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Text Sermons : ~Other Speakers A-F : Discernment Reasearch Articles : Is What You See What You Get? by Al Dager

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Anticipation hangs heavy over the stadium as some 27,000 men make their way to seats becoming increasingly sparse. The mood is festive as large beach balls are punched with vigor, sending them on a never-ending course throughout the crowd. A Styrofoam glider wafts its way from the upper regions, accompanied by ooohs and aaahs. Appearing to nose toward a crash, it suddenly catches a small thermal and lifts itself a little higher. Each time it descends into the crowd it is caught by someone and again sent on its way.

A small group of men on one side of the stadium begins to chant: "We love Jesus; yes we do! We love Jesus, how 'bout you?" The shout grows louder as more voices join in. Soon the other side of the stadium picks up the challenge. No one wins, it's a tie as to which side shouts loudest.

An announcement goes out over the speakers, asking the men to stop flying paper airplanes as a precaution against possible eye damage.

A ripple begins to form in one corner. Before long it makes its way into a wave, circling the stadium, as men rise from their seats, arms raised, to shout. At first those on the stadium floor can merely pivot in place, watching the wave encircle them. Then, they, too, join in as a group at the end of the circle rises, sending the wave diagonally across the stadium floor.

The appointed time to begin the program has come and gone, but there is no impatience as the men are caught up in their boyish festivities. It's a warm summer day, everyone is having fun. So what's the rush?

About 20 minutes go by, most everyone oblivious to the delay. Suddenly a low rumble (is it thunder?) begins softly and becomes louder. It's the sound of a jet aircraft piercing the stadium from the huge speakers strategically placed for maximum effectiveness. The large screen displays the takeoff of a jumbo jet as the announcer welcomes the crowd to the flight for restored manhood.

The stadium, full now, erupts in a cheer. These men have come for something special; they have come to the Promise Keepers convention in Portland, Oregon. They expect to hear words that will kindle in them a zeal for commitment to their role as men at home, in their church, and in their community.


The first speaker, Greg Laurie, gives an impassioned message, calling for response to the offer of salvation or recommitment to Christ. To thunderous applause, about 3,000 men stream from every area of the stadium to take their position in front of the stage. A good beginning to an emotionally charged day just getting under way.

Speaker follows speaker, building on the Promise Keepers' theme to "Seize the Day!" Men are encouraged to take their rightful position of leadership and involvement in their churches, in their homes, and in their communities.

Closing the festivities, the founder of Promise Keepers, Bill McCartney, displays his talent for motivating men---a talent that has won him national acclaim as head football coach for the University of Colorado. Toward the end of his pep talk, McCartney calls for all the pastors present to come forward for prayer. Thousands of men respond, demonstrating the pastoral support for this new and unique outreach. When McCartney urges the crowd to demonstrate their appreciation for them they are rewarded with such prolonged, enthusiastic cheering that one might suspect it could be heard in Vancouver, Washington.

The men are dismissed to their homes, charged with excitement, determined to be "men of integrity." They have renewed their commitment to their role as husband, father, church member, and American. Some have determined to become Point Men or Ambassadors, taking the Promise Keepers program into their churches.

Point Men are the primary contacts with the churches. They inform of conferences, training seminars and resources, and organize promotion of Promise Keepers conferences. Ambassadors introduce Promise Keepers to the churches in the communities, and recruit Point Men.

No matter what one may think of Promise Keepers, one must be impressed with the sheer energy, organization and ability to move men to action that is characteristic of a Promise Keepers convention. A movement of this magnitude, having arisen in the course of four short years, warrants study. The enthusiasm expressed by virtually everyone who has heard of Promise Keepers demonstrates that something of importance is occurring. Nearly everyone to whom I've revealed that I am doing a study of Promise Keepers has reacted in the same manner: screwing up their faces they exclaim, "Don't tell me there's something wrong with Promise Keepers!'

Can anything really be that good? Is any organization so without blemish that it merits blind loyalty and rejection of any fair criticism? The Lord promised that at the end He would present to Himself a church without spot or blemish. We know that the church is nowhere near that condition. So why would we expect that any organization whose aim is to impact all the churches with their philosophy would be without spot or blemish---especially in view of the diverse and numerous contributors to the organization's messages?

It's precisely because Promise Keepers promotes the messages of varied teachers---from psychologists to charismatics, to fundamentalists---that discernment is essential. Let us be encouraged that today there is a genuine desire among men to take seriously their responsibilities before God. But let's not be blind about the frailties of men-even men who hold all good intentions for the pursuit of excellence in their Christian walk.


While on an automobile trip from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado in 1990, University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney was speaking with a friend about the need for a men's ministry. During a luncheon at which he spoke, he noticed several fathers in attendance with their sons. This brought to mind Proverbs 27:17: Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."

Within weeks, McCartney brought several others together for prayer and a brainstorming. session, and Promise Keepers was born.

Writing in the Promise Keepers' book, What Makes a Man?, Leighton Ford conveys what Bill McCartney told him was his number one goal in life.'

What he said has stuck with me to this day. He said, "We want to beat Notre Dame and want to be number one. But my real goal is to use what influence I have to help raise up a generation of promise keepers. I think we need people in our country who will be promise keepers---in our families, in our businesses, in our public life, in everything (Leighton Ford, What Makes a Man? Twelve Promises That Will Change Your Life, Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 1992, p. 18).

Promise Keepers growth has been phenomenal. 4,200 men attended their first convention at the Coors' Event Center in Boulder, Colorado, in 1991. Their next convention in 1992 drew 22,000 men. 1993 saw 50,000 men attend the Promise Keepers convention. The total for 1994 will near 300,000 men at seven conventions, representing a growth rate of 600% in one year alone! It Is projected that, in 1995, up to 750,000 men, including 60,000 pastors, will attend Promise Keepers conventions. The goal for 1996 is for one million men to meet in Washington D.C. as a witness to the nation of God's power In the lives of men.

Although Bill McCartney is credited with founding Promise Keepers, today he is basically the figurehead. The administrative duties for the organization are in the hands of its president, Randy Phillips, who currently has 80 fulltime workers. According to McCartney, "it's growing by leaps and bounds Bill McCartney, message given at Promise Keepers Convention, Portland, Oregon, June 18, 1994). Phillips attributes the growth to a new move of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Gary Oliver, master of ceremonies at the Promise Keepers convention in Portland, Oregon, stated that Promise Keepers receives 10,000 phone calls and up to 5,000 pieces of mail per day (Gary Oliver, message given at Promise Keepers Convention, Portland, Oregon, June 18, 1994).

In practical terms, much of the Promise Keepers success can be attributed to certain men who have given their wholehearted endorsement. These include Bill Bright, Gary Smalley, and psychologist, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. These men's influence within the Christian community touches millions of lives. Dobson has promoted Promise Keepers most effectively through his nationwide broadcasts over hundreds of radio stations. He urges wives to get their husbands involved. Almost since its inception, Promise Keepers has become a topic of mention on these programs several times. Today there is hardly a church---at least among those that would call themselves "evangelical'---that has not been impacted to some degree by Promise Keepers.


Promise Keepers operates on the belief that God wants to reestablish men in leadership and responsibility in three areas: home, church and community. To accomplish this, says McCartney, men must commit to what he calls the three non-negotiables of manhood: integrity, commitment and action (Bill McCartney, What Makes a Man? op. cit., p. 11).

If you were to take the word integrity and reduce it to its simplest terms you'd conclude that a man of integrity is a promise keeper. He's a guy who, when he says something, can be trusted. When he gives his word, you can take it to the bank. His word is good (Ibid., p. 12).

But, as McCartney notes, being a promise keeper is easier said than done. It takes genuine commitment to fulfill one's promises, and that commitment must be translated into action.

The philosophy of Promise Keepers is best summed up in its "Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper":

Promise 1: A Man and His God: "A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to God's Word in the power of the Holy Spirit."

Promise 2: A Man and His Mentors: "A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises."

Promise 3: A Man and His Integrity: "A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity."

Promise 4: A Man and His Family: "A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values."

Promise 5: A Man and His Church: "A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources."

Promise 6: A Man and His Brothers: "A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity."

Promise 7: A Man and His World: "A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
(Various writers, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family Publishing Co., 1994).

Certainly on the face of it, no one can argue with any of these statements. Nor can anyone deny that the zeal inspired through the electrically charged atmosphere of a Promise Keepers convention appears to be an effective means to motivate men toward these ideals. Certainly men must take the role of leadership in their homes and church fellowships if they will be in obedience to God's Word. And male leadership in government and the community is to be desired. One evidence of a nation's fall from grace is that women will rule over it (Isaiah 3:12).

Promise Keepers has much to offer in affirmation of this truth. But a Promise Keepers convention isn't going to go far beyond a cursory explanation of, and challenge to commit to, the seven promises. In order to get to the heart of Promise Keepers, one must read extensively through their literature. This we have done. We also interviewed Randy Phillips whom we thank for much of the information contained herein.

While we find much with which we would be in agreement with Promise Keepers---even enthusiastic agreement---there are areas of concern that require consideration by anyone interested in involving themselves or their fellowship with Promise Keepers.

Since Promise Keepers does not have its own publishing house, their books are published by others---principally, Focus on the Family and NavPress. Their magazine, New Man, is published by Strang Communications, publishers of Charisma magazine. Sadly, these publishers represent some of the strongest promoters of psychology and aberrant doctrine.

It should be noted that, inasmuch as Promise Keepers endorses and publishes the writings of a diverse group of men, there are some conflicting statements (some good, some bad) found from one person to another among Promise Keepers' materials and those they recommend. It's a mixed bag of human wisdom and biblical truth. Unfortunately, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. And it's difficult to say, Thus saith Promise Keepers. Randy Phillips has indicated that much is left to individual preference. There is no discernment offered from the top.


The issue of self-love is one on which we find some differences of opinion among Promise Keepers writers. On the biblical side of the issue we find Don Osgood's statement in What Makes a Man?

The reason love of possessions is wrong is that it is the way we get trapped into preoccupation with ourselves. Real love looks out for someone, wishes good for someone, gives to someone. But love of possessions is loving ourselves, taking care of us, wishing good for us, giving to us. A family where each one is acquiring something just for self is a bankrupt family, whether or not the money has run out. And it usually won't be long before the money runs out. If we truly love someone, we are willing to deny ourselves (Don Osgood, What Makes a Man? op. cit., p. 97).

But Osgood's teaching is in contrast to the teachings of Gary Smalley and John Trent, found in the same book!

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 worse.... If you're caught up in the first steps of any addiction or twenty miles down the road, there's a hole in your heart, an inner hurt, and dislike of self that can make you worthy of failure, but not successes (Gary Smalley and John Trent, Ibid., pp. 44-45).

Osgood's advice is biblical; Smalley's and Trent's advice is humanistic psychology. The Holy Spirit tells us through the apostle Paul that no one really hates himself (Ephesians 5:29). It is not selfhatred, but selflove, that leads to aberrant behavior. Who is right---the Holy Spirit, or Smalley and Trent (as well as myriad other "Christian psychologists)?

Within Promise Keepers we have found a preponderance of advocacy favoring self love over self denial, the latter of which is the biblical admonition. The dichotomy between Osgood's position on self love and the Smalley---Trent position is merely one indication of the eclectic approach Promise Keepers takes toward teaching. This eclecticism is found in other areas as well.


On the subject of major problems with the churches today, we find an excellent statement from Robert Hicks regarding how the churches have become feminized:

I have seen too many good men leave the church, or church leadership, because they were tired of playing the games and they saw a lot of what the church was doing as a waste of time. We must recapture the church for men, defeminize it, and make our appeals to men where it will cost them something more than their money or their time. Christ wants their lives (Robert Hicks, Ibid., p. 155).

It's true that the churches have become feminized. Even many churches that stress male leadership have succumbed to the feminization process.

Most church ministries are geared toward women; churches may have as many as five or more women's ministries and nothing for men outside of a once-a-month prayer breakfast and an occasional retreat---much of the time for the latter being devoted to fun and games. Women's Bible studies abound both inside and outside the local body. Yet Scripture says that if a woman wants to learn anything she should ask her husband at home. Today, however, this biblical admonition is impractical for many couples. The reason is that the churches have let them down by withholding sound biblical teaching for the men, as well as proper discipleship. Consequently wives often know more (or think they know more) about the Bible than their husbands do. And not all they are receiving is biblical.

We must not lose sight of the dynamics within the modern church that have led to Promise Keeper's existence. It is the pathetic, feminized church that has created the conditions for such an organization to come into being. Unless men do take their rightful place, the churches will remain powerless, simply because the Lord does not bestow honor where the men are weak.

The problem of male weakness is not confined to the churches. In fact, it's because of the feminization of the churches that the nation as a whole has become feminized. Dr. Tony Evans, writing on "Spiritual Purity' for Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper says it well:

I am convinced that the primary cause of this national crisis is the feminization of the American male. When I say feminization, I am not talking about sexual preference. I'm trying to describe a misunderstanding of manhood that has produced a nation of sissified men who abdicate their role as spiritually pure leaders, thus forcing women to fill the vacuum (Tony Evans, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, op. cit., p. 73).

Evans suggests a radical but proper approach to men reclaiming their role of leadership where they've abdicated it to their wives:
I can hear you saying, I want to be a spiritually pure man. Where do I start? The first thing you do is sit down with your wife and say something like this: Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not suggesting that you ask for your role back, I'm urging you to take it back. If you simply ask for it, your wife is likely to say, Look, for the last ten years, I've had to raise these kids, look after the house, and pay the bills. I've had to get a job and still keep up my duties at home. I've had to do my job and yours. You think I'm just going to turn everything back over to you? Your wife's concerns may be justified. Unfortunately, however, there can be no compromise here. If you're going to lead, you must lead. Be sensitive, Listen. Treat the lady gently and lovingly. But lead! Having said that, let me direct some carefully chosen words to you ladies who may be reading this: Give it back! For the sake of your family and the survival of our culture, let your man be a man if he's willing. Protect yourself if you must, by handing the reins back slowly; take it one step at a time. But if your husband tells you he wants to reclaim his role, let him! God never meant for you to bear the load you're carrying (Ibid., pp. 79-80)

Perhaps Evans could have advised the men to just start taking the lead without the preliminaries. But he is essentially correct in his position. Unfortunately, his sound advice is offset by notso-sound advice from Gary Smalley. Writing in the same Promise Keeper's book, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, Smalley relates the story of his friends, Jim and Suzette Brawner, and how they dealt with their son Jason's unapproved actions. Smalley tells us that although both Jim and Suzette came from families with dysfunctional elements, they managed to raise three emotionally healthy children. This quote is rather lengthy, but it's necessary to understand Smalley's unbiblical mind set which permeates many of his writings:

Recently Jason came home for the first time from college. He was unusually nervous because, as a part of his initiation into the swim team, he had been coerced into wearing an earring. None of the men in his family had ever worn an earring, and it just wasn't done among their circle of friends. Jason felt the roof might come off when Mom and Dad saw him. Jason pulled into the driveway and found his mom. She was so excited to see him that she gave him a big hug before she noticed his ear and gasped. Then she laughed. What a great joke! she said. I assume it's one of those stickon kinds? No, Mom, this is the real thing Jason answered. I had my ear pierced. Everybody on the swim team has an earring and I was the only one who didn't, so I gave in. Suzette became nervous, not because she was upset with her son, but because she wondered how her husband would react when he got home. After taking Jasons laundry and getting him something to drink, she called two friends. Then, while Jim was still at work, she made a trip to the home of one of those friends and discussed how she should handle the situation. Both Jason and his mother were anxious as Jim arrived home. When he walked in the door, Jason said, Hi, Dad, I'm home for the weekend. Jim immediately hugged his son---on the side opposite the earring---then said, Well, how's college going? He hadn't noticed, and Jason just kept waiting for the explosion. Finally, Dad saw it. Hey-y-y, what's this?' he said. Jason thought, Oh, no! He's going to rip it off my ear. Suzette gently suggested, Now, don't overreact. But Jim didn't react at all. Calmly and sensitively, he asked, 'What's going on?' Jason answered, Dad everybody on the swim team has an earring. I knew you'd be upset, but Dad, I was the only guy who didn't have one. The seniors said either I do it or, you know, I'm in trouble. If you want to wear the earring that's your business, Jim answered. It's not up to me. Only God knows how much I love you. Personally, I wouldn't wear an earring. but hey, I understand the pressure you were getting. Suzette calmed down immediately. I thought you were going to be mad, she told Jim. No, we need to support our son, he said. Actually, I'd like to do something about it, but I don't think anything would help (Gary Smalley, Ibid., pp. 105-106).

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