists not only of exposition but of liberal portions of anecdotal material and quotations which help drive home his points. I was especially pleased to see an abundance of quotations from C. S. Lewis, who is not only one of my favorite writers but also one of those with one of the deepest insights into the true meaning of masculinity and femininity. In short, Coughlin’s book is a helpful manual which is also very readable.


But it is not a work of scholarship – there are no footnotes, no bibliography, and no references to or citations from the more advanced treatments of the subject found in such works as Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, Ann Douglas’s The Feminization of American Religion, and the writings of R. J. Rushdoony and other christian reconstructionists. Consequently certain subjects are not handled with sufficient depth. The best example of this is seen in the author’s treatment of the demasculinizing effects of the modern workplace. Coughlin meanders around but never really gets to the heart of the matter because he fails to challenge the work/family dichotomy, which has characterized our economy since the early 19th century. He never even considers as an answer what was the norm prior to that time, namely the home-based business in which the man did his work at home with his wife as his administrative assistant and his children as his helpers. An excellent treatment of this all-important matter is found in Bellah, but apparently it is a matter of which Coughlin is unaware. Bellah shows how the modern conception of the father leaving the home to go to work led to the feminization of the family and church, which is the major factor which led to the demasculinzed nice guy. The authority of the father is also undermined by the modern practice of dating, yet Coughlin seems to blissfully unaware of that and of its promotion of premarital sexual contact and intercourse. He notes the attack upon dating but dismisses it without examining the works where these attacks are found, such as I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Joshua Harris, one of the most thoughtful young men of our time, whose opposition to dating cannot be rightly construed as a wimpish retreatism, as Coughlin implies. This kind of surficial thinking is the book’s chief weakness.

When Scripture is quoted (which is not too frequently) it is expounded properly with one egregious exception: the episode of Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Coughlin grossly misinterprets this Scripture by supposing that the derogatory term “dogs” used by our Lord refers to women! (p. 43) Jesus is here drawing a distinction between Jews (the “children”) and Gentiles (the “dogs”), not between men and women.

I was disappointed to see that Coughlin had no comment whatever to make upon how Cotton Mather’s surprising remark about women’s supposed superior godliness could be reconciled with the virile manhood which was integral to the kind of Puritanism which Mather embodied. (pp. 48, 61) Here Coughlin deviates markedly from the radio talk show hosts, who love to talk about shocking stuff like that.


The last criticism I shall make is, I hope, not nit-picking, but rather indicative of a concern for accuracy. Contra Coughlin, the fictitious character created to embody spinelessness was Caspar Milquetoast, not Marvin Milquetoast, as Coughlin supposes. (p. 116)

My recommendation is to read this book and heed its message. Then go on to read and heed the messages in the more advanced works I indicated. If Christian men rise to this challenge the result will be the authentic Christian masculinity which will be a joy to live and which will invigorate the church, making it a good example to set before the watching world.



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