Criticism — Constructive, Destructive, Gentle, & Stinging

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

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4 Responses to “Criticism — Constructive, Destructive, Gentle, & Stinging”

  1. Eugene says:

    Now everyone is talking about the American economy and eclections, nice to read something different. Eugene

  2. Susan says:

    Jugulum, Did you happen to read Wallace’s recent Wife Abuse post? I felt pressed to try to determine whether commenter “Sue” was a believer or not. She has been a dominant presence in Dan’s last two posts. I’ve noticed that she rarely refers to scripture… builds her case largely on external evidence and historic sightings etc. She attempts to persuade and indoctrinate relentlessly. She’s the most frustrating person to dialog with because of the subtle way she twists things and misrepresents what others have said to her. I asked her a series of simple probing question which any believer would be happy to answer, but which she danced around, repeatedly. I believe she doesn’t want anyone to know the truth about her because she would loose her audience. I suspect that she has come to have much influence in the Christian community… she has interacted with several well-known scholars. She has accused Dan Wallace of causing wife abuse by promoting a Complementarian view (via email). She has gotten into scuffles with other well-knows over the same.

    Read my conversation with her if you are interested. I think that people need to know the truth about her. She lists Gordon Fee among her preferred scholars. Dan Wallace’s plenary speech at the ETS conference two days ago tells the story there. I had read the speech a few days before, because he had sent it to me….. the comments about Fee are included within my comments on the Abuse thread. Do delete this message if you feel it best. Thanks. Susan (P&P).

  3. Tim says:

    Hi Susan,

    I skimmed some of it earlier today, when I noticed that the comment thread was so high. I didn’t read closely enough to get any impressions of Sue, other than that she’s an egalitarian–I first saw her a few months ago, actually.

    I probably won’t spend any time on it. The point would be either to study egalitarian arguments, or just to find out if she’s imbalanced. If she’s imbalanced, there’s not much value in me spending time verifying it. And I’ve already got a couple books to read, if I want to study that side.

    Thanks, though.

  4. Susan says:

    Tim, I don’t blame you (I wasn’t even suggesting you try to read all of that). I really don’t care that much about the C vs. E thing honestly. I’m basically C, and it’s never been an issue for me. The more significant issue in the discussion, toward the end was, that I believe it became apparent that Sue is probably not a believer tho she poses as one. It seems that she makes quite an effort to approach scholars and can be quite a source of frustration….. and apparently, influence, to those inclined toward E.

    It became a very tense and unfriendly conversation. It’s really the only time I’ve felt attacked at P&P, but then, it’s the only time I’ve ever felt it important to probe as to where a person was really coming from…. believer or not. Ultimately I felt the need to expose her….. or at least to point out to others the basic questions of faith I asked her and how she repeatedly evaded…. not something a believer would do.

    What does it matter? If she stays away, or Michael expels her, then it’s done (P&P anyway). I’ve stayed away for a few days. Another frequent commenter was fightin’ angry with me. I’m enjoying peace!

    Why do I tell you this? I’m not sure actually, except that if you ever run into her in the blogoshere you’ll have a heads up. I DARE you to write a thread on E vs. C and invite her over ;-) If you don’t have a big name she probably won’t bother. She seems to target the heavies.

    Have fun, and keep blogging!

    Susan

    Your thread here speaks to this sort of situation.

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