I am neither a fan nor an admirer of the late George Eldon Ladd, lauded though he is for some of his work. From what I've read of him, was a man very eager to be thought well of by people who didn't think well of Christ. He wanted to be thought of as a smart evangelical, who was hep to liberal scholarship while holding different views here and there. He wanted liberals to respect him.
A major work of Ladd's was 1964's Jesus and the Kingdom. He had a lot personally invested in it. However, influential liberal NT scholar Norman Perrin (who had just published on the subject) wrote a widely-read review of Ladd's book that was simply scathing, climaxing in this sniffing, dismissive sentence: “Ladd thus takes his stand squarely in midstream of the contemporary concern about eschatology—with his face turned resolutely upstream, whence we all came some considerable time ago.” Ouch.
Ladd was personally devastated by the review, a fact that came to be widely-known. Reportedly, when Perrin heard, he regretted having been so sharp in his criticism. Here's how Donald Hagner reports the aftermath, in Hagner's chapter on Ladd:
When Perrin heard about Ladd’s painful reaction to the review and was informed of Ladd’s fundamentalist background, he regretted having written such a sharply critical review. Some years afterwards at a professional conference, Ladd and Perrin happened to sit at the same table. Ladd, it is reported, shook throughout the meal and was unable to speak. After the others had left the table, Perrin to his credit was gentlemanly enough to apologize to Ladd for the hurt he had caused him.
[Elwell, W. A., & Weaver, J. D. (1999). Bible interpreters of the twentieth century: A selection of evangelical voices (237). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]"Gentlemanly"?
Well, here's what I wonder. Did Perrin apologize because he concluded that he had done something wrong, something immoral that he should not have done? If so, what? Was it that review? That review, which was read broadly among the whole world of scholarship in which Ladd so eagerly sought acceptance and respect?
If so, then what is "gentlemanly" about waiting until there were no witnesses, to apologize privately for this very, very public sin?
Further, if Perrin concluded that he had done wrong, did he only come to this conclusion on this night, so many years after the event, and conveniently in the chance presence of Ladd? If not, why was the "apology" (such as it was) so long in coming?
Or if all Perrin was saying was he had in fact done and said the right thing and wouldn't change a word, but he felt bad that Ladd took it so hard — well, that's not really a confession, is it? And it's not really an apology. It did nothing to acknowledge, let alone repair, the damage that Ladd felt Perrin had done him.
In fact, it's arguably worse than not apologizing at all. "I feel bad that you were such a weakly, bad sport, and a whiner, about that well-deserved beating I gave you. So, you're a wimp — but I'm a good guy, because see? Correct, unapologetic... yet sensitive!"
To heal a relationship, a Biblical confession/apology should contain these elements:
- It should acknowledge the wrongness of a specific act.
- It should encompass the same sphere as the act, or as close to it as possible.
- It should include a commitment to undo the harm, if possible.
- It should include a request for forgiveness for the offense.
Perrin's action, as reported above, give a pretty good illustration of how not to confess and heal a relationship by an apology worthy of the name.