I have been attempting to encourage healthy, honest dialog, and fruitful criticism in the Christian community through this series on how to criticize well.
Here is a look back at previous posts:
Today, I'm wrapping it up as we focus on the need to admit when we are wrong.
#5 Admit When You Are Wrong
We all engage in criticism, and because we are fallible human beings there will be times when we make mistakes in our criticism of others. So, beware of the person who is constantly criticizing others, yet never admits when they have got it wrong. And more importantly, keep a close watch on yourself. When was the last time you admitted that you missed the mark in your evaluation of another, or lacked balance and charity in your remarks?
It's tempting to justify ourselves when we begin to sense that we have blown it here. Instead of owning up to our mistake we will justify and obfuscate, never simply saying, "I was incorrect in my views." For some, they get more angry when you show they are wrong rather than apologizing and moving on.
An example of a man who handled this issue well is David Hesselgrave. In the book MissionSHIFT, which David and I edited, the contributors intentionally critiqued the one another's views. That was the point of the book. With the exception of the three grand essays, each author responded to someone else. Thus, Keith Eitel critiqued Chuck Van Engen. And then I critiqued Keith Eitel, and then David Hesselgrave (because he is the godfather of missiology) critiqued us all. This is a good thing, but in the critique of Ralph Winter that David Hesselgrave gave, he referred to Ralph Winter's reliance on Gregory Boyd's view of "microbial evil" and the necessity of kingdom work overcoming the forces of darkness as represented by disease and poverty in war. However, Gregory Boyd is best known perhaps as the proponent of the theologically view called "open theism." Thus, when David Hesselgrave wrote his critique, he specifically mentioned open theism and indicated that Ralph Winter agreed with Boyd's views on open theism.
The reality is, Winter did agree with Boyd on some issues but not on open theism, considering it deeply problematic theologically.
Thus, you'll see that David Hesselgrave and I put out a corrective letter in missiology journals and publications and even here at the blog. Now, could a case be made that some of Ralph's writings are so reflective of Gregory Boyd that they may also have been influenced by the view of open theism? I think that argument could probably be made. But instead, David wrote a very gracious and appropriate open letter apologizing and correcting the view.
I wonder, of the professional critics that you know, how many have said, "I was wrong, I overstated, I caricatured, or I misunderstood the views of somebody I critiqued." If the answer is no one, you may have a contentious man rather than one who is trying to point to the truth of Christ.
I know of one very prominent and regular critic who simply goes from critique to critique, from movement to movement, from person to person. In many ways, criticism is what he has become known for-- sometimes right, or at least enough right that there is some validity to his claims, but often riddled with error that never gets corrected. Now, the first time this happens, people assume it was a mistake. The second time, we might wonder if there is a pattern. The third time we should recognize that such critics enjoy criticism more than they enjoy the truth. My advice; walk away from such critics. They love contention more than the cause of Christ. Controversy is their goal.
Criticism is never an easy thing. Yet, it is a helpful thing when done properly. The difficulty is that some blogs and pulpits show a greater love of criticism than godly correction which works against Christ-centered unity. We should value, but not celebrate, criticism.
My hope is that we might still be discerning critics of one another, but that we can change the tone and work towards better accuracy in that criticism.
There is one other post I'd like to offer concerning criticism, and that is how to receive it. I get a lot of it, and I'll share my thoughts on how to take it like a Christian in the next post.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.