On Meanness

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Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
The remark has been made from time to time that there is a lot of meanness present on the Puritanboard. No doubt there is: as well as spitefulness, pettiness, stupidity, hypersensitivity, and inappropriate or irrelevant humor. After all, I am a fairly frequent poster here.

I understand meanness to indicate a sort of base hurtfulness: it appears in cheap shots; in a failure to treat others as those who bear the image of God; in scorn, contempt, indifference, and hatred. It is mean to belittle people, and it is cruel to do so with intent to hurt and by mocking areas where they are particularly sensitive or have an especial struggle (for instance, mocking the disabled). Such meanness ought to be put far away from us, as unbecoming to the name of Christian and the gospel profession we make.

Now of course meanness can find a place in controversy, particularly heated controversy. But we should not allow that fact to lead us to confuse controversy with meanness. There is no necessary connection between the two. Meanness is about persons; controversy is, ideally, about truth. While it is mean to belittle another person, it is not mean to say, "That's not true."

It is not mean to point out an error in the teaching of another. I have lost count of the number of times I have been corrected on the board, sometimes with more, sometimes with less gentleness and tact. However it is done, of course, I don't particularly enjoy it: I am a proud person, and I hate being known to be wrong. It is vexing to the flesh to be corrected; but if I attribute all the correction given to me to the meanness of other people, I deprive myself of the opportunity not merely to seem, but to be right. It is not even mean to point out that someone is inconsistent with what they say. Certainly, there is no need to expose other people's faults to score points in a fight, but pointing out that professed principles are not carried into practice, or that two professed principles are mutually incompatible is a useful way of demonstrating a defect in a position, and in that light can be done without meanness.

Naturally enough, perhaps, when someone to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for their usefulness in my life is criticized, that also tends to get under my skin. Lloyd-Jones and Albert Martin did much to instruct and comfort and challenge me, and so I esteem them highly in love for their work's sake, and for the benefit that has accrued to me from their work. But this does not mean that either one of them is inspired, infallible, or inerrant, or that any refutation of their views or rebuke of their positions stems from malice.

Still it is easy to attribute criticism to meanness. If the criticism is directed at me, this procedure protects my ego; if the criticism is directed at a favorite teacher, this procedure gives a vent to my annoyance. But it is an uncharitable and futile procedure.

It is immaturity or indifference to assume that all controversy revolves around personal conflicts. For example, B.B. Warfield expressed criticism of some of the views of Abraham Kuyper. It's absurd to say he did that because they couldn't get along! Warfield criticized Kuyper, not because he disliked or disrespected him (on the contrary, Warfield valued Kuyper highly), but because he thought that Kuyper had gotten something wrong. There are people who hold positions similar to mine, whom on a personal level I find it rather difficult to like; and there are people I instinctively like whose views are different from my own. But when it comes to a discussion of truth, there should be no question on which side I will be ranged. It were naive to deny that personal conflicts ever become an element in controversy: but they should not be confused with the point at issue.

The critic should not assume that the deficiency or distortion of the truth which he seeks to point out and correct is the result of contumelious and obstinate perversity of manners, mind, or morals rather than simple inconsistency. And the person being criticized, or witnessing the criticism of another, should not assume that the critic is motivated by envy, hatred, or anything but concern that the whole truth be expressed as clearly and fully as possible.

Loyalty and gratitude are good things. But if we are loyal to teachers for the way God has used them to teach us the truth, then let us be loyal most of all to the truth. If we are grateful for the benefit God has bestowed on us through them, let us not interfere with them receiving the benefit of correction. We do ourselves and our teachers no favors by proceeding as though we or they have nothing to learn, are incapable of receiving correction, or of attempting to profit even from a failed attempt to expose deficient teaching.


Puritanboard Commissioner
Good points, Ruben.

I think all veterans of the board would have to admit that there have been many PB discussions that have generated more heat than light. But I think in general that the mods do a good job of eventually stepping in when that happens and in my experience curtailing contentious threads got better in that regard as time went on, although I would imagine some might disagree. I think some of that may have been due to an increased emphasis on confessionalism as a prerequisite for joining the board. Of course, what could be meaner than that?

(I haven't been around here for almost two years, :wave: so I don't know what's transpired here since then.)

I suspect that the "meanness" charge from some quarters is a distaste for doctrinal disagreement in general and "TR's" and doctrinal precision in particular. Many of the people who say the PB is "mean" would probably also say that someone in the OPC or elsewhere who upholds the confessional teaching on the 2nd Commandment is "mean." Well, as we used to say: "After all, it is the PuritanBoard, or were you perhaps expecting something else?" [Insert classic Puritan quote on precision here.]

There's certainly not any more meanness here than on any number of blogs that could be named, some of which have historically been lightly moderated if they are moderated at all. One popular (and often very good) Calvinistic evangelical blog that I can think of has a name that seems calculated to generate heat.
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Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks Ruben, this was a very helpful post. Especially "Loyalty and gratitude are good things. But if we are loyal to teachers for the way God has used them to teach us the truth, then let us be loyal most of all to the truth. If we are grateful for the benefit God has bestowed on us through them, let us not interfere with them receiving the benefit of correction." I hope to remember this in the future.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Ruben, thankyou for taking the time to articulate what it means to receive the truth and the love of it.
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