Saturday, July 14, 2018

Jim West on a fraudulent form of "forgiveness" teaching promoted in contemporary pop Christianity

I don't know if West may have ever seen something like this ...

Or the Mark Driscoll Forgiveness Challenge and associated run-up material.

But he recently wrote this:

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying,`I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Lk. 17:3-4)

‘Rebuke him…’  ‘If he repents…’  The so called ‘forgiveness’ promoted today isn’t real forgiveness at all because it isn’t the result of correction and it doesn’t stem from real repentance.  The forgiveness promoted today is vapid and empty and meaningless.  Forgiveness without repentance is permission for the other, the unrebuked brother, to continue on in their sin.

The forgiveness promoted today is cruelty because it permits the brother to continue in the sin that destroys him and those around him.  And those who feel pious because they ‘have forgiven’ their enemies while their enemies are neither rebuked nor repentant should in truth feel demonic as they are the enablers of iniquity, not the promoters of righteousness.

I commented somewhere else about how the insistence that you should just forgive because it's the Christian thing to do and the more egregious the offense the quicker the forgiveness should be seems ... dubious ... in an era where a Larry Nassar's predation is revealed.  In an age of a Terry Richardson in fashion photography what would "repentance" look like from a guy like that?  I worked with someone who was (maybe still is) a model and she mentioned that certain photographers are so notorious in the industry that you just avoid working with them or ... being anywhere near them.  It's been one of the pickles of high fashion that some photographers kept getting work.

The celebrity Christian industry seems to have as light resurgence (ahem) of forgiveness teaching that seems to fixate on the necessity of forgiving people who may have "hurt" you (rather than "harmed" you, apparently ... ) and I've written about my concerns about this so-called forgiveness paradigm as espoused by a guy like Mark Driscoll.

Christians should repent and Christians should forgive.  That said, if a person doesn't repent the obligation to forgive them doesn't seem to be drawn from anything Jesus taught.  Yes, I'm aware that Jesus was shown as offering grace to a bandit on a cross but that bandit trusted in Jesus.  And Jesus is the exception case to which you or I can hardly compare ourselves.  When you or I can raise from death any number of friend then the comparison will seem more apt.

No, I've written before that in the hands of a Mark Driscoll admonitions to forgive so that you're not trapped in the prison of demonic torment don't come across as Christian in any historical sense at all, instead it comes across like a kind of sympathetic magic in which if you use the formulaic forgiveness magic in the right way you are delivered from demonic influence.  Any pagan can have that kind of conception of forgiveness and, to be blunt, I don't think even pagans would have such a sympathetic magical view of forgiveness.  That forgiveness-as-magic-talisman-against-demonic influence might be more of a heretical word-faith variant of Christian practice than something derived from biblical texts or continuity of traditions in Christian teaching.  It's not that you can't forgive those who have wronged you unilaterally.  It's that a teaching program that tells you that you should do this so that you have Spirit-power released in your life is selling you something.  Anyone who would sell you that idea is continuing a grisly tradition of conduct and ideas named after Simon Magus, who hoped to buy the power of the Spirit he saw the apostles use to heal people. 

It's too bad that a guy like Driscoll is willing to peddle a form of forgiveness in which, as I noted earlier, there's no trace of relational restoration or reconciliation in the practical outcome of his not-so-new forgiveness teaching.  He had a more or less magical take on forgiveness as a salve against the ordinary demonic of bitterness going back ten years ago, which I've chronicled at such length here I don't want to repeat myself.   This is not a new shtick for Driscoll in particular, but it may be a newly resurgent shtick with some Christians who feel that they should teach a sweeping definition of applied forgiveness in which it hardly matters what was done to you, you need to live Christian forgiveness by being the better person who forgives whether or not a person who harmed you has repented or even confessed. 

It's why in the wake of a Sandunsky or a Nassar the idea of the "new" and allegedly robust take on forgiveness seems not only shallow but actually dangerous.  It's a kind of "forgiveness" that favors the powerful, the aristocratic, abusers who can hide behind a "you should forgive and move on" ethos and praxis.  Maybe there can even be some bromide about how refusing to forgive someone is like you drink the poison and expect the other person to die.  If a person doesn't repent and doesn't even confess to wrong-doing are you still obliged to forgive? 

So I'm not surprised there's enough of a form of forgiveness that skips completely past any questions about confession or repentance out there that Jim West has written something about it.  As a former Mars Hill member and attender I suppose nobody would be surprised to read that I've addressed my skepticism about the credibility and plausibility of such a so-called forgiveness teaching. 

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