Embrace criticism; give good criticism (Powlison)

David Powlison (CCEF), Does the Shoe Fit (pdf):

Critics are God’s instruments. I don’t like to be criticized. You don’t like to be criticized. Nobody likes to be criticized. But, critics keep us sane—or, by our reactions, prove us temporarily or permanently insane. Whether a critic’s manner is gracious or malicious, whether the timing is good or bad, whether the intention is constructive or destructive, whether the content is accurate, half-true, or utterly false, in any case the very experience of being criticized reveals you.

To what madnesses are we prone?

  1. self-satisfaction. “I easily stagnate, rigidify, and drift off to sleep. Perhaps yesterday I said a timely word to someone, and by today it has become the final word, and tomorrow it will become the same old axe to grind…”
  2. self-justification: “In the face of criticism or disagreement, I mobilize the myriad strategies and limitless energies of defensiveness…”
  3. self-protection (of the have-an-easy-life variety)
  4. self-protection (of the be-liked-by-others variety)
  5. self-exaltation
  6. us-satisfaction, us-justification, us-protection, and us-exaltation (group think; group act; we reinforce each other.)

…critics are usually partially right…Fair-minded criticism is one of life’s best pleasures, an acquired taste well worth the acquiring. Someone who will take you seriously, understand you accurately, treat you charitably, and who then will lay it on the line is a messenger from God for your welfare (whether or not you end up completely agreeing). There is nothing quite like being disagreed with intelligently, lovingly, and openly: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). If I only listen to my allies, or to yes-men, clones, devotees, and fellow factionaries, then I might as well inject narcotics into my veins. The people of God are a large work in progress. To engage and to interact with critics is to further the process—in both of our lives.

We ought to offer to others the kind of criticism that is such a pleasure to receive…

Let’s agree…to disagree. Let’s commit to starting candid, constructive conversations, and let’s keep them going. I need your questions and criticisms, and you need mine. This has something to do with all that talk in the Bible about “one another,” and “different gifts distributed by the Spirit,” and “growing up,” and the “body of Christ,” and “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people,” and “the sons of Issachar understood the times,” and “speaking the truth in love we grow up into Him.”…

Let’s agree to disagree.We shouldn’t just smooth over real, significant, substantial, life-and-death, wisdom-or-folly, I-care-about-what’s-at-stake differences. Remember, the Lord of all seems to take particular delight in the messiness, change, variety, and volatility of human history. (The kind of world He chooses to run is not a nice, tidy, “let’s all just get along” world.) The God of peace acts and speaks as a polemicist and controversialist. He’s always “fussing” about what He sees going on. Jesus Christ is the trouble-making peacemaker, the grace-giving rebuker, the constructive voice and hands who tears out old wiring and remodels His house. The Teacher teaches His disciples to become the same.

And this surely doesn’t mean being disagreeable, either…“To defend the Christian faith with a quarrelsome spirit is to defend Christianity plus quarrelsomeness—a self-destructive hybrid.”[John Frame] If we’re willing to listen, to hear criticism as well as to give it, that goes a long way towards overcoming the disagreeable tendencies that lurk in us all.

Let’s agree to disagree, and let’s agree that we will disagree well.

David Powlison, “Does the Shoe Fit?Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 2002: 2-14.

Most of Powlison’s article involves specific criticism of biblical counseling, but the beginning and end of the article are great for everyone.

Click here to download the complete article.

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One thought on “Embrace criticism; give good criticism (Powlison)

  1. […] But each person gets to determine whether they want to do something about it or not.  If your goal is to improve and that criticism helps, it’s foolish not to follow it.  If it’s not constructive, be […]

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