A True Critique May Not Always Be A Wise One

My two year old likes to sing. And when he sings, he sings with all his might. And, you know, he can carry a tune — for a two year old. And because he is two and can barely put sentences together, and because he has not been trained in the academy or raised for operatic genius, I would critique him quite differently than I would a professionally trained singer. The slightest error might be cause for a corrective and stringent critique towards the trained professional. But for my son, the slightest error is only part of a larger reality that he is putting words together and being excessively cute. And so that sort of critique would not exist. Critique might come, but it will come much more indirectly and softly, according to his ability to handle it. Depending upon the experience and training and ability and maturity of the singer, the critique will be more or less stringent. It might even address different things.

The issue in giving critique is to know the one whom you are critiquing. The better we know them and their abilities and their level of training, the better equipped we will be to offer appropriate and gracious criticism.  I think we largely fail at this. The reasons for this suggested failure are manifold: perhaps, pride — we cannot stand to fathom that this person might be more gifted than me, so we have to knock them down a notch with our superior knowledge. Perhaps, extreme expectations, which is another way of saying gracelessness.  This is the inability to consider room for growth. We tend to think of people in static terms. What they are now, that they will always be. So we are more inclined to criticize harshly, thinking that by our effort they might be transformed. Tangential to this, I think, is the lack of a truly pastoral heart. Again, a failure to understand sanctification and how best to bring others along to full maturity in Christ. Or worst of all, perhaps, a simple lack of love. This idea is underneath the others. Love seeks to edify, to build up. And don’t misunderstand me. Direct and stringent and tight criticism can be edifying and has been necessary and useful in my own life as I have received it from others. I am not calling for the abolition of such critique. It can be done, it must be done in love. But a lot of what I have witnessed on this front is, ultimately, a failure to apply growth-inducing compassion. It requires the hard work of getting on the other person’s level, understanding their foundation, trusting in the inward work of God’s Spirit to transform, and offering edifying critique on those grounds.

An example and a final thought.

Example: My local church has an apprenticeship for men aspiring to the office of pastor, or missionary, or, very wonderfully, the biblically-informed and brave-hearted husband and father. Preaching a handful of short sermons is part of the course. While I am not in the apprenticeship, I sat in on one of the sessions a few months ago. One of the brothers preached for the rest of the men, about twenty-five of us. It was his first attempt at preaching before other human beings, much less a room full of present seminarians and future pastors and missionaries. And when he finished, he was critiqued — critiqued hard. One of the brothers used his knowledge of biblical Greek to criticize one of his points. What’s the problem? Not that this brother desired to help this other brother see things a bit more clearly by means of New Testament Greek. But that a critique was offered by means of New Testament Greek to a brother who had not yet taken New Testament Greek. And a few other such critiques were offered. I have been in both shoes. By God’s grace, I was able to see his discouragement. So afterwards, I went to him and mentioned a few things that he had said that were encouraging to me, that God really used to build me up in the faith. He had studied hard. He had genuine affections for the truth of the text. He had wrestled with it experientially. And he taught it with passion appropriate to the glory of Christ. He even used suitable illustrations (something I envy). And so I made these things known to him in order that he might be encouraged to continue to grow in his craft. Later, he sent me an email thanking me for the encouragement.

A final word: what this means is that while a critique may be true, a true critique may not always be wise. Again, know the person, know their foundation, give room for growth and sanctification, trust the working of God’s grace, seek to build up, and before speaking, consider humility. It is not that they do not need to know the truth at the center of your critique. They do! It is rather the packaging of it. And the packaging of it usually shows the maturity of our own hearts. Do we only seek to be a corrective? Or do we also seek to offer affirmation? Do we hold them accountable for things beyond their current level of knowledge or ability or experience? Or do we package these things with understanding and an encouragement that looks to future growth in what they lack? If we approach criticism in the latter ways described, then our hearts are venting a shepherd’s love. And at the end of the day, it is this shepherd’s love that must serve as a guide to all of our conversation.

Christian Responses to the Tragedy in Aurora

While this certainly grabs at the heart of every American, it is somewhat nuanced for me in that I attended that midnight showing of The Dark Knight earlier this morning.  But in God’s providence, I watched in Louisville, KY and not Aurora, CO.  Still, the news was, needless to say, burdening and broadening.  Here are two responses from Collin Hansen and Al Mohler.  Praying for these families during yet another sin-evincing crisis, and for all the churches in the Denver area, that they will be granted wisdom, grace, spiritual life, and a gentle boldness in bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear upon the hardest realities of this world.

Fighting Sin With Worship, by Tim Keller

Originally part of a sermon, and recently posted at the Desiring God blog.

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are nottasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting —tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

Go here for the whole, really, really, really good excerpt on the enslaving nature of sin and the power of worship to set us free.

Jesus’ Doctrine of Scripture, by Kevin DeYoung

After working through four main texts (John 10:35Matthew 5:17-1912:38-4219:4-5) I provided a summary of Jesus’ doctrine of Scripture.

Jesus held Scripture in the highest possible esteem. He knew his Bible intimately and loved it deeply. He often spoke with language of Scripture. He easily alluded to Scripture. And in his moments of greatest trial and weakness—like being tempted by the devil or being killed on a cross—he quoted Scripture.

His mission was to fulfill Scripture, and his teaching always upheld Scripture.

He never disrespected, never disregarded, never disagreed with a single text of Scripture.

He affirmed every bit of law, prophecy, narrative, and poetry. He shuddered to think of anyone anywhere violating, ignoring, or rejecting Scripture.

Jesus believed in the inspiration of Scripture, down  to the sentences, to the phrases, to the words, to the smallest letter, to the tiniest mark.

He accepted the chronology, the miracles, and the authorial ascriptions as giving the straightforward facts of history.

He believed in keeping the spirit of the law without ever minimizing the letter of the law. He affirmed the human authorship of Scripture while at the same time bearing witness to the ultimate divine authorship of the Scriptures.

He treated the Bible as a necessary word, a sufficient word, a clear word, and the final word.

It was never acceptable in his mind to contradict Scripture or stand above Scripture.

He believed the Bible was all true, all edifying, all important, and all about him. He believed absolutely that the Bible was from God and was absolutely free from error. What Scripture says God says, and what God said was recorded infallibly in Scripture.

Jesus submitted his will to the Scriptures, committed his brain to study the Scriptures, and humbled his heart to obey the Scriptures.

In summary, it is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did. The Lord Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, believed his Bible was the word of God down to the tiniest speck and that nothing in all those specks and in all those books in his Bible could ever be broken.

Go here for his exegetical, theological, and logical work that leads to these conclusions, and for all eight sermons recently preached on the doctrine of Scripture.

How the Gospel Changes Our Apologetics, Part 1, by Tim Keller

Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already given people an answer to the “what” question. The what question, of course, is “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?” —then you need apologetics.

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

Go here for the first part of this blog series by Keller at City to City.

5 Resolutions For A Christian Communicator, by Daniel Darling

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the calling of a Christian communicator. This could be your duties as a writer, whither blogs or books or articles. Or it could be your task as a preacher or teacher, whither in small group, pulpit ministry, or classroom.

To communicate the truth of the good news of the gospel, in any form, is a high privilege and a sober calling. I’m always mindful of James 3, which outlines the seriousness of the calling and the negative and positive effect of the words we craft.

Go here for the list.

Trusting God Is Not Easy, by Ray Ortlund

Trusting God is not comfortable.  It doesn’t belong in a Hallmark card picture — a colorful valley, a quaint village, a church steeple, with a sentimental slogan.  Trusting God can be extremely uncomfortable, even painful.

Rabbi David Kimchi, one of the early Hebrew lexicographers, defined the verb “wait” inIsaiah 40:31 with reference to the medieval German verb for “twist.”  That is, waiting on the Lord can involve tension and pressure and stress.  How could it be otherwise?  Waitingis pent-up irresolution.

Go here for the rest of Ortlund’s post.