Archive for October, 2008

Criticism — Constructive, Destructive, Gentle, & Stinging

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

Michael Patton is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a ministry called Reclaiming the Mind.  He’s got a lot of good resources–the Parchment & Pen blog, the Theology Program, Theology Unplugged Radio, and Converse with Scholars.  There’s a wealth of audio, video, & written material, all freely available.

He has a very irenic style.  I appreciate it.  I’ve learned.  But the danger for him is that he will be so irenic–so polite–so nice–so even-handed–that he will fail to rebuke well, or fail to press home the urgency of believing rightly, or fail to press home the danger of error.

He recently posted Criticism from a Reader, which contains a well-articulated, gracious criticism from a reader along those lines.  It–and the comments–are worth reading.

Some observations:

1.) Irenic, gracious speech is very important.

We’re supposed to speak the truth in love–our words should be gracious, seasoned with salt.  Our criticism of brothers should be helpful, loving, and hopeful.

2.) Charity police can be some of the least charitable people in the world.

If you read many blogs on the internet, you will find people who speak very uncharitably–they’re constantly unnecessarily harsh in tone and unreasonable in how they interpret others.  You will also find people who are obsessed with accusing others of being uncharitable.  You can call them charity police.  And those guys can be some of the least charitable people around–accusing others of uncharity at the drop of a hat or the slightest hint of language that isn’t excessively polite.  Majorly unreasonable & oversensitive.

We should be gracious with each other in addressing their mistakes–including mistakes of style.  And we shouldn’t be too quick to assume the worst.  But we must be discerning & watchful.  We must correct each other.  Just be careful in how you do it, and how you interpret people.

3.) There’s a place for hard words.

Hard words are sometimes necessary & right.  The Bible is full of examples.

I have found that very confusing.  I’ve had difficulty reconciling gentleness and harshness.  I haven’t known what to do with it.

4.) Doing both well is very difficult.

Myself, when I err, I usually err on the side of being too polite/nice.  Others usually err on the side of being too harsh.

Mark Driscoll recently spoke on the subject at the Desiring God national conference.  Give it a listen.  It’s worth thinking about.  (And, BTW, Driscoll himself doesn’t claim to do perfectly on this, in his practice.  But his teaching about it is sound.)

Part of the task is to know when to speak in what ways.  Driscoll says to feed the sheep.  Rebuke the swine.  Shoot the wolves.  Bark at the dogs.

For the full explanation with a definition of those groups, check out the message.  (I’ve listened twice.  It’s good, convicting, humbling, funny, tender, and hard.)

How Sharp the Edge? Christ, Controversy, and Cutting Words by Mark Driscoll

5.) The wounds of a friend are faithful.

Prov. 27:6

Driscoll’s thoughts on “the wounds of a friend”:  A friend is someone who has love for you, and hope for you.  And who prays for you more than they criticize you.

When you criticize a brother, seek to do it as a brother.  As a friend.

6.) Aim for more pervasive & consistent humility, grace, and love.

The reason I mentioned “charity police” is that a couple of them showed up in the comments at Michael Patton’s blog.  Or… Well, that was the way I labeled it.  That was the way I categorized them.

To pile irony upon irony, I was in danger of uncharitably dismissing them, instead of correcting as a brother.

Isn’t that interesting?  It is so easy for us to fall into the mistakes that we’re criticizing.  We need to keep praying for God’s heart-transforming grace