Chris Brauns, senior pastor at the Congregational Christian Church of Stillman Valley, Illinois has written a much needed exposition on a much maligned topic. In Unpacking Forgiveness, he offers a study of what Scripture says regarding the discipline of forgiveness. He then gives his readers some basic guidelines to begin what is the long journey to true forgiveness.
Every believer must forgive and ask for forgiveness daily whether they realize it or not. This book helps the Christian to see what exactly that looks like as well as what is entailed in forgiveness. Although it may be controversial, Brauns explains how forgiveness, according to the scriptures, is conditional. Most people want to claim that forgiveness is unconditional and must be handed out freely. This idea of “free forgiveness” is nothing less than a feel-good, therapeutic forgiveness that has nothing to do with the Bible and everything to do with the person who is doing the forgiving.
Brauns painstakingly shows how therapeutic forgiveness solves nothing and more often than not leads to bitterness. Biblical forgiveness is conditional upon repentance. Yes, you can offer forgiveness to someone, but if they are not repentant, then they cannot be forgiven. It may be tough for some to understand this concept, but it must be understood that forgiveness does not have as much to do with the people involved as much as it does with Who is ultimately offended—God.
Each chapter includes a list of discussion questions that can be done alone but is best suited for a group study. This becomes especially important when you are instructed to not forgive the unrepentant and allow for the wrath of God to have the final say (see chapter 12).
While I want to write so much more in this review, I fear I cannot. Because I was challenged in my own preconceived notions—however subconscious they were—of what forgiveness was, I want to share everything I learned. However, if I were to do that, I fear that I would in essence be plagiarizing the book in this review! This book is saturated with scripture and consequently, it is one of the more challenging volumes that has come across my desk in some time. If you are not challenged by this book, then you either did not read it or you are not a believer who has experienced true forgiveness at the foot of the cross.
Suffice it to say that this book belongs on the shelf of every believer. What is more is this book belongs in the libraries of every pastor or nouthetic counselor who really wants to deal with the issue of forgiveness with a member of your congregation or a counselee. For those who have been hurt by a spouse, or parent, or friend, this book is a must read. If you ever want to learn to truly forgive and be content with the person who offended you, then you need to read this book.