Ethos Education

Tim Minchin’s non-apology: What does it mean to repent?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of the importance of forgiveness and repentance in Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon circumstances of the last apology they made.
  • Analyse the circumstances of two comedians who were called upon to apologise for their offensive use of language.
  • Understand the difference between repentance and saying sorry.
  • Analyse a Bible passage to reinforce the difference between repentance and saying sorry.
  • Synthesise learning by researching a number of real-life situations and determining whether an apology, an act of repentance, both or neither has taken place.


Ask the students to think about the last time they said ‘sorry’ to someone. Make it clear that nobody has to contribute answers here if they feel the circumstances are too personal, then ask what it was that they felt the need to apologise for. Who did they apologise to? What difference did the apology make to all of the concerned parties?

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about apologies, and also identifying a significant difference between the Christian concept of repentance and the act of saying ‘sorry’.


Give out copies of the Independent article Sorry’ is glib; this apology means more, which can be found at Read through the article with the students and invite their thoughts on it. If the issue doesn’t naturally come up, ask the students whether or not they think that Tim Minchin should say sorry for his use of the word ‘tranny’.

The article draws a comparison with a story concerning Ricky Gervais’ use of the word ‘mongs’ on Twitter. If you want more background to that story you can find it at the following two newspaper websites:

Ask the students what differences there are between the two cases. Draw out that Gervais was initially hostile to the criticisms, describing his critics as ‘the humourless PC brigade’ and claiming that they aren’t offended by what he says, merely by his success. In contrast, Minchin was happy to engage with his critics and explore why they were offended by what he said. However, Gervais finally offered an apology while Minchin, despite saying that he won’t use the term again, didn’t see any need to say sorry – an act that he dismissed as ‘PR’ and as such something that he wasn’t interested in.

Which position, Minchin’s or Gervais’, do the students think is a better reflection of a Christian response? It is worth pointing out that neither Minchin nor Gervais would describe themselves as Christians. In fact, both of them describe themselves as atheists and have included their non-belief in any kind of supernatural deity in their work as comedians.

Explain to the students that, despite Minchin’s position as an atheist, his situation is an excellent example of what the Bible describes as repentance. People today often mistake repentance for saying sorry, when in fact repentance represents a change of direction – recognising that past behaviour was wrong and changing to put it right. While the need to say sorry – to God or to any other people who have been hurt by your actions – may often accompany repentance, repentance itself is concerned with moving forward in a different direction to the previous behaviour.

Ask the students to read Luke 15:11-32 and to identify the point where the younger son repents of his earlier actions. Draw out that repentance takes place in verse 17, while his apology to his father doesn’t occur until verse 21. The father’s willingness to accept his son back is demonstrated in verse 20 (and arguably earlier, as verse 20 implies that the father has been actively looking for the possible return of his son). You might also like to observe that the story fails to tell us whether or not the older son ever repents of his harsh attitude towards his younger brother’s return.


Ask the students to research more real-life stories where a public figure is either called upon to make an apology, or freely offers such an apology. In each case, the students should examine the wording of the apology and assess whether it is just what Tim Minchin might describe as ‘PR’ or what Katy Guest describes as ‘the linguistic version of the get-out-of-jail-free card’, or whether it represents a genuine spirit of repentance.

Encourage students to find at least three examples, at least one of which should suggest repentance and at least one of which should suggest the absence of repentance.


  • Copies of the Independent article about Tim Minchin (essential).
  • Copies of articles about Ricky Gervais (optional).
  • Bibles

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