There is an irony to criticizing things: when we criticize we think we are powerful but we are in fact powerless.
The Power of Criticism
When we are critical about someone’s fashion, taste in movies, beliefs about God, penchant for certain relationships, we are able to lord our critique over whatever we are critical of. We get to remain detached and say “we know better” and we all know that “knowledge is power.” And it is true that there is something safe and cozy about finding your identity in what you are against. It keeps people from turning a critical eye to your life. It always puts you in a position of control, looking down on whatever you are criticizing.
The Powerlessness of Criticism
But in reality, if we are defined by what we are against, we are simply parasites. Finding your identity in what you are against is to negate yourself. I only have identity if the very thing I am against continues to exist. I feed off what I am against. It’s like the guy who tries to tell you all the reasons why your golf swing is wrong but refuses the offer to take a swing himself. How annoying.
Does this mean that we should not be critical? By no means. We must. It just means that criticism is a necessary first step, but it is never the destination. We must move beyond the critique in order to find identity. We are simply mistaken if we think that we can find identity by criticism. Why? Because criticism can only be a loss of identity. We can never “find our purpose” in being against something. For if ever we succeeded, we would lose ourselves. If we only go so far as criticism we are not left with a new identity but none at all, a precarious and dangerous position.
All that to say, those of us who are critical of evangelicalism or church or Christianity are sorely mistaken if we continue to live our lives defined by what we are against and think that this is true life. And we are unethical if we continue to critique those who have actually taken the risk and tried to make a contribution, wrong though they may be. For us to make the first step of criticism and not the second step of contribution, is not to be better than, but to be worse off.
This is for me more than anyone: may we begin to step out of the comfortable, powerful (yet lonely) place of criticism and start making the risky journey toward contribution. That is, may we start saying “Yes!” to life.