De-Constructive Criticism

This blog is often very critical. Sometimes I question that tone.
So this is my defense & my confession.

Defense

Part of the reason for why I spend a lot of time critiquing is strategic (that, and it’s easier). Quite simply, there are a lot of people who have been hurt by churches that simply do not allow for other ways to be Christian. My goal, as misguided as it may be, is for my Evangelical tradition to open up to possibility, different ways of being Christian, with the ultimate hope being that Evangelicals at least welcome other forms of the Church to the table of fellowship. My goal then is no less than unity.

But what I have found is that the Evangelical system, that is, the beliefs, assumptions, and structures of “how we do church” that we have inherited and perpetuate (not Evangelical people, who are often quite sincere and loving people) does not often produce true unity but division and even oppression.

I repeat: nothing I write is an attack against Evangelical people (I am one for crying out loud!) but a process of naming and then critiquing the often unconscious systems that my tradition operates under. In our emphasis on the Bible and in our effort to package the gospel attractively, we often cut off loose ends, silence the minority voice, and quell diversity. But, ironically, you need diversity to create unity. Without it, you create enemies. When we are not exposed to diversity “within” our own camp, other voices must, by definition, be “outside” our camp.

For me, growing up, the Evangelical system was Christianity. I had never been introduced to anything else. That is, many Evangelicals are Truman from The Truman Show. And the longer we live and breathe and have our being in the system, the more we forget that there are other systems in the kingdom of God.

So, partly I hope that Evangelicals will discover that they do not define Christianity but are a part of a Kingdom much bigger than themselves.

But more importantly, there are many who, because they do not know there is any possibility of being a “good Christian” outside of Evangelicalism, will often feel trapped by the Evangelical system. They often hold views that they do not feel safe to express in their families or churches. For them, my critiques are not negative, but positive. That is, they reveal ways of seeing something new, opening possibilities for being Christian without being part of the system. They will read my critiques as a way to take off the shackles of a tradition they no longer find meaningful, without having to give up Christ.

On the other hand, I know there are also many who feel safe in the Evangelical system. They will view my critiques as threatening. I am tearing down a foundation they cherish and love. Unfortunately, my words have both of these effects, positive for some and negative for others. I wish that weren’t true (if you have options tell me!). But to be clear, I never intend to dismantle a system where people find meaning and feel safe (so long as they do not use that position of safety to oppress others, which too often happens). I write for the former, those for whom critique plays a wholly positive function in their spiritual life. It does not cause them to lose their faith but perhaps to finally regain it, find it fresh and exciting once again. My hope is that the latter, those for whom my words are threatening, will simply ignore me.

Confession

It is possible that everything I just wrote is BS. It might simply be my excuse and justification for a heart that is still hurt from church experiences in the past. I have to be willing to include the possibility for that ugly reality. There is a chance that I critique the Evangelical system just as much out of anger as hope. I don’t feel angry but maybe I am just good at hiding my emotion.

I confess this as an invitation. I hope that my friends, and people who read this blog,  will continue to critique my critiques, helping me see when my words become too scathing or too negative, when they reveal a heart of judgment rather than a heart of possibility. My mentor Dave so lovingly does this quite often and I value it.

But, in the mix of anger and hope, love and hate, mistakes and accomplishment, my hope is that God redeems it all as he continues to build his kingdom.

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7 responses to “De-Constructive Criticism

  1. Would you not say that you are not primarily critiquing Evangelical *theology* but rather Evangelical (especially American) culture?

    I would not label myself as “evangelical”, since I reject most of that culture. However, I would find myself agreeing with a great deal if not most of “evangelical” doctrine…

    • Yes, indeed. Very good point. However, I am not sure I am comfortable separating the doctrine from the culture. There is often a good reason why the culture has evolved in the way it has. And doctrine often has something to do with it.

      More specifically, it’s not doctrine that shapes the culture as much as the pressure to hold that doctrine in a certain way. Does that make any sense?

      • Yes, I can see what you’re saying. But I would understand what you perceive as simple social solidarity and identity, “us versus them.” This is normal (right or wrong) human behavior in groups. We see it in politics as well. Most people don’t want to spend the effort thinking through their beliefs and actions based upon basic principles. It has the effect of making one “different,” and that is a powerful force, for no one willingly wants to feel alienated from one’s social group.

        The aspects of evangelical society that you critique is created at the top of the hierarchy and works downward. It is futile to expect major cultural change to occur from the bottom-up. What happens in actuality is that those at the bottom who disagree significantly simply exit the group for all practical purposes.

        That’s why I don’t write “popular” works. It’s swimming upstream against the hierarchy.

  2. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. You have a great way of showing new ways to think about old things. It’s great!

  3. I definitely think that an outside-the-box way of thinking about the Evangelical system is in constant need. (I personally find it frustrating during bible study when people always say the right things at the time.) Of course not all critique is good (generally speaking) but one has to question in order to learn anything, right?

    Your post remind me of an article I recently came across (http://inheritancemag.com/themes/expanding-the-circle-of-fellowship/), it is concerning Asian-American Christian culture, but if you have time, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  4. “Most people don’t want to spend the effort thinking through their beliefs and actions based upon basic principles. It has the effect of making one “different,” and that is a powerful force, for no one willingly wants to feel alienated from one’s social group.” – Kirk

    Nailed it. This is the story of my life.

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