the best book on forgiveness

I want to let you know about Unpacking Forgiveness (Crossway), a new book that I like so much I am using it in my soteriology class. The author, Chris Brauns, was two years ahead of me when we were students at GRTS, and so I’ve always looked up to him as sort of an older brother.

Chris is a fun, down to earth guy with a streaky jump shot, who is also an exceptional shepherd and leader. He puts more effort into researching his sermons and he prays more diligently than anyone I know. If Chris says that he is praying for you, you’re good to go. Most important for this book, Chris has experienced some bumps along the way in ministry, so his wisdom on forgiveness was forged from painful experience.

What I like most about Chris’s book is how it combines theological depth with practical counsel. Some books, such as Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness, bore so deep into their subject that they are of little practical use, while others are so therapeutic that they lack sufficient biblical and theological foundation.

I won’t blog through the entire book, because I don’t want to ruin your joy of reading, but I will drop one tantalizing point to entice you to read the whole thing. Chris provocatively says that there are times when it is wrong for us to forgive those who have sinned against us.

When I first read that I was sure that Chris was wrong, but his exegetical and theological arguments brought me around to agree with him. I’m guessing that many of you now disagree with both of us, but I invite you to get the book and hear Chris out before you decide.

I’d say more, but I really want you to read the book for yourself. Forgiveness is an arduous journey that every pastor must lead his people through, and I know of no better guide than my friend, Chris. If you’re a pastor, you owe it to your people to read this book.






9 responses to “the best book on forgiveness”

  1. Pam Elmore

    Thanks for the recommendation, Mike! This sounds like a great addition to my counseling library.

  2. Yooper

    We are to have an attitude of forgiveness. However, are we to forgive one who is unrepentant and has not asked to be forgiven?

  3. bryon

    Thanks for the tip. I was invited to share my opinion regarding forgiveness with a group of pastors in MN who are wrestling with the issue. Maybe I should read this first… then I’ll sound super smart (more so than usual).

  4. mikewittmer


    You nailed his point.

  5. […] Whether or not you believe his comment that I once had a streaky jump shot-  – you can read Grand Rapids Theological Seminary professor’s Mike Wittmer thoughts about Unpacking Forgiveness here. […]

  6. Thanks for this book recommendation.

  7. Pete Scribner

    Mike –

    Brauns makes many good points. I am still working through what he has written regarding forgiveness of the unrepentant, and have yet to come to a conclusion. Regardless of where I end up on that issue, the book is full of helpful thoughts and I thank you for recommending it.

    I had a thought though, and I wonder if it speaks to the situation. Braun’s suggestion that we ought not forgive the unrepentant seems to rest upon the idea that by forgiving an unrepentant sinner, we are not leaving room for God’s righteous and holy wrath. When God ultimately judges them for their sin (and he will whether we’ve forgiven them or not), are they going to be condemned because they sinned have against us or because they have sinned against him? I would argue that it is the fact that they have sinned against God that will ultimately leave them condemned, which means our forgiveness (or lack thereof) is irrelevant to God’s righteous act of judgment.

    I’d love your thoughts. Thanks again for the heads up on the book and keep up the good work!

  8. Shannon

    Pete– But wouldn’t we want our response to a person to correspond with God’s? If I tell someone that he is forgiven (by me) and yet he is unforgiven by God, am I not setting him up for trouble… or possible devastation?

  9. mikewittmer


    That’s a good question. I’m thinking that I wouldn’t want to separate the sin against God from the sin against me, because it seems that the sin would be against both. I love God when I love my neighbor, and I hate God when I hate my neighbor.

    What ultimately persuaded me that Chris’s view was on the right track was when he said that we must be prepared to forgive the person who is unrepentant, but that the actual act of reconciliation (or full-orbed forgiveness) is not possible without repentance. In this way Chris prevents us from falling into a cheap, therapeutic forgiveness, while also calling us to the same heart change as those who insist we must forgive those who haven’t asked for it.

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