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Let me get the caveats out first: there is nothing un-Christian about criticism. The Bible is full of criticism for false religion and false teachers. Jesus himself, right after instructing us not to judge (Matt. 7:1), insinuated some of his opponents were dogs and pigs (Matt. 7:6). Through the history of the church, criticism has helped to shape Christian doctrine and guard against heresies of every kind. We should not try to shut down criticism simply because it is criticism. Besides, if we fault the critics for being so critical aren’t we ourselves being critical?

But not all criticism is warranted. Much of it is a waste. Worse than waste, it is self-serving, hurtful, and needlessly divisive. That’s what makes this ending scene from Ratatouille so powerful. After learning that his delicious meal, one he loved as a kid, was cooked by a rat, the harsh foot critic Anton Ego reflects on his life as a critic. His review, especially the first few sentences, reminds us how much easier and safer criticism is than the risky, hard work of creating.

Again, criticism is acceptable, and sometimes even called for, in the Christian life. But living the life of a critic is no way to live. If our identity depends on constantly defining ourselves  against someone else or some other group, if our closest friends are always formed by what we mutually oppose, if our first response is to find fault, if we tear down without ever attempting the hard work of building something up, if we only criticize leaders without ever having led, if put downs bring us more joy than praise, then we are likely making a lot of people miserable, including ourselves.

In which case, it’s time to take a hard look at Ego. Both kinds.

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11 thoughts on “The Life of a Critic”

  1. “…if our closest friends are always formed by what we mutually oppose…”

    I don’t know—isn’t there a reason why the friendship bonds you see in war movies are some of the most powerful, the ones that really leave an impact on you when you walk away? I’m a firm believer in the camaraderie of soldiers. Battle legitimately forges strong bonds. We as believers are engaged in a battle for souls. I’m grateful to be fighting shoulder to shoulder with some of the best. That bond shouldn’t be discounted.

  2. Wesley says:

    Appreciate this KD. I’ve always found it funny that people hear me speak about “thinking critically” about something and reply, “Oh … we ought not to be critical!” Seriously?! Big difference between thinking critically and having a critical spirit (what you describe above here).
    That said, i need to keep hearing what you wrote as i have been prone to respond to things that appear to be wrong in a “knee-jerk”, critical way and i don’t want to be that way.
    God help me find more of the first and increasingly less of the second type.

  3. Tullian Tchividjian says:

    Great, great post Kevin! So true!

    It reminds me of a great line from Michelangelo (my paraphrase): “The best way to critique something is to create something better.”

    And also a funny line from Ravi Zacharias: “When you throw dirt at others, you not only get your own hands dirty but you lose ground.”

    Thanks for this reminder, my friend!

  4. Melody says:

    Soldiers are not joined together for the sole purpose of killing the enemy. They are joined together for the purpose of protecting and supporting each other. That comes first and they certainly aren’t sitting around and just criticizing though they do critique their immediate leaders. Generally they agree on the short comings of next in command but they still follow orders unless it goes against the law.
    It is surprising how many differences fall away among soldiers when they are joined together. They do not have all the same life styles/backgrounds, politics or religions but they have each other’s back.

  5. Melody says:

    I would like to add that in the Christian realm we could learn a few things from soldiers. Often we are too busy shooting at each other which I think is the point of this article.

    Thank you Kevin

  6. Rose says:

    The thought that occurs to me as I reflect on this is how difficult it is to listen to preaching that regularly and consistently focuses on all our short comings and never is able to admit that at some point we as Christians, in Christ, can actually please God. Perhaps that’s a different sort of criticism than you had in mind, but just as destructive.

  7. We can’t get through a single day in our house without someone quoting Ratatouille– mostly me defending myself in the kitchen, though (“Anyone can cook!”).

    Thanks for this reminder about being a critic.

  8. Jamika says:

    Great tips Tim. Balance is the key here. I started using twitter recently and have decided to designate 2 time frames for my twittering: a short session in the morning and evening. I focus most of my time on creating value through others through my writing. If you provide useful service, they will come, through twitter or a million other channels which you can’t possibly think of.RyanLikeLike

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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