I’m sure there are a 100 kinds of criticisms, but that won’t fit into a blog (at least not one you’d read). So here are the two types that I get and how I am learning to respond.

I simply call them Critiques from the Outside and from the Inside.

“Outside Criticism” comes at me from people I either don’t know at all or I know, but am not “doing life” with.  These are public critiques for me as a public figure. They are on Facebook, Twitter, comments on my blogs or emails through my website.  Just this week I was called “a member of Al Qaeda” since I “loved Muslims too much.”  That’s a classic “outside critique.”

Oh, it still affects me. Hurts.  So here’s what I do with outside critiques – I categorize them into three sections:

  1. Those that are ridiculous (like the one above) I simply ignore. I try to say a quick prayer for the person, but I often “forget.”   🙂
  2. Those that are reasonable, even if I don’t know them and don’t agree with their criticism – as long as it’s reasonable – I try to respond briefly but politely. I say something like “I appreciate your comments and would love to hear how you came to that conclusion from what you heard or read.”  They are often shocked to hear from me and sometimes they immediately back-peddle.  Sometimes we enter a dialog. And some of those times, I “win” them over.  But polite discourse is always a good thing.
  3. Sometimes the outside critique comes from a trusted source that I don’t know – but I respect. For instance, NT (Tom) Wright wrote an amazing three page critique of my book Speaking of Jesus. It was 90% positive, but the 10% “negative” I took quite seriously. We dialogued about that 10% for a while and I decided he was on to something.  (How could I not)!?  So even though I don’t know Tom personally (we’ve exchanged emails over the years) I trust and respect his “outside” opinion, so I will seriously listen to it as if he were an “insider” in my life.

If someone I am close to – an insider – critiques an idea I have… I need to be all ears. Not saying that I do this well – but I need to. So when my wife or kids say something.  Or when my closest friends and co-workers say something…I should listen. Period.  And if a few of them are saying the same thing – then they’re on to something!  I need to change!

Here’s what I want to be able to do when an “insider” critiques something I’ve said or written (or lived).

  1. Listen. First and foremost – just hear what they’re saying and why.
  2. If there is a critical mass of these trusted friends (or Chris and family can be this alone), then I HAVE to take it seriously and begin thinking how to change it.
  3. Pray and see what’s the root of the issue inside me.

Criticism is a blessing. Even from the outside. It helps in keeping me humble. It corrects.  It refines.  It smooths rough edges.

Bottom line – don’t listen to outside criticism that is clearly not relevant and helpful, but do listen to all others.  And how you discern which is which is the very process of maturity we’re all called into.