Public Apology

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.


From J. P. Hickinbotham’s forward to John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World in which he seeks to elucidate four of the qualities of the work which make it useful.

“Thirdly, fair. He does not hesitate to criticize what is unbiblical in modern radical theology, but neither does he spare the unbiblical attitudes which sometimes lurk among the presuppositions and attitudes of evangelicals. He always qualifies his criticisms so as to avoid any injustice to those whom he criticizes and he balances criticism by generous recognition of the true and good things which those with whom he disagrees are saying and standing for.” (page 8)

Dealing with Those Who Differ

Newly moved to Oviedo, Florida, and to the neighborhood of Reformed Theological Seminary, I find the name of Roger Nicole prominent. Only recently have I learned much about him, in the wake of his recent death at age 95. Better words can be found here and here.

Reading his paper, “Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us“, though, has made me wish I had met him.

Dr. Nicole here notes that Christians can be ornery. There is gentleness in that assessment. Pugnacious might better describe it. And while affirming the need to confront our differences, he lays out admirable ground rules for doing so. He says that we MUST ask these three questions in this order:

1. What do I owe the person who differs from me?
2. What can I learn from those who differ from me?
3. How can I cope with those who differ from me?

Terribly helpful insights for dealing with conflict in theology for sure. But I see that an argument in a marriage disciplined by this approach will result in peace and growth. These are really important principles.

A Christian who carries on discussions with those who differ should not be subject to the psychology of the boxing ring where the contestants are bent upon demolishing one another. Rather “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel: instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses . . . ” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).


Common Public Courtesy

I’m not sure why the following counsel (complete content here) appeals to me. There is a part of me that wants to point fingers at those who fail to heed it. But there is another part of me that knows I am the one who needs to have such wisdom always before me.

In short, the wisdom is as follows:

1. Don’t write things about people you’d be afraid to tell them in person.

This is, of course, particularly true in the digital age. It is just as wise to assume that anything you might say publicly will eventually end up in the hands of the one about whom you have spoken or written.

Related is this:

2. Be willing to encounter people you’ve criticized.

If we keep this in mind, we will seek to keep our criticism at a level that is rational, temperate, and respectful.

That this latter piece of advice comes from a young Ralph Nadar should take nothing away from it.

Once early in my ministry, a difficult letter had to be written to a person in the church. One of the elders wisely counseled me to write the letter but to not send it. Rather, he said, deliver it. Speak its content face to face. To hide behind the typewriter was a coward’s way of dealing with conflict.

Digital communication makes it easier for me to be a coward. Loving our neighbor does not mean that we must be silent unless we are face to face with them – face-on communication is not always possible. But love for neighbor does mean that we should never speak about someone in a way that we would not be willing to speak were they sitting across the table from us.