When You Just Can’t Forgive: a book review

Forgiveness and justice are two gospel threads, though, in many theologies, one often short-shrifts the other. Either grace is emphasized to the exclusion of justice, or justice, in the form of care for the marginalized, is stressed while grace remains opaque. In Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach, Dr. Bryan Maier holds up the importance of both, explicating the power of forgiveness and God’s heart for justice, in a pastoral and counseling context.

9780825444050Maier has a doctorate in psychology from Wheaton College and is associate professor of counseling and psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary. He approaches the topics of forgiveness and justice as a professor, a counselor, and a pastor who has walked with people through difficult things.

From the outset, it should be noted that this treatment on forgiveness is limited by a focus on interpersonal forgiveness, and not corporate forgiveness (13). So while Maier does envision justice, he is not so much talking about social justice, i.e., a response to systemic issues and institutional dynamics that impact communities, but individual and personal injustices (e.g. abuse, adultery, etc.).  However, he does speak realistically about the nature of sin and the way individual people are affected by evil. He validates the experience of victims and warns us against easy forgiveness.

After reviewing contemporary clinical models which describe forgiveness (chapter 1), Maier sharpens our understanding by offering 3 boundaries around the construct of forgiveness and 4 contours of a Christian approach to forgiveness. He asserts forgiveness is a response to a moral violation (i.e. no moral wrong, no need for forgiveness), that forgiveness is not simply a cognitive reframe (choosing to see reality differently) or empathy for the offender (33-40). Maier asserts instead that forgiveness, in the Christain sense: (1) is derived from divine forgiveness—Christ and his cross, (2) does not have personal healing as its primary goal, (3) is other-centered, focused on the offender, and (4) is active, not passive (41-43).

These four characteristics describe much of what follows in the rest of the book. Unlike a lot of contemporary forgiveness literature, Maier doesn’t think forgiveness is about making the victim feel better about themselves by letting go of the hurt. Instead, forgiveness is about the offender recognizing their error and repenting. Thus, forgiveness is not something to offer flippantly, or the appropriate response if the offender is unrepentant.  Resentment and anger may actually be our appropriate response in the face of ongoing sin. Maier writes:

Interpersonal sin is an assault on justice and the God of justice. Feelings of resentment or legitmate anger are both a logical and appropraite response to injustice. Resentment is logical if it is defined as merely an emotional reaction to what has already been recognized cognitively—that is, that an offense has been committed and the offender is not repentant. Resentment defined this way is also appropriate because God Himself reacts to sin with such strong affectively laden legative feelings. (53)

We forgive because God forgave us, and God’s forgiveness should typify our behavior (cf. Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12); Nevertheless, just as God’s forgiveness of us requires our repentance, so our forgiveness of others ought to require their turning from their sin (64). God keeps score (chapter 5). So while Christians ought to always be ready to forgive, forgiveness is not the Christian response to ongoing injustice.  Anger with the state of things is, just as creation groans toward redemption (Romans 8:22-23).

Several biblical resources are helpful in this regard. Maier commends Romans 12:9-21, which brackets out vengeance as a Christian response. God himself will repay the evil done to us (80). He also recommends praying imprecatory Psalms (those Psalms where the enemies of God’s people suffer for the evil they’ve wrought), as comfort and assurance that justice will be done (96). He also describes a counseling session where his patient drew comfort from the book of  Revelation, because of its assurance that in the end, someone pays (82).

Maier goes on to describe the reality and benefits of forgiveness and to describe the benefits of forgiveness and justice and counseling.

What I found most beneficial about was how Maier confronts cheap forgiveness. I have personally been taught, and have taught others, to define forgiveness therapeutically and subjectively. I’ve thought of forgiveness as not letting the wrong done to me poison my soul. In Maier’s model, forgiveness is about setting the relationship right. This can only be done if the offender is repentant and trust is rebuilt. This deals objectively with the world of relationships.

I also appreciated the validation of anger, not just as an appropriate response but as a motivating factor in our work against injustice. I do not know an activist who isn’t angry, and I’m glad for it. Anger and resentment at injustice are meant to move us to action, to set the world to rights. Maier names these as important and legitimate responses in a world where all creation groans toward redemption (Romans 8:22-23).  In fact, I think this book may have changed my thinking a little bit about what forgiveness means, when to offer it and when to hold out.

In terms of a ministry aid, I think Maier offers some sound advice for pastors and counselors,  in walking people through the process of forgiveness. He uses the Bible judiciously, holding up the ideal of forgiveness without slighting victims of profound evil. By pointing to repentance as the normative standard for forgiveness, Maier doesn’t make light of sin, while still holding out the possibility of reconciliation and redemption. I give this book four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic and Ministry in exchange for my honest review


Turn that Frown Upside Down: a book review

Nobody wants to be depressed, but millions are, and the number is rising.  By 2020  depression will be second only to heart disease, as the cause of life debillitating illness (1). Chances are if you do not suffer from depression, someone close to you has or does. Various treatments, therapies and medications abound, which help people (or promise help) who struggle under the weight of it.   While healing will look different for different people. there is hope.

Gregory Jantz,PhD., is a psychologist and founder of  the Center for Counseling and Health Resources.  In his book, Turning Your Down into Uphe avers that theres is hope for those suffering from depression. though the journey out for each will be unique.  Jantz examines the various influences which may be the root of our depression (or  a contributing factor).  These include emotional factors, environmental factors, relational influences, physical influences (like diet or exercise), and spiritual influences. By addressing these various spheres, Jantz presents a holistic approach to healing from depression and even gives a three month plan for healing.

I appreciate Jantz approach. I am not personally someone who struggles with long-term depression. I have had sorrows related to circumstance, but I remain fairly upbeat in my approach to life. I do have family members who struggle more directly than I do. I think Jantz offers some wise guidance through depression and helps strugglers pay attention to some of the latent causes of their depression.He doesn’t offer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to recovery.  In this book he challenges readers to overcome emotional issues through positive self talk and intentional gratitude. He helps readers overcome the detrimental effects of stress and advises they set limits on their use of technology.  By discussing they physical causes of depression, Jantz makes the case for appropriate self care.  He also addresses the underlying issues which affect us in family systems and relationships (including our relationship with God). These are all important aspects of conquering the effects of depression.

There was a lot of good information which I think will be helpful. Each chapter has a workbook section which helps readers work towards their own healing.   Jantz does not discuss in-depth the role of psychotropic medication in healing depression.  I think that most of what he says will be helpful to depressed people in general, but some may require a pharmaceutical boost in order to work through the issues.  I wished that he discussed this more directly, though I appreciate that his section on physical causes allows for a more natural approach.  I just think some people need something stronger.

I give this book four stars and recommend it to those who are wondering if they are depressed or who deal with mild depression.  Even non-strugglers like myself will be challenged to handle their emotions, set healthy limits and avoid unhealthy environments and foods.

Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Inviting the Spirit into Counseling: a book review

Secular models of counseling are certainly of benefit, but they often rest on materialist assumptions. Christians have responded by either dismissing psychology as godless or finding some way to accommodate its insights within a Christian paradigm.  Various models of Christian counseling have emerged. Some are ‘Christian derived’–drawing on the resources of scripture and the church as their basis. Other models of counseling  accommodate secular practices. What all Christian counseling has in common is a belief in the God revealed through the Bible and  an openness  to the way God ‘breaks in’ to our lives in miraculous ways.  A new book from IVP Academic entitled  Transformative Encounters: The Intervention of God in Christian Counseling culls together a variety of Christian models of counseling. In the introduction, David Appleby writes:

We recognize that this book runs counter to the antitheistic trends and secularizing forces dominant in American culture today. We are surely swimming upstream against the ever-quickening flow in a modern and post-modern world that accepts without question an evolutionary naturalism that denies the reality of God and dismisses any reference to or evidence of supernatural intervention.  Like most of our colleagues in Christian counseling and ministry, we live and work on that delicate boundary that affirms both the methods of science ( while rejecting scientism and empiricism) and the God who breaks into this natural world, momentarily seizing  that world and the laws by which it operates to effect supernatural change by miraculous encounter (33).

Appleby and Ohlschlager have gathered  together a number of approaches to Christian counseling which combine thoughtful, sophisticated methodology with an expectancy of seeing God work. Each  model profiled invites the Holy Spirit into the therapeutic process.   Contributors to this volume describe their approach to counseling, their methodological and theoretical framework, provide a case study from their own practice, and discuss the limits of their particular herapy. There are both Christian derived models and accomodative approaches profiled.

The book devides into four parts.  Part one presents ‘transformative encounters done in church.’ These include inner healing ministry (the Elijah House model and Theophostic prayer ministry are both profiled), deliverance ministry and the Biblical Counseling movement.  Part two widens the focus to include ‘transformative paradigms for both church or clinic.’ Various therapeutic approaches are profiled, such as: Spiritually Oriented Cognitivie Therapy,  the IGNIS model of counseling, Christian Holism, Contemplative Focused Prayer, Emotion Focused Therapy, Formational Counseling, the role of Forgiveness in treatment, and Cognitive/Behavioral/Systems Therapy.  Part three looks at transformative interventions within a clinical context. This include the use of visionalization and Christian cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with PTSD, Depression and Anxiety, approaches to sexual addiction  and other addictions, therapies for transforming unwanted homosexual behavior and attraction (beyond the reparative therapy model),  and life coaching.  Part four ties these variosu threads together as a ‘universial transformaitonal practice’

Appleby says that this book was written for ‘the sole purpose of giving counselors, church-staff, clinical practitioners, academics and students-in-training the best work of those who are doing this kind of Christ-centered ministry–inviting God to step into the helping or ministry endeavor in a way that works miraculous change (35). ‘ Practitioners of one or two approaches will find their vision widened of the types of theraputic approaches and resources available to those in helping ministry.  Certainly particular models will resonate more readily with clients and therapists than other models; however there is so much that is instructive about the various approaches.

Transformative Encounters is comprehensive without being exhaustive.  With chapters on the role of contemplative prayer in therapy (chapter 8, J Mark Shadoan) and formational counseling (Chapter 11, Terry Waddle), one would also expect a chapter profiling the benefits of Spiritual Direction. They also profile psychological treatment, but have no entries from psychiatry. This means that the place of medication to treat mental disorders is not treated in this volume

Another area where I would critique  this book  is that the editors aver that ‘Transformative change’ is a ‘God-influenced’ change of beliefs, behavior or emotions that assisted a client in getting unstuck from an overwhelming dilemma or that delivered significant gains in a very short period of time–either in one session or over a few sessions.(35)’  While these breakthroughs are important and evidence of where God has breathed into the counseling process, an exclusive focus on the ‘miraculous encounter’ in counseling obscures the fact that the Spirit is also at work in the hidden, the quiet and the incremental change throughout the counseling process.  Thankfully the various practitioner/contributors have an eye for where God is at work in imperceptible ways.

These criticisms withstanding, this is an important resource outlining an integrative Christian approach to counseling which makes use of sacred and secular resources available to us, setting them under the Lordship of Christ. I give it four stars and recommend it to pastors, mentors and counselors who are involved in ministering to others. This  book gives a nice overview of the types of treatments and resources available.

Thank you to IVP Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.