Sometimes I Just Don't Recognize Myself

John ArmstrongPersonal

When I first began writing blogs in 2005 I was not really sure about the value of this enterprise. At times I am still not fully convinced, though I still write blogs almost every day. In one sense, I write for myself just because I love to write. I think best when I put my ideas in writing. It is who I am and how I function. I understand blogs to be, at their best, a combination of philosophical insights, less than polished (as in polished for more formal publication) essays on sundry matters and personal autobiographical reflections. I try to do all of these in various ways, always in a way that I hope ministers to others in some small way.

But who reads these blogs? (I read some blogs and profit from these myself, though my time devoted to them is limited by personal time demands and health issues.) Do these blogs really make any difference, the kind of difference that brings about godliness and better Christian thought? Do they result in richer and better living under God? I do often wonder.

I am well aware that this medium is hot right now. I am also aware that thousands read my own words. But I remain troubled by how easy it is for anyone to say anything they want and thus make more unhelpful noise, me included. I recently reflected on the simple truth that everything the Scripture says about speech, and the danger of "many words" and "idle conversation," applies to bloggers, especially Christian bloggers. Because of this I have attempted to study and practice a certain etiquette about my own blog posts. Civility, fairness, kindness, and most of all truthfulness, should govern bloggers. I hope these govern my posts.

Perhaps the gravest danger of all, in this age of instant communication, is carping, harsh and ego-building criticism. A. B. Simpson put my concern well when he said: "I would rather play with the forked lightning, or take in my hands living wires with their fiery current, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ." When I read criticisms of myself this is how I respond. Unless there is a very specific reason to answer a critic, and you will see this in my blogs if you read them, I am loathe to defend myself and even more loathe to counterattack a critic, Christian or non-Christian.

Don’t get me wrong. Critical thinking is in short supply today. We need much more of it, not less. But harsh and personal criticism among Christians, especially of other Christians and their motives, is a form of asserted superiority and warped personality disorder. The Puritan Thomas Manton said, "Censuring is a pleasing sin, extremely compliant with nature." Some bloggers are masters of this stuff. Without enemies and causes these writers would have nothing much to say.

Samuel Medley sums up my own feelings when he writes, "They only have a right to censure that have a heart to help; the rest is cruelty and injustice." I write, as best I understand my own heart, not only to speak out of my mind and heart but to help others think and grow.

I have learned over a lifetime that if you are going to write and speak publicly then you must be willing to face criticism, good and bad. It goes with the territory. I am not above criticism and never thought that I was. Some criticism, even from my harshest critics, has helped me immensely. Other criticisms have hurt deeply. The ones that trouble me the most are those that misrepresent my views, or my motives, and then assume the worst about me or fail to personally ask me what I meant by what I wrote. The judgments we all make ought to aim at correction and helping others, not at harming and destroying them. I make judgments regularly via these blogs and my ACT 3 Weekly articles. I defend some ideas and question others. But I steadfastly try to avoid ad hominem attacks on people and their character. Very infrequently I have violated that principle and in almost every case I have had the deepest regrets. I was careless or too quick to judge and to speak. These regrets have included shame and a sense of my own sinful foolishness every single time. A few times I have even blogged my apologies.

I write all this because I read some blogs this morning that attacked me personally. As I read these various comments I did not recognize who they were talking about in most of the comments since the words did not accurately reflect my own views in question. I seem to have become a exhibit A for denying the truth and for undermining the biblical assurance of faith. I fully realize that these attacks are not based in understanding what I am actually saying but it doesn’t make it any easier to process them on a personal level, especially when they come from people who were my friends in the past. (With only one or two rare exceptions these critics have yet to speak to me personally. They reason that if I write something then they can quote it and use it without any qualms about the ethics of how and where they use it or whether they come to me in private, following Matthew 18, to correct me first.) I probably should not have read these blogs but then once in awhile I need to see what people really say about me and what they think I mean by what I have written. The most profound impression that I had this morning was this—if I am as bad as some bloggers say I am then I am a dangerous teacher and a person to be avoided like the plague. God alone knows the truth. The judgment of such is not in my hands. But this much I do know. When I read comments about myself that I am quite sure do not represent what I really said, or what I really meant, I am quite certain that the critic has not made the case adequately. I will have to leave to fair-minded readers the task of judging with just judgment. As Paul says, "I do not judge myself." (At least not adequately or correctly.)

Some years ago a critic reminded me that unless you can see yourself, and your views, in someone’s criticism, and unless the person making the criticism accurately understands and represents what you really wrote or spoke, then you should not pay too much attention to it. I find that pretty good counsel. I think I will take a fast from reading some blog posts that attack me unless the writers will take more time and care to explain my position well enough to show why I am wrong by using the facts.

There are many things to be disagreed with in my posts; e.g., my personal political theories, my views of doctrinal issues that all Christians are not united on, my personal opinions about items in the news, my passions for  film, art, music and baseball, etc. I love to interact with all of these criticisms. They are fair and helpful. (I welcome them here and rarely have removed a criticism of me or my comments a you can tell if you read this blog spot often.) What I find depressing and disheartening is the way the blogosphere is often used to unjustly condemn and to falsely complain. Please do continue to disagree with me, as this medium invites this response. (You can agree too since I like to read agreements as well!) Frankly, I welcome all such comments and I learn from them. The idea is that others read our exchanges and learn by "listening" to this conversation. But please assume the best when you do write, at least if you are a Christian, since that is what we should all do with one another.

One of my theological heroes, John Calvin, once wrote: "It is not what we gain by detracting from others, but what we have without any comparison, that is truly praiseworthy." And the famous 20th century motivational speaker and writer Dale Carnegie put this well when he said, "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and usually does."