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!”

By All Means, Write a Blog, But…


I’ve been on LinkedIn since it debuted. In that time, despite all the lavish praise the business social media site has garnered, it’s done nothing for me. And it’s not for my trying.

Still some people swear by it.

The prevailing wisdom bandied about on LinkedIn is that writing a blog is one of the best things you can do for your career and for yourself as a growing, actualized, with-it person.

Really? A blog? How 1999!

I thought social media sites and microblogging drove a stake through the heart of bloggers everywhere. I thought blogs were the tools of wizened tech fiends who still program in COBOL and prefer to send their résumés not to Apple but to Xerox PARC. You know, anachronisms. Fogeys. People who wear polyester and tighten their belts above their navels.

Well, I was wrong; mark the calendar. Blogs are hotter than Hades.

So, because LinkedIn says you need one, you better be writing a blog.

As a blogger since 2001, I have some advice. It’s pretty simple, and it will spare you a lot of grief.

Find a theme for your blog. Something that will appeal to everyone. Like recipes for fattening foods made with organic ingredients that make them sound healthier than they are. Everyone likes to eat.

Go to Pinterest. Find what women about 60 years old like. Or since 60 is the new 50, what 50-year-old women like. Write about that. Quilting and knitting are safe so long as you avoid quilting and knitting controversies, such as which needles are best.

If you’re a man, talk about cars. Just don’t get too opinionated about any one make or marque.

In fact, if you’re going to write a blog, never get controversial. Write about stuff that is status quo that everyone can agree on. Or, if you want to seem cutting edge, write blog posts that concur with “thought leaders,” since nothing is better than ideas that seem radical on the surface but are really just warmed-over oatmeal that everyone can stomach.

Stay away from any topic that might get you writing about ideas that actually change society for the better. In fact, never put any opinions in your blog that might offend anyone. This is hard, since people are so easily offended by anything nowadays. Should you decide to write a recipe blog, don’t even get into the butter versus margarine versus lard battle. You never know when you’ll run into a lard hater out there. Those folks are vicious, plus they have long memories—probably because their cerebral arteries aren’t clogged with lard.

Oh, since LinkedIn is the site giving the advice on how it is in your best interest to have a blog so that the business world knows you are a serious person with serious ideas, better offer some business insights too. Just stay away from insights that challenge the state of current business ethics, the “loyalty” businesses have toward their employees, equitable pay or a living wage, and how meeting shareholder demands often means a company resorts to short-term thinking that hurts other people in the long run. For heaven’s sake, never mention anything like that.

And whatever you do, avoid the religion thing like the plague. You mention Jesus at your own peril. Too controversial. Not good for your blog or your career. Opposition to abortion or same-sex marriage? What are you, nuts? Not blog topics. Ever.

Even if you are a Christian blogger, never, ever, ever suggest that the Church can improve. Or that the Church has issues that need improving. Nor should you offer ideas on how the Church might improve. Didn’t you read this paragraph’s first two sentences? You’re not skimming this, are you?

Puppy & kittenRemember, everyone is walking on eggshells. Help them by not breaking any eggs. Because decisionmakers will Google your blog, and people who break eggs don’t get work, which, according to LinkedIn, is the sole reason for existence.

In fact, if you are going to write a blog, it may be best to write one that focuses on recipes intended for kittens. Or for puppies. Because you don’t want to show a preference for cats over dogs. Better add recipes meant for mice and rats, too, because mice and rat lovers are out there. Yes, they are weird. Oops, I didn’t just write that, did I? Just don’t include pictures of rats on your blog, because rats bother some people. And you NEVER want to bother anyone with your blog posts. Never, ever, ever.

So, in short, write a blog. Just be as innocuous as hell. Heaven knows hell doesn’t like to be challenged.

The Gong Show–Or When We Christians Don’t Have Enough Sense to Stifle It


I don’t blog as much as I used to. Part of that is because life intrudes more than it once did and age is proving me less adequate to the task of addressing all those intrusions.

But there is another reason: I simply don’t have as much to say. Past posts have addressed—and sometimes even well—the thoughts I felt the Lord wanted me to share. Nowadays, I don’t have that same spiritual prompting to opine on the latest scandal, lack, or cultural sickness.

Most of this increased silence has come about through wisdom. I’ve been more chastened by the vicissitudes of life and by the Lord’s discipline. The angry, young prophet isn’t as angry as he once was. If anything, I feel more compassion for people. They really are, for the most part, sheep without a shepherd.

Still, the Godblogosphere is filled with the opinionated. Amplified YammeringIt’s a sad commentary on our age, but it’s the highly opinionated who get the most site hits. Some writers feel they must contribute their thoughts daily to keep faithful followers faithful and ensure the meager revenue stream keeps flowing. Recently, a well-known Christian blogger felt obligated to opine on the legacy of the not-quite-at-room-temperature-yet Chuck Colson.

I say “had to” because one got the sense that the blogger was struggling with the entire commentary. I suspect that was for a good reason. The resulting blowback wasn’t pretty.

Jesus says this:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
—John 5:19 ESV

I’ve written in the past about the most neglected verses of the Bible (here, here, and probably elsewhere too),  but the above verse is certainly one of the most ignored, particularly in application in the lives of Christians.

The reality of Christianity that sets it apart from all other religions is the inner presence of the Holy Spirit. Christians are to be supernatural people led daily by God, who dwells inside of them, guiding, empowering, and sealing for Heaven.

What should then distinguish the Christian from all other people on earth is the Christian, when confronted with addressing a spiritual need, speaks only what the Spirit says and only when the Spirit says it.

If this is critical to walking in true faith and in proper practice, how is it then that so few Christians ever learn to listen to the Spirit?

As it applies to this topic of speaking/writing, is the Holy Spirit always asking us to comment on this or that? Or is He more often silent (in which case we should be silent as well)?

It is not by coincidence that the Spirit chose the following as the opening of a certain line of thinking by Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
—1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV

I believe with my whole heart that the key to being a Christian in 2012 is to do only what the Holy Spirit reveals the Father is doing. This applies to our commentary on life as well. Then we can be assured that what we say is from God and is fittingly gracious.

The plague of the Western Church today is too much talk and not enough walk. We seem to lack even the common sense of pagans when it comes to shutting our traps for a moment. Instead, we feel driven to pontificate on this topic and that. Given how poor much of that pontificating is, I suspect the Holy Spirit has little to do with inspiring it and much more our own inflated sense of importance.