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"I Over-Repented" Ted Haggard Tells Wall Street Journal

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By Pastor Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network

Ted Haggard was the founder of a megachurch in Colorado Springs and president of the politically powerful National Association of Evangelicals who was forced to resign nearly four years ago, after admitting that he had bought methamphetamine from, and had a sexual encounter with, a male prostitute.

Ted Haggard Returns

Ted Haggard speaking to his new congregation meeting in his barn.

In a letter to the congregation, Haggard confessed to sexual immorality and described himself as "a deceiver and a liar." Describing a lifelong battle against temptations that were contrary to his teachings, Haggard wrote in his letter he had sought assistance "in a variety of ways," and while he had stretches of "freedom," nothing proved effective. "There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life," Haggard wrote.

Haggard returned to his home in Colorado Springs after his forced exile and recently started a new church in the barn behind his house. The two-month old flock is seeking larger facilities to serve the 200 people attending regularly.

According to Wall Street Journal on July 24, Haggard acknowledged grave lapses of judgment in the episode he refers to as "my crisis." WSJ said, “Mr. Haggard also said that in his sorrow and shame, he accepted too much guilt after the scandal broke. ‘I over-repented,’ he said.”

WSJ reported that Haggard said, "Tiger Woods needs to golf. Michael Vick needs to be playing football, Ted Haggard needs to be leading a church."

I have several problems with what is reported here if Haggard said these things. I have no reason to believe that a reputable publication like the Wall Street Journal fabricated any of Haggard’s statements. But one statement struck me with incredulity: “I over-repented.”

“I Over-Repented”

Haggard admitted in 2006 to lying to and deceiving his congregation and family and to having “a massage [with a male prostitute] that went awry.” In his letter to the congregation, Haggard wrote, "The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.”

So, how can Haggard over-repent for sexual sin and lying?

Martin Luther set off the Reformation by nailing the “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The very first of the theses stated, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”[1]

It is important for us to know what repentance truly is if we are to develop a heart of continual repentance. Thomas Watson, English Puritan (ca. 1620-1686) wrote a helpful treatise on repentance. He said, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”[2] John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees who were arriving with bath towels at his baptism, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:7b. – 8). John the Baptist said that change of life accompanies repentance and repentance bears the fruit of a changed life.

Six Characteristics of True Repentance

  1. I See My Sin Clearly (Luke 15:17)
  2. The fruits of repentance show genuine, anguishing sorrow over the offense itself and not just the consequences of it (2 Cor. 7:10)
  3. Confession of Sin Fully (Deut. 29:18)
  4. Shame for Sin (Ezra 9:6)
  5. Hatred of Sin to the Core
  6. Turning from Sin (Acts 26:20) and Toward Jesus (Acts 20:21)

I am no better than Ted Haggard. This is what scares me. I am an active sinner in need of forgiveness continually. I have never “over-repented.” Rather, I under-repent most often. Any suggestion for a pastor not to take full responsibility for sinful actions is a foolish example for others to follow. Ted said that he “accepted too much guilt.” The first sin in the history of mankind was eating the forbidden fruit. The second sin was not accepting responsibility for the first sin and blaming others.

God, help me to repent fully and not to blame others for my blatant sin.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (2 Cor. 7:10).


[1] Timothy Keller, Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), p. 28.
[2] Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), p. 18.

1 Comments

Gabriel Posey

on Jul 28, 2010 :: 9:13 am

Over-repentance implies that there is a 'just right' level of repentance. That scares me on a number of levels because it says that there is a point where you have repented enough. There is a point where you have followed protocol exactly and you are good now, because you did it by the book.

What ever happened to being broken? If we ever could cut away all of the external sins we have ever committed and asked God, daily, to show us which sins are only within our hearts, we'd find a well that never ran dry with our sins.

Scott you said, at the bootcamp I attended, that you were more aware of your own depravity the older you got. I would worry about anything that convinces me that I'm just not 'that bad'. Thanks for writing such a great piece on this.

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Scott Thomas has served as the President of Acts 29 Network and a Pastor at Mars Hill Church. Scott has been a pastor for 30 years—first as a youth pastor and then as a lead pastor and church planter/church replanter for 16 years.