Courtesy of our sin, it is always easier to criticize than to encourage. I was forcefully reminded of this recently when I had a friend look over the draft of a writing project I was working on. He rightly noted that it came off as angry, attacking the same old targets in evangelicalism that have been hammered for years. I scrapped that draft and I’m working on a new one.
I was reminded in another way when Jaimie and I visited my family in Colorado last weekend. I was having a conversation with my youngest sister about her church, and I disagreed with some of the approaches they take. (If you’re curious, this piece on Pillar on the Rock will about sum it up.) As I’ve slowly been learning in my relationship with Jaimie, though, it’s easy to overload people in that sort of discussion – especially when it comes across as attacking our church, an institution rightly near and dear to our hearts. (At least, hopefully our local church is dear to our hearts!)
When we see things amiss in the world – especially things that involve the people or institutions we love most – it is easy to simply jump into a critical mode and assume that people will understand where we’re coming from. This is particularly true when the issue is significant and clear in Scripture. Because we see it clearly, and recognize its importance, we can assume others will be quick to understand the point as well.
Of course, given it took us up to the very point when we first understood that truth to grasp it ourselves, it behooves us to be a bit more patient than is our want. (By "we" and "our" I mostly mean "I" and "my", but I know I am not the only person who struggles with this issue.) Jaimie has noted that we must show others the same grace God shows us. None of our theology is complete; all of us are a work in progress.1 God bears with our follies and foibles along the way; we ought to do the same with one another.
Indeed, this is very much one of the takeaways from the parable of the unforgiving servant: we must respond to others as God has responded to us. lf we do not, we are showing that we do not understand God’s grace and demonstrating an unwillingness to love others as he has loved us. This should trouble us. As the apostle John writes,
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20 ESV)
Those are strong words for people who do not exercise God’s love toward each other, and it’s a stiff warning to those of us inclined toward critique. It is not wrong to help others see a better way, of course, but the way in which we go about it matters a great deal. Further, it is far more effective to show a better way than it is to simply attack the current approach. Even if the person with whom you are speaking is convinced by your critique, what are they to do in response?
This is one of the areas I struggle most. God willing, it is an area in which I will do better each time the opportunity arises. You can hold me to that, because blogs are one of the placest it is easiest to criticize instead of building up: one "benefit" of hiding behind screens and keyboards on the internet. I am resolved not to offer critiques without offering solutions right alongside them, and to offer encouragement far more often than critique in this space henceforth.
Of course, this is not an excuse to stay where we are. I have run into this on a regular basis. Whether in their own lives, or in their approach to theology, many people will offer the excuse that they are simply a work in progress and refuse to address the issue – sort of an adult version of a five year old demanding grace – that’s just not quite how it works, guys!↩