The Problem with Christian Criticism


Recently, I wrote “Humility, Unity, and the Overly Opinionated Christian.” In it, I noted that too often we lack the facts to comment and should probably, in humility, refrain from adding our two cents.

Seems some may consider me part of the problem. 😉

At Christianity Today, Rachel Marie Stone, in her “Why Criticism Belongs in the Christian Blogosphere,” argues the merits of Christian opinion. She equates it to iron sharpening iron, and she wonder how it is that Christians are refraining from offering much-needed criticism.

I would like to offer my answer.

1. Many people are tired of angry discourse on the Internet. It doesn’t seem as if anyone has enough couth to criticize without resorting to sinful expressions of anger and resentment. Stone notes her own criticism of others has often resulted in ad hominem counterattacks. Well, yeah. That’s where we Americans are in 2013. Still, some thoughtful people—thankfully—are tiring of this.

2. Our critical vision as Christians is too small. Nearly all criticism by Christians on the Web is directed at individuals rather than at systems. Problem is, it’s mostly the systems mucking up everything. While it is much easier to criticize individuals, doing so rarely changes anything on a larger scale, because the power of that larger scale is not in individuals but in systems.

3. Systems are ridiculously hard to address. Criticizing the guy next door for letting his dog poop on your grass may accomplish getting him to keep his mutt out of your yard. But if your state determines your house is ground zero for a new shopping mall for “the public good,” good luck with your criticism of the state. And many systems are more complex than even a state government. Try criticizing the result of the Industrial Revolution and changing it through criticism. That system is far harder to assault because it is enormous and nebulous at the same time.

4. Criticism of individuals does not lead to change on a larger scale, while criticism of a system often gets absorbed by the immensity of that system. That tendency toward “lose-lose” explains the result Stone laments in her article.

For too long, some Christians have focused too much anger in their criticism, reserving much of it for individuals. So and so is a heretic! You don’t know your Bible! And on and on. This does not get us far. More people now recognize this. They also note that much of that criticism was not wrapped in love but in self-righteousness and pride.

Where Christians should be focusing our criticism is on systems, yet almost no one does. No one talks about workplace justice. No considers whether our lifestyles are based on fallacies locked in place by deviant cultural assumptions. No one asks whether the Reformation and democracy have led Americans to no longer fear of God. For the most part, Christians are not offering criticism of these larger thoughts, ideas, and systems because we’re too intellectually lazy and too satisfied with the status quo. Why rock the boat and bring down the system on our little heads?

I stopped reading most Christian blogs because they went after the minuscule. They strained for gnats. And then when they did, they were too often mean-spirited about it.

I think many people are tiring of the mean spirit. Meanwhile, few are willing to wade into larger battles. Stone talks about how hard it was to receive criticism for her criticism of another writer’s book.  If that’s the size of our vision, then all is lost already. Taking on systems, which is what we Christians SHOULD be addressing, is costly, complex, and tedious. Our criticism needs to be laser-like, educated, and relentless if we are to fix entire systems in the name of Christ.

Christians of long ago were up for that task. I’m not so sure we are today.

Oh, look…

“Hey, you! Get your dog off my lawn!”

Farewell, Evangelicalism!


Walking AwayI decided last week that I am no longer an Evangelical. Still a Christian, but just the generic variety.

I’m sure you’ll sleep better knowing this.  😉

Having dropped out of the ranks of the Republican Party several years ago, I guess the transformation is complete. Truthfully, I didn’t so much leave the GOP as it left me. The same holds true for Evangelicalism.

While most people would probably suspect that my beef with Evangelicalism comes because it’s not being conservative enough, it having “compromised with the world” too much and for too long, that’s truly not  the case for me.

The primary reason I’m saying farewell to Evangelicalism is that I can’t determine what it stands for anymore. I know what Evangelicalism is clearly against, but what it stands for is mushy. And in those cases where I do know what Evangelicalism is for, I just don’t see Evangelicals doing those things. The walk doesn’t match the talk.

Take for instance evangelism. Sharing the Evangel, the Good News of Jesus, was so bedrock to Evangelicalism that the word formed the name. So how is it that I get more distinctly non-Evangelical Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons knocking on my door in any given month than Evangelicals?

Perhaps Evangelicals just got smart and realized that it takes more than door-pounding to create converts. Still, I almost never hear Evangelicals talking about evangelism. They talk about their whiz-bang church programs, their 401k plans, how vulgar our culture is, and on and on—but no one seems to be talking about leading people to Jesus and discipling them to maturity. At least not to the extent that the name of the group would imply. I get a better sense of what the modern day Tea Party movement is about from their name than I get from Evangelicalism. Heck, some Evangelicals can’t even agree on what the Good News is.

I also don’t understand the Janus-like ability of Evangelicals to love someone on Sunday and turn on them by Friday. Evangelicals talk more about restoration than any group I know, yet I see almost nothing being restored, especially “fallen” Evangelicals. Instead, the tasers, billyclubs, and brass knuckles come out, and that person Evangelicals once cherished has been reduced to so much bloody pulp tossed roadside in a 55-gallon drum on the outskirts of Nowheresville. And without so much as a Thank You for all those years of service. I’ve lost track of all the people I know who ultimately received “the left hand of fellowship” from fellow Evangelicals. I suspect my turn is coming.

I also suspect the hero worship in Evangelicalism is to blame, in part, for that selective memory of friend and foe. Despite Paul’s recommendation not to slavishly announce allegiances, Evangelicals do so with abandon—until the inevitable feet of clay appear on the hero, and then it’s off to Nowheresville, as noted. “I am of Piper” or “I am of Osteen” or “I am of Warren” or “I am of Wright” seem to be the flags that Evangelical clans bear into battle. The names change in time—feet of clay, remember. Or a good solider gets miffed at the name on the banner for some perceived slight or error, and then it’s off to a new clan. All that hero worship has so factionalized Evangelicals that one cannot even hold a conversation with a fellow Evangelical without announcing early on which flag one serves—and once that allegiance is announced, so much for real conversation. Fellow clan members can’t see beyond their clan, and distinct clans approach each other like Hulk Hogan and the Macho Man before a Wrestlemania title match, chests out and spittle-laced vitriol flying. How that builds the Body of Christ is beyond me.

Of course, the Media makes the most of defections, discord, and failings, yet Evangelicals love the capital-M Media and want to own it. In actuality, they always come off looking bad when the Media shines its light on them. Why this lesson is never learned so that Evangelicals keep their heads down and their faces out of the spotlight is beyond me. I can’t think of the last Evangelical media-mongering that truly advanced the cause of Christ. To quote “that commie” (by Evangelical standards) Pete Seeger, “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

In America, the need to self-label is a mania that afflicts us all, but I’m tired of labels. I’m also tired of defending ideologies that read great on paper but can’t pull off the practice.

So in stripping off years of lead-based paint, I hope to get down to the good, pure wood and build from that. Not by adding another layer of paint, but by preserving the natural beauty at the core. It’s why Evangelicalism must go—at least for me.

I’m not one of those who goes so far that I can’t call myself a Christian and end up calling myself the slightly hippie Christ Follower instead. Christian still works for me. I just won’t be adding Evangelical to the front.

The Two Christianities on Display


Choose ye this day...About 18 months ago, I wrote a post called “The Two Christianities.” That post sparked a minor furor in the Godblogosphere and spawned two followups. As the days count down to the upcoming election and our country hurtles toward the Final Day, I thought revisiting that series of posts would be helpful:

The Two Christianities

The Two Christianities: Reader Feedback…

The Two Christianities: Comparison Table

The first link offers the theory, while the third provides a side-by-side comparison of the worldview differences between Externally Motivated (EM) Christianity and Internally Motivated (IM) Christianity.

The thing about politics is that it inevitably brings out the EM crowd, and it’s a shrill, pleading crowd at that. Funny thing is that the IM group typically has little to say around election time. They keep doing what they were doing all along, with the election just a blip on the radar screen.

What strikes me this morning is that one of these groups of Christians is going to be sorely disappointed some day. And it won’t know what to do with its disappointment. I think as the world gets darker that folks in the EM camp, who are used to God, Mom, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet are going to lose it when their apple pie is made in China with tainted milk, GM goes under, and mom croaks. Their interpretation: God has abandoned us. And many of them will reciprocate.

I guess it all depends on which kingdom holds your trust, the earthly one or the heavenly one. Where our hearts and treasures align, we’ll receive the rewards of that kingdom. But there’s kingdom and then there’s Kingdom. IM Christians side with the “big K” Kingdom nearly all the time. It’s a place of more lasting rewards.

So get ready for disappointment, EM Christians. There’s a sound of inevitability, that while coming from a trumpet with an indistinct sound, is ushering in an age where the courts will not be helping Christians evangelize, keep up nativity scenes, or maintain other Christian activity (whether genuinely Christian or not).

Here’s the thing: We can’t put our faith in governments. We can’t put our faith in legal codes. We can’t put our faith in our own tenacity. We put our faith in God alone or else we face assured, brutal disappointment.

Because the IM believer can’t be disappointed in events because his or her faith is in God—and in Him, the one who owns all the riches worth valuing, there can never be disappointment.