One of the things that worries me most lately is what might be called the Simon Cowell syndrome. I don’t watch American Idol much but even I could tell that Simon Cowell’s role on the show has been to be the one to tell the truth about the contestants. In an age where everyone gets a prize for participating Cowell looks like an ogre for daring to tell people who can’t sing that they can’t sing. This is the weird side of the Orwellian world in which we now live.
The evangelical version of the “everyone wins” phenomenon is that it is virtually impossible today to tell the truth about an error without yourself coming under criticism for daring to do it. It doesn’t matter how carefully one does it. it doesn’t matter whether what was said is true. It doesn’t really even matter how much happy-talk prefaces the criticisms that are made. The sin is that the criticisms are made.
Consider this account, in CT, of Mike Horton’s recent assiduously fair and fairly gentle critique of Rick Warren:
Whatever assurances Warren gave Piper about his interest in Jonathan Edwards and Reformed theology, the Orange County pastor has a track record that suggests a different set of priorities. Facing a tough crowd in Minneapolis, Warren will need to demonstrate that his church’s practices can accord with a healthy regard for doctrinal precision. Past statements, some of which Michael Horton has documented, may dog him. Horton offered a balanced if biting critique of Warren in light of Piper’s invitation.
Now you should read Horton’s critique for yourself. It is quite balanced. It offered genuine appreciation for the positive contributions Warren has made while being pointed in its critique of Warren’s mistakes. The adjective “biting” is quite striking.”Biting.” Really? I’m incredulous.
The Oxford American Dictionary offers the following definition of the adjective “biting”:
biting comments vicious, harsh, cruel, savage, cutting, sharp, bitter, scathing, caustic, acid, acrimonious, acerbic, stinging; vitriolic, hostile, spiteful, venomous, mean, nasty; informal bitchy, catty.
Read Mike’s response to the controversy and ask yourself, is any of these adjectives true of it? If there is any such thing as objective reality I cannot for the life of me imagine how anyone could fairly take Mike’s comments to be anything but what they were: direct, clear, and perhaps even pointed. They weren’t any of the synonyms for “biting.” Indeed, his comments were closer to the antonym of “biting,” namely, “mild.”
The only thing I can think is that in our age of “everyone wins” and radical subjectivism (where everyone has his own reality) we may be coming to the place where it is not possible to offer criticism of any kind without being made into a bad person. Colin admits that Mike was balanced, but he had to balance that concession with the recognition that, for daring to point out facts and truth and reality, Horton must be made to pay a price. His comments cannot simply be described as “accurate” or “truthful,” or “balanced” but because are criticisms they must, ipso facto, also be “biting.”
What becomes of Christian truth telling in an age when even the most gentle criticisms are regarded by evangelical leaders as “biting”?