|A Brief Review of
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Reviewed by Mark Traphagen.
In Forgiveness: Unleashing a Transformational Process, author Larry Ellis offers no forgiveness for what he calls “innovative forgiveness.” The kind of forgiveness practiced by most Christians today (and taught by too many churches), Ellis charges, is innovative because it departs from the kind of forgiveness taught by the New Testament and the early church. In short, our forgiveness will never be transformational because it is not the radical, unconditional forgiveness Jesus called for and the earliest teachers in his church reinforced.
According to Ellis, the most fundamental characteristics of that kind of forgiveness are that it is to be unilaterally initiated by the offended party and unconditional. While forgiveness is related to other Christian practices such as repentance and reconciliation, it is not dependent upon them. “…reconciliation requires an active participation by the offending party…but forgiveness absolutely does not…Jesus does not require nor even suggest that the offending party plays any part in our forgiving process” (p. 27). Christian forgiveness must be unconditional because the forgiveness granted us in Christ is unconditional. Ellis will not allow his readers any wiggle room on that point: “To excuse those actions for which there are good excuses is not Christian love, it is fairness. Christian love begins when we forgive the inexcusable part, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us” (30).
Because we have been raised in a culture which demands that forgiveness be earned, we naturally object to such a radical approach. Ellis anticipates our objections and counters them with convincing biblical evidence. One of the most valuable chapters is one titled “Popular Fictional Myths About Forgiveness,” a kind of FAQ of the “Yeah… buts” that such teaching creates. For example, the author states that granting unconditional forgiveness does not rule out that loving confrontation or intervention may be needed in some situations. In addition, the book contains useful chapters on biblical practices closely tied to forgiveness, such as confession, repentance, and reconciliation, as well as a study guide for groups.
Forgiveness: Unleashing a Transformational Process is a clear and convincing call to the practice of radical forgiveness. Nothing less than that deserves to be called Christian.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com