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September 17, 2007

Blog-a-book: Criticize with grace

Prayinghands

When atheist Sam Harris wrote his 2004 bestseller The End of Faith, a radical attack on religious belief in any form, he was prepared for strong rebuttals from Christians.

What may have surprised him was the vitriol in which many of the emails and letters were couched. The most hostile messages came from Christians (not Muslims or Hindus). "The truth is," he explained in the forward to his latest bestseller, Letter to a Christian Nation, "that many who claim to be transformed by God's love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism."

"How do I know this?" he asked rhetorically. "The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse." Indeed, Letter to a Christian Nation is his response to those vituperative critics and yet another weapon in the armory of people hostile to Christianity.

I'd love to write that passage off as just more anti-Christian bias from an intolerant elitist media. But I can't. Number one, I've seen too many similar letters and other writings from Christians. Number two, the above passage isn't from some prejudiced secular publication -- it's from Christianity Today.

Make sure you don't miss the point of this article. David Aikman is not saying here that Christians are never to criticize -- some things need criticism. What he's saying is that we are to criticize "with grace."

Which brings me to today's blog-a-book post. I was delighted to find a very old favorite in The Book of Uncommon Prayer, a poem by C. S. Lewis that's been on my bulletin board for many years. It contains a truth I struggle (and sometimes fail) to remember, a truth relevant to the Aikman article and to all of us Christians who play any part in the public arena. Here it is in its entirety:

The Apologist's Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle's eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C. S. Lewis

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Comments

Lori Smith

I love this! I've read it before, but great to be reminded -- thanks for posting.

Jason Taylor

Actually this message applies to everyone but Christians should behave better then the world.
What strikes me sometimes is that people were once sometimes able to kill each other with more grace then people show when they argue with each other. For instance here are three short stories:

Just following the conquest of Jerusalem in 1967 one of the first things the Israeli army did was set up a memorial-to the Jordanians.

At Leyte Gulf a small American task force was standing between a far larger Japanese force and the American troop ships. One American destroyer danced about the Japanese jabbing them with a blow when they could. Finnally a salvo landed and sunk them. At least one American sailor claimed that while he was swimming in the water he saw some Japanese standing on the deck-saluting them.

At the beginning of World War I a Czarist cavalry officer caught some Germans by suprise. One young officer fought so well as to impress the Russian. So he sent his personal effects through the Red Cross with a letter to the German's family telling how he died. Later that Russian officer was in want and exile. Then he recieved a letter expressing thanks and giving an offer to assist the Russian officer in his hardship. It came from the sister of the dead german.

What is the point of all this besides enjoying a story? The point is that these people instinctively knew that a gentleman respects an opponent. Perhaps the debater could learn something from the Warrior Code.

Mike Davies

Yes we nust be careful as Paul says. If to reprove then in a spirit of meekness.
We need truth but also grace. Jesus was full of truth and grace. We are also taught that our battle is not against flesh and blood,(not against people) but against spiritual forces.
It is in a spirit of meekness that we are to debate and finally it is love that will win out. Cor. 13

Patricia

I agree, we are to tell the truth in love. It seems the atmosphere is like hate when you read what politicians say about each other. They need to focus on what they have to offer, not what the other guy is doing right or wrong.

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