I rarely have opportunity to read all that’s being conflicted on the internet, much less to comment on it, even when it is within my own ‘tribe’. So, though I can’t speak in any way to the actual content fueling the public breakup between Tullian Tchividjian and The Gospel Coalition, I can commend Tchividjian for his reflective and gracious public apology for some of what has happened. You can read that here.
You need be aware of none of this, however, to learn something about the nature of apology and the asking of forgiveness. A few notes seem worth making.
1) When we sin publicly, we need to confess that sin publicly. When our offense to a person is public, a private confession of that sin is not sufficient. It should be made publicly if at all possible. If I sin against my wife in front of my children, I need to ask her forgiveness in front of my children, not just privately to her. If I read this correctly, this is Tchividjian’s spirit in this post. That is commendable.
2) The Westminster Confession of Faith has a quaint and memorable turn of phrase in speaking of repentance. It says that a mere general repentance is not sufficient, but that we should repent of “particular sins particularly”. If I say something that ridicules my wife’s intelligence, it is not sufficient to later tell her, “I’m sorry I’m such an ass.” Such is probably appropriate, but I should also ask her specifically to forgive me for specifically the words I spoke or the actions I performed that offended her. Anything else is not owning the sin.
It’s here that I think Tchividjian is wanting to go, but is having a hard time going in the space of his post. There is much general repentance (“I’m such an ass.”) but not much repentance for particular sins particularly.
3) There is a huge difference between saying, “I’m sorry” and asking for forgiveness. To ask for forgiveness requires me to identify what I’ve done to poison or hurt a relationship. To apologize may be to no more than express regret over the status of the relationship. To tell my wife that I’m sorry that what I did upset her is, in a sense, to put the blame on her for getting upset at me. But it does not have the healing power of my saying, “I failed to love you well by leaving the window of your car rolled down in the rain and I need you to forgive me for that.”
I hear a lot of “I’m sorry” in this post. I want to hear more “Please forgive me for __________.”
I don’t want these observations to take away from the tone and spirit and intention of Tchividjian’s post. I don’t question his heart; I don’t question his desire for genuine reconciliation. And I reflect on how his words carry far greater grace than many I’ve spoken over the years. I see him reaching out to seek peace as far as it depends on him.
I just know that what he is doing is hard, hard for me, hard for him, and hard for us all. I don’t bring this to light to criticize a brother. I bring it to light so that all of us might further reconciliation in our less than public worlds by owning our sin and humbly seeking the grace of forgiveness from those we offend.