No More Christian Nice Guy
by Paul Coughlin
Men who are nice are not Christ-like, but far too many churches teach them that good men are passive, nice, never angry, and should appease their superiors. In this book, Paul Coughlin tries to show that our society’s definition of “nice” is not something that Christ leads us to be, and that in fact Christ was not nice. Instead, men should be good, and if they are, it will make their lives, their family’s lives, and the church a far more attractive place to be. He includes chapters that show how niceness damages men at work, in their sex lives, and in their families, and then shows how being good will improve all of them. He also shows that being good does not make life easier, but it does make life better.
For years now I have railed against the word “nice.” What I find when people use that word is “kindness without sacrifice or discomfort.” Warn a sinner that he’s sinning? That wouldn’t be nice. Stand on Scripture? That wouldn’t be nice. Show anger at injustice? Oh, well, that just wouldn’t be nice. It’s hobbled my ministry at different times, particularly when dealing with older women. When I came across the book, the title alone made me smile.
Too bad I had to read the book to take the smile away.
Now, there’s a lot of good stuff in the book. Coughlin accurately identifies many of the negative consequences of niceness. He even narrows down the cause of niceness and the insidiousness of it: “The god and idol of a Christian Nice Guy is safety” (37). “Nice Guys can’t love well because they have too many guards up” (82). “We should avoid sin, or many reasons – that it separates us from God and from life are atop my list. Buut so does the immobile life. It’s just harder to diagnose” (18). Those quotes cheered me; someone else sees the danger of being nice!
Coughlin showed some ways that Jesus wasn’t nice. He of course brings up Jesus clearing the temple, but also his uses of sarcasm. There’s some danger here; Coughlin shows his theological biases by saying that Jesus used sarcasm when, frankly, I think the author claimed that so he could avoid some of the truths that Jesus teaches. That said, Jesus wasn’t averse to humor and did use it.
Coughlin spends the bulk of the book showing why being nice is a bad thing. He says that we should not be nice; we should be good. I’ve said similar things in my ministry: Jesus wasn’t nice; he was loving.
But why does Coughlin not show Jesus as our Savior? Here is someone who is not nice. Here is someone who is not concerned with making sure we always feel good. Here is someone who is not afraid to condemn our sins. Here is someone who pulls no punches. Here is someone who shows us: yes, our sins are that bad that it takes the perfect Son of God dying, and not just dying, but experiencing hell, to save us. That’s how bad we are. And that’s how much we’re loved: he’s willing to do it. He dies for sinners like us!
Instead of taking us to the bloody cross to free us from our sin, Coughlin shows our sin and shows how Jesus is so much better… and then urges us to be better, too. He shows why being “good” is so much better than being nice. But he doesn’t empower us to live a good life, and he doesn’t show us how Jesus has forgiven us for chasing after being “nice” rather than “Good.” And he certainly doesn’t remind us that we are good, because we have been robed in Jesus’s righteousness. We are good, not because of any goodness in us – after all, there is no one good, no, not one – but because Jesus has lived the good life and given us his record, taking all our sins onto himself on the cross.
Rather than encouraging us to become, Coughlin would have been well served showing us that we are good; now be what God has made us!
So, yeah. Another frustrating book that’s got a great concept and a lot of good information in it… but no Gospel to empower it. I’m sensing a theme here…