post praising Karl Martin's sermon at this year's Baptist Assembly. I was just going to reply with a comment of my own but I think the observations raise some important issues, so a slightly lengthier reflection might well be in order.
The substance of the comment was that we ought not to criticise other preachers' sermons in a public arena such as the internet. In disagreeing with this point of view I want to distinguish between two things: critiquing the content of preaching and making personal attacks on the preacher. I want positively to encourage the former and resolutely to resist the latter. Too often Christians confuse these things and too often we respond to points of view that we don't like by sliding into criticisms of the people who espouse them. There are two unfortunate consequences: people get hurt and our ideas remain undeveloped. It seems to me that if we learn to focus on the content of preaching and if we remember to act with appropriate respect towards the person doing the preaching, then criticism can only do us good. This is why, in one of my own seminars at the assembly, I made a deliberate point of questioning some of the things I had heard from the main stage. I wasn't out to attack the speakers but I did want to encourage careful consideration of some of their proposals. I think our preaching suffers when it cloaks itself in a sacred, defensive force-field. It becomes flip, cliched, patronising and all too often way off the mark. The to and fro of friendly but committed conversation is, on the other hand, a good way to generate insight, refine ideas, develop communication skills and keep it real. Conversation on a blog is one way of having such a discussion.
It is worth bearing in mind though the nature of blog discussions. It seems to me they fall somewhere in between careful public statement and off the cuff response, but they definitely tend much more toward the latter. This has two implications. First, those of us who take part in such conversations should remember that our comments will be overheard by a wider audience than those who join in and so the potential to hurt other people is far greater than we may realise. I have been guilty of this myself. It's always worth a final read through before hitting the submit button. Second, we should also try and cut each other a bit of slack. What we are engaged in (I hope) is trying out ideas so as to refine them. The things we express will be provisional, notions under development, not final conclusions or settled opinions. Also, we will rarely express ourselves with precision. Even when we take care we will, from time to time, use turns of phrase that might offend. It's going to happen so let's be gracious when others get it wrong and let's learn to apologise when we ourselves screw up. Sometimes taking offence too easily can cause as many problems as giving offence.
So please, please feel free to criticise my preaching. We preachers get to shoot our mouths off in public far more than is good for us; it can't hurt to have what we say exposed to friendly scrutiny. So if you try not to be unkind I'll try not to get upset and together we might just learn a teeny bit more than we would if I did all the talking. What do you think?