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Here are a few things I try to remember, but am frequently tempted to forget:

  1. It usually takes very little time to discern whether or not someone is operating as a good-faith critic. Good-faith critics value clarity before agreement (as Dennis Prager has phrased it). They try to understand before they seek to win. Bad-faith critics are like hit-and-run drivers. They play to the crowd—whether conservative or liberal. They can be passive-aggressive—harsh to others but quick to play the victim when challenged.
  2. If the person is not a good-faith critic—humbly open to counter-considerations, striving for fairness, seeking to understand, offering actual arguments—there is little use dialoging. It really is a waste of time, and we are called to be good stewards of the finite amount of time each of us has. Mortimer Adler writes, “You must be able to say, with reasonable certainty, ‘I understand,’ before you can say any one of the following things: ‘I agree,’ or ‘I disagree,’ or ‘I suspend judgment.'” For those who don’t do this, he says: “There is actually no point in answering critics of this sort. The only polite thing to do is to ask them to state your position for you, the position they claim to be challenging. If they cannot do it satisfactorily, if they cannot repeat what you have said in their own words, you know that they do not understand, and you are entirely justified in ignoring their criticisms.”
  3. Even if the person is a good-faith critic, there is little point in trying to have a genuine dialogue 140 characters at a time. Other venues work better. Unless you can point to a longer-form piece that defends your position or offers criticism, it’s often a waste of pixels.
  4. Nevertheless, we should welcome and seriously take to heart good-faith criticism. As Adler says, “When you find the rare person who shows that he understands what you are saying as well as you do, then you can delight in his agreement or be seriously disturbed by his dissent.”
  5. In all of this, Christians should remember to offer and receive criticism Christianly, remembering that our speech should “always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6), that “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37), that we are to “love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10); that we are to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29); that we are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:1525); and that we must learn to bridle our tongue so that we do not deceive our heart (James 1:26).

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10 thoughts on “Some Things to Remember about Offering and Receiving Criticism on Twitter (Or Elsewhere)”

  1. Don Sartain says:

    Justin, I love TGC. I go to The Village. I’ve tracked with you guys for a long time, and have learned much from the different writers. I am grateful for the ministry of TGC, despite its flaws.

    Yet, I have to ask: How was Thabiti’s post, that TGC seems intent on defending, in line with “our speech should ‘always be gracious, seasoned with salt’”?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      To my knowledge, TGC has neither defended nor critiqued Thabiti’s post, though some bloggers have critiqued the slander about the man and his writing. My post above is a larger point about whether and how to engage controversy on Twitter.

      1. Don Sartain says:

        I guess that’s my point. I get that the post is a larger point, but it can’t just be about Twitter. It has to be about all of life, including blogging. I’ve pressed against the slander as much as I have the post that served as the catalyst. But when TGC writes something about how to converse on Twitter well, and it says nothing about when one of its members writes something that may be well-intended but came across horrible – even among reformed conservatives – then that makes TGC lose credibility. It makes it LOOK like you’re only trying to correct people who disagree with you (albeit they’re doing it the wrong way) and not focusing that critique internally as well by saying nothing publicly about this.

        I’m not against TGC, I’m not against Thabiti. I’m for you guys, which is why all of this is so saddening to me. There can’t be a “blue wall” here. Thabiti’s post didn’t fall in line with anything listed in point five, and TGC should acknowledge that and apologize for it publicly before trying to critique how people disagree, whether this post was a response to the blowback to Thabiti’s post or not.

        1. Justin Taylor says:

          Thanks, Don. I doubt you’ve heard the last on this post, either from Thabiti himself or from TGC. But things don’t happen instantaneously.

  2. Rachael Starke says:

    This is dead on, Justin (even as I share your lament that I know these far more often than I do these!). Twitter wars seem to are the very antithesis of James 1:19-20, no matter how strong the originating hurt. We model the love of Christ most when we love the ones who have hurt us the most, even, and maybe especially online.

  3. Aaron Thompson says:

    Like Don I am not a critic, broadly, of TGC. But the article in question is full of generalizations, assumptions, and arguments that I firmly believe serve to harm gay people. And in particular gay people within the church and those seeking to live for Christ.

    My criticism has nothing to do with the character of the author, or even (and this is important) the intent of the article. It is centered on the effect (for communication is both the sending and RECEIVING of information).

    I do not see any way that allowing such a post to carry the TGC brand or make use of it’s mega-phone serves the stated mission of TGC. Nothing in the article was useful for spreading the Gospel, for building the church, or for aiding gay men and women in their walk with Christ.

    It was focused instead on ways to win the abstract argument about gay marriage – a legal, cultural goal, and not a Gospel goal.

    Bottom line I think the blog, as a piece of cultural criticism fails this Biblical standard: “…but only such as is good for building up…”

    1. Joe_S says:

      The “yuck factor” paragraph is grossly offensive but, as you say, it demonstrates the way Christians try to win abstract arguments rather than have a respectful conversation with people they disagree with.

      I believe all sex outside of (traditional) marriage is sinful but I accept that “gay” is a public status not an invitation to interrogate somebody about their private life. Some gay people will start talking about sex but that’s a choice they make as an individual not as a “gay person”.

      The same general rule applies to marriage. If a guy tells me he is married with two children, I don’t think that’s my cue to start discussing his sex life! To be honest, I don’t anyone even THINKS about this stuff when it’s a straight couple.

      I also do not support same-sex marriage but if I was introduced to a gay “married” couple I would show them the same basic respect – and not assume anything or feel I have a right to start talking about any aspect of their private life.

      1. Aaron Thompson says:

        “I believe all sex outside of (traditional) marriage is sinful but I accept that “gay” is a public status not an invitation to interrogate somebody about their private life. Some gay people will start talking about sex but that’s a choice they make as an individual not as a “gay person”.”

        I agree. I wasn’t suggesting we interrogate them. And I didn’t mean we need to listen to them talk about sex. I mean we need to listen to them talk about their life, their experiences with the church, and how we can come around and support them.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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