How to Be a Critic

28And all those who were in the synagogue were filled with rage when they heard these things, 29and they took him outside the city to the edge of the hill on which the city was built so as to throw him off. 30But he went through their midst and moved on. — Luke 4:28-30

(This is Henry writing for Jody.)

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve spent some time studying Amateur Radio. My brother urged me to do this, and for various reasons I finally got around to it. For a few days my head was filled with antennas, radiation patterns, regulations, and circuits.

Now many circuits, especially amplifier circuits will have something called “bias.” A bias is a certain voltage that is constant in a circuit, and you will measure everything else from that point. Stronger means “stronger than the bias.” Weaker means “weaker than the bias.” (OK, all you electronic buffs, don’t jump all over me for that. It’s pretty loose, but it will work for my purposes!) If you were to judge voltage levels in such a circuit based on a different bias than what was actually there, you would get some pretty bizarre results.

Now I could talk about how our biases tend to shape the way we understand things in general. We often see or hear what we expect to see or hear. But what I want to look at is the bias of our attitude.

Jody and I have discussed this issue in our relationship. If one or the other (or, heaven help us, both!) has had a tense working day, we’re already near the edge. The meter is reading 9 out of 10 possible, and an explosion comes at 10! So just a little push results in a disproportionate reaction.

What do we do about that? Don’t imagine that we have a perfect solution, but we do try to recognize the reality that one can be pushed nearly to one’s limit, biased almost to the point of overload, so to speak, so that something small is just too much! We try to recognize when the other is at that point, and then try to help one another bear the burdens involved.

We can have a similar type of bias regarding other people’s churches, ministries, or even personal theologies. If you start from a “let’s see” type of bias, then you might look at positive or negative characteristics, and come up with a sort of balance sheet. If you do so, you’ll probably find something positive about many groups even though you may still find that, on balance, you cannot be fully in support.

On the other hand you can have a bias that is set to “explode,” by which I mean that you’re just looking for the first thing you can criticize. In this case, that other church or ministry is judged guilty unless you can find enough positive things, while even one negative thing will cause you to strike them off the list.

I’m not suggesting here that you don’t use good judgment. There are false teachings. There are things to avoid. There are ministries that work in the name of Jesus but do little or nothing to reflect his character and mission. But there are also critics who have the same problem. They are so busy looking for the flaws in someone else’s theology that they barely have time to move forward.

Jesus encountered a negatively biased crowd in Nazareth. They were amazed at all the good things, but when it came right down to it they found a flaw—he didn’t have the right credentials. How many times have I heard that one! But it can be just about any flaw that people spot that lets them dismiss someone without further consideration.

Let me suggest an approach here. Start from zero—no bias in any direction—when looking at other people and their work. I suspect that the bulk of problems or errors will turn out to be simply part of being human. There’s a need to correct them, but not to dismiss the people that hold them. When something needs correcting, do it by positively presenting the truth as you understand it, not by making negative lists about others.

There’s a need to look critically at teachings to find truth and error. The trick is to do it in such a way that you don’t get stuck being a critic. Pass through the crowd and move on to the next thing God has called you to.

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