And as we discuss, it’s best for us to remember a few things: We need to love and pray for him. We need to remember that we’re not omniscient. And we need to hope for the best and pray accordingly.
And in doing so, the church as the opportunity to grow from this. Questions are being raised. Ideas are being circulated. But there have been too many erroneous assertions and objections in the mix.
Here are a few categorically unhelpful ideas buzzing throughout evangelicalism regarding the Driscoll apology:
1. “Concern for the genuineness of one’s repentance is equivalent to a refusal to forgive.”
This has been fired off in response to concerns raised regarding the pattern of unrighteousness in Driscoll’s ministry. But such a concern is not inherently unforgiving. A refusal to forgive (or accept an apology) responds to the request, inwardly with personal anger, resentment, and bitterness towards the person. There’s no interest in restoration, only prosecution. In that case, the consequence of the refusal to forgive is no concern for the individual’s repentance.
Forgiving (or accepting another’s apology) has a deep view of love. It understands that we’re wretches, deserving of the Father’s righteous wrath for eternity and, therefore, eagerly extends forgiveness to those who request it. So, this person says, “Of course I forgive you/accept the apology,” and without delay.
Now, when there is a pattern of unrighteousness, then biblical love implements additional soul-care provisions subsequent to forgiveness because it sees a big-picture view of that individual and the kingdom.
Consequently, this person now says, “Because I respect the Lord, his high view of your personal holiness, his word, your profession, and the influence you have, I am concerned for your future sanctification. Like I am capable of doing, you’ve wandered this same way from the fold before. You need a different approach.” It’s about a different type of care. So, concern for the genuineness of one’s repentance is not automatically refusal to forgive. And if our “believing the best” refuses to see this big picture of the individual, it’s no longer believing the best, but ignoring the fruit. And to do so is fundamentally uncaring, both to the individual and those they influence.
So, especially when a pattern exists, concern for the genuineness of one’s repentance is will accompany a loving desire to forgive.
2. “Waiting for fruits of repentance is unnecessary and unloving.”
This widespread error is concerning and one that needs to be quickly laid to rest. If it persists, evangelicalism will not be able to move forward in: 1) actually loving those who are repentant and those who are not and 2) know who to hold up as influential leaders.
Now, at issue here is what does it mean to “wait for fruits of repentance”? It means that, because of one’s understanding biblically and scripturally of the deceitfulness of sin, the battle therewith, and a knowledge of the individual’s pattern, the individual’s apology is received. They are prayed for to bear fruit. Affirmation that all is spiritually well is slow, waiting until a pattern of fruit is observed. That righteous pattern needs to significantly oppose/put-off the former patterns of unrighteousness, erring on the side of longer than shorter.
This is plain wisdom. And it’s loving.
But it’s being argued, “You don’t know someone’s heart,” to buttress the claim that it’s unloving to wait for fruits of repentance. But that backfires. Precisely because: 1) we do not know one’s heart and 2) a pattern exists, therefore, deeper, biblical love will wait. That is fundamental soul-care informed by a right anthropology, soteriology and pneumatology.
It’s not much different than when someone seems to come to faith in Christ. We rejoice, pray with them, and encourage them to bear fruits of repentance. Similar to George Whitefield, for example, the wise disciple-maker is joyful about the repentant’s profession, but also encourages fruit-bearing, obedience, and waits to celebrate. Thirty, sixty, and one hundred-fold can take time. Repentance is demonstrated, not in hours and days, but weeks and months. And to encourage otherwise, especially someone with a pattern of error, is unloving.
These are souls we’re talking about. It matters not what position we may have outward, such as pastor, author, professor, etc. Nothing but the sovereign work of the Spirit causes true repentance. And if it happens, like Zaccheus, there will be a public, radical restoration of wrong done.
So, those claiming to love Driscoll more love him less when they chide those who express concern about his repentance. It’s a myopic view of love, Christ, and the kingdom. This is not about a refusal to extend love but a request to give it: to encourage a broader-scoped, soul-care to both him and his huge wake of influence.
It is concerning that many applauding an apparent repentance today were yesterday chiding anyone claiming it was necessary. One day, it’s, “He’s not sinning and how dare you suggest that.” The next, it’s, “He turned from his sin and how dare you wonder about that.” Are we really this worldly in our definition of care and love? Tragically, it appears so.
But there’s an inconsistency here; something else is going on. It appears to be much about the man, but not much what the man is about. Such an attitude demonstrates, not greater, but a lesser love; not a bigger kingdom concern, but smaller. So, its unloving to say it’s unloving to wonder about one’s repentance.
Sheep could be bleating, and we’re closing our ears. Its not unloving to listen for it anymore than it’s unloving to put a fence on the edge of a cliff. Rebellion is as divination and insubordination as idolatry.
3. “You wouldn’t want people to accept your apology while encouraging you to examine yourself and bear fruit of repentance, so practice the golden rule and don’t do that to others.”
This is a narrow view of the golden rule and detrimental to one’s soul. If we had a pattern of personal unrighteousness, and especially if we had a large wake of influence in our pastoral position, and wouldn’t want that kind of shepherding and exhortation, then it’s likely we’re ruled by the flesh.
That kind of thinking reflects a anemic view of Christian discipleship. It wants toleration, but not sanctification; applause, but not shepherding; flattery, but not oversight. It’s a view of sanctification which borders on welcoming the flesh, but not the Spirit.
The spiritually-minded wants those around them to say, “We forgive you. And because of this pattern in your life and our love for you, we will encourage you to bear fruit of repentance, while waiting before we celebrate radical change in your life.” Anything less would be irresponsible to the individual, his Lord, and those he influences.
4. “Expressing concern for Driscoll’s pastoral qualification is unloving, unforgiving, and beside the point.”
Among other things, this line of thinking shows a low view of Christ’s church.
Say (hypothetically, of course), when I was 16, I crashed my father’s car into a ditch on a Friday night with a few friends in the car. I then tell me dad, “I’m sorry,” pay for the damage, and I’m back driving again in a few weeks. Three months later, I ram into a friend at school with a packed car. Again, I make the apology, restitution, and back behind the wheel. It happens a third time. Every time, my father accepts my apology. And because he loves me, he subsequently removes my driving privileges after multiple mishaps. Why? Though my apology may be sincere, I have demonstrated that I am not fit to handle the responsibility of driving myself, whether alone or accompanied by others. There comes a time when those who love me most must remove me from the position of responsibility and stop affirming me as helpful to oversee and influence others.
If I demonstrate fruit of unrighteousness, especially in the public sphere in which I have great influence, to subsequently wonder about my pastoral qualification is in no way cynical, but biblical; not a lesser love, but greater; not uncaring for his soul, but more caring; not pessimistic, but realistic.
And for someone who influences approximately hundreds of thousands, the urgency is heightened.
5. “If a pastor apologizes for large scandals, then he should remain in his position and place of influence.”
This is the idea that since an apology occurred, all is well, no adjustments are needed, and just applaud. And not only that, those who indicate that anything else besides applauding should be done are to be snubbed.
But, with respect to this erroneous thinking, evangelicalism needs to seriously consider the damage being done to the pastorate, the holiness of the church, Christ’s honor, and our greater witness here. Indifference here is not without consequences.
It’s in the best interests of the individual, the body of Christ in our day, and our witness that the individual is loved enough to be removed. And maybe this necessary move will happen. As of today, it appears it has not.
Consider a shepherd who has an influential sheep, among the others, which has wandered off multiple times, each time giving apparent apology. What will that shepherd do to that influential sheep?
First, in the flock’s and sheep’s best interests, if the sheep apologizes, the shepherd heartily accepts the sheep’s apology. The shepherd feels compassion and instantly forgives.
Second, in the flock’s and sheep’s best interests, other sheep are encouraged to pray for that sheep.
Third, in the flock’s and sheep’s best interests, that sheep needs a change of position since it currently is prone to wander from its place.
Fourth, in the flock’s and sheep’s best interests, that influential sheep must be pulled back indefinitely from a place of influence. It’s unable to function as a healthy sheep in that position and so it’s unloving to leave things as they are. If nothing is done, then others are deceived into thinking, “That’s someone I should enthusiastically follow.” But that cannot be said until there has been a long pattern of wise sheep-dom living. And the wise shepherd there will err on the side of longer than shorter lest that shepherd share responsibility in the fall of others. How much time? Enough to be sure that there is fruit of repentance and enough to be confident that the sheep will not wander and lead others likewise.
Bottom line: When a dog returns to the vomit multiple times, the dog needs elevated care. And the dog’s companions and supporters need to love him enough to distance him far from familiar paths to his vomit. And when the sheep wanders off the same cliff, that sheep needs loving help to distance him farther from the cliff, both for his good and his followers.
For some reason, too many are unwilling to call vomit, vomit and the cliff, a cliff. And those who have necessarily done so get blacklisted.
But if my movement or sphere or leaders or denomination will not help move me in a different direction, then they think wrongly about me as a soul, the office of pastor, the nature of influence, Christ, and his kingdom. Love has become shallow and grown cold. But love will wonder if what happened, happened. If sheep are bleating in the background, we need people loving enough to hear it and help.