August 30, 2010
“People understand me so poorly that they don’t even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.”
It’s common courtesy in the academic world to send a manuscript which critiques someone else’s work to the author of that work before the manuscripts is published and circulated (via a blog, magazine article, or book).
The reason is simple. Intellectual honesty demands accuracy in the critique. It’s important to truthfully and fairly represent someone’s work when critiquing it. Without such, straw-man arguments get passed off as honest critiques. This breeds the misrepresentation of a person’s work (which is largely exacerbated by the Internet, which is noted for making misinformation viral).
One of the lessons God has taught me is that He sovereignly uses misrepresentation for His own purposes. It’s yet another case of God doing what He’s so good at – writing straight with crooked lines.
So if you are an author who is breaking with status quo thinking or practice, you would be wise to accept misrepresentations as coming from the hand of your Lord.
Sometimes the Lord uses such misrepresentations to keep certain people from reading a book or hearing a message at a certain time in their lives. Perhaps at those times when they are not ready to receive it.
Other times it’s to humble the person whose work is being misrepresented. Sometimes it’s to give opportunity to demonstrate to others how to accept criticism and unfair critiques, handling them with grace and refusing to attack back or defend oneself.
Still other times it’s to magnify the truth. When a person must resort to misrepresentation and/or ad hominem (personal attacks) to discredit a spiritual statement, it only underscores the truth of that statement.
In July 2010, an ex-pastor in his 30s visited me. We had breakfast together, and he told me a fascinating story. He said that when he was serving as a pastor, he kept hearing about Pagan Christianity.
But he was told not to read it, that it was just an attack on Christmas and Easter and other trivial matters. So he had no interest in looking at it.
Yet every time he would pray, strangely, the title kept coming to his mind. Time passed and one day he was at Barnes and Noble. Before entering into the store, he asked God what book he should buy and read (he had done this before – praying about what book to buy and read before entering into a bookstore).
As he walked through the Christian section, he saw Pagan Christianity starring him in the face, and he intuitively knew he should buy it.
Upon reading it, it wasn’t anything like he thought or had heard. There wasn’t a word in it about Christmas or Easter, for example. All told, he said the book changed his life and put him on a brand new journey with the Lord and His ultimate intention.
Beware the person that quotes short excerpts from a book and then purports to interpret the author of the book. In many (if not most) cases where the interpretation is negative, the person is misrepresenting the author. You’ll also discover something else in virtually every case — the person quoting and interpreting has never gone to the author to ask if he is understanding the author correctly.
Point: If you think you disagree with an author, go to the author directly and ask if you are understanding her or him correctly before you make your views public. Intellectual honesty demands it.
This act alone would cut out 95% of the misrepresentations that abound in the Christian community today.