We live in a culture where forgiveness is prime. We are to forgive at all costs. We are to pardon wrongs and be the better person. We should not hold on to grudges and bury the hatchet. Move on and let go. I could go on and on. We do have a hang up on forgiveness, and we should.
Forgiveness is the very essence of the Gospel. As Christians, we are forgiven by a Savior who came and died for our sins. We are forgiven and have new life because we trust Jesus. As sinners who are forgiven, we are to be Christ-like and emulate his likeness in our lives.
So forgiveness is a big deal, and as Christians, we should try to get it right. In Edward Mrkvicka, Jr.’s new book The Sin of Forgiveness, he examines concepts of secular forgiveness versus godly forgiveness. He sees the world as forgiving too soon or under the wrong conditions, which I believe is a very important concept to explore. He contends that forgiving any way less than Christ is a sin.
In this short book, only 8 chapters and 156 pages, the author examines two types of forgiveness. He equates secular forgiveness to what “secular counselors” and many clergy promote–forgive unconditionally and forget. Godly forgiveness is what Scripture says about forgiveness. A primary representation of this can be found in Luke 17:3-4, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Through this and other Scripture, the author contends that godly forgiveness can only take place when the offender has repented and changed his/her behavior. According to the author, any kind of forgiveness short of this is a sin of the person forgiving the offender. He supports his claim through the analysis of Scripture. Some of the chapter covers the important topics of “‘I’m sorry’ isn’t good enough,” “Unconditional forgiveness is a lose/lose” and “Our Savior tells us if, when, and how to forgive.” His final chapter is a question and answer section. The author asked people who he respects to review the book and submit questions; in turn the author answered these questions, which are often difficult in nature.
The description above is the most unbiased description I can muster to a very biased description of Scripture. The author mixes his opinions and experiences with Scripture. What’s wrong with that? Don’t most books pair passages with illustrations? In this case, the author presents a very defensive view of Scripture. This, in and of itself would make this a hard book to read. I agree that forgiving an unrepentant person is not how Jesus forgave. If we are to forgive like Jesus, we forgive those who have repented … repeatedly if necessary. If this were the primary presentation in the book, it might be a fairly good read. However, Mrkvicka adds his own spin on Scripture when he labels the forgiver who forgives an unrepentant person a “sinner.” There is no biblical evidence for this, though Mrkvicka would have readers believe that his bias is what God states. He takes passages out of context and applies them to suit his point.
I have a number of issues with the presentation and structure of this book. In one section, the author has a list of Scripture references that goes on for 13 pages– references pertaining to Forgave, Forgive, Forgiven, Forgiveness, and Forgiving. Anyone with access to Biblegateway.com, can get the same result. (Cut and paste) These pages are presented without any additional elaboration other than to give the reader an overview of what the Bible says about forgiveness.
Next, Mrkvicka is big on truth and little on grace. He seems to associate what most would see as a grace in the Bible as being “humanistic” or “secular.” What bothered me most about this book is that the very person who might be drawn to read it–someone hurting and guilt-ridden– would likely walk away feeling more dejected and turned off from a proposed Christian response to being hurt. I can’t overstate how the very tone of this book is so defensive and I would suspect often offensive to many readers. The presentation is so unlike Christ that the good is all but lost. I believe we as Christians can defend Scripture and our faith without these qualities. If Jesus does one thing throughout the Gospel, it is exhibit grace and truth to sinners. Unfortunately, the author does not.
In addition, the author has much to say about clergy who will disagree with his interpretation of Scripture, arguing that they can’t support their view biblically. He could be accurate if he’s referring to pastors who promote unconditional forgiveness and such pastors could do more damage to a wounded heart if they demand forgiveness of a person without all the additional work that goes along with forgiveness. However, Mrkvicka’s style and tone is so offensive that the inch of credit I might be able to give him as a reader is then subtracted and he loses even more credibility with each new paragraph he writes.
The author also takes on counselors who don’t follow his belief. As a Christian who happens to also be a licensed professional psychotherapist, I can’t begin to tell you how unsettling Mrkvicka’s propositions were. His tone often comes across as angry and arrogant as he advocates that his way of forgiving is the only way. As I read, I had sincere and overwhelming concern for the damage that could be done (and probably has been done) to a counselee who receives the kind of information presented in this book. I am not advocating for unconditional forgiveness, mind you, but there is much more that needs to be considered when a person is seriously wounded than whether or not they verbalize or don’t verbalize forgiveness for the person who hurt them.
Mrkvicka admits to being a fundamentalist and that he believes Scripture should be taken at face value and it does not need his or anyone else’s interpretation. Frankly, it is naïve, ignorant, and dishonest to suggest that presenting biblical concepts in a book outside of the Bible is not an interpretation of the Word. God most certainly knew His mind and knew what He was intending to say. It is up to the student of His Word to seek understanding of the Author’s intent, however, that cannot be done by examining passages in isolation as Mrkvicka clearly does.
There is an unfortunate aspect to this book in that I believe the issues of forgiveness deserves fresh consideration and is often misunderstood, so I had high hopes that this book might be able to do this well and be a resource for others; however, it fell far short of my expectations. I have found Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns to be a more fair and unbiased biblical handling of this topic.
In short, I believe this book is a good topic with a bad presentation, muddled by opinions and self-righteousness. Sorry, Mr. Mrkvicka, I cannot recommend this book. I give it 1 out of 5 stars.
Review by Mike Tiede, husband to Vicki.
Note: We were provided with a complimentary copy of the book through Cross-Focused Reviews for an honest review of this title.