Dealing with Criticism: An Insight

This quarter at Fuller, I’m taking a class with Rich Mouw called ‘Theories of Human Nature.” During this class we will interact with a variety of literature as we discuss what it means to be human. As we discussed the methodology that we would be using to discuss the topics of the class, Mouw recalled an interesting anecdote that I’ve been chewing on ever since. During his ministry years, John Stott invited liberation theologian, Jose Miguez Bonino, to discuss Marxism and Christianity with his students. During this lecture, Bonino said that as we interact with Marxism we must remember that “Karl Marx is not our judge, Christ is, but we must allow Marx to take the witness stand against us.”

Bonino’s insight is one that I have attempted to make real in my own life. I read widely, from blogs, books, conservatives, liberals, moderates, etc. This forces me out of the echo chamber of people who agree with me, and demands my mind to consider the challenge of the critiques that other present. There is wisdom in listening to differing opinions. It cleanses the palate of the mind so that you can don’t forget that every idea doesn’t taste the same. If we limit ourselves to only the flavors we like, we limit our ability discern different tastes. To take the analogy further, without trying new dishes and drinks from different cultures and families we may miss out on a new favorite meal because we never would have a chance to try it.

Some might read my food analogy and think of the classic colloquialism about money, “Banks train tellers to spot fake bills by familiarizing themselves with real bills.” If we use this as our analogy for entering into discourse with other perspectives we’ll quickly find that no other view has anything helpful to teach us. We will treat our view as the real $100 dollar bill and by process of elimination reject the views of others as fake and unhelpful. While there is certainly something to be said about which perspective has the true view of things, the above method of interacting with others is still debilitating! Even those who stand for the truth can learn a lesson from those who are wrong. Think of Jesus’s interaction with different groups of Jews in the Gospels. These Jews were attempting to protect the people that God had entrusted to their care. From their perspective, Jesus was trying to bring the Roman Empire down on their heads to destroy them by claiming that he was a rival to Cesar. Yet, the Jews who listened to Jesus’s words were able to see the truths of the Old Testament in new light.

Allowing others to “take the witness stand against us” is a powerful tool in sharpening our own understanding of our relation to God and others. Though the sting of criticism is painful, like pain signals from the brain to the rest of the body it tells us that something is wrong.

Reflecting on this today:
“Whoever instructs the cynic gets insulted;
whoever corrects the wicked gets hurt.
Don’t correct the impudent, or they will hate you;
correct the wise, and they will love you.”
Proverbs 9:7-8

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