Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Are the Promise Keepers making a comeback?

There is an interesting piece in Slate about Promise Keepers. In case you did not know, the once enormously popular (among many evangelicals) ministry is staging for a comeback. For the purpose of full disclosure I will state that I am not a fan of Promise Keepers. It is not because they teach male headship in the home and church. I am convinced the Bible calls men to the key positions of leadership. My problem with Promise Keepers is that it was too broadly evangelical (some of the theology was sloppy) and that it depended upon emotions and hype.

This is not to say Promise Keepers did no good. God frequently uses flawed vessels in the service of his will. However, there were/are too many problems with Promise Keepers for me to be able to support it. The church is already too fascinated with fads. This is nothing new. Charles Finney found great success through hype and new "excitements".

The article in Slate has a few problems as well. The writer, Lilly Fowler is clearly no fan of the idea of male leadership. Also, there seems to be a bias against Promise Keeper's stand on moral issues. However, Fowler does, in my mind get some important points right.

McCartney aimed for P.K. to infiltrate every church in America— regardless of its specific denomination. After the stadium rallies swept through town, P.K. men were to take what they learned back to their local church and, in small groups, share the struggles they faced in their attempts to be godly men. In Bartkowski's essay "Breaking Walls, Raising Fences," an interviewee recalled that in one P.K. small-group moment, "otherwise 'strong men' ended up weeping profusely and rolling on the floor in anguish after learning that the vast majority of them had been sexually abused as children." P.K. uniquely allowed men to be vulnerable and intimate with one another. The organization presented the perfect combination of religion and pop psychology, a mishmash that would appeal to men from diverse backgrounds: those who felt their worldview aligned with P.K. as well as those who may have had a less clear vision but who clung to the opportunity for self-improvement, as Stephen D. Johnson noted in "Who Supports the Promise Keepers?"

But Promise Keepers also offered something different from a church: an unmediated relationship with God. The stadium rallies produce an intimate, almost frenzied relationship with God that create a high—which even an alcohol-abstaining Christian man might seek out. But for how long? The P.K. experience that might have created an ecclesiastical euphoria the first time might not bring the same high the next time. Bartkowski thinks that to continue to bring men back, to sustain the high, P.K. needs to present something new—always. This year, at least, that something new comes in the form of women and Messianic Jews...

In any case, the outreach to women and Jews won't really help the Promise Keepers once again pack stadiums with adoring men. To include women and Jews, even those who believe in Jesus Christ, will dilute the group's focus rather than expand its reach, says Bartkowski. Like a rock band that attempts to resurrect itself, getting the groove back is a daunting task. The concerts, the music, and the fans belong to a certain time; try as the group might, things will never quite be the same, as natural as it is for P.K. and leaders like McCartney to yearn for it to be so.
Read the entire article HERE.

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