A Plea to the Critics about Criticism

I may be stepping into a great big pile of…well…trouble. The SBC has a lot of critics, from those who love the SBC but have a few small areas of critique to those who think the denomination is dying, even some who seem to think that would be a boon to the Kingdom! Some have been productive and measured in their criticisms. Others, in my opinion, have been overly harsh, heaping condemnation on our convention.

But what I would like to do today is to give some criticism to the critics.  More to the point, I want to challenge critics of the SBC to filter their criticism through a biblical lens and be careful that what they say and the criticisms they make are done in a way that honors God, advances the Kingdom and is in line with God’s Word.

What I am NOT Saying

1) I am NOT saying (not…not…not) that all criticism is ungodly or out of bounds. My remarks on the topic have been consistently interpreted to say such (and maybe I have been unclear). There is a time to confront, a time to rebuke and a time to criticize (hold accountable – whatever term you use). There is a place for that criticism to be appropriately lodged. But that criticism must also be filtered through a biblical, spiritual process to make sure that criticism is godly and helpful, not destructive.

2) I am NOT trying to put myself in the place of the Holy Spirit or be any man’s judge. That is why I will not name names or be more specific, though friends have said I should. I have an opinion about a few of the louder voices of criticism within the SBC, but it is not my right or duty to say, “A is okay, and so is B, but C, D, and E are out of bounds.  I am going to make a case and each person has the choice to accept my perspective and advice or reject it. I am asking that each of us engage in self-evaluation, so for me to pass out grades would be contrary to my purpose.

3) I am NOT trying to squelch criticism. It would be unhealthy to the SBC (in my, perhaps self-serving, opinion) if bloggers and others stopped criticizing the SBC entirely. Much good has been accomplished in opening up the entities of the SBC by the fact that people can speak publicly when they do not agree with actions our leaders take. I have written dozens of articles criticizing leaders, though now I wish that I could reconsider or rewrite some of them. Alas…

I am not calling for an end to criticism, but I am saying that all of us who make criticisms need to to check our actions and attitudes according to the Word of God. Those who defend the Bible, who claim to be promoting truth and doctrinal accountability, ought to open themselves to accountability to God’s Word.

Frankly, if I am willing to set myself up as a critic of the SBC, ought I not at least be willing to open myself up to the criticism of those I criticize?

Several years ago, I wrote a (devastatingly insightful, powerfully argued?) post about one of our entities. I sent it to a VP at one of the entities, to tell him, “I’m posting this soon.” He confronted me. He said he thought that some of the force of my post came from personal feelings toward the entity head. You know what, he was right! I was mad. I still think that most of the things I said were true, but I trashed the article because I realized that my own motives and intents were wrong. I was not confronting from a pure heart.

I only wish I’d had someone to challenge me before I posted several others I’ve put up over the years.

My point is not that we ought never criticize or rebuke, but that we ought to be very careful when and how we do that, that we ought to judge our own motives and be careful that God is honored and the Kingdom is advanced.

So, if you feel you must, then lodge your criticism. Speak your mind. Have your say. But I would point to some truths from God’s Word that I would ask you to consider before you do it, or at least as you are doing it.

A Plea to the Critics

1) Our rebuke and correction must be kept in NT proportion.

The fact is that the church leaders in the NT did rebuke sin and call people to account. But these are relatively rare situations. They spent far more time feeding the sheep than hunting the wolves. If all you do is kill the weeds in your lawn, it won’t grow. You need a lot of fertilizer and a little weed-killer. I’m convinced that too often, we reverse that proportion.

Try an experiment. Get a couple of those Bible-marking pens and a New Testament. In honor of my brother, a lifelong Oakland A’s fan, get a green pen and a yellow one. Every time you find a verse in the NT epistles (or the gospels, as well) that advocates church discipline, rebuke of false teachers, or calls someone out by name – mark it in yellow. As you read, also mark, with green, every time there is an admonition to love, unity, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and such, mark it in green.

When you are done, your NT will look like a forest with a few yellow flowers.

That means that our Lord is concerned with doctrinal accountability and truth and such, but that he seems to be MUCH MORE concerned about the unity of the Body of Christ.

If you must criticize, make sure it is a small part of your ministry, not the focus of it. 

2) Our rebuke and correction must be done to promote love and restoration, not condemnation. 

Of course, every person who ever lodges a criticism says (and perhaps honestly believes) that he or she is doing so out of love and concern for the sinner. Only God knows the heart, but I have doubts about the love demonstrated in some of the criticisms I have read. Again, I’m no man’s judge. But I would appeal to the criticizers to examine their hearts and see how often the criticism truly comes from a heart of love.

Look at Galatians 6:1.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted

Rebuke is designed to restore in a spirit of love, for the good of the person whom you rebuke. We rebuke not to “get it off my chest” or to “settle a score” but to restore the other and to build the Kingdom.

Only the critic himself, with a Bible and the Holy Spirit, can answer this question:

Is your criticism truly coming from a heart of love, a desire to build up and edify? 

3) Our rebuke and correction must evidence the Fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh. 

Galatians 5 distinguishes between those things which mark the work of the flesh (sinful nature – whatever term you wish to use) and the Fruit of the Spirit – the behaviors that the Spirit of God builds into those in whom he dwells.

Galatians 5:19 says that the works of the flesh are “evident” – all too common and noticeable in our lives. Among those fleshly works are:

“…enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.”

He then contrasts the all-too-evident work of the sinful flesh to the internal work of the Spirit and the behavior changes it produces. In Galatians 5:22-23, this Fruit is delineated:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Read the two lists, honestly and openly, and ask yourself this question: Is the criticism I am lodging more a product of the first list or the second? Am I evidencing love, joy, peace, patience and kindness, or strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries and dissensions?

Again, this is a question each of us must answer before God.

Do my criticisms give more evidence of the works of the flesh or of the Fruit of the Spirit? 

4) All Rebuke and Correction must be done in God’s love. 

Love can be an overused, misunderstood and even abused concept. One frequent commenter at this site repeatedly questions our love as a people because we believe that there is only one way to God. We are painted as arrogant, cruel and unloving because we believe that those who do not repent and put their faith in Christ face eternal hell. Many call us unloving because we call sin sin. Obviously, both the concept of love and the application of that concept are prone to misinterpretation.

But God clearly defines love in Romans 5:8. While we were sinners, unworthy, wicked, and undeserving, God sent his Son to pay for our sins. Love is selfless action for the benefit of others – self-sacrifice serving others. We are told to walk in love as Christ did.

So, love means that we always act for the good of others, not our own. Defining that would be difficult if 1 Corinthians 13 did not do so clearly.

The passage begins with a statement on the importance of love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

If my words, either in my pulpit or by my pen, pour out strong words of truth, with powerful rhetoric, but do not evidence love, there is no effect. They count for nothing!

Then, Paul gives, in verses 4-8, the definitions of love – practical, real-life definitions.

I will confess this. As I look back at 8 or 9 years of blogging, it saddens me to think how often I have failed to live up to these words, how often I’ve displayed the flesh instead of the Spirit, how often I’ve walked in selfishness instead of imitating the love of Christ, how often I’ve been impatient, angry, vindictive.

I think if we are honest, we will see how often we all fail this noble standard. But our general failure does not negate our responsibility to that standard.

Two Things Love Always Is 

  • Love is patient – this word means to put up with the faults and failings of others. People who walk in love do not act as prosecutors, seeing the worst in others and magnifying their faults. No, they are patient, enduring wrongs
  • Love is kind – this is the flipside of patience. Instead of striking back against those who hurt you or insult you, you respond in kindness – seeking to be a blessing to the one who has offended you.

Note that there is no limit to love. “I was nice the first 7 times you offended me, but now you’ve gone too far.” Love (as we will see later) keeps on loving, and being patient and kind.

Eight Things Love Never Is

  • Love is not envious – it is not jealous of the blessings God gives others.
  • Love is not boastful – brag, pump oneself up. There are few things more contrary to the love of Christ than self-centeredness.
  • Love is not arrogant – puffed up with one’s own self-importance. More concerned with my ego than God’s glory.
  • Love is not rude – one who loves cares how his words and actions affect others, attempts not to hurt or injure with them.
  • Love is not selfish (does not insist on its own way) – in many ways, a summary. When I am walking in love, I don’t have to win the argument or get my way.
  • Love is not irritable – this word means many things, but it seems here to have the idea of easily provoked, a quick fuse. When we are operating in love, we are not quick to take offense.
  • Love is not resentful – this is the BIGGIE, folks. Literally, this says, “love does not record the wrong” or “love does not regard the wrong.” That is why several translations go with some version of “love does not keep a record of wrongs. Do you have a long list of grudges going back weeks, months or years that affect the way you deal with others?

Unfortunately, the internet is an aid to record-keeping on this matter. You can keep a record of every word anyone has ever said to you online.  But the Bible specifically commands us not to keep records of wrongs. We are called to live in grace, to love in spite of faults, to bear with one another and love sinners, as Christ did. You cannot do both! You cannot keep records of wrongs and walk in love. They are inimical.

  • Finally, love is not happy when sin wins out. It is not weak-kneed or tolerant of evil. The truest form of love is the proclamation of gospel truth, and it rejoices when the gospel is proclaim and when souls are won to Christ.

Four Things Love ALWAYS Does

Verse 7 is powerful. God’s love seeks us and pursues us when we do not deserve it, when we have not earned it; no more than that, when we have rejected God and run from his grace. But his love is stronger than our sin.

When we live in love, we must remember that, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” How much sin, mistreatment, insult and injury does love bear? Not a little or a lot. ALL THINGS. Love believes that God by his Holy Spirit can produce fruit of repentance and restoration in others. Love trust the Holy Spirit to do his job and just keeps believing that the process will continue. Love hopes in God and looks to eternal things, not just the things of this world. And love endures unbelievable wrong, injury and pain to accomplish that.

Wow, I am bad at love! I tend to resent all things, lose faith, lose hope and give up. But that is the flesh, not the Spirit. But that does not free me from my responsibility to continue to seek love and to let God’s love govern my actions.

One Thing Love NEVER Does

Love never fails. It never ends. It is permanent. It doesn’t quit, give up, or throw in the towel.

How many times have I failed since I was saved 50 years ago? How many times has God given up on me? I’m not sure of the first number, but the second is ZERO!  He doesn’t quit, he doesn’t consign us to the flame, he doesn’t despair of us. Since he completes what he starts, we are secure in Christ.

If I am walking in love, then I don’t give up on God’s people either. I offer a rebuke in love, but I may not act as if those for whom Christ died are beyond hope or help. That is not love.

Remember, when you are feeling you must critique, rebuke, criticize and correct, do so in love, because the greatest of these is love!

A Closing Thought

For the past few years, I’ve watched American Idol. I blame my daughter, who got me hooked on it. But I noticed something after Simon Cowell left the show. The singers got better! Simon was often vicious and cruel to those who performed. My son, a musician, defended the truth of what Simon said. But the problem was not with the truth he spoke, but the effect. He tore people down. After he left, the talent has gotten better. The new judges, much more encouraging (and at times, bizarre!) seem to have brought the best out of the singers.

Criticism is helpful to God’s people and to Christian entities. But we must be sure to be constructive, godly, and loving in all we do. We need so Southern Baptist Simons telling people that they are the “worst I’ve ever heard.” We need accuracy in confrontation of sin, but we also need to be careful not to violate the calls of the Scriptures we seek to defend.

There is only one reason that any of us should ever use pulpit, pen, or keyboard. It is to influence people toward Christ. We preach the gospel so sinners can repent and we speak truth so that our brothers and sisters in Christ will draw near to him and grow in grace and knowledge. Ultimately, when we criticize wrongly, our criticism will have no effect. It will not produce godly change. It will have no fruit. Only when we operate God’s way do we actually accomplish God’s work.

So, I appeal to the SBC’s critics (and in many ways, I am one of them) – go for it. But do so within the boundaries of Scripture you defend. Walk (and talk) in the Spirit not the flesh. Let love govern all your actions. Spend more time building up the body than fighting the disease in it. Fight the wolves, if you much, but be careful you do not injure the sheep in the process.

 

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    For the record, I was involved last night (and some today) in a rather lively Twitter discussion of criticism and its place in the SBC. However, my thoughts for this post preceded that and were not based on that exchange.

    This is not about that.

    • says

      Dave,
      Great post! It is rich with much to be applied in blogging and tweeting! And I will add, great job fending off the left field attacks on twitter.

  2. says

    Dave,
    I was not involved in your twitter discussion and only saw the tail end of it today. Frankly, I’m not too interested in the debate. I do think there are issues. But, I do think it is important to understand the context out of which some of the people you were discussing with have come.

    Some of the seminary guys you were tweeting with come from Louisiana College. To be blunt the situation there is very dysfunctional. Honestly, the state convention there is corrupt. These young men have had the early part of their training tainted by real evil happening and those in SBC leadership turning the back to it. While I agree that they can be too fervent at times we also need to guard against the opposite which protects the SBC power structures at the cost of the churches witness as has happened in Louisiana. What I saw in Louisiana was a church culture that was willing to criticize those outside the church but not those within, no matter how heinous their behavior.

    There is no doubt that these young guys need to learn to monitor their tone. But, we also need to understand that they are responding to the sins of apathy of the generation before them.

    • Dave Miller says

      No questions or disagreements.

      I would just remind you that this post was in mind before that and is not intended to be a continuation of or a corrective to that discussion.

      • says

        Fair enough.

        I do appreciate you allowing my comment through. Another, SBC blog today did not allow a comment on a different subject that also referenced the issues in Louisiana. We can’t hind from these issues. The world sees them and it affects our testimony. Thank you!

  3. says

    Great stuff, Dave. Agreed on all counts.

    I’ve unfollowed many on twitter because this spirit was hurting me. I just couldn’t hear all the vitriol any more.

    Now get ready to be excoriated because you’re too blind to agree with the people that need to read this the most. ;)

  4. William Thornton says

    I appreciate your sensitivity to criticism.

    There are not a few SBCers who are critics mostly in the sense of policy, budgetary, and structural composition. Unless one is unkind or overly personal in their criticism of such things (e.g., “state conventions keep too much of the cooperative program dollar”), this type of criticism is not just legitimate, it is one of our birthrights as free Baptists.

    Even critics whose concerns are expressed as being theological (e.g., “we have too many entity heads who are Calvinists”) may not be welcomed but, unless unkind or personal, should feel free and unfettered in such.

    Just like you, I see a lot of gratuitous head slapping on some blogs. This isn’t helpful.mand certainly not loving. But I also see much legitimate criticism that formerly had no outlet in the SBC. This is often helpful and I speculate that it will be beneficial to us in the long run.

  5. Greg Harvey says

    I think this is arguably the worst piece Dave ever wrote…

    …mainly because he’s making points I don’t want to be accountable for!!! ;)

  6. Dean says

    Dave, thank you for a timely post. I am honestly heartbroken by much of what I read today. Some seem determined to demonstrate their spirituality by finding fault with everyone but their followers. I see two things that trouble me:
    1. Many who are calling for E Caner to repent should ashamed. Some behave in a way that disgrace not only Jesus but their own selves as adults. To call someone to repentance in one breath and demonstrate hatred toward that same person the next cannot be. I am not an E C fan but this crew makes it hard not to pull for him the way they behave. Their hatred now extends to GBC and the SBC because he is president of a Baptist college.

    2. It is laughable the way some speak as if they have been in every SBC church. Some speak of SBC pastors and churches like they have experienced them all. This is doubly difficult to listen to from young men with less than five years of ministry experience and probably have worshipped in a total of 20 churches in two states. I can’t take serious some one who says, “the problem with pastors in the SBC is they …” Until someone has visited in about 25,000 of our churches they are not able to make such statements.

    Step Martin came through my town a few years ago and called me to have breakfast with him. Our conversation eventually made it to the deciline in baptisms in the SBC. HE WEPT!!! Then asked what can we do to turn this thing around. I suspect the SBC’s critics have shed few tears over her today.
    Blessings, Dean

    • says

      25,000 Churches? Really? So your position is that no one can make such criticisms?

      I obviously don’t know most SBC criticizers. But, I know a couple involved in the twitter discussion. To question their commitment to the gospel, is unfair. I know they are desperately concerned about the salvation of the lost.

      As for the question you were asked, I think one key to turning this around is for the SBC to clean its house. For too long the SBC has been far too concerned with the culture war at the expense of a focus on souls. Further, the SBC, in my experience, tends to turn a blind eye to the demons in its own midst. As I referenced earlier, the issue in Louisiana is horrid and it has received little to no attention from the SBC despite the SBC president being from Louisiana.

      • Dean says

        Rondall, I belive if a person is going to offer blanket criticism of SBC pastors he needs to have listened to most of them. For example, some say that preaching to make people happy is a sacred cow of SBC preachers. Until one has listened to the majority of SBC pastors how can we take such criticism seriously?

        Where did I question anyone’s commitment to the Gospel? However, I do question the commitment of some to the SBC. That is based on how they speak of her. I doubt the critics I read weep over the SBC.

        • says

          So then you are saying that no one should offer such a criticism. I do think there is such a thing as a representative sample political polling is built around that science. But, no doubt it is better to say “in my experience.” I find it problematic though that your criterion for taking someone seriously is something which no one can accomplish.

          It was an implied criticism of their commitment to the Gospel when you doubted that they have wept over the decline in Baptisms.

          I am not a vocal critic of the SBC, though admittedly I have been of the LBC. I will say though that I personally have no commitment to the SBC. My commitment has always been to Christ. For me there are times that I weep over the SBC but that is because I believe there are times when the SBC does harm to the name of Christ. -

  7. says

    So then you are saying that no one should offer such a criticism. I do think there is such a thing as a representative sample political polling is built around that science. But, no doubt it is better to say “in my experience.” I find it problematic though that your criterion for taking someone seriously is something which no one can accomplish.

    It was an implied criticism of their commitment to the Gospel when you doubted that they have wept over the decline in Baptisms.

    I am not a vocal critic of the SBC, though admittedly I have been of the LBC. I will say though that I personally have no commitment to the SBC. My commitment has always been to Christ. For me there are times that I weep over the SBC but that is because I believe there are times when the SBC does harm to the name of Christ.

  8. Dean says

    Rondall, you have made my point for me. I have no issue if a person speaks of his experience. I never am offended by such comments. However, I read regularly what is wrong with SBC churches and pastors without the modifier, “in my experience.” I can’t take such statements serious and truthfully I am tired of reading them. The 25,000 was hyperbole.

    No, it was not an implied criticism of anyone’s commitment to the Gospel. I said, “I suspect the SBC’s critics have not shed many tears over her today.” I make such a comment because you can sense glee in the ones I read as they criticize the SBC. You have no idea of who I speak of yet you chose to defend them. I guess I’m free to criticize everyone but the critics of the SBC!

    • Dave Miller says

      Other than some specifics about what you two are upset about, I think that your disagreement may not be great here. The issue Dean is speaking of, I think, is perspective.

      We ought not make generalizations and universal statements based simply on our own experience.

      • says

        Dave I think you are probably right. It is always better to temper a statement with a disclaimer such as “in my experience.” But, I also think to require someone speak to a “majority” of SBC pastors before making a statement is un reasonable. One can ascertain the ethos of a culture through a much smaller sample size. I still think that the statement “I suspect the SBC’s critics have not shed many tears over her today” is an implied criticism of their gospel commitments. Further Dean, unless you have spoken to a majority of SBC critics I think it is an unreasonable statement. ;)

        Dean, it is true that I do not know specifically of whom you were typing. I chose to defend the group because in my experience I have seen the few in this group that I do know unfairly criticized by leaders who are defending corruption. I am not meaning to imply in any way that this is you…I don’t know you. I’m just a little sensitive to the attacks I’ve seen on these young men in Louisiana when they were some of the few who were willing to stand on principle against a corrupt leadership. That certainly colors my experience and is why I spoke up. Again I do not mean to imply that you are like the leaders with which they’ve tangled. But, I’ve seen many driven not just away from the SBC but the church at large by some and yet these young guys were attacked for things they should have been applauded for. I may be overly protective of the couple I know so please forgive me.

  9. says

    Maybe one more set of questions to be added:

    Do you pray before criticizing? Do you pray for those whom you are criticizing? Perhaps even: Do you spend as much time in prayer over the situation you’re criticizing as you do in the criticism itself?

    And that should apply to the critics of critics, too.

  10. Tarheel says

    I think a danger rearing to criticism that we all must avoid is dismissing them by over simplifying objections and criticisms into categories or boxes. That makes it easier for us to handle, but tends to not be especially productive.

    “She just don’t like so and so or such and such so she’s being negative”

    “Oh, he’s just a Calvinist so of course he feels that way.”

    “oh he’s not a Calvinist so of course he doesn’t like that.”

    “oh, they’ve jut got personal animus”

    “oh, she is just a complainer”

    Sometimes these boxes are accurate, sometimes we’re way off….but it’s easier so we do it….

    However, doing this tends to lead to insulated mindsets and end up being destructive to healthy ministry. I’ve had to many times during my ministry…shrug off the neat little boxes I have created for “negative people” and examine what they’re saying and at times it’s lead to a reverse of course. Not every time of course, but certainly more than once or twice.

    If I’m honest with myself I must admit I often create the boxes I spoke of to protect myself and my agendas. (I do not use the word agenda in an exclusively negative way.)

    I/we must fight against that a swell.

    Am I alone?

    • Dave Miller says

      As to the point of your comment, let me respond.

      I agree, we ought not just write off criticism as invalid. Just because a boy cries wolf time and again doesn’t mean that one time, there is not really a wolf.

      But the problem with those who criticize too often is that we do tend to write them off. “Oh, that’s just Buford popping off again.”

      It may not be right, but it is normal.

    • says

      “She just don’t like so and so or such and such so she’s being negative”

      This, and the other examples you gave, fit exactly the argument technique that C. S. Lewis labelled ‘Bulverism’ (and which I bring up here from time to time). Instead of actually paying attention to what they say, and addressing their arguments, you assume they’re wrong, and give your own speculations (as though saying those speculations makes them true) about why they are arguing the way they do. You address their supposed motivations, instead of addressing their arguments.

      And you’re right, it’s easier (you don’t have to actually think about what the other person is actually saying), but it isn’t particularly productive. All you have to do is blithely assume that you can see into their hearts like God does, and not care about the risk of libeling/slandering them.

  11. dr. james willingham says

    What I have tried to do is to call attention to the positive and constructive nature of the Sovereign Grace theology or Calvinism as some are wont to call it. It is not that I want to promote the view of one man, I do not! In fact, his penchant for persecution along with some of the other Reformers is a turn off. However, having said that I would like to call attention to a glaring lack in the critics criticism: they are focused on the Servetus case to the exclusion of all else. Imagine. Think. Consider. Roman Catholicism has had a record in this respect which goes back more than 1200 years. I wonder sometime whether the critics have taken leave of their senses by being so narrowly focused that they are seemingly utterly unaware of the bigger picture, The office of the Holy Inquisition was established in the 1200s and continues to this day albeit under another name adopted circa 1906. Thousands, perhaps millions, died as a result of that institution and no one gets concerned about it. No, they focus on a limited matter of happenings in a few years.

    But back to the constructive nature of the ideas, concepts, truths, which comprise the teachings of grace. They are so ordered as to be two-sided and apparently contradictory (that is, they can’t be reconciled by the human mind and are not meant to be. On the contrary, they are to be held in the mind in a both/and construct, creating a tension which enables one to be balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic. In other words, this approach makes on mature in the best sense of the word. There is more, much more, but other matters call for attention.

    This is a thought-provoking blog, David, one designed to make people think. And your leading it to a discussion concerning Agape Love is apropos to the whole issue. In fact, it is the heart of the matter. Love is more than a feeling; it is an intellectual and volitional commitment to God and others. Now I really must stop. God bless. Your blogging is getting better or perhaps my mental powers are declining or both. After all, we are talking about a both/and subject.

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