Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis

Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis

Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis

Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis


A topic unjustly neglected in contemporary theology, forgiveness is often taken to be either too easy or too difficult. On the one hand is the conception of forgiveness that views it mainly as a move made for the well-being of the forgiver. On the other hand, forgiveness is sometimes made too difficult by suggestions that violence is the only effective force for responding to injustice.

In this exciting and innovative book, L. Gregory Jones argues that neither of these extreme views is appropriate and shows how practices of Christian forgiveness are richer and more comprehensive than often thought. Forgiveness, says Jones, is a way of life that carries with it distinctive concepts of love, community, confession, power, repentance, justice, punishment, remembrance, and forgetfulness.

In Part 1 of Embodying Forgiveness Jones first recounts Dietrich Bonhoeffer's own struggle against the temptation to make forgiveness either too easy or too difficult in his thought and, even more, in his life and death at the hands of the Nazis. Jones then considers each of these temptations, focusing on the problem of "therapeutic" forgiveness and then forgiveness's "eclipse" by violence. Part 2 shows why a trinitarian identification of God is crucial for an adequate account of forgiveness. In Part 3 Jones describes forgiveness as a craft and analyzes the difficulty of loving enemies. He deals particularly with problems of disparities in power, impenitent offenders, and the relations between forgiveness, accountability, and punishment. The book concludes with a discussion of the possibility of certain "unforgiveable" situations.

Developing a strong theological perspective on forgiveness throughout, Jones draws on films and a wide variety of literature as well as on Scripture and theological texts. In so doing, he develops a rich and comprehensive exploration of what it truly means to embody Christian forgiveness.


Forgiveness has long been difficult to embody, even among those committed to its importance. Even the invocation of forgiveness has become rather tricky these days. Some of those one might expect to advocate its importance, particularly people in churches, often are precisely the ones arguing against it (or at least against its abuses). They urge that we need firm punishment and demands for justice, particularly in cases of violence and sexual abuse, not forgiveness. Conversely, some of those who often are taken to be “hard-nosed realists,” namely legal scholars and political theorists, have begun to reflect on the possible significance of forgiveness as a means of breaking apart cycles of violence, vengeance, and bitterness — for individuals as well as larger social groups.

Embodying Forgiveness proposes a way in which these sorts of concerns, as well as many others, can be better understood, articulated, and analyzed. It does so, in part, by challenging the terms in which these concerns are developed. For example, while I applaud the resistance to bad understandings of forgiveness and the abuses to which those understandings are often put, and while I challenge the assumption that forgiveness does not involve accountability, I also insist that we can neither make repentance a prerequisite for forgiveness nor separate forgiveness from our understandings of justice. Further, while I applaud the growing conviction — or at least the hope — that forgiveness can become a means of breaking apart cycles of violence, vengeance, and bitterness, I suggest that the issues need to be more carefully situated within the Christian doctrine of the Triune God. Hence, I both draw from and challenge forgiveness’s recent critics as well as its recent advocates.

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