Forgiveness is a powerful word. I remember struggling to forgive my parents for how I was treated growing up and the eventual reconciliation between us as God worked in our hearts. A new book, The Sin of Forgiveness by Edward Mrkvicka, has come out that seeks to help people understand ungodly and godly forgiveness. In many ways this book is needed but there are a few concerns. First, we will talk about what the book does well and then focus on where it needs to improve.
First the author notes, “Godly forgiveness, is for the sinner and the wronged, a healing process whereby both can become spiritually whole again” (vi). I don’t necessarily have a problem with this interpretation; however, I think he is confusing forgiveness with reconciliation. Forgiveness in the Bible is the act of releasing someone from a debt or obligation. For man to receive forgiveness, repentance is necessary (Luke 17:3-4). For the holy God to extend forgiveness, the shedding of blood is necessary (Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11). Forgiveness is based upon the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Forgiveness then does not help the sinner and the wronged begin the “healing process so both can become spiritually whole again.” The only way the healing process can begin is when we understand the foundation for forgiveness which is our need for reconciliation between God and man and one another. Reconciliation is changing for the better a relationship between two or more persons. It refers to the change of relationship between God and man. We are naturally children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and are at enmity with God (Eph. 2:11-15), but “we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son…” (Rom. 5:10). Because of the death of Jesus, the Christian’s relationship with God is changed for the better. We are now able to have fellowship with him (1 John 1:3) whereas before we could not. So we are reconciled to him (Rom. 5:10-11). The problem of sin that separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2) has been addressed and removed in the cross. It was accomplished by God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:18). While the author notes throughout his book that biblical forgiveness is founded upon the sacrifice of Christ he is wrong that the basis for our forgiveness begins the process of spiritual healing.
Jesus in Matthew 6:14-15 emphasizes the importance of forgiving others, indicating there is a direct relationship between having been forgiven by God and the forgiveness that his disciples must extend to others. The phrase in verse 12 “forgive your trespasses” refers to restoration of personal relationship with God, not to initial justification.
Reconciliation to others is hard work for five reasons. First, reconciliation is Gospel work because Jesus teaches that if Christians withhold forgiveness from others He will withhold forgiveness from us (Matthew 6:12-14). Second, reconciliation with others teaches Christians humility. Reconciling with others is hard work because it demands that one take ownership of their own actions and behavior in order to grow to be like Jesus. Third, reconciliation gives the world a picture of Jesus as His redeeming bride and demonstrates tangibly the love of God for sinners through being reconciled to each other. Fourth, reconciliation with God is at the heart of Christ’s redeeming us from our sin and making us new creations to testify of His love to the world. Finally, Christians (and the Church corporately) have been charged to be a light in a world full of bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment. Taking the message of reconciliation to the world is therefore vital in order to bring healing to broken sinners, families, cities, and nations.
I have one major problem with this book that extends beyond the fact that there is little in the way of definitions about what forgiveness is or that I think the author is categorically confused on this topic. The author, on page 131 states, “I pray that my Christian writings are rock-solid biblically. If not, please discard anything I say. However, I want to go on record again as stating that I have no religious opinions. Nor do I interpret God’s Word. His supreme writing does not need any help from me. God’s Word is clear and means what it says. Any pastor who tries to explain God’s Word is not to be listened to. They are spiritually dangerous.” (131).
Throughout his book, Mrkvicka attempts to set forth the teaching on forgiveness. To that end he quotes a litany of verses. Immediately after doing, so he offers very little in the way of explanation of those passages, instead attempting to illustrate his points using stories. My main problem with the aforementioned statement is that it is absolutely wrong and undermines the science of biblical interpretation. Now granted I realize the author may be trying to state that if we don’t agree with him on biblical grounds (which I don’t as I’ve made clear already) then we should just discard his thoughts entirely. Yet, I’m struck by the fact the author does provide his own interpretation of the passages, and so this comment he makes that “I have no religious opinions” and “Nor do I interpret God’s Word” smacks of dishonesty. Furthermore, you cannot help but read the Bible and offer your interpretation of it even if that is the wrong interpretation of the passage. Since the author engages in no meaningful or acceptable form of exegesis yet then says this at the end of his book during a Question and Answer session, I think it is honestly disingenuous and dishonest to make the comment that “Nor do I interpret God’s Word.”
The reason I think this is a big deal is because I think the author honestly thinks that he is in the right. The author thinks he has no religious opinions but if that’s the case why write a book seeking to help people understand the sin of ungodly forgiveness? If the author thinks that then why offer stories to illustrate his point? Why even write this book in the first place if you have no religious opinions and you don’t want to interpret God’s Word faithfully? I ask these questions because at no time in this book doe the author meaningfully engage the context he says he does. The author states that we are to consider the context of the passage but then he doesn’t engage the context of the passage but continues on quoting verse after verse. To me, who has spent five years studying the Bible in seminary, this is just plain wrong.
The study of hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible) provides the framework needed to interpret Scripture correctly. If we are to believe the author (as I’m assuming he wants us to) that he doesn’t offer any interpretation of Scripture then why even write this book? This reviewer was left asking “Why?” Furthermore, why state that you don’t “interpret” when you do interpret God’s Word throughout your book. Quoting verses is great and it provides some context for the issue one is discussing but then saying that “Any pastor who tries to explain God’s Word is not to be listened to. They are spiritually dangerous” (131) is just wrong. The author, in the process of diminishing the role of hermeneutics, has also undermined the central place and responsibility God has charged Pastors with, namely to preach the Word in season and out of season (2nd Timothy 4).
I think the author of this book is well-meaning and he has tried his best to tackle an important topic he believes we need to consider. At the same time, Christians are to be discerning and to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for doing so and also the Thessalonians for being people who studied the Word of God. With that said, since this book doesn’t engage in any meaningful way with the text of Scripture and the author wishes to undermine biblical interpretation while saying he has no religious opinions and in this reviewer’s opinion undermines the central role of preaching—there is no way I can recommend this book. The foundation upon this book is built is more upon what the author thinks about the topic than upon the Word of God. The fact is the author does have religious opinions, he’s offered them in this book, but sadly his opinions are not founded in Scripture, and thus he makes much of himself rather than the Savior.
Title: The Sin of Forgiveness
Author: Edward F. Mrkvicka, Jr.
Publisher: CrossLink Publishing (2013)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising