In Search of Critics– Part 2

In my previous post (cleverly titled, “In Search of Critics. Part 1“) I suggested that we should value the critiques from many sources. While in Blooms Taxonomy (cognitive side) the highest level is evaluation. Strangely, I have seen some lists that place Creation as above Evaluation, but never mind. A critic is an evaluator so one might suggest that the only critic one should value is one who has had massive training and practice (Remembering, Understanding, Applying, and Analyzing) a certain field. However, I don’t think this was what is being implied in this model. The model is for education, NOT for critiques. Two problems come up fairly obviously,

  • The Evaluator/Critic in Bloom’s Taxonomy is an Insider Critic. However, there may be value in Outsider perspectives as well (as noted in the previous post).
  • Even among Insiders, there are specializations that need to be recognized. For example, my wife and I like to watch the Australian TV show, “The Block.” Contestants take an old building or series of buildings/apartments and fix them up for sale. In that show, there are judges. However, these judges are not the only evaluators in the show. The judges primarily evaluate style/aesthetics and practicality. However, they are not the only ones. There are real estate agents who come in a look at the work, evaluating it in terms of marketability and value.  Additionally, there are inspectors, foremen, architect, and engineer, who evaluate in terms of safety, quality control, government regulations, and show standards. Further, there are people who evaluate the contestants in terms of their spending. Each have a role as insiders. However, at the end of the show are buyers who participate in an auction. They can, in fact, be thought of as outsiders— since they are not specialists within the field– not in style, not in practicality, not in safety, quality, regulation, or costing. And yet, as ones seeking to buy the places, they are the ultimate judges.

Often, the outsider perspective is valuable. I am from a rather conservative religious tradition, and so when someone I know hears something they don’t like they will say that it is “liberal.” Curiously, often the thing they label as liberal often doesn’t fit onto the spectrum of theology from liberal to conservative. These people just don’t like it and they don’t like “liberals” so they throw the sticker on it as a perjorative term.

But I would argue that this is a deep mistake. In fact, I would even argue that it is backwards. I am involved in two religious academic fields— Missiology and Pastoral Theology. Let me give an example from each.

Missiology.  Back in the early 1960s, with the joining together of the IMC and WCC, missions (particularly Protestant missions) took a sharp turn. While in 1961 there was still a strong formal commitment to proclamation of the message of God, within a short time, there was a rapid move away from proclamation and proselytization, and toward “presence” (doing good in a culture). Out of this was a reaction where Evangelicals formed their own interdenominational missions conferences. This was a much more conservative group. There was a strong focus on proclamation, with a demeaning of social ministry. The logic seemed to be (1) Christ is coming soon so any ministry work that is “good” but not strictly centered on moving people to respond to the gospel is actually “bad,” and (2) social ministry is not “real ministry” at least as far as what it means to carry out the Great Commission.

In my mind both groups were abysmally wrong. But I don’t get angry at the concilliar missions folks for deemphasis on proclamation. As people with a different theological perspective than my own, I would expect them to think and act different. What makes me more angry, actually, was the conservative side. As religious conservatives, I expect to believe them when they say that they seek to follow what the Bible teaches and have Christ as their example. The denigration of social ministry by many (or placing outside the sphere if valid missions) is horribly unbiblical and a clear rejection of following the example of Christ.  As one who is religiously fairly conservative, I consider those of similar theology to be insider critics. As such, I am very unhappy when they go against what they claim to be support (Bible and Christ). Those who are theologically liberal are an outsider perspective for me. Therefore, I don’t get mad at their viewpoint. Rather, I see if they have any validity to their perspective. Thankfully, in Evangelical missions, there was an adjustment and by the 1970s there was a (grudging?) recognition that social ministry is important and should NOT be separated from proclamation, discipleship, and churchplanting. This recognition came, in part, from the work of people like Stott and Newbigin, who maintained dialogue with both groups, rather than listening to only one.

Pastoral Theology. In pastoral care and counseling, in the 1950s and 1960s there developed a strong influence from the social sciences (psychology, sociology, and anthropology). This led to some forms of care and counseling that were seen as not taking issues of morality, sin, and repentance seriously. It was seen as a “liberal” (there is that word again) agenda. Pastors commonly would throw around more psychological lingo, than Biblical principles. In the 1970s there was a conservative reaction in terms of the so-called Biblical Counseling movement. At its best it was a welcome adjustment to the past decades. At its worst, it was judgmental (nuothetic), reductionistic, and behavioralistic. And worst of all— it was labeled as “Biblical” even though its methods were so cherry-picked from Scripture, that commonly it would have to be described as sub-biblical.   Truthfully, today we are still struggling in this area. I am part of a denomination that has fallen in love with the term “Biblical Counseling” and commonly promotes some pretty sketchy stuff because someone placed the “Biblical” or “Conservative” label on it.

In truth, pastoral counseling and pastoral theology is an area where there is much room for improvement. Far too many embrace one sub-biblical view or another equally sub-biblical, and then ignore concerns from the other camp by the use of perjorative labels.

Ultimately, we need to learn from others and often we should listen most intently from outsider perspectives because they are the ones most likely to have seen things that we haven’t and thought of things we haven’t because… well, because they are outsiders.

Pulling the fisherman parable back in from the past post… the argument of who to listen to more, active fishermen or theoreticians, breaks down under scrutiny a bit. We would need to listen to all sides— and most importantly, the fish.