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Published Date: April 30, 1997

Published Date: April 30, 1997

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From the Trenches: Promise Keepers as an Example of Category-Specific Discipleship

The Bible study is over, and it’s time to share prayer concerns. The women’s discipleship group is made up of dedicated, newly-growing believers. There are years of pain behind the attentive eyes. Anne’s husband works all the time, and refuses to spend time alone with their daughter because he “can’t handle her.” Barb’s husband’s drinking and verbal abuse has gotten worse. Cara’s daughters are both in relationships with men who have “slept around” on them. One daughter has made a commitment to Christ. “Where are the Christian young men?” Cara asks. Anita’s husband has no interest in church, and now her son, age twelve, is refusing to go on Sundays. The Bible study leader has been hoping these women would begin to reach out to the unchurched, to pray for their communities, to catch a vision for missions or compassion ministry. After three years of regular discipleship, the prayer requests are the same. The pain at home is just too great.

As an evangelical clergyperson who seeks to pastor these women and their families, I feel I have some insights about Promise Keepers that might broaden our perspective. Call it “a view from the trenches.” My evaluation is based on the “seven promises,” one year of reading New Man magazine, Promise Keepers’ promotional video, reports of the 1996 Pittsburgh conference, and my own experience in working with local Promise Keepers representatives.

I am not endorsing the views expressed in every book written for Promise Keepers, or those of every speaker. Undoubtedly, Promise Keepers is no different from other Christian organizations, with their share of wounded or strident people who interpret the movement according to their personal “axes to grind.” But I do believe that Promise Keepers is a move of God, and, like any other move of God, it features “redeemed-but-still-struggling-with-sin” people.

While my own experience with Promise Keepers has been overwhelmingly positive, one young man in a neighboring community alienated many women and men from Promise Keepers by his strident overbearing personality. He was personally threatened by women in leadership, and his pastor, who happened to be female, was totally against Promise Keepers. “Have you ever read the seven promises?” I asked. “No, and I don’t care what they are,” she answered. I read them to her, and she was surprised by the one about supporting your pastor, and agreed that they sounded like good basic discipleship. However, she was so wounded by this man’s demeanor and interpretation of what Promise Keepers was about, that she wrote the whole thing off. (To the organization’s credit, he was not allowed to hold any positions within the organization and was “strongly encouraged” to become part of an accountability group with some older men.)

However, if Promise Keepers is a part of God’s strategy to unite his Body across racial and denominational differences and to bring his revival to our nation, then some challenging questions are: How can we as biblical feminists join with God through our view of Promise Keepers, our intercession on their behalf, and what we speak and/or write about it? Also, is there a corrective and balancing function that those of us in CBE can provide for this movement?

Paul’s magna carta of Christianity states that “in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (Gal3:28), and with the church through the ages we can affirm the inclusivity of Christ and the egalitarian call to discipleship that transcends categories. Nevertheless, because we live out our earthly lives in various ‘categories such as age, ethnicity, gender, and marital status, many believers find it helpful to link up with others in their category to explore how (from within that category) they might best “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:26). Furthermore, as we seek to obey the Great Commission entrusted to all Christians (Matt 28:19-20), I believe we have tremendous flexibility with regard to style, focus, and “packaging.” In recent decades many parachurch organizations have flourished which focus on a specific category.