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A Culture of Criticism8 min read

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Yesterday I had lunch with NeoFundamentalist, who is actually a pastor here in my area.  We talked about the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, modernism, and the mistakes made in each camp.  Discussion also turned to how to fix these doctrinal and practical mistakes, and NF has obviously thought about this more than me.  Today, I see that he has put some of it into writing in a good post entitled NeoFundamentalist, Remonstrans, and the Culture of Criticism.  I’ve excerpted a few main points below, but you can also just go read the thing yourself.

1. Assuming an incredulous posture

I noticed that when I spent too much time in critique, I assumed an
attitude and posture that was proud and incredulous that anyone
couldn’t see the problems as clearly as “I” did.

We should take it as a warning sign when, in the course of discussing an argument, we become incredulous, acting as if our logic is so obvious and compelling, only a deceived moron could disagree.  Especially when dealing with fellow believers, we should reason from the scriptures and allow the spirit to do His work of convicting and convincing.  This is not to say that we should fail to use proper logic, but we should be depending on more than logic.  And that goes with dealing with unbelievers too.

Now, the fact is, when dealing with the unregenerate, it is sometimes possible that they are deceived, for

  • But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
  • They (non-Christians) are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of
    God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of
    heart. (Ephesians 4:18)
  • The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law (Romans 8:7)

However, we should assume this as a last resort – we should first be patient with those who disagree, allow them time to consider what we’ve said, and leave the belittling behind.

2. Constructive criticism comes alongside, DESTRUCTIVE criticism aims to alienate

The only problem is that I think I would have so alienated all who
disagree with me, that I would have lost the opportunity to effectively
influence any positive change. As it is, it is very easy to alienate,
even when striving for kindness and patience. In short, I noticed that
the critic has nothing to show for his efforts but destruction, and I
have no desire to spend my life destroying that which I have grown to

When we criticize fellow Christians, are we seeking to help them in accomplishing their mission, or are we seeking to destroy them?  Are we uncaring about alienating them, or are we befriending them?  While truth may alienate, we should be doubly self-aware to be sure that it’s not our approach and attitude, and our desire to get a rise, that are the alienating factor.  Again, this also applies to our approach to those outside the faith.

3. Being critical attracts mostly embittered, critical people

In the first place, there is no real hope of persuasion, since those
you critique become defensive and those who applaud you are often
disgruntled miscreants who are simply goading you to do something they
are not willing to do themselves. It has also occurred to me that
leading a mass of such critics is a doomed proposition, because once
you have successfully destroyed the thing you criticize, all you have
left is a bunch of embittered and sharply critical people, who will
either turn their critique on a new target or on themselves.

When you add to this the fact that blog readership is directly tied to
controversy and spectacle, you are left with a caustic blend where you
have to be shocking to keep people’s attention, but the kind of people
you are keeping, are those who enjoy the spectacle. It creates a
caustic culture that I believe will ultimately destroy itself.

So, the question for every blogger becomes, what kind of atmosphere do you want to create?  After pondering this, I think I have more respect for sites that moderate comments, and even boot people who become trolls.  Of course, I won’t do that here, because I also value unrestrained comments, even if some of them are shite.

4. Be an example and a reformer, not a critic

We cannot effect proactive change through passive critique. We simply
must get about doing and being what we should be, while helping others
do the same.

5. How should we handle our critics?

We should take a clue from David. Like Shimei (2 Samuel 16), [critics] kick up dirt and throw stones. Like, Shimei, [the critic] is
right about his assessment but wrong in the way he is going about
expressing it. Yet, like David, we should understand that God has
placed him there for our good.

David understood the danger. If he had a servant lop off his head,
others (even more dangerous) would rise up in his place. By attacking
back, David would have given credence to his accusations and emboldened
those who would agree with him….Any attacks would be fruitless, in the
end, and besides, the only stones you can throw at a critic are the
ones he has thrown at you. You would have to defend against and answer
every critique with an opposite critique. In the process, we would
become what he is, and we would still perpetuate the real problem.

So, listen to your critics seriously, consider what is true, or at least consider their perspective so that you may address it more effectively.  And then rather than counter-attacking, make a reasoned defense, and take any corrective action you need.  One of my favorite sayings along these lines is:

No attack, no defense, obey and preach the gospel.

6. We must have a bias for action, not for criticism

That is the danger of a critical culture, it tends to paralyze action,
since all human endeavors will fall short of perfection and open its
leaders to critique. Those who would lead must refuse to be paralyzed
and accept critique, altering course and necessary, but they must not
allow themselves to get sucked into this critical spiral….

I believe that the antidote for the future of Fundamentalism is a
rigorous application of humility and love to every sphere of our
interactions with one another. This might actually result in a kind of
“doulocracy” (rule by a slave – I made it up, don’t bother looking it
up, but the point should be clear). Also, we must focus on
being, and let that refute the critic. The only way to break the cycle is to leave it behind.

We really should remember that Christianity is more than right thinking, it’s right being.  While the two are related, we can focus on right thinking without ever changing, failing to heed the wisdom of James 1:22-25

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.   For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.   But
the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and
perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be
blessed in his doing.