Archive for December, 2009

How Do You Take Criticism of Your Views?

Recently several people have asked me ‘how do you deal with harsh criticism?’ In each case, the inquirer had felt stung by what they felt were unfair attacks on him or her. In this internet age, anyone can have their views censured unfairly by people they don’t know. So what do you do when that happens? Here’s is the gist of the counsel I give people when they ask me about this. For years I’ve been guided by a letter by John Newton that is usually entitled “On Controversy.”

The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come. “Those people…” you mutter under your breath. All this can make you prouder over time. Newton writes: “Whatever…makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.” He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that “the doctrines of grace” are operating in our life “as mere notions and speculations” with “no salutary influence upon [our] conduct.”

So how can you avoid this temptation? First, you should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides. There is usually such a kernel when the criticism comes from friends, and there is often such truth when the disapproval comes from people who actually know you. So even if the censure is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong. Perhaps you simply acted or spoke in a way that was not circumspect. Maybe the critic is partly right for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, identify your own short-comings, repent in your own heart before the Lord for what you can, and let that humble you. It will then be possible to learn from the criticism and stay gracious to the critic even if you have to disagree with what he or she has said.

If the criticism comes from someone who doesn’t know you at all (and often this is the case on the internet) it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often pilloried not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views (and motives) that I do not hold at all. When that happens it is even easier to fall into a smugness and perhaps be tempted to laugh at how mistaken your critics are. “Pathetic…” you may be tempted to say. Don’t do it. Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, you should not mock them in your thoughts. First, remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past, times in which you really got something wrong. Second, pray for the critic, that he or she grows in grace. Newton talks about it like this:

“If you account [your opponent] a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: ‘Deal gently with him for my sake.’  The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly.  The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.  In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.  Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.”

So whatever you do, do anything you can to avoid feeling smug and superior to the critic. Even if you say to yourself that you are just ’shrugging it off’ and that you are not going to respond to the criticism, you can nonetheless conduct a full defense and refutation in the courtroom of your mind, in which you triumphantly prove how awful and despicable your opponents are. But that is a spiritual trap. Newton’s remarks about this are very convicting:

“A man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace.  Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.  Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good.  They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.  I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.”

Dr. Tim Keller is the Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, NY and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.


Baxter on the Family: Directions for Wives

This is Part 2 of our series on Richard Baxter’s instructions for the Christian family.

It is important to realize, when reading Baxter and the Puritans, that there was no guarded language when speaking of how the Christian household ought to look like. They simply assumed the clear, biblical teaching of a husbandʼs authority in the family and a wifeʼs joyful submission. So then, at one level, Baxterʼs direction for women wouldnʼt sound too different than John Piperʼs or Wayne Grudemʼs.

However, Baxter, in a way that Puritans are known for, approaches the heart of the wife. What would cause a wife to rebel against the biblical mandate to follow the leadership of the husband? Baxter gives a few reasons:

1. Failure to believe Godʼs will is best. Godʼs design for the Christian family, which includes the structure of authority and submission, is best! God is wise and we, as sinners, need divine wisdom. He writes, “Who are you to assess Godʼs Word in a way different than his own qualifications.” What Baxter means is, we are to allow Godʼs Word to explain itself in its own terms. We must not explain away difficult, but clear, instruction. As Christians, we must trust Godʼs counsel for the home. Failure to trust Godʼs will can only bring turmoil and unrest.

2. Discontentment. There is something about the sinful heart that is always wanting something other than the place in which God has placed him or her. When something other than God is the desire of the heart, it begins to desire more than the portion granted. The sinful cravings of the heart are deceitful and can justify sin or can explain away divine instruction. Baxterʼs appeal to wives is to find your contentment and treasure in Christ and you will recognize the joy in resting in his purposes.

3. Distrust in the leadership of your husband. Following the leadership your husband is not first and foremost based upon his merits, but upon the design of Godʼs intentions. Baxter recognizes the failures of husbands, since he was one himself, and there is no biblical expectations for women to follow their husbands in sin or submit to abuse. Yet, many may see the husbandʼs imperfections as an opportunity to exchange roles, as if he has lost his chance to lead. Baxter encourages wives to put away their fears of following their husbands, for it is not in him that you place your trust, but in the Lord who has given you good and perfect instruction for your joy. Rebelling against Godʼs instruction for the home will never bring peace or contentment.

For Baxter, submitting to Godʼs will for the home, whether it be for men or for women, is fundamentally a heart issue. Baxter wrote in a day when feminism didnʼt exist as a movement. There were no books to argue for egalitarianism. No one was attempting to re-interpret Ephesians 5. Yet, he understood that men and women have always had sinful impulses to rebel against Godʼs instructions.


Baxter on the Family: Duties of the Christian Husband

John Starke
November 16, 2009

Much could be said about Richard Baxterʼs, the 17th century puritan, instruction for the Christian family. He is deeply practical and has the actual family in mind when writing. What I mean is that he is not speaking to academics, scholars, or, even other pastors. He is mainly speaking to fathers, mothers, and, also, children. For the Puritans, every home was a small church, with the father as the shepherd. So then, Baxter has two concerns when writing to families: perseverance in the faith and growth in godliness. He begins his directions for the family with the husband.

Directions for Husbands

The husband has the authority in the home. Baxter doesnʼt argue for the husband’s headship in the home, but rather assumes it as biblical. There is a question, however, of first importance that every man should ask of himself: Am I fit for task? The purpose of the question is not necessarily to see whether or not one should start a family (though it may be a good one to ask before you begin), but ultimately to know exactly what to repent of and, then, seek godliness. Out of all the qualities a man needs in leading his family, godliness has pride-of-place. Baxter writes:

And if God shall not govern in your families, who shall? The devil is always the governor where Godʼs governments is refused; the world and the flesh are the instruments of his governments; worldliness and fleshly living are his service. Undoubtedly he is the ruler of the family where these prevail, and where faith and godliness do not take place. And what can you expect from such a master?

According to Baxter, an ungodly man is the chief stranger and enemy to Godʼs design for the Christian family. A godly governed home “is an excellent help to the saving of all the souls that are in it.” Men, fit yourselves for the task!

Why is godliness so important to the task of leading the home? For Baxter, the husband is responsible for the normal teaching and instruction in godliness. Therefore, the husband must hunger and thirst for the knowledge of Godʼs Word. Baxter writes, “Those husbands that despise the word of God and live in willful ignorance do not only despise their own souls, but their families also.”

Because the husband is responsible before God for his family and all this included in it, apathy is not an option. An apathetic husband has authority over his family in name and image only. Husbands, do not be marked by a couch and a remote control. Do not lie to yourselves, thinking that your work is done at 5:30 pm. Too many young husbands, today, spend more time on XBox than instructing their families in godliness. Men, if your children relate you with video games more than service and care, then you should repent.