Apologetics Index

Promise Keepers

A controversial, Christian men’s movement.

Promise Keepers’ mission is to ignite and unite men to become passionate followers of Jesus Christ through the effective communication of seven promises to God, their fellow men, family, church and the world. Promise Keepers’ vision is simply put in three words: “Men Transformed Worldwide.”
– Source: About us, Promise Keepers official website

How faithful to the Word of God is the Promise Keepers men’s movement? How close of an association do its founders and board members have with the charismatic fringe? What theology is really being espoused by its guest speakers, and in the numerous books, videos, and other materials that carry the PK imprimatur?

These and other legitimate questions have largely been overlooked as this evangelical Christian men’s group attracts uncritical and enthusiastic press coverage, and its ranks of members swell with every big conference it holds.

“PK”, as it is affectionately called by its followers, has been described by Time magazine as “one of the century s fastest-growing religious phenomena.” It attracts a largely white, male, middle-class Protestant audience who listen to soft Christian rock and hard Christian preaching, and weep in one another’s arms.

Founded in 1990 by Bill McCartney, the controversial and outspoken ex-coach of the University of Colorado football team, the Promise Keepers movement has grown in Malthusian proportions.

McCartney’s idea was to organize a nondenominational parachurch that would minister to and disciple men to “celebrate Biblical manhood and motivate men toward a Christ-like masculinity.”

He came up with the concept of men-only stadium rallies — a combination of Super Bowl game and revival meeting.

Though his idea attracted only 72 participants in 1990, more than 727,000 “Jesus Jocks” — as one British publication called them — came to PK events last year. They have filled arenas from Detroit’s Silverdome to Washington’s RFK Stadium, from Minneapolis’ Metrodome to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, for 20 Promise Keeper two-day marathons.

Its leaders say they are tapping into a mass identity crisis among American males, who have for a long time felt isolated, powerless and disenfranchised by a society in transition that seems to view them as expendable.

They trace the country’s free-fall to the fact that many men are not keeping their promises to wives, families and churches. They see the skyrocketing crime rate, huge number of divorces, increasing racial tensions, juvenile delinquency and out-of-wedlock births as indications that men have abdicated their Biblically-defined role as leaders in the home.

Many Christians would find it hard to argue with any of these premises.

However, critics of Promise Keepers charge its leaders routinely express views that are antithetical to the Bible’s teachings, and outside the realm of mainstream belief. They claim it has an unbridled ecumenicism, a charismatic leadership emphasis, and relies on an anti-God secular psychology.

They say Promise Keepers mimics new-age male bonding and self-discovery therapies, and endorses a book which suggests levels of initiation rites to manhood. They decry its emphasis on phallic symbolism and the fact that Jesus is presented as a sexual male. They note that PK requires submission to leaders and employs a pyramid structure in its organization, that it intrudes on the privacy of a man’s family life and sexual habits. They point out that the group encourages male domination of women, and is rooted in the Vineyard ministry, with strong links to the Kansas City Prophets — a controversial cult claiming visions and revelations from God.

Critics say they do not presume to judge the integrity or the motives of all those in Promise Keepers or question the salvation of these men. They concede that many involved with PK are sincere. Instead, they say they are concerned with the doctrine of the movement and the ministry being promoted. They stress that any group that claims to represent Jesus must 1) preach a pure Gospel, and 2) address man’s spiritual growth from an accurate interpretation of God’s Word. Critics say Promise Keepers fails on both counts.

They worry that the vast majority of men who attend PK rallies probably know very little about the beliefs or church affiliation of the speakers who appear. The lecturers are accepted as authorities on Christian living simply because they say they are Christians and believe the Bible.

“Since the ministry of these teachers runs the gamut from compromising new-evangelicalism and charismatic error, to ecumenical liberalism, it is clear that they [are] introducing the Promise Keepers to unscriptural doctrines and fellowships,” says Al Dager of Redmond, WA. “This is a very serious matter.”

Rev. Gil Rugh, senior pastor of Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. agrees. “There is so much theological diversity among those involved with Promise Keepers that no in-depth discussion of Scripture or what it means to be a Christian could take place without tearing the movement apart.”
– Source: What’s Wrong with the Promise Keepers? Matt Andrews, Midwest Today, Apr/May 1996

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First published (or major update) on Wednesday, July 18, 2007.
Last updated on August 18, 2007.

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