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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

The First Turning, and the Second

For those of us who grew up during the Sensitive Man era, Promise Keepers (God bless them) inserted the religious component back into the ideal-male construct.  Promise Keepers deserves our heartfelt thank-you.  I call their teaching “the First Turning.”  Now a Second Turning has begun.


Men across the globe hunger for a more earthy, raw, powerful, and pugnacious spiritual dimension that is—I’ll say it—more manly than what they have now.  I’ve talked with them face-to-face, at home and abroad.  I receive their letters and e-mails from England, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, Germany, France, Uganda, Canada, and from countries I’ve had to Google to find on the map.  They want a vitality of soul that their ancestors had but that now seems to have skipped at least a generation or two.


One man from Australia writes:


The “nice” perversion [the misconception that being nice is the same as being good] is widespread across society, and as a parent of a five-year-old boy I am appalled at the prevalence of weak, non-masculine male role models in children’s media as well as the church.  Promo shots for leading male stars of the Christian Music industry look sweet, sickly sweet, to comply with the phony image of our Saviour.

There has been a determination to recreate God in our own image and [to] give my son a complete “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” makeover.  That scruffy Hebrew carpenter with questionable manners, too inclined to embarrass his betters, apparently became over time clearly unacceptable to the church he originally founded, much as he had been to the Pharisees and Sadducees of his time on earth. 

No wonder there has been a crisis in church membership and a serious failure to bring seekers to the one true God.


Another from Kansas wants men to remain men when they come to Christ.


What is it about church that turns us Christian men into such weenies?  I’ve seen men come to our church, men who were known for being bold and decisive.  And instead of blessing us with their boldness and ability to make tough decisions so we can take more hills for the kingdom, they become so pliable and innocuous.  We already have plenty of those.  It’s the main reason why we don’t do anything meaningful!


Perry Atkinson, a mentor of mine for nearly twenty years and general manager of The Dove radio station, often says that when his thumos gets rumbling, Christian men hide their cowardice behind a gentle spirit.  But it’s not fooling him.


For some reason Christian men leave their guts [behind] when they enter the church boardroom.  They forget about commonsense practices that make organizations healthier and better and instead make decisions that no one would make in their own homes.  They don’t want to make the hard decisions, so they make the easy ones, which ruin churches.


I think this is as good a definition of a martial spirit as any other; the ability to make the hard decision when the easy one looks so “Christian.”


Have you tried to grow spiritually, love deeply, and lead reliably without a fighting animus?  How’d that work for you?  If you’re like me—for decades I was told that all I really needed to do was pray hard, read my Bible regularly, and “sacrifice” everything for my wife and family—you’ll conclude that this model is a colossal failure.


A non-martial approach toward male life doesn’t work.  It never has.  The successful, handmade-suit-wearing ministers who have sold this recipe for disaster from expensive sanctuary stages don’t live it themselves.  I’ve met some of them, and I keep meeting them; they, like the Pharisees, are telling you to live one way while they live another (after the microphones and cameras are off).


One reason they do this is that they know a Christian man just can’t be very honest about his thumotic nature.  Most congregations don’t want a tough minister (until they face hardships)—they want someone who’s going to make them feel warm inside.  So pastors think that if they reveal too much of their pugnacious spiritedness, the kind Jesus possessed, they’ll be condemned as not being Christlike.  So like Clark Kent, they keep their true identity hidden, especially from older congregants, the blue-haired mafia, which hold a lot of power in most churches.


One spiritually negligent pastor of mine, a man who punctured my martial spirit, was a stellar player of “the thumos shell game.”  His sermons were constant warnings against assertive and aggressive behavior.  One of his favorite passages is where King David and his men were pelted with rocks by an angry man:


[One of David’s men, Abishai,] said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?  Let me go over and cut off his head.”

But the king said…”If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”


The pastor’s clear message: If people attack you, it’s the Lord’s will.  Give no place to your martial spirit—do not defend yourself or others.


Unfortunately, I and many other young men listened.  Amazingly, hypocritically, this same man later hired bodyguards for personal protection.  The only time he publicly expressed anger was when he attacked beliefs that threatened his fine-point theological stances.  I never heard him get angry about injustice, or lack of mercy, or the other matters God says he wants us to take most seriously.


This spiritually naïve pastor told us that if we experience resistance in life, then God clearly is telling us no.  Again, though, he had no interest in walking his own talk.  For instance, when his church had a hard time getting building permits in order to expand—that is, it received resistance—he fought back )contrary to his constant harping about God’s supposed will).  And when the church still couldn’t get the permits they wanted, they built anyway.


If resistance were God’s way of telling us no, then no book worth reading would be written.  There would be no Pilgrim’s Progress (written in prison), and we wouldn’t have most of Paul’s epistles (written in prison).  We can thank God that Martin Luther, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Tony Campolo, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Mike Yaconelli, Gary Haugen, Desmond Tutu, and so many others who have changed the world for the better did not follow an insipid and simplistic belief that helps define invertebrate Christianity and that could have killed their godly martial spirit.


Most successful people, like the aforementioned pastor, regardless of the path they’ve taken or the path that has taken them, do have a martial spirit.  Well, all people do.  Let me clarify: These people tap into it while most other Christians don’t.  They feed it red meat.  They train it, discipline it, argue with it, and employ it.  But many of them compel you to scourge and crucify it because this is what the unbiblical, hypocritical, and spiritually destructive Official Script demands.  The Official Script (see chapter 6) is what we come up with when we sift the Scriptures and only emphasize the mild ones so that we can sanctify mildness and eradicate discomfort from our lives.


Earlier I mentioned a “Second Turning,” currently underway, of grafting the martial spirit back into men.  This is one of my goals during conferences: to help men more accurately see their male essence, an essence that for decades has been portrayed as synonymous with their sin nature.  The Second Turning retains sensitivity to women and children and God, but it shows itself in stronger, more emboldened, more courageous ways.  It protects and cherishes the church as well as family, mercy, and justice.


This model provides wholeness, and with it, integrity.  Men with integrity use force, but they use it justly.  Remember Jesus’ words at the beginning of this chapter—the words that, like so many other Jesus statements, appear so unchristian?  “The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”


We don’t trust people who do not use force justly, or at least we don’t trust them for very long.  Women certainly don’t trust men who lack the willingness to use force, and children are nervous around fathers incapable of using force.  When these fathers fail their children, it feels to them like far more than a mere mistake.  It is remembered as a betrayal.  Children expect their father to flex his power when it’s needed, and they are filled with disdain when he won’t.


I was a paperboy in Reseda, California, when I was ten.  And one day I came home from school to some very bad news: I broke someone’s window with a newspaper—or so the owner said.  So my dad drove me to the scene of the crime, an old two-story apartment complex.  The window I supposedly broke belonged to an elderly couple who kept their apartment thermostat at around boiling.  I could barely breathe when my father and I entered the low-watt-bulb apartment of this strangely quiet and very guilty-looking couple whose apartment smelled like an old shoe packed with Vick’s VapoRub.


They showed us their broken window.  I searched my troubled mind to remember if I had broken it and if so, how?  I was a pretty good shot with a newspaper back then, so I actually never went up to the second story to deliver their paper.  I would throw it from below, lobbing it over the guardrail, floating it onto their front doorstep.  My father knew that there was no way such a small paper could pack that kind of wallop.  But still, the window was broken, and these two old people were pinning it on me.


We were about to leave their sweltering apartment, guilty as charged, when my father stopped and, like Columbo, looked to his left at the window one last time.  “Your window, it’s broken from the inside,” he said in his Irish accent.  “It’s sticking out, not in.”


My father spoke as if you were fined for using too many words, which made him both intriguing and frustrating to me as a son.  So instead of calling them rats, he just stared at them for their response.  That sandcastle frail, ghost-like, and dishonest couple just stared back at us, more half-dead than alive, without a sign of remorse.  We left silently as well.


This story may not sound like much to you, but on our ride home, next to my old-Spice-smelling father in his mustard-colored short-sleeved permapress Penney’s work shirt, my soul swelled, because I knew I had an advocate, protector, defender, a catcher in the rue—a father of quiet and judicious force that I could rely upon.  I do the same for my three kids.  I’ve done the same for other kids.


Unlike the contemporary, synthetic male, men who complete the Second Turning are more organically connected to their God-created nature.  They are more comfortable in their god-fashioned soul.  As such, they’re far better able to embrace and fulfill their destiny as a warrior of light.


The martial man will fight spiritually because not only will he have permission, he also will have a new set of spiritual weapons.  Thumos, as the Christian monk and ascetic Evagrius Ponticus observed, is “an essential weapon in the spiritual arsenal which must be properly controlled and employed against the enemy.”  Life without thumos is how men remain soulfully flat and self-absorbed.  It’s not because they don’t have regular Bible studies or attend accountability groups, but because they fail to emulate biblical courage, and their gatherings usually lack thumotic earthiness, spiritedness, and playfulness.  Take those qualities away, and you take away real male fellowship and brotherhood.

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. 

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