From Forgiven to Forgiving

By Jay E. Adams
Wheaton, IL : Victor (1989). 168 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
2.1 (Spring 1991) : 99-100

From Forgiven to Forgiving "is a practical approach to reconciling relationships and entering into a deeper walk with the Lord" (p. 7), according to James Kennedy's preface to the book. In the words of the author, the book has been written "to provide a simple, easy to read reference volume for the average Christian-something he can read, then turn to again and again as the need arises." And "to encounter most of the principal errors currently believed or taught by various persons in the Christian church" (p. 9). It is quickly evident in the opening chapters of the book that Adams' goals have, for the most part, been attained. The book is easy to read, practical, and stimulating. Titles of twenty succinct chapters are descriptive, providing guidance to specific topics with relative ease.

The author begins with a discussion of what forgiveness is as well as what it is not, countering a number of popular notions of the nature of forgiveness. Using Eph 4:32 as his base, he sees forgiveness not as a feeling but rather as a promise, a promise that God will not hold our sins against us. From that point, he moves into the practical areas related to forgiveness and treats matters such as forgiving seven times a day (Luke 17:3-10), forgiveness and unbelievers, keeping the promise, obstacles to forgiveness, and other pertinent topics.

Adams is unafraid to challenge some principal errors and common misconceptions. For example, he concludes that one can truly forgive out of duty (p. 29). On the basis of Matt 18:15-20, he disputes the notions that forgiveness can or should be granted even when not asked for (pp. 31-32) and that we must forgive no matter what response we get from the other person (pp. 37-38), contending that "if we were to grant forgiveness to a brother apart from his repentance and desire for forgiveness, then why bother with the process?" (p. 37). He continues, "God is not interested in forgiveness as an end in itself, or as a therapeutic technique that benefits the one doing the forgiving. He wants reconciliation to take place and that can only be brought about by repentance" (pp. 37-38).

In his vintage style, the author tells it like it is. He frequently interacts with (sometimes complimenting, sometimes contradicting) well-known people who discuss the subject, such as David Augsburger, Lewis Smedes, the Minirth-Meier group, and others. He also enjoys responding to common aphorisms such as "I'm okay, you're okay" or "to err is human, to forgive is divine." He speaks frequently about church discipline and gives practical tips for implementing it.

The author's treatment of Christ's words from the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), is weak, as is his treatment on the Lord's prayer (Matt 6:12-15). Though his definition of "forgiveness" is exact, his use of the term in these passages and elsewhere lacks the same precision. This has led him to confuse confession with granting forgiveness or to read in the idea of confession where only forgiveness is mentioned (e.g., pp. 42 ff.).

In Chapter 10, he overemphasizes the idea that confession is not a benefit for the one confessing, asserting that it is only for God's honor. Yet elsewhere (e.g., pp. 126, 140, et. al.) he admits that it brings great benefit to the individual and "it lifts the burden of guilt from his shoulders" (p. 140).

Though the chapter titles are specific and furnish quick access to various aspects of the subject, in light of the stated purpose of the book a Scripture index would be an improvement as a guide to information from the textual perspective. Also, a bibliography is a needed addition.

Adams has an excellent treatise on the contemporary issue of the healing of memories. He debunks the idea of seeking healing by mentally reliving past unpleasant experiences and visualizing Jesus in the experience to make all things go well. He observes that there is nothing biblical about such a process. His treatment of the subject is a welcome oasis in the desert compared to the volumes of false, misleading, and non-biblical strategies advocated today.

Overall, this is an excellent, easy to use tool in counseling. Both pastors and laymen will find the work an often-used part of their library.