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!”

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.

Bruised Reeds, Smoldering Wicks


Lone reedI promise my series on "Unshackling the Church" WILL continue, but I cannot write the next installment, which deals with community and fraternity, unless I go back to what is basic. Milk.

The last couple weeks have seen some real rancor in the Godblogosphere and I'll be frank in saying that I'm progressively sickened by the appalling meanness we ambassadors for Christ heap on each other in a sort of theological one-upmanship. I refrained from saying anything about the now infamous Mark Driscoll roasting that began at Tim Challies' otherwise normal site and spread out like so many firebrands to sites across the Godblogosphere. But as no one wants to let this one drop, I can't be silent when brother turns on sister turns on brother.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
–2 Peter 1:5-10 ESV

Many smart people inhabit the Godblogosphere, certainly some of the most knowledgeable people you will find this side of a divinity school. We show off our knowledge of infralapsarianism, dispensationalism, trinitarianism, and a whole lot more -isms than some of us can name, wielding it like a weapon to slay enemies. Unfortunately, too often those enemies are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Peter's progression is informative. The starting point in Christian maturity is faith, then goodness. Most of us are there, I hope. Then comes knowledge.

The problem with those of us who have knowledge is we too often stop there and believe it is the be all and end all of the faith, a dire mistake and the source of much of the pummeling that occurs on the Web. Knowledge must be supplemented with self-control, otherwise we become a human bomb, blowing up and damaging others with what we know. Everyone of us has encountered a know-it-all and few of us like being around them. The reason? They lack an off switch. They also tend to lack all the other traits Peter mentions that follow self-control.

We may think we're mature, but what does Peter put at the end of his list? Brotherly kindness and love, two traits increasingly missing from the Godblogosphere. Instead, we see the spiritual blackjack, the whip to stun our opponents.

Paul spoke of this type of correction, but had nothing good to say about it:

What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
—1 Corinthians 4:21 ESV

Paul seems to be saying the same thing as Peter. Are we Godbloggers listening?

I don't think so. Instead, what we seem to be listening for is our opponents to drop down on both knees and confess that we are right and they are wrong. Strange, I don't see "being right all the time" as one of the qualities in Peter's list. Even if "being right all the time" were in that list, it would be trumped by brotherly affection and love.

We've got to ask ourselves at what point the following verse becomes true:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
—1 Peter 4:8 ESV


Now some will say that wielding the knowledge of the Scriptures compels us to right bad theology at all cost. Those some would be dancing around the greater meaning of knowing the Scriptures, though. 

A favorite passage of those folks:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

What is the chief end of knowing the Scriptures according to this passage? For what reason do we know the Bible inside and out? To pummel others with it? No, to serve. The chief end of knowing the Scriptures is that we be quipped for GOOD WORKS. In other words, serving others. Serving others means only one thing: putting others first.

Stephen was a model Christian. His defense of the Lord and the entire plan of salvation before his stoning is a masterful exposition by a man who understood the Scriptures like few others. What role did Stephen play in the nascent Church? He served food to widows and orphans. His godliness was not measured by what he knew but how he served others humbly, lovingly, and without complaining. By esteeming the forgotten and the least of these, Stephen was mourned and cried over by strong men.

The least of these…

Of the Lord it says,

…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench….
—Isaiah 42:3 ESV

In the house of the pharisee, we see the bruised reed, the smoldering wick:

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner."
—Luke 7:36-39 ESV

In the minds of judgmental men who have no real love of God in their hearts, the first thought is "Who let the filthy whore in here?"

See, these men possessed enough knowledge to rightly distinguish just what kind of woman this was. Not only that, but their own pride that they did guess correctly—while some backwoods rabbi was evidently clueless—puffed them up. I'm certain a few chuckled inappropriately while others seethed.

What was Jesus' response?

Jesus saw the bruised reed, the smoldering wick. He could have easily broken that reed, or pinched out what little flame danced in the core of that smoking wick. He could have wielded the rod that Paul spoke of. He could have come down on the side of the pharisees and recoiled in horror that this used-up hooker touched him. But no, he responded with tender loving grace.

Is this how we respond to others in the Godblogsphere? Or are we the breakers of reeds and quenchers of wicks?

I've written elsewhere that the anonymous nature of the Internet makes us meaner people. Something changes when we have to confront others face-to-face. I read awful things about other brothers and sisters in Christ on supposedly Christian Web sites. What makes me the most downhearted is our selfish frame of reference when we devastate another Christian with our loose words.

You see, I don't know you and you don't know me. One slice of interaction on some tiny Godblog that perhaps 0.0001% of the country reads in a day does not give any of us the right to lay into anyone. Which of us knows another's path? I may have been a heroin addict last year before I found Christ, but I open my mouth to say one thing in the comments section of some obscure blog and a half-dozen fifty-year-old-walking-with-the-Lord-since-I-was-a-toddler Christians savage me because I defend a pastor—the guy who led me to Christ, BTW—who dropped an F-bomb once.

Unless sanctification is instant, who are we, locked away in some office blogging, to take that one slice of interaction and condemn another person? What profound spiritual arrogance! 

What if the Christians we knew who guided us in life quenched our wicks at that one point when our theology was less than perfect? Which of us reached maturity in the blink of an eye? Haven't we all been wrong a million times or more as we grew in grace and put away childishness? Would I assault my own child verbally because he doesn't know about life the way I do after the benefit of 43 years? Yet too often, this is what we supposedly mature people do to those who are still growing in grace.

Wanna know a secret? We're all growing in grace. We will all sin. We will all be found lacking at some point in our walk with Christ. We should all be extending love and grace first.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book, Life Together:

Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutory, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

It's easy to imagine some day that one of us Godbloggers will be standing inside the gates of heaven when a commenter we routinely trash, or a well-known pastor we don't like, or some person of the Arminian/Calvinist/Dispensational/Paedobaptist or whatever ilk should walk through those gates and we say, "Who let this filthy whore in here?"

To which the voice of Jesus says, "I did."

God have mercy on us for our critical spirits and our unloving hearts.


Previous posts on this sad, recurring topic:

The Godblogosphere’s Black Hole

Hidden Messages of American Christianity: Correctness Before Love

That Other Standoff

Tearing Down the Gallows

Has the Christian Blogosphere Lost Its Collective Mind?

On Consigning Enemies of Christ to Hell

Witch Hunt

Let’s Play “Spot the Heretic!”

Who Watches the Watchers?