Where there are many words...
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. - Proverbs 10:19
Dad was fond of saying criticism is the manure Christians grow best in. As you can imagine, I get a fair bit of it and do my best not simply to pass it off. I meet with the Clearnote Pastors College men each Tuesday for two hours of discussion surrounding a text of Scripture. From time to time, criticism comes up and one thing I try to remember to say is that, while we should not treat them with much respect, we should always read anonymous letters. Often they're anonymous because of a deep root of bitterness in the author, but not always. And usually such letters say things I need to hear and take to heart. (On the other hand, anonymous letters of thanks and praise are always, always perfectly true. These are to be sincerely believed, meditated on, and placed under our pillow at night where we might nuzzle them with our cheek during the wee hours of the morning.)
You won't be surprised that my initial response to criticism is often to be defensive and argue with my critic. Over the years this has declined, as I trust my dear Mary Lee would testify. She's always been my first and best critic, particularly since my dear Mother died. And when the defensiveness is there at first, usually it doesn't take very long for me to see whatever truth is in the criticism, at which time I go back and thank the critic telling him his words were true and helpful. And if my defensiveness was sinful, I ask his forgiveness.
In the past three weeks, I've received three criticisms of the blog and those criticisms highlight another aspect to responding to critics that's quite important...
It's one thing to have a Shimei hurling abuse at you1 and quite another to have your wife, daughter or son, brother, a wise older Christian, a dear and longtime friend, or fellow pastors and elders rebuke you. David listened carefully to Abigail.2
As their intimate knowledge of you and your love and respect for them goes higher, you should pay closer and closer attention to your critic's rebukes and corrections. Again, you should listen most closely and take to heart most carefully the criticisms of your wife and mother, assuming your mother is a Christian and your wife is a godly helpmate (rather than a godless hurtmate). This to say each of the three criticisms I've received have been from a man or woman whom I respect, so I've carried them in my mind and heart since receiving them.
The first criticism had to do with my post on the Duck Dynasty flap. A godly woman told me privately she found Phil Robertson's comments concerning which body parts are to be preferred in sexual intercourse revolting. My dear sister in Christ said Mr. Robertson objectified women with his observation and that his words were demeaning to women. I responded that I didn't see it that way.
t's one of the insidious aspects of our citified world that death and rot and manure and intercourse aren't daily visions from the kitchen window overlooking the barnyard. So we've become dainty in our discussions of sodomy. It's all about identity politics and identity politics never ever mention body parts. It's my conviction that Christians need to be faithful to confess not simply what God's book of special revelation, the Bible, reveals, but also what God's book of nature reveals. And this is what men close to the soil and barnyard do, thank God. They can't get body parts out of their minds as they read the Bible and they can't get the Bible out of their minds as they consider body parts. Then they confess their faith.
So no, I didn't agree with my highly esteemed sister that Phil Robertson was relegating women or his wife to being nothing more than body parts. Rather, I'm convinced he was making a critically important point that only an uneducated man still remembers. God made specific body parts for lovemaking and it's quite beautiful and satisfying when a man and his wife use the parts God designed for making love. And I think that is speaking respectfully of women and our wives. I suspect Phil Robertson's wife understood what he was saying and took a certain private joy in it. But yes, I may be wrong and I leave that judgment to you, dear readers.
The second criticism had to do with a discussion of illegal immigration under the blog post The joy of work....
One commenter spoke of the lawlessness of those who cross our borders illegally, but he did so without a hint of Scripture's constant command3 that the people of God are to treat the sojourner in our midst with compassion because we were once slaves and sojourners ourselves.
Another brother pointed out that I had not responded to this comment as he'd hoped, either rebuking the commenter for what seemed to be heartlessness or myself speaking up in behalf of the widow and orphan and sojourner in our midst.
I think his criticism is valid and here want to make it clear that, although I believe our nation's immigration laws should be enforced and those who break them punished for breaking the law, I yet believe and am committed to showing compassion for the poor in our midst, many of whom are illegal aliens.
I'd like to say much more about this, but time limits me, so let me leave it with the simple statement that Reformed churches should join other Christians in being at the head of the lists fighting for compassionate immigration laws and the welfare of those living in our midst who live in terror of being arrested for not crossing the border according to the laws of the wealthiest nation on earth across human history. I will view it as a spiritual victory when Clearnote Church, Bloomington has as many poor Hispanics lacking a green card and working as busboys and sheet rockers in our congregation as rich Chinese grad students who keep Indiana University afloat with their tuition payments. I apologize for not defending these sojourners in the comments immediately, as I ought.
And God bless you if you think I've turned into an anarchist by arguing for Christian charity in behalf of Hispanics.
The third criticism had to do with my more recent post on the Reformed world's celebrity culture. Titled Establish the work of our hands..., one of our most supportive and faithful readers who lives across the pond wrote this loving rebuke:
I just wanted to write concerning your most recent post, 'Establish the work of our hands'.
I can't help thinking that the post comes across with contempt and disdain for the rest of our reformed brothers out there. Is this wise and good? I would hate for you to give occasion to people to reject your writings for any other reason than the despised truths you give voice to.
I'm sure you already know this, but one discipline I personally find is helping keep my heart in a good frame is to pray for those I am inclined to despise. I don't have the privilege of being in a church where the bulk of the congregation welcomes the doctrine of election, let alone Christian manhood and womanhood. Eyebrows would probably be raised if a person included that tweet you reference in a prayer. Should we not pray and fight for these people that they may 'be filled with the knowledge of His will'?
Here are some words from Jonathan Edwards that I recently came across (and neither he nor I are against strong and forceful words):
He may reprove his neighbor; but if he does, it will be with politeness and without bitterness, which still shows the design to be only to exasperate.It may be with strength of reason and argument and serious expostulation, but without angry reflections or contemptuous language. He may show a dislike of what is done, but it will not be with an appearance of high resentment; but as a man would reprove another that has fallen into sin against God, rather than against him; as lamenting his calamity more than resenting his injury, and as seeking his good rather than his hurt; more to deliver him from the calamity into which he has fallen than to be even with him for the injury he has brought on him.
Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, ed. Kyle Strobel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 98.
I hope you don't mind me being a friend to you...
Given the time difference, we weren't able to talk by Skype or phone, so before retiring for the night I wrote this response:
Thank you for your e-mail rebuke. Very pleased to have you as a friend, as you put it.
After reading your e-mail, I went back and read the post once more. Hadn't read it for several weeks so I needed a refresher. As you know, I'm not opposed to changing things after I post them and realize their tone or wording is sinful or needlessly obtuse. Sometimes I even remove them from the blog and apologize as I did with one post a month or two ago.
So what would I remove or edit in this post, given your criticism?
I'm not sure. What I wanted was to lampoon the sycophantic nature of the Reformed world today. I wasn't doing so because I was angry or jealous or mean-spirited, as best I can tell. This is not so much a doctrinal issue as a matter of fashion, fads, and celebrities and the question is how does one expose and shame celebrities other than to make fun of them for cultivating the fawning attention of groupies for their inanities?
I know (these men I've written about) personally. (I think all) handled the (plaigarism fracas) poorly, but why get serious about it when everyone else already is taking these men and their crud too, too seriously.
What I want to do is shame those who spend their lives keeping up with Reformed celebrity gossip and consuming Reformed celebrity conference products and books. It's all shameful and I don't know how to shame what is shameful in a way that won't offend postmodern sensibilities and leave me vulnerable to accusations of bitterness, jealously, intemperance, and a sinful lack of Christian charity.
Why don't you edit it the way you think I should have written it and send me the copy so I can see if you can pull it off without employing ridicule and sarcasm...
With love in our Lord,
Likely I'm wrong in this response, but honestly, I simply do not know how to get men to stop patronizing the celebrity circuit that is the corruption of the Reformed church of our time. I take it on here on Baylyblog by making serious points and using Scripture citations often enough, yet the beat goes on. Is ridicule wrong?
I don't know. But I constantly remember and repeat to others Dad's warning oft-repeated his last few years of life concerning the Evangelical celebrity world he knew so well: "Everyone's out to build his own kingdom." I've spent a lot of time at meetings and conferences with these men and most of them need to shut up, go home, and tend their own garden. The Reformed church would be better off without their unbelievable pride, loud mouths, and profit-mongering. God ordained the Church served by pastors and elders who tend their own sheep.
And yes, I'm using a blog to say this, just as Dad used a magazine to say it before me.
So, what do you think, dear readers? Shoot away and make sure you save your best bullets for me.