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Friday, September 8, 2017

"Forgiveness and Justice" (Bryan Maier)

TITLE: Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach
AUTHOR: Bryan Maier
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2017, (160 pages).

Much have been written about forgiveness. Yet, the world is in deep need for more forgiveness. In fact, one might say that we don't need more theories about forgiveness, only more practice. In the eyes of author Bryan Maier, there is still a lack of  "clear, consistent, theologically informed" materials on forgiveness. In order to understand what forgiveness entails, one needs a biblical grounding of what forgiveness is. Putting it another way, we have a lot of materials on the therapeutic aspect as well as the theological. The key contribution in this book is to answer the question: "Can forgiveness, according to its contemporary brands, coexist with justice?" 

A key note would be Maier's assertion that for any corporate levels of forgiveness to be authentic, it must first occur at a personal level. He highlights the case of George and Ellen's extra marital affairs of getting back at each other to show us how difficult forgiveness can be in the midst of hurt, shame, and betrayal of trust. He lists the four common conclusions of forgiveness literature as well as the pros and cons of Enright's and Worthington's models. He helps us along by understanding that there are the therapeutic forgiveness (helping the victim); theological-forensic forgiveness (from the Bible); and relational forgiveness (for the sake of the relationship). How then do we choose? Here is where Maier's expertise shines. Instead of rushing for solutions, he guides readers toward a sharper understanding of the essence of forgiveness. He sets three boundaries on the meaning of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a response to a moral violation. It is not an alternative perspective. It is more than empathy. He then prepares to bring in the topic of justice by showing our innate desire for equity and fairness. Every act of forgiveness produces in a person some kind of "relational ambivalence." On the one hand, one forgives. On the other hand, one does not quite feel satisfied or fair. Yet, what is impossible with humans is possible with God. The Christian model of forgiveness is based on what Christ had done for us. If there is anyone who deserves to keep score, it would be God. If not, why do we hang on to grudges and resentment? Maier takes us through trusting God to deliver justice. He shows us how to use the imprecatory psalms to direct our attention. He reminds us once again that forgiveness is other-centered and must be actively initiated. Maier comes back to the story of George and Ellen to show us how he would help them approach reconciliation and forgiveness. 

There are three things I appreciate about this book. The first is the depth of research. Each chapter is filled with loads of research material and scholarship to anchor the discussion on firm biblical grounds. The author is indeed an expert in the science of forgiveness. I am awed by his repertoire of knowledge over the many therapeutic and theological treatments of this area. He deals with the definitions of forgiveness from different angles.  The second is the breadth of coverage. He brings in perspectives that go beyond cognitive, therapeutic, and theological areas toward a more pastoral approach. That is so important because forgiveness is less about the mental gymnastics or willpower but an emotional and relational one. For example, one may know a lot about forgiveness, go through all the apologies and still remain resentful. For example, he models the different characteristics of God's forgiveness, so that we can learn to forgive in God's strength instead of our own. This is what is essentially a Christian approach. Third, I appreciate the patience in his writing, choosing to hold back his personal definition until much later in chapter 9 of the book. This parallels the essence of forgiveness in which time and active engagement are necessary for authentic forgiveness. Many readers will be tempted to rush for answers on what exactly are the steps to adopt in seeking or giving forgiveness. We can do this for techniques and most therapies. Yet, when it deals with matters of the heart, which forgiveness entails, we need patience. As I read this book, I feel like an amateur when dealing with matters of forgiveness and justice. Thankfully, Maier's work educates and edifies. 

Bryan Maier is Associate Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary. He has previously served as associate pastor. His research interests include Integration of Psychology and Theology, History of the Integration of Psychology and Theology, and a Theology of Forgiveness.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Ministry without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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