by Tanwin Tanoto
Book reviewed: Timothy Keller. Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? (Viking: New York, NY) 2022.
In this edition, due to the nature of the topic, I have decided not to follow my usual “book review” format. Instead, I want to offer my reflection on Timothy Keller’s Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?
Keller has written a lot of books on big topics: biblical theology, contemporary apologetics, preaching, prayer, and even biblical commentaries. So when I found out that his next book would be on forgiveness, I found it a bit underwhelming.
Initially, I thought to have Keller write about forgiveness was a bit of a waste of his brilliance and insights. After all, hasn’t this topic been written about and discussed ad nauseam by other writers and thinkers?
Well after reading this book, I understood why Keller chose this topic.
Forgiveness is a common topic. It is a topic that involves everyone. Forgiveness is a big topic. It is a topic that could make or break people. Forgiveness is also a controversial topic. We live in a cancel culture where removing someone rather than forgiving them is more virtuous. So yes, it is a timely, important, and hard topic to write about.
In typical Keller fashion, he brings to the surface aspects of forgiveness that we may or may not realise.
Things like: conflict over forgiveness – many argue that forgiveness helps perpetrators to escape accountability, the fading of forgiveness – where the concept of forgiveness becomes increasingly problematic, and the indelible need for forgiveness – that the need to grant and to receive forgiveness cannot be ignored.
To understand the need and the importance of forgiveness in our community, Keller explains the nature of God – the God of love and fury, the God of justice and love. Through a biblical survey of the nature and character of God, Keller defines what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not.
I believe this is a crucial element to forgive, to understand what it is not. Culminated in the life, teachings, and sacrifice of Jesus, Keller explains how the concept of forgiveness was revolutionary in Christianity. Ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t forgive, it was beneath them. To have the Son of God cry out, “Father forgive them…” was counter-cultural back then, and it is still counter-cultural today.
Having a highly influential Bible teacher writing a big book on forgiveness tells me that forgiveness is needed but it is not easy.
While the Church embodies forgiveness through our worship of Jesus and our teaching of the Bible, sadly it is sometimes also a place where forgiveness is hard to find. The very nature of sinners gathering together every week, rubbing shoulders, and living together in a community means forgiveness needs to be a part of a balanced diet in local churches.
There are too many stories where forgiveness is not granted or is not received. Or it is poorly executed and applied. Churches are filled with stories of broken people whose hearts are broken by other broken people. Yes, there is plenty of brokenness in the Church. Not to mention the number of people who left the church due to poor forgiveness.
This book helps me affirm a few things about forgiveness:
Why am I writing this in a reflection format rather than a review?
Well because forgiveness is a big topic for me too. Granting and receiving forgiveness has been a very personal journey for me. It is hard but it is needed. It is costly but it is worth it. It is long but there is “no future without forgiveness”.
I hope this book can be a resource for anyone who needs to grant or receive forgiveness. Moreover, I pray this book can raise awareness of the weight of what forgiveness can do in God’s beautiful churches.
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