“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Proverbs 28:13 (ESV)
Apologetics has a name problem, it sounds too much like “apologize.” Every apologist knows the joking wordplay well, “We don’t need to apologize for the Gospel.” This apologetics tip turns the tables. To be able to defend the faith well, we need to be a forthright and honest people eager to apologize when we are wrong. We need not be blunt or artless, but sincere. And that means we cannot afford to tie up our pride in petty self-defense. Our time and energy are too limited to be spent anywhere but in defending Christian truth. What should we do, then, when we make a mistake? Apologize. Yes, apologize in the normal sense of the word: “I apologize, I was wrong.” For some of us apologizing feels like defeat; it feels scary, embarrassing, and weak. But that does not have to be the case. We apologists are to be truth based, passionate for truth, and determined to discover and defend truth. So when the truth is that we were wrong, we can let our apologetic zeal fuel our humble apology. Gary Chapman in his book, “The Five Languages of Apology” helps clarify what is involved in a good apology. Many of us are terrible at apologizing. We say things like, “If I hurt you . . . I’m sorry” or “I’m sorry but . . . ” The result in those cases is we have uttered something like an apology, but no change is made, no healing happens, and we remain proud and defiant about our errors.
Instead, Chapman recommends that when we apologize we face our mistakes in five relevant ways that bring healing for both parties. Those five ways are (1) express regret, (2) make restitution, (3) accept responsibility, (4) genuinely repent, (5) and request forgiveness. The art of apology requires humility, patience, and courage. But how can we possibly trust ourselves to see clearly, think well, and interact graciously as defenders of the faith when we abide in calcified pride too stubborn to admit when we’re less than perfect. No, we make many many mistakes. We can agree with skeptics and non-believers about our own errors, build bridges there, and show that we are trustworthy enough to admit error and seek restitution. Folks won’t want to be vulnerable with you, having meaningful transparent conversations with you about spiritual matters if you communicate to them that you are proudly fortified in your moral and religious high ground. Ironically, drawing attention to your humanity goes a long way in directing attention to God.