It would seem not. I’m struck by this thought because I find myself frequently asking for forgiveness from my daughters. It’s weird to do. They’re 8 and 10 right now, and we have a great relationship overall. I grow impatient, raise my voice, or overreact. When I do this, it’s because they’re being unreasonable, stubborn, or refusing to listen and obey directions. The thing is, my wife and I teach our daughters that it doesn’t matter what their sister did, their job is to respond in love and grace even when they don’t like what someone else is doing to them.“My theology tells me that humans are imperfect, so why should it be a rare occurrence that we turn to each other and ask for forgiveness?”
So I find myself apologizing to my daughters often. I’m not perfect about it, but it strikes me as important for my own soul and for their developing understanding of what it means to be a human being. My theology tells me that humans are imperfect, so why should it be a rare occurrence that we turn to each other and ask for forgiveness?
I have a concern about Christian celebrity culture, where big names make big statements and often go too far in speaking against someone or something. Often this involves outright sin and slander. But how often do these key figures backtrack or repent of what they’ve said? From where I’m standing it seems rare. More often they double down. And what I see with the Christian celebrities, I see in all of us (myself included, of course). Especially the online versions of ourselves.“When a celebrity pastor makes a harmful statement, why is it so rare for them to issue an apology? Why do they more often double down on it? Doesn’t our theology teach us that we’ll need to repent—often?”
I want to share an older story in order to bring some hope to our current situation. Back in 2012, Ann Voskamp’s book Ten Thousand Gifts was very popular. It’s a wonderful book. But when Tim Challies reviewed her book, he was not gracious. It’s not a hateful review, but it’s marked by the sort of watchdog theology and uncharitable interpretations of her work that characterize a certain Christian subculture. As an example, Ann Voskamp describes having a spiritual encounter with God in the Notre Dame cathedral. Challies’ response was to question her understanding of the gospel because she felt the need to travel to a specific location (a location in which poor theology has been preached, nonetheless) in order to encounter God. There are several things like this. It’s sad for me to read now, as it was then.
But then something unusual happened. One day after Challies’ review was posted, Ann Voskamp and her family invited Tim Challies and his family over for dinner. I don’t know if that dinner ever took place, but the mere invitation caused Challies to issue a public apology to Voskamp for his uncharitable review. It really is remarkable. He doubles down on some of his critiques of the book (which is his prerogative as a subjective reviewer), but he reflects on all the things he might have done differently if he had thought of Voskamp as a real human being:
“Something happened inside me when I saw Ann’s name in my inbox… this strange feeling that comes when I suddenly realize that the name on the front of the book—’Ann Voskamp’ in this case—is not some cleverly programmed, unfeeling robot that spits out blog posts and magazine articles and books, but a person. A real person…
“In my review I had treated her as if her words mean less than mine, as if I was free to criticize her in a way I would not want to be criticized…
“I would have said certain things differently had I known that she and I might soon be sharing a meal together… I might have said certain things differently had I considered her an ‘insider,’ a fellow member of whatever little circle of the Christian world I inhabit… I can’t deny that somewhere in my mind lurks this insider and outsider kind of thinking which somehow encourages me to extend greater courtesy to one group than another. I did poorly here and I can see that I need to grow in my ability to critique the ideas in a book even while being kind and loving to its author.”
Challies ended that article by explicitly asking Voskamp’s forgiveness. It’s so refreshing. It’s beautiful, and all the more so because it’s rare.
In this fallen world, we’re all going to be jackasses from time to time. This shouldn’t surprise us. But let’s take a note from Challies and learn to own up to jackassery and repent when we find it.
More than that, let’s take a note from Ann Voskamp and begin inviting people to dinner. Notice that what prompted Challies’ response was Voskamp inviting him to a meal. It was the simple relational gesture that acknowledged him as a human and initiated a relational path forward that helped him see the jackassery. That’s powerful stuff. We all have so much room to grow in this. We need more of these stories.