Personal & Cultural Self-Criticism

In my opinion, a self-critical posture is essential to being Christian. By “self-critical,” I do not mean self-condemnation or self-loathing, but a pursuit of self-awareness.

My quest to understand myself and my relationships has set me on a course of excavating the hidden dynamics that underlie my attitudes and behaviors. I constantly seek to understand what drives and motivates me—my fears, hopes, expectations, all the ways I construct a “false self” and relate to others destructively.

I question my inherited ideologies and ways of seeing the world, especially the conceptions of being Christian that were handed down to me.

I take this same posture toward the wider culture. I welcome any and all cultural self-criticism. I want to understand such things as the dynamics of “whiteness,” the presumption of American uniqueness, global workings of capitalism, inherited cultural conceptions of gender, evangelical cults of personality, the impulses of cultural resentments, the idolatries of power, control and prestige that afflict evangelical culture and assumptions about political party loyalty. The list could go on.

Because I inhabit a more or less conservative evangelical culture in America, I seek to understand American and evangelical ideologies and idolatries, the vast network of unexamined hopes and fears, expectations, assumptions and ways of seeing the world.

In my personal life, I have found such freedom and joy in my relationships as I have opened myself to criticism about how I posture myself toward other people. I seek to clear space for others and orient myself toward them so that I receive the great gifts they have to offer me. I want to identify and understand, therefore, anything that keeps me from being blessed by others. And all of this has made me, and those close to me, immensely happy.

This is why I have adopted the same posture toward the wider culture.

I want to know what drives and motivates attitudes and behaviors around me, and I have undertaken this in an effort to identify as clearly as possible what it means to be Christian and how to read Scripture faithfully. I have come to see that there is a dramatic difference between biblical portrayals of Christian identity and what conservative evangelical Christianity has taught me about being Christian.

I am always excavating the assumptions of how my culture regards being Christian so that I can see more clearly what it means to be Christian.

I do understand that in a tribalized and hyper-partisan era, all criticism is aimed at other people. I think this is unfortunate. And I realize that my critical posture may cause some to misunderstand me as an advocate for some other “side” or dismiss me as a crank. This does not concern me.

I seek and welcome all searching criticism directed toward me and my culture, understanding that such provocations to reflect can only lead to deeper self-understanding, giving me greater scope to clear space to enjoy more of God’s life-giving presence through the gifts that other people have to give me.

This is why I am a relentless and constant critic of my own habits of mind and those of the cultures I inhabit.

3 thoughts on “Personal & Cultural Self-Criticism

  1. Troy Masengale

    Dr. Gombis,

    This article offers me a great breath of insight as I too stretch my boundaries of understanding in many of the same areas you mention. It is uncomfortable.

    You mention inherited ideologies; this too is a concept I challenge myself with, as well as my clients who experience negative views about ‘self.’

    However, my favorite part:
    “This does not concern me.”

  2. deeplygrateful

    I asked God during the first year in seminary to cause me to see which beliefs I hold due to tradition versus beliefs held due to Scripture (as found through proper exegetical methodology). I am now almost 7 years into this discovery process. It’s wild… and humbling.

  3. Dick Ward

    Self-awareness and healthy self – criticism can come from a godly spouse. Anyone married to a godly spouse has joined a discipleship group more effective than any small group Bible study.

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