Jason Pitzl-Waters’ recent post at the Pagan blog The Wild Hunt on Beliefnet’s apology for an intensely and inappropriately critical post of Paganism speaks to the issue of how important apologies are in Christian apologetics today.
We are not living in the middle of the first century, where Christianity was largely unknown in many circles in the Roman world. Whether individual Christians are known to people or not, people’s perceptions of Christianity precede Christians in the post-Christendom public square. While not every individual or movement has negative impressions of Christianity, and while Christianity has done a great amount of good in our world, we still need to be open and honest about all the harm we Christians have done individually and corporately over the centuries up to today, just as we would hope others would be when they harm us.
I remember speaking at a church several years ago about the apologetic of an apology, as we engage Muslims and others concerning such matters as the Crusades and our own personal crusades that harm those of other traditions. I spoke of how we need to see that Christian apologetics should include Christians apologizing. I made it clear that we are not apologizing for Jesus or for our faith, but for not taking Jesus and our faith claims seriously enough. A man stood up and cried out, “Why should we apologize?! We’re Christians!” I believe his agitated response answered his own question. While I cannot say that the man was self-righteous, since I could not see into his heart, his response made him come across as self-righteous and uncaring. Given how much we Christians emphasize forgiveness, repentance and love, we need to apologize and ask for forgiveness when we have done wrong for the sake of healing relational wounds, building trust, and also representing well our Christian faith (I am not talking about some patronizing form of an apology, where one quickly and dismissively apologizes and then tells the person or movement to “Get over it” in subtle or direct terms; in a future post, I will reflect upon the need to live into one’s apology for personal sins and involvement in corporate structural evils of the past and present).
Transparency is key. Jason at The Wild Hunt post said that the apology by Beliefnet should be personal as well as “visible and accessible”. I completely agree, and I am learning how important such transparency is in Christian witness today. Sometimes I have learned this the hard way, as I have not always been visible and accessible. Such inaccessibility will mean that others with whom I seek to connect will remain inaccessible to me, too. I am not talking about some bait and switch gimmick that might serve to bring down people’s defenses so that we can then get them to repent of their own sins and come to Christ. Regardless of how people respond to our confession, we still need to make confession for the wrongs we have personally and corporately done as the church. We can never build healthy relationships and cultivate civility in society if we do not seek after relationships that entail our own transparency on a personal and corporate level. And if Christians think the best way to handle our sins is to keep them in the closet, we should realize that the skeleton’s been out of the closet for quite some time. Many who don’t confess Christ are looking for us to confess our sins, since they already know what they are.
As I say in Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, I want Jesus to be the stumbling block, not me, and not other Christians. The cross is a stumbling block for a world that is self-righteous and proud and filled with self-love. It is a horrible thing when we as Christians appear self-righteousness. It is even worse when we really are self-righteous. How easily we forget that Jesus’ harshest rebukes were for the religious leaders in his day who were self-righteous. They were the ones who put Jesus on the cross. How easily we forget that we put Jesus on the cross, and that he died for us, too.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths. This volume and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.