Responding to Criticism

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critI came across a very helpful and important reminder as I was reading Carl Trueman today in his book Fools Rush in Where Monkey Fear to Tread. It would be silly if we didn’t admit that we have a pretty high view of self. I’m my own biggest fan, and I’m pretty great at most things I do – just ask me. And if you think I’m being arrogant, I would suggest the only difference between me and you is that I’m being honest. But here’s my caveat: I believe the Bible, and I believe what it says about my heart. I’m not as great as I think I am, and quite honestly I am incalculably worse than I could ever imagine. If the people I read about in the Bible are any indication of my own depraved nature (and indeed, they are), then I need not look far to see that my high view of self is distorted at best. I am, as the saying goes, the wretch that the song is written about…

Given the truth of who I really am compared to what I really think about myself, it’s no small thing when it comes time to respond to criticism. I have, as I suspect is the case with most pastors, faced much criticism, and don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it is intended to cut and bruise, and sometimes I’ve found it to be somewhat amusing – hysterical even! Of course, I want to hear what is worth hearing from those who truly love me and want to see me progress and, more importantly, want to see the integrity of the gospel protected. But there are others who, for one reason or another, decide it a worthy undertaking to invent fanciful tales of what I did or did not say or do. If some of the things I’ve heard about myself are actually true, I must’ve spent several days sleep-walking well enough to convince others that I was in my right mind.

So while helpful criticism is necessary, helpful, and entirely appropriate, how shall we respond to the others? Carl Trueman chimes in:

The answer is simple: for myself, I do not believe that it is appropriate that I spend my time defending my name. My name is nothing – who really cares about it? And I am not called to waste precious hours and energy in fighting off every person with a laptop who wants to have a pop at me. As a Christian, I am not meant to engage in self-justification any more than self-promotion; I am called rather to defend the name of Christ; and, to be honest, I have yet to see a criticism of me, true or untrue, to which I could justifiably respond on the grounds that it was Christ’s honor, and not simply my ego, that was being damaged. I am called to spend my time in being a husband, a father, a minister in my denomination, a member of my church, a good friend to those around me, and a conscientious employee. These things, these people, these locations and contexts, are to shape my priorities and my allocation of time. Hitting back in anger at those who, justly or unjustly, do not like me and for some reason think the world needs to know what they think of me is no part of my God-given vocation. God will look after my reputation if needs be; He has given me other work to do.

Wise words. A much wiser (and older) pastor once told me: “If others insist on slandering your name, just make sure they spell it right.” Amen.

(By: Nick Kennicott)

7 thoughts on “Responding to Criticism

  1. Two days, two posts?! Careful you don’t pull a muscle 🙂 Seriously though, the last two posts have been really helpful to me.

    It can be a tricky balance to try and remain humble in the face of criticism. I actually have a post about how we sometimes get perverse pleasure off of criticism, coming soon to a Decablog near you…

    And this just continues to prove the Trueman Rule accurate: if he wrote it, read it.

    1. Don’t be too impressed – we’ve been on vacation so I had a lot of time to read, think, and write… Glad I was able to provide something of use! And I agree completely, the Trueman rule is in full effect 99.9% of the time. Every know and again he talks about us baptist types, so I tune out then, but otherwise he’s spot on! Same with Beale – we really are blessed with so many tremendous theologians of the present and past.

  2. Nick,

    I really appreciate the reminder here. I’m curious, though, do you think there is a point at which defending your reputation as a pastor is necessary for the sake of preaching the gospel? If others are judging the gospel you preach based on what somebody has slanderously said about you, do you think that warrants a defense? – not an attack on the person, of course.

    1. Hi Roy, thanks for your comment.

      I think what you’re talking about is similar, perhaps, to what Paul was doing in 2 Corinthians. He really went to great lengths to defend his reputation as an Apostle because of the false accusations of the “super apostles.” So I certainly don’t think there aren’t times for this like you’ve suggested – we have a good example of such.

      That being said, I guess I’m not currently in a context where the actual gospel is the issue that is tied to me personally. Stated another way, I’ve been criticized personally and for the things I’ve taught, but my hope is to address the issues related to what I’m preaching/teaching and ignore the things that have to do with me personally if they have no bearing on the gospel being proclaimed… and up until this point, that has been the case 100% of the time (unfortunately, I’ve not been 100% successful at keeping myself out of it). In other words, I want to stick with ideas, worldviews, truths/falsehoods, etc. instead of dealing with personal offenses because, as Trueman said, it’s may name – “Who cares about it anyway?”

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