No one likes critics… at least when the critic is leveling their critique at us. In theory, a critic can give positive or negative comments… be we tend to associate critics with negative comments.
Christians are often very thin-skinned about criticism in matters of faith. We often feel that criticism of Christians, Christianity, and faith, is the same as attacking God and the Gospel. Even the most mild (and self-evident) criticism often leads to counterattacks.
Of course, Christians are not alone in that. From personal experience, I have come across SOME Mormons who will quickly level charges of “Mormon bashing” at almost any point of disagreement. Of course we have seen in the news outrageous responses to any comment or caricature that draws into question an idealized view of the founder of the Islamic religion. But Christians are to seek a higher standard, rather than aim for a “not as bad as” comparison with non-Christians.
The fact is, we need critics. We need people on the outside to point out issues that we are blind to. We need people on the inside to do the same.
From the outside, there have always been critics. They recognize how Christianity appears to outsiders. During Roman times, some charged Christianity with atheism, cannibalism, and incest. Why? Christians did not go to temples, involve themselves with religious festivals, would not bow to the emperor or any other idol. Christians also described themselves as eating and drinking the body and blood of their founder. Christians called each other brother and sister, and yet were married to each other. It is easy to see why outsiders would be greatly confused. This sort of outside criticism was very useful. It probably led to Christians being better at sharing their faith.
We do know it led to Christian apologists who wrote down explanations as to the Christian faith. People such as Aristides, Quadratus, and Justin Martyr, helped describe the Christian faith to be intelligible to outsiders. Attacks by Marcion led to a clearer understanding of what is (and is not) God’s revelation.
In recent years, international critics have leveled charges at Christianity for being immoral. Since Christians in the US like to call the United States a “Christian Nation” and the US is pretty much the leading producer of immoral (by almost any faith system) material to the world… it is not hard to see the confusion. Studies that show that insignificant differences in moral behavior between those who attend church and those who don’t add credence to this charge. It is useful to take these charges seriously.
Critics from the inside are also very useful. Yet they are often the most hated. Critics of the church, in the past, could be punished or even killed. On the other hand, critics could be great reformers. The monastic renewals came from insider critics of the church. The Protestant Reformation also came as the result of such insider critics. People such as Giovanni Boccaccio and Dante Alighieri used literary humor hundreds of years ago to point out failings in the church.
In more recent years, polemicists from within have used writings to effect change. Soren Kierkegaard attacked the lack of fervor and faith of the Danish church in the 1800s, while Dietrich Bonhoeffer did the same with the Reich Church during the Nazi Regime in Germany. Bonhoeffer was rejected by his church, while many even today seem to think of Kierkegaard today as an “atheist” because of the harshness of his criticism.
We need critics. We need critics in missions as well. While there have been many inspiring missions and missionaries throughout history, we need to recognize and grow from failures. Some of these in mission history include:
-Too close of a relationship between State, church, and missions.
-Cross-or-Sword conversions… Later Gunboat missions.
-Non-contextual mission work.
-Racial bias in missions.
-Ignoring groups (Muslims are the classic group here)
-Confusion of Gospel/”Civilization”/Culture.
The list can go on and on. And the list can go on and on today. We need critics to analyze present mission work (both from internal out external perspectives). Some that could use such analysis might include:
-Focus on relief-based missions
-Focus on quick conversion over discipleship
-“Signs and Wonders” missions
-Dependence-models of missions
-Short-terms missions movement (same with tentmakers)
As I said… the list can go on and on. Critics are definitely needed.