Monday, August 26, 2013

Tough Guys and Public Cries...

"Promise Keepers, eh? Nice. Have a good public cry for me."

That was the response from a friend of mine who wondered if Erin and I wanted to hang out last Saturday. I told him I couldn't because I'd be at Promise Keepers in Battle Creek and he responded with the above barb. I have to admit that it did elicit a genuine guffaw. Because it rings true. There is a certain kind of overly open and emotive guy who seems drawn to PK—the kind of guy for whom everything is cause for a big, fat-roll-maneuvering, tear-and-snot-soaked hug. I'm pretty sure these guys think Jesus was constantly making sobby confessions and praying out earnest blessings on every random thing like God was working on straight commission. Having read the Gospels a couple hundred times, I just don't see it.

As it happens, one of my favorite authors, Cliff Graham just tweeted on this very topic today, saying, "It's a shame that men are pressured so hard to be emotional. It's healthy to have emotions, and men should be encouraged to be emotional in a healthy way, especially in their closest relationships. But some men are simply stoic by nature. They're tough. They get things done and don't weep their way through it. Let them be."

All the same, I love Promise Keepers. My dad brought me to my first event at the Silverdome in 1995 and I've gone now to 15 events, including the Stand In the Gap gathering in Washington DC (apparently the seventh largest religious gathering ever). The format and focus of PK has changed through the years (although this year had kind of a "return to basics" thrust), but I still get the same vibe that I did at the very beginning.

However, having spent a decade entrenched in super-sacred academia and almost another decade after that constantly retreating to my ivory tower of exegesis and systematic theology, I approach preaching a little bit differently than I did when I was seventeen. When I listen to others' preaching, I can't help but analyze. I don't mean that I'm counting verbal ticks and monitoring eye contact; I can let that stuff slide. I mean I've got my heresy radar set to "hyper-sensitive." And, believe me, I've heard plenty of heresies at PK over the years. Everything from a former weatherman encouraging the entire stadium full of men to repeat the words, "My heart is not wicked!" with him (shudder) to a retired football coach equating the Gospel with "telling God you want him to be your daddy."

This year's pretty much relatively heresy-free (although an odd emphasis on the nation of Israel, which just seemed . . . arbitrary). I heard one of the best Gospel messages I've heard in years from a retired NFL player named Derwin Gray and at least two hundred men went forward (yeah, I know the altar call smacks of Finneyism, but who can even hear themselves critiquing the methodsology over the roar of Heaven rejoicing for these precious souls turning to Christ in repentance?). The emcee was Propaganda! (Yes, the guy who did the "Gospel in Four Minutes" video...) And Jeremy Camp led worship and played an amazing concert that blew my mind.

There was some Law/Gospel confusion, but you have that in almost every pulpit in the country. My main critique would be that, had everyone simply redacted the word "personal" each time it was used, not only would their presentations have all been tighter, but we'd have left ninety minutes earlier and I'd have had more time to fine-tune my sermon for Sunday morning. Also, PK's comedian-in-residence seems to have forgotten he was a comedian as he ranted and raved and yelled at the crowd, spouting conspiracy theories and political vitriol that make Glenn Beck look like a moderate.

I know it's weird that I, a theologically conservative, Calvinistic, confessional, Reformed Baptist, still love these ubertestosteroned, trying-too-hard-to-be-relevant, revivalist conferences long after the fad has died and its ashes scattered in the river of pop-Christianity. But so what?

I saw the front of the arena swarmed with men seeking prayer for marriages that were hanging by a thread. I saw a hundred men go forward for prayer because they're struggling with loneliness. I suppose they were perpetuating some PK stereotype by crying, but I couldn't care less. I keep remembering one particular fat, awkward guy, waddling his way back to his seat after that prayer. It was clear that he had come to the event all by himself. But he wasn't alone at all after that. The men around him prayed with him, hugged him, exchanged information. And I keep praying for him. How corny, right? Unless you're that guy. Or unless Jesus died for that guy. Which he did.

Sure, Promise Keepers is somewhat contrived. Sure, it's over-produced. Sure, it's full of shows of emotion that would normally be considered embarrassing (I saw some dancing that made the RNC delegates look like Usher). But,hey, Michal was embarrassed by David's show of emotion before the ark too.

If I could change just one thing, though, I'd have replaced just one speaker. I've heard him four times now, and it's been literally the same thing every year. Cincinnati. Cleveland. Grand Rapids. Same sermon. Same video. Same jokes. Same self-aggrandizing. Same do-it-yourself religion.

Who would I replace him with? Oh, I dunno. How about Kevin DeYoung or Todd Friel. Or if those guys aren't free, how

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