Brauns, Chris. Unpacking Forgiveness. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. $17.99
The main principal in this book is that only God’s Word can unpack forgiveness. Any attempt outside of scripture, including modern day beliefs will only cover up our feelings and not get to the heart of the issue. Therefore, we will miss out on many chances to share the Gospel if we merely just cover over our emotions when conflict occurs. Dietrich Bonheoffer calls this cheap grace when we offer forgiveness without calling to repentance.
A foundational principle for understanding forgiveness is that Christians are called to forgive others as God forgave them. The author explains the gospel of God’s grace, and ends by asking the reader whether they are forgiven. He defines God’s forgiveness as “a commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although not all consequences are eliminated” (54).
We see that God’s forgiveness is gracious but not free; it is conditional (meaning that only those who repent and believe are forgiven); this limited atonement lays the groundwork for reconciliation; and it does not eliminate all consequences. And this model of forgiveness, demonstrated on the cross, is the pattern we are to imitate.
Christian forgiveness is then defined as “A commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated” (55). The author makes clear that forgiveness is conditional upon repentance, that it is between two parties, that it is connected to reconciliation, but that reconciliation may never be complete in this age due to various consequences that are not eliminated. The author’s care in crafting these definitions were found to be both biblically accurate and helpful in dealing with the complexities of forgiveness.
Another principal in this book is that God expects Christians to forgive one another in the same way that he forgave us. The author believes that one reason people are so easily offended is because they do not see their sinful rebellion against a holy God. The author defines forgiveness as a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated (72).
In order to be able to forgive like Christ forgave us we must first have what the author calls Biblical humility. Biblical humility is increasingly seeing ourselves as completely dependent on God. It is serving others for God’s glory. We achieve humility only by seeing and savoring Christ. The more we see Christ, the more we will be truly humble, the more conflicts we will avoid, and the more easily the ones we do encounter will be resolved (83).
The author on page 117 gives us an overall summary of how Christians should approach conflict resolution: 1. Be humble, 2. Be urgent in avoiding and resolving any conflicts, 3. Know when to drop the matter, and 4. Follow the action plan that Jesus gave. This book presents the beauty of God’s grace and the necessity of forgiveness. But, it also teaches that it must take place in a way that is consistent with justice. We must move beyond a feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness.
The final principal in this book is on page 151 where the author gives us three principles in dealing with evil. 1. Resolve not to take revenge. 2. Lovingly and proactively offer grace to your enemies. And 3. Do not forgive the unrepentant. Leave room for the wrath of God.
I found this book to be solid and did not find anything that I had trouble with or any questions; this is actually the strength of this book that the author covered a wide variety of forgiveness questions. The author leads the reader first to understand and then to apply what the Bible teaches on forgiveness.
For me it was shocking reading this book, how much of my view of forgiveness was shaped by the world instead of by scripture. In addition, I was challenged to not miss opportunities to share the Gospel when conflict occurs and to seek reconciliation when it occurs instead of only seeking to cover over my feelings of hurt.