You must accept that fear is not only harmful but evil, not only
unhelpful but deeply destructive.
-- RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH
The ordinary man is passive.... Against major events he is as helpless as
against the elements. So far from endeavoring to influence the future, he simply
lies down and lets things happen to him.
What do you think would happen if Jesus were to appear at your church next Sunday and say to people what he says in the Bible?
And "a brood of vipers fit for hell!"
Given how nice the church expects Christian men to be, I think we'd rush the pulpit and wrest the microphone from his hand. "Tsk, tsk, tsk," we'd mutter scornfully. We'd wag our fingers, reminding him of the supreme importance placed on manners and appearances in this holy place. Some women, reaching for soap bars to wash out his mouth, would recite our unofficial church motto: "If you don't have anything nice to say, Jesus, don't say it at all." He really should be ashamed of himself.
Shame is big in the church. Helps keep guys in line. Keeps their heads down. Keeps them humble. Supposedly.
Actually, without shame, guys might be able to live the vital life God intended. This world would be a lot better.
Instead, we have passive, naïve Christian Nice Guys. We sit next to them in church all the time, not realizing their identity is being squashed, their will being broken, the lives of those who love and depend upon them being diminished as well. Everyone loses when we follow a false ideal.
That Christian men are expected to follow a nonexistent Jesus hinders and frustrates those of us who possess a vital masculine nature but are told not to activate it. I say throw the switch and don't apologize—you'll be more like the real Christ when you do. I pray that this book will show you how.
Not so long ago I would have joined this mob—er, crowd—shushing Jesus. That's because I believed in a Savior who doesn't really exist. Many of us believe in a wooden Jesus who was perpetually somber, consistently robotic, consummately nice. He wouldn't think of hurling sarcasm at anyone; his momma raised a Nice Boy with impeccable manners. Many sermons we hear are designed to make Jesus appear always approachable, always calm, and endlessly patient. That's fiction right up there with The Da Vinci Code; this mild Jesus has more to do with Eastern mysticism than with the gospel record. He did not remain "above it all," emotionally hovering above us silly little humans. He got down in the muck and mire of life with us. He really lived; he really felt eye-watering joy and soul-crushing pain. He didn't assume the Lotus, drinking tea and finding us mildly amusing while trying to clear his head of conflict and division. Jesus, the dissident, brought the world both—the kind of conflict and division needed to shake things up for our own good.
I once treated exclamation points that followed expressions such as "hypocrites!" and "brood of vipers fit for hell!" as if they were merely biblical italics. Jesus was emphasizing a point—He didn't actually yell at anyone.... Talk about spin. I did a lot of damage control for my Savior.
I created my own sanitized, unauthorized translation, The Nice Guy Bible (ngb), which I continue to see a lot of other guys carrying around. I rewrote some parts and took others out of context to hide from God and from what he really wanted of me. I kept this distortion of Jesus neatly in my mind, the way a Nice Guy feels he should, until it was destroyed by an unusual and unexpected epiphany: Christ's humor. His blessed sarcasm helped me begin to see how he actually lived and talked, as opposed to how I'd thought. A mental fog lifted. At last my life received a long-needed clarity. I neared the red-hot bonfire of truth, which warmed and saved me. A greater taste for life awakened.
I began to ask questions like: How come when we ask, WWJD? we almost always assume some form of quiet, mellow response, when he often spoke and behaved in undeniably rugged ways? If Jesus said we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, why have I heard countless sermons admonishing me to live in innocence—a more gentle virtue—but precious few on how to apply wisdom, a more rough-and-tumble virtue that sometimes requires conflict?
Looking back, I once believed this caricature of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" because it was what I internalized during well-orchestrated church services designed to make God palatable to contemporary taste buds. I was told, though not in so many words, that the safe and pleasant route is really the best.
The popular fiction that Jesus is the Supreme Nice Guy no longer holds any water for me. Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads "Jesus Is My Best Friend"? Puh-leese. I don't ask my best friends to forgive me for my sins. I don't pray to my best friends. I don't worship my best friends. The Lamb of God is also the Lion of Judah. He is good, but I can't say he is nice.
It gets worse. Christian Nice Guys (CNGs) are even told that by turning themselves into involuntary doormats for others (something they often mistake for sacrificial giving), they will somehow, magically, against all understanding of human nature and experience, lead others to Christ. Is this really WJWD? Do people really regard a world view as true because its followers are nice, easy, and possess smooth etiquette?
Bill Hybels says that passive Christians repel non-Christians from the faith:
I've learned through the years that seekers are not impressed with spinelessness.... Most of the time, seekers ... respect and admire Christians who aren't afraid to take a stand....
Let me say it once more: Seekers have little respect for weak Christians. Deep down they're looking for somebody—anybody—to step up and proclaim the truth and then to live it boldly. (Becoming a Contagious Christian, 63–64.)
As someone who was conditioned to always be pleasant, not to bother others, and, for the wrong reasons, be quick to turn the cheek, I held the classic distorted Nice Guy view of myself. I believed I was defective and bad, not because of my sin, but because my perception was off. Others were worthy of respect if for no other reason than to have their human dignity affirmed. Me? Well, do what you want to me, because I—my thoughts, my feelings, my wants, my needs—don't really matter. Other people were normal; I was a sort of subspecies, a child of a lesser god. This, as I explain later, kept me from God's love and from truly loving others. The Jesus I heard about was always brokenhearted over my sin, which I kept making him pay for. He was worn out, tormented, aloof; a drained, pale man frozen in the iceberg of history's tragedy—he looked as if he needed saving too. And his Father was angry and sorely disappointed with me, Mr. Screw-Up.
This script, this understanding of God, ensured that my life would remain tiny, unnoticeable, and worse, innocuous. Moreover, if I could hide all this behind the guise of "Christian humility," all the better!
The demeaning and undercutting screenplay owned my mind like a commercial slogan, a message I learned as a kid. (A kid who went through some tough times, which I'll share with you in chapter 4.) You might perceive that the sorrow I experienced is more or less than yours, but I don't believe pain is quantifiable, and degree of difficulty isn't the main issue. It's the result that counts, and it's the result that keeps CNGs down.
The convincing, repetitive message of my inherent worthlessness helped lay waste to my life in disastrous ways, stealing my passion, energy, and resources, and churning my gut, which is where resentment and anxiety live. My name is Paul, and I'm a former Christian Nice Guy who finally realized that what we call valorous niceness is often cowardly passivity in disguise.