Host Phillip Holmes interviews Dr. Guy Richard, the Executive Director and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS Atlanta. Today you will hear about Dr. Richard’s book on Baptism, his insight on forgiveness, and thoughts on reconciliation.
The show starts with Holmes reading a review of Dr. Richard’s book, Baptism: Answers to Common Questions. Holmes asks about the impact of the book, especially for Baptists. Dr. Richard shares that he has received many questions about two subjects: predestination and baptism. He explains that the goal of his book is not to win people to Presbyterianism but rather to give a biblical argument for covenant baptism to create more unity within the church.
Next, Holmes discusses the question, “Must I forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness?” To begin, Holmes asks Dr. Richard if he has ever been in a fight. Dr. Richard talks about his relationship with his wife, their disagreements, and the need for forgiveness in all relationships. They revisit Dr. Richard’s original answer to the question in the Wisdom Wednesday series.
In the Wisdom Wednesday video, Dr. Richard shares a two-part answer. For true reconciliation, both parties in the argument have to want reconciliation for it to happen. However, if someone doesn’t ask for forgiveness, we don’t want to harbor bitterness or anger against them.
Holmes asks Dr. Richard about a comment left on the original video, where a viewer shared about a specific situation. Dr. Richard says, “…biblically speaking, forgiveness is unto reconciliation” and spends time unpacking the connection between forgiveness and reconciliation. In closing, Holmes asks Dr. Richard to explain what the first step to forgiveness practically looks like.
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Check out Dr. Richard’s book Baptism: Answers to Common Questions
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Bible Verses referenced: Jeremiah 31, Matthew 18
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Welcome to the Mind + Heart podcast from Reformed Theological Seminary, which features interviews and more from the faculty and friends of Reformed Theological Seminary. We created this podcast to assist you in your daily quest to love God and love your neighbor. I’m your host, Phillip Holmes, and this week I’m joined by my guest, Dr. Guy Richard. Dr. Richard is the executive director and associate professor of systematic theology at RTS Atlanta. Prior to his arrival in Atlanta, Dr. Richard served as the senior minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, for almost 12 years.
He is also the author of Baptism: Answers to Common Questions, which was published in 2019. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. Guy, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for joining us.
Guy Richard: Well, thanks for having me, Phillip. It is great to be with you.
Holmes: Awesome. Glad to be here, or at least I’m glad you’re here. Before we dive into this week’s episode, I want to talk about a pattern. I didn’t prep you for this one because I wanted your reaction to this. I want to talk about a pattern that I’ve been observing regarding your effect on 1689 Baptists.
Richard: I’m sitting on pins and needles.
Holmes: Good, good. Apparently you have a gift, brother. It seems when someone talks to you about baptism or reads your book on baptism, especially when they’re—just from observations—1689. Because there are Reformed Baptists and then there are 1689 Confessional Reformed Baptists. It seems that the Lord uses it often to change their theology on baptism. My wife is one case, so this is personal to me. I remember when she told me that she had had the conversation with you at a retreat that we were all on. She told me that she wanted to baptize our oldest right before we were going to get a pregnancy test for our second. She said that she had been convicted that we had not baptized our older son. And again, my wife, hardcore 1689 Baptist. As hard as it is for me to find the words right now, it was that way over two years now. So before you respond to that, I recently—this is what made me bring it up—found this interview on Amazon that I thought was pretty awesome. I don’t know if you’ve seen it because it’s only like a month or two old.
Richard: I haven’t seen it.
Holmes: Even better. I love this. I’ve never seen anything like this on a book on baptism at least. So the commentator says this: “I grew up Baptist, had all the baptism debates with my Presbyterian friends, and was even enrolled in a Presbyterian seminary (RTS Jackson), and yet none of it convinced me of paedobaptism. I was an ordained pastor of a Reformed Baptist church when I read this book, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in making me Presbyterian.”
OK, he was an ordained pastor. Here’s the thing. “For three months prior to reading this book, the Lord had”—so the Lord had already been working in his heart. I’m giving some commentary here. So he says, “For three months prior to reading this book, the Lord had been at work showing me the faults of my 1689 Federalism.” And he’s just saying “confession” for those of you that might not understand “federalism” in that term. He goes on to say, “and showing me the validity of Westminster Federalism through the Scriptures. In an attempt to stay Baptist, I began reading everything I could find on Covenant Theology written from a Baptist perspective.”
So there’s a certain amount of progress it seems that one has to be at for your book. It seems like this is really helpful. Maybe you have other cases. He says, “and all it did was convince me more of Westminster Federalism and therefore of paedobaptism. When my wife and I sat down and read Baptism by Dr. Richard, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. By the time we finished it, we knew we were Presbyterian. I resigned from the church I was pastoring, and now serve at a Presbyterian church. Soon, we will get to see our covenant child baptized! My wife and I are beyond thankful to Dr. Richard for writing this book and to the Lord for directing us to it! We would highly recommend it!”
Guy Richard: Well, the first thing I would say is thank you to whoever that was. That’s an encouragement to know that people are reading your book and that it’s actually having a positive impact. I guess we might question whether that’s positive or not, depending on what perspective you’re coming from. I certainly didn’t write the book in order to convince Baptist pastors to become Presbyterian and leave their churches. That was certainly not even in the back recesses or dark recesses of my mind. Interestingly, I’ve had three Baptist pastors call me on the phone. They’ve emailed me, said, “Hey, I’ve read your book. Can I get some time with you? I’ve got a whole host of questions. Can we work through some of these things?” So I’ve spent time, hours on the phone, the last one was probably pre-virus. It was probably about a year ago. But I had three pastors in a row that called me, and at the end of our conversations, multiple conversations, they said, “Yeah, I’m going to have to go and resign. I’m leaving the church, and I guess I’ll be joining the PCA or another denomination like that.”
That certainly, again, wasn’t my desire in writing the book. What I wanted to do was state as winsomely and as graciously and yet as biblically and faithfully as I could, clearly as I could, the perspective, the biblical arguments that my position, what I call covenant baptism, what others have called paedobaptism, infant baptism, to give a biblical defense. Because as a pastor—I served for 12 years, as you said, as a pastor—the two questions I got all the time, I got these two questions more than any others. When people, especially from a baptistic background, would visit the congregation, they’d ask me about predestination and they’d ask me about baptism. I actually found that the question about predestination was the easier one to answer.
So I began looking for good resources to put in people’s hands and couldn’t find a good, succinct, easy, accessible introduction that was more than just introductory but that really covered the bases as well in terms of baptism. I began teaching on baptism in my new members class at the church, and I would have former Baptists that would that would come up to me after class and they would tell me, “You need to write that down. You need to publish that.” So even among lay people that were coming into the church from a more Baptist tradition were seeing the nuts and bolts of a biblical argument for the first time made in support of covenant baptism.
I’ve had multiple pastors that have called me leaving their churches as well. Again, that’s not been my goal. My goal isn’t to win people to Presbyterianism, but my goal has been to give a biblical argument. As I say in my book, what I’m really trying to do is be winsome and gracious with both of the major positions. I’m trying just to get together and say, “Guys, look, we’ve allowed this to be a divisive issue within the church for far too long. Let’s acknowledge there’s a biblical basis behind each other’s position and lock arms in the struggle for building the church.”
Holmes: That’s awesome. Actually I read a few other comments, and that was one of the things that people that weren’t necessarily convinced after reading the book really appreciated and talked about. They said, “While he didn’t change my mind, I really appreciate his gracious and winsome approach.” I think that that’s worth highlighting as well. Thank you for responding to that.
So this week’s episode is entitled “Forgiveness.” In 2019 Dr. Richard answered the question: “Must I forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness?” via our Wisdom Wednesday, which is a weekly video series where our professors answer questions. I wanted to bring you back to elaborate more on this topic, especially in today’s time. Because of social media, there’s a lot of division, unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I think that really having a healthy, biblical view of forgiveness (and we’re also going to talk about reconciliation), it is very important to know what it is that we’re called to do regarding forgiveness, regarding reconciliation. There is a responsibility that we have, and I think that you’ve done a really good job of addressing that.
So before we dive into the video, because we’re going to replay the audio from that video, I want to provide our listeners with some background on your relationship with this topic. So, again, this is another question I’m sneaking in, and I’m sort of half joking, but: have you ever been in a fight?
Forgiveness is a huge part of any relationship, but especially one as intimate as marriage.Richard: No, actually, never. [laughs] Unfortunately, I’ve been in my fair share. I’ve been married for 27 years, so that certainly qualifies. I tell people my wife and I have a very similar personality and so we butt heads. We wear our emotions on our sleeve. We are “what you see is what you get” kind of people. When you’re both that way, I never have to wonder, “Where’s my wife and what does she feel about this?” Because she tells me right off. I don’t need to wonder, “Am I in trouble? Am I in the doghouse?” Because I know when I’m in the doghouse and vice versa. Yeah, no doubt I have plenty of disagreements. I think the first fight I had with my wife was on our honeymoon, of all times and all places. Silliest of issues, but that’s the way it is. We fight and we argue, but no doubt a need for forgiveness is a huge part of any relationship, but especially one as intimate as marriage.
Holmes: Amen. Amen. So before we go any further, let’s take a moment and listen to Dr. Richard’s response to the question: “Must I forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness?”
Richard: One of the things I remember most about growing up is something my mom used to tell me, and she’d tell me, “Guy, it takes two to fight.” And that is true. It takes two people to disagree. It takes two people to have a fight. Likewise, it takes two to make up. It takes two to reconcile. So in one sense, if we’re looking at two people who have fought together—there’s some kind of division between two people—there needs to be two people involved, both sides need to be involved in reconciling.
Both sides have to want that reconciliation to happen before there can be true reconciliation.So in answering the question about whether or not we must forgive someone who has not apologized to us, in one sense, we can answer that question by saying no, because that person, in order for real restoration or real reconciliation to happen, that apology must happen. Both sides have to want that reconciliation to happen before there can be true reconciliation.
The other side of that is we don’t want to harbor bitterness, and we don’t want to harbor anger, even when someone doesn’t ask for our forgiveness or doesn’t come and apologize for whatever it is they’ve done to us to offend us. Even in those situations, when someone has offended us, we need to still forgive in a sense. We may not have true reconciliation because both sides are not involved, have not bought into that reconciliation process, but we need to be able to let it go. We need to be able to let that offense go so that it doesn’t eat us up alive, so that that bitterness and that anger and that frustration doesn’t just consume us.
A great example of that might be something that’s very mundane and very much a part of our lives. When we’re driving in traffic—something that I know very well here in Atlanta—and someone cuts us off, we’re liable to say a few choice words and we get angry, because this person violated us. They cut us off in traffic. And yet rather than letting that go, we oftentimes allow that to stay with us and that anger can eat us up. We carry that anger into the office, and we come in and we’re in a bad mood for the rest of the day because we’ve not let that go. That person hasn’t apologized. There can’t be reconciliation in that sense, but there can be forgiveness in the sense that I let what this person has done go. I don’t let it affect the way that I live the rest of my life. I don’t let it affect the way I see even that person. I don’t let it affect the way I interact with others.
We must never hold on to the wrongs that someone has committed against us.We must never hold on to the wrongs that someone has committed against us and, rather, be willing to give those over to the Lord. The Lord says that vengeance is his and he will repay. Each one of us needs to be able to give over whatever has happened in our lives to the Lord and let him make right of all wrongs in our life.
Holmes: Dr. Richard, on YouTube, where this video is posted, we had one commenter who disagreed with what you said in the video. But he had a fairly unique situation that I wanted to give you some time to address. I won’t read the comment in detail because it’s fairly long. But essentially, the first part of it is that he says, “I’m sorry I must disagree, but anyone who has ever been a victim of a psychopath knows that division doesn’t always come from dissension between two people.” He’s addressing a particular type of situation, and I don’t think that you were speaking generally on that. I’ll let you respond to that. He elaborates to talk about his experiences. He says, “And maybe I bring a curdled perspective to this.” There’s that. He says, “I’ve been severely disabled since age seven, when I was almost killed in a mass murder. And throughout my life since, I’ve been lied about, on several occasions, by at least three people who didn’t know of one another’s existence, all in an effort to deny me income above the level of the most wretched poverty. No one needs adequate income quite as much as a severely disabled person.” And he says, “You’re never quite the same after you learn that a federal administrative law judge has lied to your face.” He goes on and unpacks that a little bit more. Dr. Richard, you’ve read the comment in full. How would you respond to his comment regarding your video?
Richard: Well, the first thing I would say is that I’m certainly sorry to hear of the difficulties that this individual has been through. Why in the Lord’s providence hardship and difficulty occur in our lives is something that we can’t always readily answer. Some of us face greater difficulties. If we put them on an objective scale, somehow a continuum, if we could do that and be objective in our ranking and evaluating, some people, we might say, get more than “their fair share” of hardship or difficulty. Why that happens, ultimately we don’t know. We just have to trust the Lord and his wise providence that he knows best for each of us.
The longer I’ve lived as a Christian, the more that I’ve come to realize that all of us have difficulty and pain and hardship. That difficulty and pain and hardship takes different expressions and forms in each of our lives, but it’s equally severe. Someone who is going through something like what this individual has gone through might look at what I’ve been through and say it’s nothing. He might wish he had what I had, but God knows us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses. He knows our frame because he has made us as we are. He gives to each of us, I am convinced, a set of hardships and difficulties. He allows them, whatever term we want to use there. He is sovereign over them, and he fits them to our form and to our frame so that they are hard for us. We can’t look across and see what somebody else is going through. So the first thing I would say is, no doubt, I’m sorry to hear about this person’s struggle. That’s a hard situation.
Why in the Lord’s providence hardship and difficulty occur in our lives is something that we can’t always readily answer.The second thing I would say is that my comments did address exactly what this individual was going through in this situation of a psychopath. There may not be a break in a relationship because it’s a psychopath. If that’s the case, there’s no reconciliation needed. So forgiveness in a biblical sense, which always is unto reconciliation, need not apply. But the second item which I talked about in terms of letting things go, that aspect of forgiveness, which we can get into more as we go through today’s podcast, but that, in terms of letting what this psychopath did go. This individual, as difficult as this is, he or she needs to be able to let this go and not harbor bitterness, give it over to the Lord and trust the Lord in his providence for this difficult, this hard providence. Give it to him and trust that the Lord will bring even this wrong to right, either in space and time in his lifetime or her lifetime or when Jesus returns. But at some point, all wrongs will be made right, and to be able to forgive in that sense, in terms of giving it over, still applies in this situation as well.
Holmes: That’s extremely helpful. I want you to define forgiveness because I think there may be a breakdown there. You talk about forgiveness unto reconciliation, but then you also make a distinction of forgiveness that happens similar to this person’s case, a one-way transaction where the other person is not pursuing reconciliation at all. The other person also isn’t necessarily pursuing reconciliation, but they don’t want to harbor bitterness. Make sure we have a healthy and a biblical understanding of forgiveness.
Richard: That’s good. That’s good, Phillip. I would say biblically speaking, forgiveness is unto reconciliation. Reconciliation, which is what God has done with us, is impossible without forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an end to itself, but forgiveness is always, in the Bible, in terms of God’s action with us, forgiveness is always unto the end. It’s a means, if you will, unto the end of reconciliation. God has reconciled the world, he has reconciled us to himself in Christ. So the forgiveness through Christ, being pardoned of our sins, being set free from the punishment, and God not holding us to account for our sins because he held Christ to account for those sins is unto relationship repair. It’s unto bringing us together with the God of the universe in terms of relationship.
When we look at forgiveness in general, I would define it, I think, as simply as I could. I would define it in terms that the Bible uses. The Bible on a number of occasions uses the language of Jeremiah 31. I think it’s in Hebrews 8, and I think it’s in Hebrews 10. I know it’s in two locations at least in the book of Hebrews, where the apostle talks about the Lord remembering our sins no more. If I had to put one biblical verse, if you will, one Bible passage on what it means to forgive, it would be that passage, that idea that God, because of Christ, for the sake of Christ and what Jesus has done, remembers our sin no more.
Biblically speaking, forgiveness is unto reconciliation.I think it’s helpful to begin looking at what that means. It certainly doesn’t mean that God deletes from his memory banks the actual factual knowledge of what has transpired. God doesn’t forget in that sense. He still remembers. He is omniscient. He knows all. He doesn’t subtract out of his memory banks any data that was there beforehand. No. When he says, “I will remember your sins no more,” he doesn’t mean that he’ll forget that they happened, he’ll forget that we did them. He means he will not treat us in light of those sins. He will not hold them against us in that the way he will now respond to us will be in light of those things.
We can think about that. We do that, don’t we? That’s where we struggle oftentimes in marriage or in a relationship. My wife violates me, and what do I want to do? I want to respond in kind. I want to hold what she has done against her, and I want to respond in light of what she has done. It’s hard for me in that sense to remember her sins no more. Not in the sense that I forget she committed them, but in the sense that I choose to respond to her with my words and with my actions and even with my thoughts in a way that I will not take into consideration the sin she has perpetrated against me. That’s a biblical pattern for forgiveness in terms of God remembering our sins no more.
That’s exactly what we see, this idea of reconciliation and forgiveness going together. We see it in the way God forgives us: he remembers our sins no more. That forgetfulness, if we can put it that way, defined in the way we’ve defined it, is unto reconciliation, is unto a repair of the relationship. Certainly that’s the goal in marriage too. When I forgive my wife, that forgiveness, that remembering her sins no more, is unto repairing the relationship. The relationship is of paramount importance.
I think that’s the whole context we see in Matthew 18, too, with the parable of the unforgiving servant. If you remember that parable where Peter comes to ask Jesus, “Jesus, a man sins against me 7 times. Do I forgive him?” And Jesus says, “Not just 7 times, but 70 x 7 times.” He then goes on and tells the story of the king and all the rest and the unforgiving servant. But if you back up a few verses before Jesus tells that, before Peter asks that question, Jesus is speaking and he says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens, you’ve gained your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others.” On and on until he tells says, “Take it to the church.” The whole point here is Jesus is talking about reconciliation, and in light of the reconciliation and repentance and making sure that we’re apologizing, that we’re dealing with offenses between brothers and sisters. It’s in that context that then Peter asks the question and Jesus answers with the parable of the unforgiving servant. When he’s talking about the obligation we have, if you will, or the motivation we have, the duty we have, all of the above to forgive that is coming in the context of being unto reconciliation, as Jesus makes clear here in Matthew 18.
Holmes: That was so helpful. I don’t know if I can remember that distinction ever being made in regards to how we understand forgiveness. That sheds so much light on your video. I wasn’t going to say this, but I’m happy to eat humble pie now. Even to me and how I’ve thought about forgiveness—and I have some seminary under my belt, I work at a seminary, I have biblical studies degree, I’ve been in the church my whole life. So I don’t feel embarrassed because I think we use those words interchangeably sometimes. So my assumption was that you were the one who was using reconciliation and forgiveness interchangeably. As I’ve scanned passages, I think you’re right. It seems that forgiveness is always mentioned in the context of two people where reconciliation is possible. But specifically when he’s talking about our enemies, to my knowledge, the Bible never says, “Forgive your enemies.” The Bible says, “Love your enemies.”
Richard: That’s right. Love your enemy, pray for your enemy, do good, bless them when they curse you. So it speaks in that sense of blessing and of praying for and doing good unto and you turn the other cheek and you go the extra mile, all of that, but it never says to forgive. The idea of forgiveness seems to be always connected with reconciliation and a restoration of relationship. I do think, based on the passage you brought up, loving your enemy, that’s the basis from which I get the second part that I mentioned because the Bible does call us to bless those who curse us. When the person cuts us off in traffic, we’re not to respond in kind. Even though there can’t be reconciliation because there may be no relationship there at all anyway to be broken, but there is a sense in which I need to forgive in the sense that I need to bless and not curse in turn. In the sense that I need to pray for and to do good unto and to love my enemy and not allow what they’ve done to me to then affect me and drive my attitude and heart and embitter me and all the rest of it.
The idea of forgiveness seems to be always connected with reconciliation and a restoration of relationship.Holmes: So good. We can end the podcast, we can end this episode right there because I think that’s enough for people to chew on. I’m going to ask you one more question. What is the first step to forgiveness? Just to give people something practical to work with. Now we understand forgiveness is unto, from a biblical sense, reconciliation. We’re not talking about an enemy, someone who has no desire to reconcile. We’re talking about someone who you know loves you, but they hurt you, and you’re trying to figure out, how do I take that first step? What does that look like?
Richard: Well, if you’re the person who has been hurt, been aggrieved, you’ve been sinned against, it means one thing. If you’re the person who has done the grieving, done the sinning, then I think there’s something a little different there.
Holmes: That’s a good distinction.
Richard: So if you’re the one who’s done the sinning, and more often than not that is true in my marriage for me. I’m the one who’s usually in the wrong. My wife will probably echo that if she ever listens to this. I’m sure she’ll look at me and say, “You got that right.” So what that means for me is I’m called to own that sin, to see it as something that was wrong, to go to the Lord, to repent to the Lord, to ask for grace to be able to reconcile with my wife, and then go and obviously humble myself, deny myself, take that costly step, which it is. It’s not fun. It is costly. But that’s part of the self-denial that the Lord calls us to as Christians. If you’re the grieving party, I think the call is to obviously repent, go to the Lord with that, and then ask for the grace and the charity and strength to be able to go and reconcile with the one that you’ve grieved and to make the relationship right and to secure forgiveness in that context.
The whole body of Christ is impacted when you’ve got two members of the body of Christ that are warring with each other.If you’re the one who’s been sinned against, then obviously I think the Bible says the same thing there. If your brother sins against you, you go to him. If your sister sins against you, you go to them. You go to her. If they don’t respond to that, well, you bring another two or so with you. I think what Jesus is saying is the peace and the purity of the church is of utmost importance. It’s not just a relationship between friends or husband/wife or whatever it may be, cousins or whatever the relationship is that’s being fractured. This is the body of Christ that’s being affected. It’s not just an earthly temporal relationship. It’s, if you will, an eternal matter, because the whole body of Christ is impacted when you’ve got two members of the body of Christ that are warring with each other.
It’s like my hand wanting nothing to do with my fingers. You’ve got to deal with that. Reconciliation has got to be there for the body to operate optimally.
Holmes: Brother, thank you so much for breaking that down, for giving us deeper insight into forgiveness. Of course, I want to have you back to talk specifically about baptism. That will happen maybe this season, if not this season, definitely next.
Thank you for tuning in, and we hope that you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode featuring Guy Richard. And thank you, Dr. Richard, for joining us today. I also would like to thank the RTS family, church partners, students, alumni, and donors for the many ways you make the work of Reformed Theological Seminary possible. The clip we listened to earlier is from our weekly video series Wisdom Wednesday, where relevant matters of the Christian faith are addressed by RTS faculty and friends with truth, candor, and grace. Access our entire archive or submit a question at rts.edu/wisdom-wednesday. Mind + Heart is powered by Reformed Theological Seminary, where we desire to raise up pastors and other church leaders with a mind for truth and a heart for God.