This is an important one for the church to get. Because the evidence seems to suggest that so many people are missing it.
There is a big difference between criticism [especially the negative kind] and critique and while both feel sometimes necessary, for the church to embrace critique is crucial:
Criticism: [negative] the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.
Criticism: [positive] the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.
Critique [noun]: a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.
Critique [verb]: evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way.
i would go as far as saying that the positive definition for criticism above, is pretty much syynonymous with what critique is. So perhaps another way of saying critique would be ‘healthy criticism’.
Because let’s face it, not all criticism is healthy.
Criticism of the negative kind tends to pull down, to degrade, to rubbish and doesn’t leave a lot of room or opportunity for improvement. The message that you are trying to get across is, “This thing sucks!”
Critique on the other hand tends [or maybe hopes] to be a more helpful and important process that when taken on board creates space and opportunity for betterment or improvement. The message that you are trying to get across is, “This could be better!”
Although, there might be times when a positive and well-meaning critique of your work may come to the conclusion that it would be better if you threw this attempt away and started again. But the end point continues to be producing the best result possible or doing a good job.
Negative criticism will tend to come in the form of closed statements: This is bad. This was awful. That is no good.
Which doesn’t leave a lot of space for growth or really make you want to engage any further because it feels like the sentence has been pronounced by the judge and there is no room to move.
Whereas critique will often appear in the form of a question: Was that the best way you could have done it? Do you think it might have been improved if you used black and white rather than colour? Is there a way we could have run this event that would have not led women to feel like they were less than?
Critique might also come with an alternative suggestion: I think if we had put an interval in the middle of that play, it would have helped people invest in both halves of the story a little more attentively. I really like what you have done here, but was wondering if we brought all the chairs a little closer together if it would have helped create the intimate space you were looking for.
Negative criticism tends to be one-sided and damning.
Critique will often try to hold the good and the bad together. This was good, that seemed to work, this didn’t feel great, that could maybe be improved by… The intention was great but what if…
Too many kisses
The absolute opposite of the negative criticism, which i often think is maybe even worse in some ways, is the standing ovation for something that was genuinely bad. Damning with praise. Someone creates something [a story, a meal, a song, a craft] and you absolutely think it is the most awful thing you’ve seen since Pinterest Fail became a thing, but because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or make them feel bad, you tell them it was absolutely amazing. As does everyone else. And so they keep on creating awful things because everyone keeps telling them how great they are.
Proverbs has something to say about this:
It is equally unhelpful and often more damaging. And it is fed by the fact that for the most part we are people who cannot take critique or criticism in any way. Sho, even from the people who love me it’s hard. When tbV brings some form of critique or criticism to me it feels like i am letting her down or i have failed so i often respond by fighting back and not taking it on.
Which i think is what is known as being stoopid!
This is not something i’ve mastered by any stretch, but it is a work in progress.
For me there are certain people i have invited to speak those hard things into my life, and while i still try to be mindful of others who take opportunities to do so, i try to be especially vigilant when it is those trusted ones. Because even if Val or Dunc or Mahlatse or Linda says something that hurts me, i know with no doubt that they love me and so i need to recover from the feelings of hurt and lick my wounds and then go back and look at what they have said and discern the truth in it.
What if they are right?
Whether it is criticism or critique coming our way, this is a good question to have handy: What if they are right?
i don’t tend to respond well in the moment of criticism and often have a quick response or retort or something… but then i tend to be good at going away and revisiting what was said and exploring whether or not it was correct… and i think i am half decent at going back to people and apologising and admitting that i was wrong and they were right [a hard hard thing for a proud person]. So i need to work on my short game.
The church as a whole and often very much on denominational lines [depending on the denomination] tends towards defensiveness. “Don’t touch me on my pew-dio”… or something like that. And in my experience not so good at evaluating the critique or criticism received and seeing where maybe it was right.
Often i think it’s out of some misplaced sense of ‘We have to look like we’ve got it all together or we’re embarrassing the name of God’ [You’re embarrassing Him by covering it up or continuing to wallow in it!] which is the most ridiculous thing ever, because as the cheesy bumper sticker loudly declares: We’re not perfect, just forgiven. But too often, the church has tried to maintain a sense of perfection, of purity, of untaintedness. Which everyone knows is just not true. Everyone. And so it creates an aura of deception, which is far from enticing.
You need to own it
When Jesus’ disciples clamboured for power, Jesus called them on it.
When the crowds tried to exclude children or the sick from getting near to Jesus, He called them on it.
When the religious leaders of the day created unnecessary burdens for the people they were leading, which they themselves could not even keep, Jesus called them on it.
Jesus gave critique to the Roman Empire that He was part of, He gave critique to the religious structures and powers of the day, He gave critique to an act of supposing one woman’s sin was worse than every other individual in the crowd. And more.
Is the way we do church right? Is it healthy? Is it in line with who Jesus wants His church to be? Is the way we spend money and the things we spend it on, the best use of that money? Is what we call worship really focused on God or on us? Is this event excluding certain people and is that okay? Is it right that we give the pastor a brand new car while the person who cleans the church doesn’t have enough money to make it through the month?
These and more are the questions we should be okay having asked of us. As the church we should invite critique and positive criticism because we are wanting to be the best bride we can be. We are claiming to live some of these things out:
‘And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’
‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,’ [Colossians 3.17, 23]
‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ [John 13.35]
If our intentions are pure and our actions are good and in line with the call of Jesus on our lives, then we will stand up to any critique that is made of us. We should be inviting it.
How do you do in this area? How is your part of the church at it?
Also if you have some time, check out this post by Ben Witherington which looks at the whole ‘do not judge’ concept with greater insight into what Jesus likely meant.