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Book Review – “Unpacking Forgiveness”

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Unpacking ForgivenessStop following the world’s clumsy advice about forgiveness, and start listening to the Bible. Not only is forgiveness inseparably part of Christianity, but also it is an issue that – without fail – cuts to our core because it is so emotionally personal.

How well do you understand Biblical forgiveness?

  • Do you believe Christians should forgive people unconditionally?
  • Do you believe forgiveness can only occur when certain conditions are met?
  • Do you believe there are times when it is wrong to forgive?
  • Do you think Jesus said little about how to resolve interpersonal conflict?
  • Do you believe good people always get to the bottom of all their disagreements?

Chris Brauns answers these questions, plus countless more, in what I believe to be the new standard on the topic of forgiveness, Unpacking Forgiveness. As someone who struggles to find the answers to what the Bible says about forgiveness, I have found this book to be invaluable.

Chris Brauns offers this definition of forgiveness: 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.

The key principle throughout the book is that God expects His children to forgive others in the way He forgives them; God’s forgiveness for Christians is the model He expects Christians to live out (cf. Matt. 6:12b; Eph. 5:32; Col. 3:13). Here are some qualities of God’s forgiveness:

  • God’s forgiveness is gracious but not free
  • God’s forgiveness is conditional
  • God’s forgiveness is a commitment
  • Forgiveness lays the groundwork for and begins the process of reconciliation
  • Forgiveness does not mean the elimination of all consequences

Note some highlights from the book:

Jesus’ point [in Matthew 6:14-15] is clear. Those unwilling or unable to forgive should fear for their salvation. (p. 123)

When Paul says, “give thought” (Rom. 12:17b-18), he uses a word that carries the idea of actively planning. Christians should dream of how they can pursue peace even with their enemies. (p. 135)

No one can properly unpack forgiveness without interacting with the biblical truth that some will spend eternity in everlasting torment. (p. 143)

The reality of hell is why Paul legitimately encourages his audience not to take revenge. God will handle it. And we can be sure that God’s justice will be infinitely more severe than anything we might have administered. (p. 143)

When we forgive someone who is not repentant, we are acting in a way that is unjust. Deep down we are saying that forgiveness must sometimes happen at the expense of justice. (p. 147)

Those who pursue revenge are basically saying that God cannot do his job. (p. 147)

We must follow the example of God, who does not forgive everyone but who does offer forgiveness to all. (p. 153)

By teaching that we ought to forgive automatically, regardless of repentance, we distance our pain from the justice of God. And this is the precisely the opposite of what the Bible does. (p. 158)

There are only a few books that I believe should be on the bookshelf of every serious student of the Bible. The short list includes Is It Lawful, Fit for the Pulpit, and Mere Christianity. Now, add to that list Unpacking Forgiveness. The way in which Chris Brauns illuminates the principles of Biblical forgiveness should make this book, in my mind, required reading for all Christians.

Here is the table of contents for Unpacking Forgiveness:

Introduction: The Forgiveness Quiz
1. How to Begin Unpacking
2. Motivation to Unpack
3. Defining Forgiveness: The Divine Pattern
4. Defining Forgiveness for Christians
5. More Than a Feeling
6. The Way Up Is Down
7. Unpack with Great Urgency
8. Should I Just Get Over It?
9. How Should I Go about It?
10. What If I Won’t Forgive?
11. How Should I Respond to the Unrepentant? Two Principles
12. How Should I Respond to the Unrepentant? A Third Principle
13. How Can I Conquer Bitterness?
14. How Can I Stop Thinking about It?
15. What If Christians Cannot Agree?
16. Final Thoughts
Appendix 1: More Forgiveness Questions
Appendix 2: What Other Authors Say about Conditional Forgiveness
Appendix 3: Biblical Words for Forgiveness
Scripture Index
General Index

This book is not without its problems. Pages 48, 52, 127, 146, 195 contain false or misleading doctrine, particularly about salvation. Chris Brauns subscribes to the idea that one does not need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in order to be pardoned & forgiven by God. However, Chris is not a New Testament Christian, so some error is to be expected. Yet his understanding of Biblical forgiveness is, I believe, spot on

Understanding and practicing forgiveness is the key to finding true happiness in life. If you think there is room for you to better understand forgiveness (and you know the answer to that), you need this book. I know I benefited from reading it! 

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