Last week’s online dispute between Tullian Tchvidjian and The Gospel Coalition reminded me of what it is like to see a couple, both friends, go through a divorce. I’m friends with Tullian and with the TGC leadership, and I hated to see all this. More than that, I cringed to see one more evangelical social media cagefight. But Tullian’s apology is something we all can learn from, and ought to reflect on.
First of all: I am quite sure that I’m probably closer theologically to Tullian’s critics than to him on the point in question. I think we must give diligent heed both to the indicatives (who we are in Christ) and to the imperatives (what Jesus tells us to do). We must trust and obey. Nonetheless, I’ve learned a lot from Tullian, about the gospel, about leadership transitions, and a thousand other things.
I think probably a lot of the controversy is over emphasis rather than substance, but that may be my instinctive quirk of “both/and” rather than “either/or” on many matters. Y’all will just have to bear with me on that.
But, let’s assume for a moment that the divide between Tullian and TGC is as stark as it could possibly be (again, I don’t think it is). And assume for a moment that the worst possible motives were at play on either side of the dispute (I really don’t think that’s the case). Tullian’s post shows us something I think all of us (and me most of all) need to see constantly: that the gospel ought to drive us to ask for, and to receive, forgiveness from one another.
Apologizing is hard, especially in the outrage culture of social media. That’s because it becomes easy to see the person against whom I’m arguing as a pixelated collection of arguments. And it becomes easy to see life as a political campaign in which the goal is to vaporize one’s opponents and to be seen as “right.” In a culture like that, apologizing seems like losing.
But it’s not just apologizing that’s hard. Receiving an apology can be even harder. Think about how many Christians wouldn’t take “yes” for an answer from World Vision when Rich Stearns apologized for their mistake on their hiring policy as it related to marriage. The tendency many of us had at first (and I include myself in this) was to cynically think that World Vision had just made a calculated decision to do damage control.
After having spoken at length with Rich Stearns, I’m convinced World Vision is sincere, and ought to receive nothing but our support and prayers. But our attitude should have been, from the beginning, to show faith working itself out in love. That means believing the best about another, unless proven otherwise.
Most of our little wars with one another don’t play themselves out on social media, as this one did. But every one of us will offend someone, perhaps even today. Every one of us will sin against others, including people we love. The devil would have us to double down and dig in. Saying “I’m sorry” might make us look weak.
But then we remember that we’re Christians. And nothing makes us look weaker than crucifixion. Let’s love one another, and forgive one another.
That may be easy for me to say, since I love both the TGC crew and Tullian. But there are other situations where apologies are harder to ask for, and where forgiveness is harder to give. Even so, it comes back to “trust and obey.” See, there’s the “both/and” tendency again. You’ll just have to forgive me on that.