Beyond Critique: Engaging Hard Conversations Better

Rachel Madden
5 min readAug 9, 2020

Christians are called to something more than just critiquing positions we don’t agree with.

| Photo by Wyron AUnsplash |

The past five months have been hard. We’ve wrestled with a global pandemic, death, isolation, injustice, and an upcoming presidential election.

While these times have illuminated many things, I’ve become particularly concerned about one trend I see in my community, specifically fellow white Christians:

It seems we are quicker to critique than to engage well, especially when it comes to hard, complex conversations.

This trend is not something I see occurring in some faraway place. It’s one I see all too often in myself if I’m honest.

It’s much easier to take shots at someone’s stance from afar than it is to listen to their experience up close, to ask thoughtful questions, and to engage in a way that honors the imago dei (image of God) they hold.

Even so, I believe that the Christian call, both individually and corporately, is to engage culture to redeem it, not simply to critique where it is broken and evil.

Engaging Culture

Right now, everyone is talking about Black Lives Matter (both the sentiment & organization), mask ordinances, school decisions, pandemic responses and more. As Christians, we do not have the liberty to “check out” of what’s going on. We are called to be in the world, not of it, which means engaging it.

This means that we choose to have hard conversations, even with people we know we disagree with.

Before we can ever redeem brokenness, we must first introduce ourselves.

Posture Problems

The temptation as we start to engage an issue is to jump right to the substance of our apologetics or doctrines or convictions on a particular thing. When we do this, we skip a crucial part of engaging in a redemptive, God-honoring way: our posture.

If my posture is to smack you over the head with my points to make you agree with me, what good is our conversation?

But, if my posture is one of humility and seeking to understand what your experience has been and things you’re thinking through, our conversation can be one that honors God. It can be one where you and I both feel honored and are reminded of the value God placed in us at creation.

Our posture can invite or discourage others from seeing Jesus’ counter-cultural Kingdom of grace, repentance and wholeness.

I believe that the posture of our apologetics and doctrines and stances is central to the effectiveness of our Christian witness.

The substance of Christian ethics cannot be supported by bad posture, even if the content true and right.

| Photo by Nadine ShaabanaUnsplash |

The Listen-Push Back Tension

Once we cultivate a healthier posture, we must walk the tightrope of both listening and pushing back.

As we engage issues of systemic injustice or how we vote in November, we aren’t having these conversations simply for the fun of it. We’re not conversing for the sake of conversing, because these things truly have serious implications and consequences.

That being said, as we engage with others, we must learn when to listen, to ask questions, and when we should push back.

When I say push back, what I mean is explaining a Christian position (or even a personal conviction).

For example, if I’m in a conversation about racial justice, the Christian ethic is the equality of all people, as determined by our Creator. If the person I’m conversing with believes one ethnicity is superior to another, this would be an area I would listen, ask clarifying questions, and then push back. I could explain how I believe all people are equally valuable according to the Bible, as well as the implications of that.

To push back in a conversation is not to attack in hostility or to put someone else in a “gotcha!” moment.

The goal of pushing back is to offer what your convictions are and invite someone else into that.

(Though I hope it’s obvious, our convictions must be informed by biblical truth and wisdom.)

Walking the line of listening and pushing back is very challenging, and I’ve found myself needing to apologize and practice a lot. Though it’s hard, this is a skill worth learning.

Walk the Talk: Modeling Truth

Our Christian call doesn’t end with push back in a conversation. As followers of Jesus, we are called not only to be hearers of the Word, but to be doers of the Word (James 1:22).

This means we don’t get to present our ideas or our critique of someone else’s positions without modeling what we believe with actions.

For example, if we critique the Black Lives Matter organization for a non-biblical sexual ethic while agreeing with the need for racial justice, we as Christians must then model what a biblical understanding of justice and sexuality look like in practice together.

We must practice tangible things as an expression of the transformational truth we hold, and we must pioneer biblical faithfulness in areas like fighting poverty, protecting the vulnerable and racial justice.

When we model truth in a transformative way, it acts as enduring evidence of the power of the Gospel and the God of the Bible.

These hard conversations (often with fellow believers) are difficult and require work on both sides.

Yet, every time I’ve worked to engage, to have a posture of understanding and honor, and to model what truth in action looks like, it’s so worth it. When we move beyond critique, these conversations can be life-giving, rather than discouraging.

I believe that learning how to have hard conversations is so integral to our Christian witness, especially in these crazy times.

May we as followers of Jesus be willing to do the hard work of engaging all things towards redemption, rather than simply critiquing them.

- Rachel

Thank you so much for reading!

My hope is that you might be encouraged & challenged, and that these pieces might spark life-giving conversations. I would love to hear from you and connect, so shoot me a message on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, or leave a response to this piece.

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Rachel Madden

expert in laughing at all my own jokes. rookie adult. lover of puns & fun. follower of Jesus.