By Jeremy Linneman
Jeremy Linneman is lead pastor of Trinity Community Church, a church he planted in Columbia, Missouri. Prior to planting Trinity, he was a staff pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for seven years. He is author of Life-Giving Groups: “How-To” Grow Healthy, Multiplying Community Groups (Sojourn Network, 2017). Jeremy and his wife, Jessie, have three sons and spend most of their free time outdoors.
I was having a pretty good week, but then I made the mistake of watching cable news.
I didn’t intend to: We don’t even have cable TV. I was at the gym, and it was the only option. I should watch the news and read the paper more than I do; I should be more culturally aware. But sometimes it’s just exhausting. Here’s the thing that bothers me most:
Critique is the dominant spirit of our age.
In our world, whether it’s MSNBC, Fox News, or our local network news, the dominant tone in public discourse is critique—a picking apart and pulling down of other people and their opinions.
As a people, we Americans are quick to see something we don’t like and announce, “that’s wrong!” not simply, “that’s not how I’d do it.”
Social media exemplifies this posture of critique. Twitter used to be a great place to find new articles, keep up with our friends’ lives, and discover new ideas and voices in the church and the world. But now it seems to be at least 90 percent critique—faceless profiles naming out their opponents’ flaws and throwing truth (opinion) bombs, all while entirely disconnected from relationships.
On the news and on social media, it’s rare to see a thoughtful, constructive opinion on how to solve a problem or work toward a common good.
It’s as if there are a million movie critics and only a few directors.
Everyone’s a critic and no one’s a chef.
Now, I would love to linger on this point and say, “Haven’t you noticed this in the world? Shouldn’t we pray for those folks?” But that’s exactly the problem: Everyone’s focused on those folks.
It’s not just public discourse that’s dominated by critique; it’s our own private conversations—even in the church. (You’ll notice I started this article with “Here’s the thing that bothers me most!”)
This posture of deconstruction isn’t infiltrating the church from the dangerous outside world; the spirit of negativity begins in each of our hearts and gets worked out in social circles.
We frequently hear believers build relationships over shared critique: “My coworkers are just awful people.” And (half-jokingly): “My spouse is terrible at everything.” And: “That church down the street really doesn’t get it.”
It’s far easier to find common ground with people over shared negativity.
Critique is so contagious because it keeps the problem out there.
It’s far safer to tear something down than it is to build something up.
It’s a lot easier to condemn that it is to listen and forgive.
It’s much simpler to pull a person apart than it is to put them back together.
If you have ever remodeled a kitchen, you know the demo takes a lot less patience and skill than the reconstruction!
When I look at my own heart, I see some terrifying stuff—the negativity, the critique, the snarky-ness. It’s scary how easily my mind goes to deconstruct, pick apart, brush off, or judge.
It makes me wonder: What is at the heart of all this spirit of critique and deconstruction? Fear.
When I am afraid that I don’t have my friends’ approval, I am tempted to put someone else down. In fear, I will look to find a social tribe who shares my same fears and sins, so that we can collectively feel better about ourselves. If I’m not secure in Christ, I will need to hold people at arm’s length and relate to them as a scientist relates to her petri dishes.
What does Jesus offer instead? He offers grace which leads to gratitude.
As Christians, we have been saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The only proper response to grace is gratitude—because we have done nothing to earn our salvation. There’s nothing to boast about. And there’s nothing we can hold over anyone else.
Grace is a gift, and a spirit of gratitude is the evidence that that gift has been received. This is what I love about God:
He is the Creator, not the critic.
He is never reacting in fear; he is only creating, sustaining, guiding, forgiving, and constructing in love.