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!”

God, America, Meaning & Change


After five months of gray skies—welcome to Ohio—you can’t blame a guy for being a little morose. A few years ago, I realized I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and mid-February is the nadir of my experience.

So perhaps I’m coming at Rick Ianniello‘s Facebook post with a bit of a glum philosopher’s perspective, but I don’t think I’m alone. Maybe you’re a glum philosopher now too.

Rick wrote:

How is it possible for Christians to propagate the following.

“I really want to go to church this Sunday. Could you find one that won’t try to change me?”

I don’t think that request is impossible to understand. It may not seem logical, but sometimes the illogical still makes sense.

I believe that most people are burned out on change.

We Christians think we have cornered the market in change given that we talk about repentance and sanctification all the time. But  the truth is that our secular culture has more than one-upped us. The message we Americans drown in daily consists of little more than a perpetual torrent of change requests. They go something like this:

1. “Your _____________ is not good enough, so change.”

2. “You are too_____________, so change.”

Into #1, we can fit

kid’s schooling







Into #2, we can fit








When it comes down to it, most of our daily existence as Americans consists of dancing to the pied piper of change. We live in a perpetual conga line of following some leader as he/she/it takes us to the promised land guaranteed by change.

Is it any wonder that some people are desperate to stop the unending jig their life has become?

Int0 this comes the Church. We put means of salvation into #1 and sinful into #2. Our message becomes “change or go to hell.”

Sounds like more of the same, doesn’t it?

This is not to say that the Gospel is wrong, only that perhaps we have to start leading with something other than the “you better change or else” portion of the message.

See, unless our reasons for change lead to something meaningful, constant change in and of itself only leads to despair. In truth, when we distill most of the message we Americans get from our culture, it seems impossible to avoid the belief that life has no meaning.

I’ve been a Christian for a few decades now, and my constant struggle, even to this day, is the search for meaning in life. I realize that most of that struggle is because I’m bombarded by meaninglessness. And most of that comes from the constant message of change.

I am continually convinced that we Christians in the America have got to start leading with love first. Because the Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear, especially the fear of meaninglessness.

Yes, at some point we have to get to the part of the message that includes the change of repentance, but I believe most people are so burned by change that we have to give them something else before we can get to the change part of the message. This is not to say we bury change, only that we temper it. Pulling a bait and switch on people (“Okay, we gave you love, now you won’t get more love until you change”) isn’t going to work.

I know a couple where the wife is bipolar and the husband is a church worship leader. He’s been the rock. Just recently, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

In the life of that couple, what speaks most to the meaninglessness of life? Are we going to ask them for more change? Or can we offer better?

I look around and no longer wonder why people don’t want to be a part of the Church. The Church isn’t meeting their need in the midst of the message of change, whether that’s the world’s change or the Church’s. When I hear the heart cry of someone lost in meaninglessness, I understand their lament of “I really want to go to church this Sunday. Could you find one that won’t try to change me?” I get what they mean.

Because for all our talk of godliness, repentance, and so on, it seems that we’re missing where most people are at right now. Yes, people are sinners. Yes, they need to change.

But are we giving them any meaningful reason to?

Burying The Proverbs 31 Woman™


Recent conversations with the fairer sex will form the basis for this post and the next. My track record on speaking about issues that women face has not been perfect, though, as I tend to get a large number of livid comments from women who enjoy the evangelical status quo just fine. On the other hand, I also get an equally large number of women who write me privately and thank me for exposing the pressure they feel to conform to impossible “Christian” standards for women.

I think the standard that leads to more burnout of women in 2010 is striving to be The Proverbs 31 Woman™. I add the to distinguish a genuine, Biblical womanhood from the chimera that evangelicals have spawned in creating the idealized form of womanhood as depicted in that Proverb.

To get a clear idea of this problem, let’s look at the text:

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
—Proverbs 31:10-31

Being a geezer, I remember the old Enjoli perfume commercial. I think a lot of other people do, too, because we continue to cultivate that image for women today.

I think women today resent that “she should do it all” image. (And I think that evangelical men everywhere breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to contend with a Proverbs 32!)

Yet that image remains the evangelical ideal. Except that being The Proverbs 31 Woman™ also adds homeschooling, leading an American Heritage Girls troop, making the family’s clothes and meals from scratch, crafting high-demand handmade doodads for sale on eBay or Etsy, running a women’s Bible study (or, at minimum, participating in one, preferably with Beth Moore’s imprimatur) , and out-Deborah-ing the female judge of the Old Testament.

I think I could probably retire today if all the Christian women who are burned out of the expectations of being The Proverbs 31 Woman™ sent me a dollar.

I know it’s not possible to talk about cultural distinctives in the Bible that don’t align with our modern age. People who do get called all sorts of names. I’m going to talk cultural distinctives anyway.

Most women today do not have handmaidens who do the real grunge work around the ol’ tent. And while she may still bring her food from afar, it’s because she packed up her five kids into the minivan and headed to Kroger, not because she dispatched her servants to the Italian Coast for fresh olive oil. The woman of Proverbs 31 made her family’s clothes because all the necessary components her household grew or bred, though I don’t know any woman today with easy access to sheep and flax. Today’s woman’s husband is not likely the vanguard at the gates, but some middle management automaton who slaves in a cubicle 20 miles from home. And the woman in Proverbs 31 didn’t have to take a full-time job out in that business world because her husband got downsized and has not been able to find work for a year.

American women today don’t live in tribal villages that offer an unseen network of support. Instead, most have cocooned their households because they’ve had it drummed into their heads that it’s every family for itself.  Even if she wanted to, she could not go to the tents next door to trade for medicines, balms, sandal repairs, fresh spices, and so on. Instead, she fights wrong charges on the phone bill, diagnoses the reason the oven stopped working, sits endlessly in pediatrician’s offices, and fills out mountains of bureaucratic paperwork. And the woman of Palestine 2000 B.C didn’t have to spend every evening shuttling her four kids to band, soccer, or basketball practice, piano lessons, and 4-H Club meetings.

Yet somehow, we expect American women of today to exactly model their Palestine-dwelling counterparts of 4,000 years ago.


All that said, what is the real point of Proverbs 31?

The Bible makes it very clear what the wrong kind of woman is:


Gossiping busybody



Call me crazy, but the latter two are not going to be issues for most Christian women.

Skipping the gossiping busybody for now, idleness is the remaining issue. Look at the list of activities of the woman in Proverbs 31 and note how it concludes:

She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
—Proverbs 31:27

Given the manic lifestyle that we’ve created for women circa 2010, who among them is truly idle? Who ignores her household’s needs? What Christian woman out there is not giving 110 percent? Most women work harder than their husbands! Almost every woman I know contends with two lives worth of responsibilities and daily chores. Yet somehow we continue to add requirements to their being The Proverbs 31 Woman™.

I chose the word Burying in the title of this post for a two-fold reason. It’s high time we stopped burying today’s Christian women under the expectations of being The Proverbs 31 Woman™. We need to let them be who God made them to be and not force them to conform to a standard that none can attain. In other words, grace. I also think we need to bury that title of The Proverbs 31 Woman™ and move on.  It’s used by too many as a cudgel, and I think a lot of women would agree that they’re tired of the beatdown.

Now, about gossiping busybodies…

I think that women who feel most buried by The Proverbs 31 Woman™ are those who get looked down upon by other women. Some women who pride themselves on being The Proverbs 31 Woman™ are the ones administering the beatings to those women they feel don’t meet that standard. Fact is, any woman who concerns herself with how some other woman is not doing The Proverbs 31 Woman™ correctly is headed right into that gossiping busybody title. In other words, the self-selected arbiters of what constitutes The Proverbs 31 Woman™ probably need to stop being judgmental prigs and just mind their own business. That would please God more than anything.

Proverbs 31 offers us God’s word about a woman who is giving her all for her Lord, her husband, and her children. Almost every woman I know is already doing that. Let’s stop making her job harder.


See also: