Apologies vs. repentance


As a father of six children and the possessor of one heart I have had many opportunities to both to practice and to teach the art of acknowledging sin and seeking to make amends. What I have discovered both paternally and internally is that expressions of true repentance are much more rare than the dime-a-dozen-variety apologies.

“I’m sorry” is regarded as some kind of magical phrase that is assumed to give the speaker a free pass from seriously owning up to his wrongs. Adolescent short-hand renders it simply, “Sorry.” Say the word, get out of jail free, as if making an audible declaration completely clears the air and sets things right. “I said, I was sorry!” Right. So now we must simply move over the page and let bygones be bygones. At least that’s what those who trade in this magic formula expect, if not demand.

Worse yet is the more sophisticated apology that goes like this, “If I have done anything to offend you, I’m sorry.” As far as I am concerned you can save your breath rather than trying to pass that as a sincere expression of sorrow. It is an admission of nothing except the possibility that perhaps someone may have taken offense at any number of possible actions that you have taken. The way I see it, if you are not convinced that you have done anything wrong, then do not offer an expression of sorrow. How can you be sorry for something you are not convinced you have done? If you are convinced you have done it, then why the face-saving “If?” Simply admit your wrongdoing and then express your sorrow for doing it. If you genuinely are not sure if you have done wrong, then find out. Ask questions. Seek counsel. After your investigation, if your actions are exonerated, do not express sorrow. If you are found guilty, admit it.

But even such admission of guilt is still far short of what the Bible means by repentance. It is commonly noted that the New Testament Greek word that is behind the English word “repent” means “to change one’s mind.” That mind change inevitably leads to a change in life as well. There are many examples of how repentance works in the Bible. But the classic text on repentance is found in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11.

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Verse 11 is the key verse. Do you want to learn to recognize true repentance? Study verse 11. Teach it to your children (and to your own heart). Godly sorrow leads to repentance–the kind of repentance that results in making things right, setting the record straight, becoming indignant not at those whom you offended, but at your own offending heart. There are not qualifications in biblical repentance.

All of this leads me to note that, so far, Dr. Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has not responded to my appeal that he issue a statement declaring that he does not indeed believe what he previously wrote concerning the identification of Founders Ministries with hyper-Calvinism.

I made the appeal 3 weeks ago in response to his gracious letter in which he stated, “I apologize to those who felt I misrepresented or caricatured them.” Such an apology is nice…as far as it goes. But if falls far short of the kind of zealous righting of wrongs that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 7:11.

Perhaps Dr. Lemke will yet display what real repentance looks like by issuing a statement that corrects the misrepresentations he published about many of those who help pay his salary. If he doesn’t, then his “apology” will mean very little.

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7 Responses to “Apologies vs. repentance”

  1. If Dr. Lemke did not intend his opinions to reach anyone outside his circle of agreement. Then it follows that his apology was intended to satisfy the same crowd which still believes his original position to be correct.

    I think you have followed Paul’s example, “when slandered, we entreat.” 1Cor 4:13

  2. Thanks for the post, Tom. I have a situation that is similar in my life, and this has been very helpful in clarifying some things for me. I had to blog it.

  3. I am much closer to you theologically than Dr. Lemke, but I think you are going a little overboard by publically demanding repentance. Get over it and provide us with real insight, please. Seriously, quit crying.

  4. Jim,

    Dr. Lemke is entitled to his views. He is not, however, entitled to print falsehoods. However, he is also the Provost of a seminary that we as individuals and we as a denomination pay. Lemke’s words were very public words, not simply said in the privacy of his own home or office or even on the campus of his own seminary. He made those statements in an “academic” paper as both a scholar and a representative of the Southern Baptist Convention. Let’s not forget also that, rather than accept correction when this began, he sought to defend and excuse himself and only later issued an apology. He is therefore not entitled to then tell us he is sorry and then not correct his paper in some manner when shown his error and directed specifically to resources that he could have used that very specifically repudiate his falsehoods. This isn’t simply offensive, it is bad scholarship with misinformation passed off as “facts.” Lemke’s words have been, and already are being used by people in the Convention to perpetuate a lie. Even newspapers have the integrity to print retractions, even if they bury them on page 4 of the ads in an obscure corner. Lemke has set himself as a teacher of God’s people and as an academic representative of NOBTS among evangelical academia. He would expect one of the professors at his seminary to correct a paper that had been thoroughly repudiated by his peers, so it is not as if Tom is asking for anything that Lemke’s own peers in academia would expect from him.

  5. Jim,

    As one involved with the Founder’s Movement myself, I must hasten to point out that the accusation of being a “hyper-Calvinist” was leveled at me as well as Tom Ascol. Dr. Lemke did not only accuse one person, but an entire organization within the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Is it so much to ask for a public statement to be publicly withdrawn in a like manner with which such false statements were made? I do not think so.

    It may seem strange to you that a person or organization would hold their name and doctrinal integrity in high regard. But then, what can one expect from someone who makes snide remarks from behind the cowardly veil of anonymity? While you ‘theology’ may be close to Tom Ascol’s, your jab from the shadows indicates that your character may be lacking. And in this, I believe that Dr. Lemke would agree.

  6. It’s ironic that below the “Leave your comment” box is a statement which states, “This blog does not allow anonymous comments” and yet one can simply provide a first name without a profile indicating who he really is. So, in actuality, this blog does allow anonymous comments.

    Back to Dr. Lemke and his mischaracterizations, his paper reflects the loose thinking that is all too pervasive in the Convention.


  7. I wonder if a ‘scholarly’ paper full of mistakes and mischaracterizations about RW’s “Purposes” would be left unchecked by the higher ups within our convention?
    Maybe if our own learning facilities would practice church discipline, our local congregations would follow suite………………… Thanks for the time and effort Mr. Ascol, it is appreciated.


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