The first of two parts in analyzing The Village Church’s apology to Karen Hinkley. But first a primer on what is forgiveness? What is repentance? Illustrating with some examples of forgiveness so that a common understanding can be relayed when it comes to forgiveness. Plus I also draw from my experience in seeking forgiveness from 140 people. In my next post the letter that The Village Church Elders released will be dissected.
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King
“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 10:42-43 NIV
In 1964 a case was before the United State Supreme Court that dealt with obscenity. It was Jacobellis vs. Ohio and it came about due to a showing of a French movie called The Lovers that the State of Ohio had deemed to be to obscene. Nico Jacobellis was convicted and fined $2500.00 for showing the flick, and the case eventually found its way before the Supreme Court. One of the Justices who was dealing with the case, Potter Stewart struggled with this French movie as being defined as pornographic. One Saturday afternoon in discussing the case with his law clerk Alan Novak , Stewart asked how do you define pornography? Alan Novak then stated, “Mr. Stewart you’ll know it when you see it.” When the case was decided and Potter Stewart was writing his concurrence on what is pornography, he stated, “I know it when I see it, and this movie is definitely not pornography.” That phrase went down in history as a unique way to define pornograghy. So why am I talking about a Supreme Court case that dealt with obscenity in the 1960’s as the introduction to tackling the issue of The Village Church’s apology to Karen Hinkley?
I write all this to make the following claim….repentance is the same way. You’ll know it when you see it.
I would venture to say that in discussing The Village Church’s apology to Karen Hinkley before I get into the statement I need to write about what repentance and forgiveness is, how it works, what it means, and give some examples. Plus in this journal entry I want to reflect on my own season of repenting to 140 people and seeking forgiveness out. I hope to be able to explain all that in this post. I would further make the claim that many evangelicals fail miserably when it comes to theology 101 and basic knowledge and beliefs. I would also suggest that is why many evangelicals do not know what grace, faith, forgiveness and a whole host of other issues mean. The same holds true for repentance…and what is making the situation worse is that today you have many evangelicals who have made celebrity pastors idols and are worshipping them instead of the Lord. A dangerous precedent is being established first by CJ Mahaney and second by Mark Driscoll in that they both fled instead of owning their sin. I would suggest that both are epic failures as men. In the case of CJ Mahaney he failed to repent for his hypocrisy and allegedly engaged in cover up of child sex abuse in the SGM denomination. Mahaney took back his apology, which shows as to how warped he is in his thinking. I will say this…if you are going to cover up child sex abuse you do need to be held accountable. I don’t care if its the Boy Scouts, Fairfax County Public Schools, the Poodle Club of Northern Virginia, or Sovereign Grace Ministries. What has made this all the more dangerous is that CJ Mahaney’s sin has been affirmed by the reckless, and dastardly efforts by the likes of John Piper and Mark Dever. Instead of calling Mahaney to repent and confront him both Mark Dever and John Piper instead caused deep, deep conflict, pain and affirmed sin, all while bastardizing and corrupting the faith simultaneously. In watching Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, and John Piper act in collusion with each other it has honestly given me pause and made me wonder why the Protestant Reformation even occurred? Because of their behavior I would contend that Mark Dever and John Piper are epic failures as men. Now I want to be clear..you can remain friends and support someone mired in sin; but if Mark Dever and John Piper did indeed love and care for Mahaney they would have confronted him. So now comes Matt Chandler who many evangelicals drool and go gaga over at the mere mention of his name. (Got to love those celebrity pastors!) Is he going to follow suit? Is the Village Church going to be Mars Hill 2.0?
What is Repentance?
Dictionary.com defines repentance as “2 Peter 3:9 says the following, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” In the book of Proverbs 28:19 says the following, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Another verse to consider comes from Ezekiel 18:21-23 where it says, “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” The last one I will put up is Acts 8:22, where it states “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.”“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Meanwhile
Now that being stated scripture contains many examples of repentance for differing reasons. Furthermore repentance comes in differing forms to include corporate and personal. These will be differing examples of various kinds of repentance. In 2 Samuel (1 Chronicles 21 as well) you have David repenting for taking a census. You also have David repenting of his affair with Bathsheba in Psalm 51. Another classic story from scripture is the one I deeply identify with, it Luke 15 in the story of the prodigal son. Then there is the story of the tax collector in the temple (Luke 18:13) when Jesus instructs us how to repent. While I can go on and on, let me close with the act of repentance from Peter after denying Jesus in John 21. Jesus asks Peter three times and Peter shows his desire to repent in the process.
Having explained all that let me offer you my take on repentance. Repentance in the American church is toxic because the American church is choking in legalism. Many have reduced Christianity to be nothing but do’s and don’ts and when people have a failure many commit spiritual suicide. I have news for you guys…every single person who reads this will commit a moral failure in their life. If you have not now, you will. You could do it in the privacy of your life and only you know about it. Or it could be glaring. But everyone reading this will commit some type of moral failure. Its a part of being human. That’s why grace is so important. Repentance should be about giving birth to new life, not flogging someone for their past mistakes. Repentance should help a person move forward but not weigh them down with past guilt. People are already dealing with enough guilt…why does the church overwhelm them with more? The problem today is that while evangelicals don’t repent the current system will come down on many like a load of bricks on a Styrofoam cup.
An Illustration of Repentance
There are two reasons why I have been journaling about forgiveness and repentance in this blog. I believe its important to note them here. One is that I want to write about what repentance and forgiveness is as I believe that many evangelicals are confused and do not know what the basics of faith are. In my faith crisis I consumed a lot of time reading about the problem of evil, reading and researching about forgiveness and repentance became a part of my story in going through repentance. I wanted to know and learn for myself…what is repentance? What is forgiveness? Second I also wanted to let Andrew White know what is possible between him and I especially in some of the stories I researched and read. I spent so much time reading about the story of Eric Smallridge and Renee Napier that the thought dawned upon me…wouldn’t that be beautiful if Andrew and I could duplicate that one day? Its not just about him either, as I would challenge anyone to read that story and ask themselves….who do I need to repent to? Who do I need to seek forgiveness from? But in addition to Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge there are others that I have written about to include Jacob DeShazer and Mitsuo Fichida, and Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson in Minneapolis. But I want to discuss all this because I think it will help put The Village Church apology in perspective. Plus for those of you who believe Mark Driscoll repented, or that CJ Mahaney repented compare and contrast the behavior of Mark Driscoll and his apology and repentance to Eric Smallridge.
Of all the stories I read what happened in Florida with Eric Smallridge moved me the most. So how did Eric Smallridge repent and what did it mean? In his case he killed two teenage drivers when he was intoxicated. What did he do that illustrated repentance?
- Eric Smallridge submitted to the legal system and accepted the consequences of his actions. He knew he had to be punished and he accepted his fate and embraced his time in jail knowing that it was a part of his repentance.
- Eric Smallridge repeatedly and furiously asked for forgiveness over and over and over. He wrote letters back and forth to the Napier and Dickson families of which he killed their daughters in a drunk driving accident. He would not stop until he could own their pain.
- Eric Smallridge took full responsibility for his actions in prison. He also did what Renee Napier wanted him to do. He agreed to be a part of a billboard campaign in Florida that warned people on the consequences on drunk driving. He also agreed to go and speak before high schools, churches, and others in which he showed up wearing his prison uniform and shackles and he spoke passionately about his mistake and inspired others not to repeat his mistake.
Now for those of you who believe Mark Driscoll repented, let me ask you these questions…
- Did Mark Driscoll contact Rob Smith, Paul Petry, Bent Meyer, or others from the Mars Hill Church and repent to each family?
- Did Mark Driscoll submit to what the Elders in Seattle wanted to do? No from my recollection he ran and fled. Way to Act Like Men!! (Or look Chandler is speaking here to! How original another conference! Just what we need!)
- Did Mark Driscoll take all his material that was plagiarized out of circulation? Did he forfeit his actions with RSI? And pay them back out of his own pocket?
- Did Mark Driscoll go around and speak about how he was verbally and emotionally abusive, and how he hurt people. Did he speak about what he did and say, “Yes I did it, I treated Paul Petry in a horrific way..”
The Eagle rests his case! 😀
What I Learned in Repenting to 140 People
In April/May 2013 I was slowly climbing out of my 5 year faith crisis. On May 8, 2013 I experienced a horrific betrayal. I have to admit that I made mistakes and I hurt Andrew in the process. However, he also made mistakes. To be blunt we both did…Eagle and Andrew. I was thrust into the darkest season of my life due to Andrew’s action. Today as I reflect back on the situation I don’t know why I am not an atheist. I have pondered and wondered why? That said through the Holy Spirit I believe I looked at the carnage of the faith crisis I had. I think of it as a spiritual version of Omaha Beech on June 6, 1944. In my faith crisis in which I warmly embraced hard core atheism I turned around and burned and harmed a number of people. The landscape, or my Omaha Beech was littered with destroyed relationships and hurt people. I thought of people like Andrew White, Archie Griffen, and what would be 140 people. That 140 people represented people from Crusade, individual churches in California, Wisconsin, Montana and Washington, D.C. and beyond. So what I did was repent. I repented on a scale that was profound, larger than I thought was possible, and in the process I laid myself out on the line.
Here’s what I did that I think is unique. When I was starting and realizing what I had to do I knew that a simple “I’m sorry” won’t cut it. I knew I had to go above and beyond, and I knew I had to initiate the process. I had to be so bold, so courageous in what I did that on a scale of 1 to 10, I had to hit a 15. When I repented and sought forgiveness I had to do it in such a way that there remained no doubt in the person’s mind as to what I was doing. Plus I knew that I could not practice favoritism and say, “Well I want to approach Archie and seek forgiveness but as for Andrew….forget it…it’s too hard. Best to forget and move on.” Nope..Each and every person needed to be addressed in full. These were some of the reasons why I did what I had to do and the motivation to do the right thing:
- I had to own my mistake. I had to own it and deal with the consequences.
- I had to put myself at risk in repenting and seeking an apology. What does that mean? Well a number of people who were hurt had moved away from Washington, D.C. and lived in other parts of the country. Because of the pain I caused them in my faith crisis I had offered to travel from Washington, D.C. down to Charlottesville, Virginia or off to Atlanta, Denver, Seattle or recently Colorado Springs. I wanted to do something so over the top and so bold that people would know as to how serious I was. Now here was the risk…did I have the finances to fly around the country and meet with people one on one and seek forgiveness? No I did not…I took a huge gamble when I did this. During the process I had hoped that one person would have said, “Yes Eagle I’d like to hear that apology in Denver or Colorado Springs” and I wish I could have done that as to reinforce how serious I am about owning my pain that I inflicted. Plus years from now when I am in the twilight of my life it would have been cool to say, “Yes I traveled to Atlanta or Colorado Springs to repent and own pain that I caused.”
- The three most difficult people to reach were Archie Griffin in Atlanta, Andrew White in Colorado Springs, and someone I knew from Cru in Chicago. I knew that in order to convince them I had to convince and approach 137 people that I was repenting. In order to sway Archie, Andrew, and that third person I knew I had to work 137 people so that when they heard they would not want to be the only ones left out. It had to be so clear, resounding, and profound that when Archie and Andrew knew they would want to act. If you would like to read what I did here is the story of how I worked at resolving the 2 most difficult estranged relationship that was fractured.
- I could not practice favoritism. That is why I approached…a Catholic Priest, Sovereign Grace, a Lutheran pastor, missionaries in Africa, Neo Cal pastor, Baptist pastor, every staff member that I could think of from Campus Crusade, and everyone in between. I knew that I had to go all the way and that if I approached the Lutheran pastor but left out Sovereign Grace…everything would be in vain. For this to work I needed to approach everyone.
- I had to do it personally and undertake it fully. What I mean is that I had to persevere until the end, and overcome every obstacle. Quitting is not an option in this situation.
Having said that these were the results that came about and what I heard from people.
- People were stunned with many people telling me I was courageous, bold and brave. People were so shocked that they responded with joy. One cried at work in front of her co-workers when she read my email. While others were speechless. One of the most difficult guys to reach (by the way you can read my story in detail with what I did with him here) told me that it was one of the spiritual highlights of his life. Every person was blown away by what I did and told me that is spoke of my faith, character, and integrity as to how I engaged them.
- There were several people who told me that they wanted to see me repent. Actually I think I tapped into a psychological feeling of wanting to see that family member, friend, co-worker repent and own that pain in their life. It so ached them I believe that when I came along it scratched into something they so desperately wanted to see from someone else. It also taught me this one fact. People want to forgive. If you repent and handle it right and humble yourself in a sacrificial way people will release you. The problem with forgiveness is that many people come up short or can’t go all the way. They are fearful of going all the way. How many lawsuit, litigation and other problems could be avoided if people did the hard work up front?
- People need closure and healing in order to move forward. Healing is essential to faith. I knew that all 140 people in my case needed healing and closure and that it was only going to happen if I did the hard work up front. I even had one situation where one person told me that they had needed closure and healing from how I treated them and when I approached them and asked for forgiveness, listened and interacted with them it released them. They could go about their life with much more ease.
- There were many people who told me that they were stopped in their tracks. Several people were left wondering as to who they had wronged in their life and who they needed to approach to fix things? Some people felt guilty when they saw me repenting and they knew they needed to do that as well. That said, I wasn’t trying to make people feel guilty I was trying to release and help them in finding closure and helping them heal.
- Many of the people I approached have never seen repentance before. That just reinforces to me why its necessary to write this before I dissect The Village Church’s apology.
- Repentance is necessary for the health of the person, church, and the global faith. A person can’t move forward in their faith walk until they repent. Its needed as it contributes to the health of the person. That health is emotional, spiritual and communal. A person that repents makes the church more healthy. The church needs to repent when it is wrong. Actually I would state that unhealthy and toxic churches don’t repent and that is part of the reason why I think Mars Hill Seattle and Sovereign Grace were so unhealthy. They didn’t own their mistakes at all. A healthy church will make mistakes and own them. They will move heaven and earth to own their mistakes if they care about the Gospel. A healthy church that repents affirms the global faith. One of the reasons why I believe Neo-Calvinism to be toxic is because they have a record of not repenting and its sending a horrific image to the church aboard and those who are not Christians.
What is Forgiveness? How is it Linked to Repentance?
Forgiveness is letting go as its refusing to hold something against someone. Forgiveness as I interpret it means that you are letting go and no longer holding that grudge against that person. Forgiveness is not validating the crime or the act. Forgiving someone who murdered your loved one is not saying, “it’s fine you killed my sister I forgive you…” No forgiveness means that you will move on and will not hold it against the person in question. You will still have to live with the pain, the consequences and the difficulty; forgiveness is not a “get out of jail card.” Again I would encourage the reader to read he story of Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge to read about forgiveness. Out of that pain and two lives that were killed a unique and amazing friendship grew out of the difficult situation. In many cases I believe that this can be possible in so many ways with so many people. Plus imagine if this was the norm instead of the exception. In order for forgiveness to shine I will state that it has to be linked to repentance otherwise you are opening yourself up to being hurt. For example if you are in an abusive relationship and your husband is beating you do you just forgive him and let him beat you further? No…forgiveness is not the right to abuse either.
Why am I Writing All this?
I write all this because I want you to understand what I am saying before I unpack The Village Church’s letter of apology. I want you to study and read about Eric Smallridge and what he did in repenting and ask yourself, “Is Matt Chandler dong something similar?” I write about all this so you can have a foundation and my take based upon what I studied in scripture, learned in person and realized along the way. I write this so you will know what forgiveness and repentance is. It can be so freeing…please take my word I learned this in approaching 140 people. Its like what Potter Stewart said in the introduction of this post, “you’ll know it when you see it.” Repentance and forgiveness can be beautiful and stunning. True repentance and forgiveness heals, restores and redeems. Now that I have laid the foundation, I believe that we should examine the Village Church’s letter of apology and dissect Matt Chandler’s sermon.