Forgive: Why Should I And How Can I? by Timothy Keller. Viking. 271 pages. 2022
Forgive the last book Tim Keller published before his death on May 19, 2023, is a thorough and practical treatment of all aspects of forgiveness. It is the best book I have read in some time and is sure to be among my favorite books of 2023. I am certain that it will be a book that I will want to revisit again in the future.
Keller tells us that the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is the restoration of community. He writes that the concept of forgiveness is central to the meaning of the Bible, and that human forgiveness is dependent on divine forgiveness. From the very beginning, the Christian church was remarkable for its emphasis on and practice of forgiveness and nonretaliation.
He then looks at the approaches to forgiveness that have emerged in our secular society (cheap grace, little grace, and no grace). He tells us that what these models have in common is the lack of any vertical dimension. They all contrast with the costly grace model of forgiveness assumed in the Bible, which has both a horizontal and vertical dimension to it. He adds that social media has only accelerated this movement toward a graceless culture.
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Among the scripture passages that Keller addresses in the book are the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18: 21-35), Matthew 5 (what you do when you believe you have – or may have – wronged someone else), Matthew 18 (what you do when you believe someone has wronged you), Luke 17: 11-19, and Psalm 51 (a model for repentance).
Among the many subjects included in the book include retaliation and revenge, false repentance, justice, reconciliation and healing, anger, shame and honor culture and cancel culture, the cross, guilt, trust, blame shifting, self-pity, and self-flagellation, and resentment.
The book is filled with stories about people such as Billy Graham and Corrie Ten Boom. The heavily footnoted book cites references from C.S. Lewis, Derek Kidner, D.A. Carson and Rachel Denhollander, among others.
The book concludes with four helpful appendices:
Appendix A: Forgiveness Principles
Appendix B: Biblical Texts on God’s Forgiveness
Appendix C: Forgiveness Practices
Appendix D: Reconciliation Practices
This is an excellent treatment of all aspects of forgiveness. Because it is so practical, it would be an excellent book to read and discuss with others. My only suggestion would be to include questions for reflection at the end of each chapter.
Here are twenty of my favorite quotes from the book:
• Forgiveness, then, is a form of voluntary suffering. In forgiving, rather than retaliating, you make a choice to bear the cost.
• Forgiveness means that, when you want to make them suffer, instead you refuse to do it. And this refusal is hard. It is difficult and costly, but through it you are absorbing the debt yourself.
• Forgiveness is seen now as radically unjust and impractical, as short-circuiting the ability of victims to gain honor and virtue as others rise to defend them.
• Divine mercy should change our hearts so that we are able to forgive as God forgave us.
• If we will not offer others forgiveness, it shows that we did not truly repent and receive God’s.
• The self-centeredness that grows when you stay angry at somebody, when you hold things against them, when you continue to regard them as if they’re liable to you and they owe you, is a prison.
• Forgiveness in the fullest sense, biblically, is not simply asking for a pardon or remission—it is always after restored relationship.
• The key to Christian forgiveness is the cross. It is the foundation of forgiveness because it not only makes it possible for God to forgive us without compromising his justice but it also provides both motivation and model for our own forgiveness to those who wrong us.
• God is not just a God of love or a God of wrath. He is both, and if your concept of God can’t include both, it will distort your view of reality in general and of forgiveness in particular.
• Christian forgiveness never undermines the pursuit of justice but promotes it.
• Forgiveness is often (or perhaps usually) granted before it’s felt inside.
• The only way to deal with true guilt is to take it to the grace and mercy of God.
• To forgive is to give the perpetrator a gift they do not in any way deserve. In love you are absorbing the debt that they owe you. Here you are truly walking in Christ’s footsteps.
• A Christian is responsible to begin the process of reconciliation, regardless of how the alienation began.
• Almost always reconciliation is best done by both repenting and forgiving—by both admitting your own wrong and pointing out the wrong of the other.
• Only the gospel prepares you for both sides of the Christian reconciliation model. It humbles you enough to make you able to be a forgiver and, at the same time, affirms and fills you with such a sense of worth and love that it makes you able to be a repenter.
• It is hard to stay angry at someone if you are praying for them. It is also hard to stay angry unless you feel superior, and it is hard to feel superior if you are praying for them, since in prayer you approach God as a forgiven sinner.
• Forgiveness means giving up the right to revenge, the right to seek repayment from the one who harmed you.
• A lack of forgiveness toward others is the direct result of a lack of repentance toward God.
• God requires forgiveness whether or not the offender has repented and has asked for forgiveness.
- Can You Live a Life That’s Worthy of the Gospel? Tim Challies reviews Sinclair Ferguson’s new book Worthy: Living in Light of the Gospel. He writes “The Bible calls us to the responsibility and the great privilege of living a life that is worthy of the gospel. Ferguson’s book briefly but oh-so-helpfully explains how this is possible and what this should look like. Written briefly and simply, it is a book I gladly recommend to any Christian.”
- Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold. My wife Tammy has published a book about HOW to study the Bible. The book is available on Amazon in both a Kindle and paperback edition. She writes “Maybe you have read the Bible but want to dig deeper and know God and know yourself better. Throughout the book I use the analogy of making a quilt to show how the Bible is telling one big story about what God is doing in the world through Christ. Quilting takes much patience and precision, just like studying the Bible, but the end result is well worth it.
- My Book Reviews on Goodreads. Looking for a good book to read? Check out 460 of my book reviews on Goodreads.
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We are reading through Truths We Confess: A Systematic Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith by R.C. Sproul. From the Ligonier description:
“The Westminster Confession of Faith is one of the most precise and comprehensive statements of biblical Christianity, and it is treasured by believers around the world. R.C. Sproul has called it one of the most important confessions of faith ever penned, and it has helped generations of Christians understand and defend what they believe.
In Truths We Confess, Dr. Sproul introduces readers to this remarkable confession, explaining its insights and applying them to modern life. In his signature easy-to-understand style and with his conviction that everyone’s a theologian, he provides valuable commentary that will serve churches and individual Christians as they strive to better understand the eternal truths of Scripture. As he walks through the confession line by line, Dr. Sproul shows how the doctrines of the Bible—from creation to covenant, sin to salvation—fit together to the glory of God. This accessible volume is designed to help you deepen your knowledge of God’s Word and answer the question, What do you believe?”
This week we look at WCF 1: Of the Holy Scripture. Here are a few helpful quotes from the chapter:
- The Westminster Confession of Faith is one of the most important Protestant confessions, for it gave substantial definition to Reformed theology in the seventeenth century.
- The Westminster Confession affirms the central importance and sufficiency of Scripture—a Reformational concept.
- We not only can but do know that the creation requires a Creator and that the Creator must be sovereign over His creation, both in terms of His authority and His power.
- General revelation is not sufficient to give us the knowledge necessary for salvation; special revelation is sufficient for that purpose.
- The doctrine of inspiration, as mysterious as it is, declares that while humans were writing, God the Holy Spirit ensured that what they wrote was without error and was actually verbum Dei, the Word of God itself.
- The confession asserts that the Bible’s authority is so strong, so supreme, that it imposes on us a moral obligation to believe it. If we do not believe it, we have sinned. It is not so much an intellectual as a moral issue.
- If the Lord God Almighty opens His mouth, there is no room for debate and no excuse for unbelief. It is the Word of God, and everyone is duty-bound to submit to its authority.
- The church no more gave the Bible its authority than the individual gives Christ His authority by embracing Him as Lord. He is Lord—we are simply called to recognize it.
- Scripture should be received, not so that it can become the Word of God, but because it already is the Word of God.
- A person will not be fully persuaded or assured that the Bible is the Word of God unless and until God the Holy Spirit does a work in his heart, which is called the internal testimony of the Spirit.
- The Spirit works with and through the Word, never apart from or against it.
- As we read and study Scripture, the Spirit opens our eyes, not to add anything to what is already there, but to clarify what is there and to apply it to our lives.
- Always interpret the implicit in light of the explicit, the obscure in light of the clear. These underlying principles in the Reformed doctrine of hermeneutics presuppose that the Bible is the Word of God.
- What the Holy Spirit inspired in one passage helps us understand what He inspired in another. We must interpret Scripture by Scripture.