the weblog of Alan Knox

An exercise in generalizations and criticisms among the church

Posted by on Apr 18, 2013 in blog links, discipleship | 14 comments

An exercise in generalizations and criticisms among the church

A couple of weeks ago, I published a post called “Dealing with generalizations and the church.” There were several really good comments on that post as readers thought through how we should deal with generalizations.

Well, thanks to an article published by “Leadership Journal” called “Why I Won’t Give to Your Church,” the church now has the chance to deal with generalizations in a real and public way. And, for the most part, I’d say many are not dealing very well…

(By the way, HT to Randy at “Bible Study Geek” for pointing us to this article in his post “Jewe: Why I Won’t Give to Your Church.”)

I encourage you to read the article and the comments. (There are 25 comments at the time that I’m writing this post.)

Whether you agree with the article’s author or not, once thing is clear: Very few of the commenters are interested in listening to him or his concerns.

Could he have written this article in a way that would be more palatable? Perhaps. But, that’s a completely different issue. The question here – again – is how do we deal with generalizations among the church.

Obviously, this author makes several generalizations, both about churches and about people his age. How should someone respond to these generalizations? What about someone who agrees with the author? What about someone who disagrees with the author? What if someone knows of instances that do not match the generalizations?

You see, I think the way we treat people often says more than what we actually say to them. And, unfortunately, I think many of the commenters are speaking loudly…

So, let’s pretend that you actually know the young man who wrote this article. 1) Assume that you disagree with his generalizations. How would you respond to him? 2) Assume that you agree with his generalizations. How would you respond to him?

(By the way, if you want to discuss the content of the article, that’s fine too. But, I’m really interested in thinking through dealing with generalizations and criticisms, both when we agree with them and when we disagree with them.)


14 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-18-2013

    Everything on the internet has too many generalizations

  2. 4-18-2013

    Yes, by nature a public forum demands responses that affect the public. The result will always be generalizations.

    If you state that churches need to do a better job of _________, inevitably you’ll get someone stating that their church has no problem doing _________ well. We love to deflect. It’s always the other guy who is doing it wrong.

    When it comes to church criticism, here’s the thought process I follow:

    1. Does the author have a valid point?
    2. If so, what am I going to do about it?

    That’s the only way we can turn generalizations into personalizations that make a difference.

  3. 4-18-2013

    Alan,

    While I get what you going for here, I think it is often very difficult to separate the responses from the content. Speaking honestly a lot of what was stated in the article was offensive in the way it was presented. It was a generalization in and of itself and contained massive contradictions. Now, our response needs to be thought out and given humbly. We are to reflect Christ in our words and our deeds. I agree, many of the posters are certainly not doing that. What I see happening too often today, though, is this idea that it is always perfectly ok to criticize the church in all its forms (especially “traditional” churches with full-time pastors!) but when a defense is made, the defenders start being labeled as out of touch, not lead by the spirit, lacking in compassion, etc. I guess this partly what you are getting at with all of the generalizations.

    What I would say is that we need to be able to have the conversation rather than winning or losing an argument. We should be able to present our opinions and discuss what the bible says on given topics and not feel like we are in a heated war of words. Sadly, this is not what I see happening today by in large. Instead of looking at things from both points of view and addressing the critical issues on BOTH sides, we simply state an opinion and wait for a referee to call the game.

    Let’s have the discussion! I’m very curious to see what points of view would come out on the CONTENT of this article.

  4. 4-18-2013

    The biggest problem with the Jewe piece is the obvious one: He asks for change from others but not from his peer group.

    Sam old, same old. The Other Guy is messed up. “Hey, Other Guy, stop being so messed up!”

    That’s B.S., frankly. Which is why I stopped reading most Godblogs. The problem of “The Other Guy’s Problem” ran rampant.

    The other day, Tim Challies ran a piece about the Pope’s lack of humility. Good grief! Has he read a Reformed blog lately? ANY of them?

    We are going to get nowhere unless we examine our own house. Jewe needs to stop beefing about the Other Guy’s lacks and start kicking his own peer group’s keisters.

    He writes: “We realize we’re arrogant, and in many ways, contradictory. We’re OK with that, but we’re not OK with you being unwilling to admit to the same.”

    Oh please. Grow up. Lose the arrogance and contradiction. You shouldn’t be OK with that. And admitting you are and not doing anything about it isn’t personal integrity. It’s just rebelliousness. And then you call for the Other Guy to be like you. Amazing.

    It’s tough to take Jewe seriously when he spouts detritus like that.

    We are always reforming the Other Guy. Time to grow up and start reforming ourselves.

  5. 4-18-2013

    However I respond to Robert, I need to first remember I’m providing an example for him to follow.

    Gut reaction? OK, Robert is not Alan. I’m so often awestruck (jealous, too) by how Alan can talk about topics and present positions in ways that avoid creating a defensive or combative environment. The same issues brought up by others come across as inflammatory at best. Self indulgent and smug, Robert is begging to be slapped.

    On reflection? Robert is important. We could win the battle and lose the war. Winning the battle would be either convincing him he is wrong, or dividing, convincing ourselves that we are right.

    Or, we could engage Robert without fear, laying ourselves open to Jesus and to Robert. “Search me, O Lord, and see if there be any wicked way in me…” We could work together to understand what he means, and where there is some truth. We could agree on some things. We could ask Robert, “what would he do?” Or, more importantly, what will he do, and how can we come alongside? This whole thing starts with two people. Robert and me. Others might see and jump in.

    Robert provides the church in general, but me in particular (if I know him and am engaging him), an interesting opportunity to see from his perspective. I remember (vaguely) being 20, believing our generation would change the world and the previous one screwed it up royally. But more, the church (we, me) can help Robert react to his perceptions in helpful ways.

    My generation didn’t change the world, at least not for the better. Robert’s may not either, unless—unless we work together under God, as humble brothers.

  6. 4-18-2013

    Your comments have caused me to think about something…

    We know that we are to “consider others as more important than ourselves” and “look also to the interests of others”… Do we “look also to the interests of others” only when those “others” are also looking out for the interests of others? Can we “look also to the interests” of those who are only interested in their own concerns?

    -Alan

  7. 4-18-2013

    Alan,

    That’s an excellent point. Obviously I think we both know the answer. We are to take care of our end of the bargain regardless of either the opinion of others or the way that opinion is expressed. I do believe, though, that it has to be a discussion and we have to put our opinions out there. When necessary, we should also be allowed to defend an opinion without being labeled or marginalized. Much of what was expressed in the article brought about strong reactions. Those reactions were not always presented in the right manner, but we shouldn’t be apologizing about having a reaction, either. Does that make any sense? Again, it’s about conversation.

  8. 4-18-2013

    Rob,

    Your comment reminded me of something else that I had planned to say in my comment…

    I specifically asked my questions at the end of this post assuming that we knew the author of this post. Like you said, it’s fine to present our opinions and positions, and that can be done online. But, often, for any real change and understanding to take place, we need to sit with someone face-to-face, listen to them, spend time with them, serve others with them, etc. Only then will we begin that conversation that is so important.

    -Alan

  9. 4-18-2013

    Thanks for sharing this with us Alan. As a 23 year old myself, I can sympathise with Jewe. In fact the most prominent thing I see in what he has said in his article is that he is dissatisfied with the church as he knows it and has experienced it. I have been there and I am sure the rest of you have too. His heart cry is revealed in his last paragraph:

    “Please don’t conclude that my refusal to give means I’m indifferent to the church. I have always believed that Christ holds the answer to what is wrong with the world—that Jesus is the key to truly experiencing life.
    I am only critical of your efforts because I refuse to give up. I desperately want my generation to see authentic Christianity. Let’s make it happen together.”

    I think generalizations and over exaggerations sometimes allow our frustrations to be expressed in a more “in your face” kind of way. I believe that as we grow in maturity, we learn to express our frustrations in more uplifting or beneficial ways, rather than obnoxiously offending people.

  10. 4-18-2013

    Alan,

    I think we make a grave error when we generalize about generalisations!

    As one author said in speaking of the wider perception of the church, “We need a broad brush approach to the subject as it is impossible to be specific, or particular”.

    A lady by the name of Robinson once wrote in a book,Educational Action Research:

    “Generalisation is inescapable. We all generalise. It is part of our cognitive apparatus and it is fundamental to the way we live. Our understanding of the world has to go beyond our own unique and limited experiences if we are to interact, empathise, understand and communicate with others in our social milieu. Without generalisation we could not interact with our world in a meaningful and coherent way – that is to say, we would need continual repetition of the same mental procedures for each new experience.

    I agree; but recognising that generalisations need to be used carefully, as they can end up being painful for the user.

  11. 4-18-2013

    Nathan makes a very good point. Robert is disatisfied with what he’s experienced. Me too!!! (and I’m pushing 60) Sadly, too many are telling him to get over it and just step up. I wonder (not for long) if that’s how Jesus would respond. Most comment on that blog just serve to widen the chasm–and from ‘believers’ no less!

    The N. American church as an institution isn’t doing too well. God and His people are doing just fine. But I’m suspicious that it’s because God is God and His people are doing okay in spite of the institutional church much more than because of it. Let me, um, generalise, more people everyday are expressing that they believe things should be different (witness this blog and many others).

    Yet, the institution seems to be pushing back or trying to re-invent itself to save itself. Jesus said that except the seed falls into the ground and dies.. The institution doesn’t want to die to itself, though it must. We’d (sadly) be surprised at what God would do if a little institutional death occurred.

  12. 4-18-2013

    The best part of blogging is being able to hear from all of you. The worst part about blogging is that we’re spread all over the world and can’t sit down and discuss these things together.

    -Alan

  13. 4-19-2013

    Assume I agree, which I do. Why should I respond?
    All I hear is belly-aching. The fact that I share his perception of the situation is immaterial. He has two good legs and a working brain. If he can’t find a church he likes, he can start his own.
    If he wants to have a conversation, he can make nice, but that article won’t get published. Conviviality doesn’t sell magazines, contentiousness does. I know I enjoyed reading it.
    Assume I know him. My response to the article is “Congratulations on getting published. You want to get some coffee?”

  14. 4-19-2013

    “Congratulations on getting published. You want to get some coffee?” I like that. :)

    -Alan