Sunday, February 17, 2008

Questions On Conditional Forgiveness: A Dialog

"Forgiveness" by Edenbeast
I read this today over at Tim Challies website. For those who don't know, Challies is spouted as the highest read Christian blog on the web. He is well known for reviewing books, but also publishes articles on his own thoughts and beliefs. He has quite the following.

I skimmed his site, and stumbled onto a well-written article about his beliefs on forgiveness. Before I post the link or quote, please note that I respect his beliefs and thoughts as I would anyone else’s. He is free to believe as he feels led, and I am in no way trying to diminish him. I am simply using his clearly presented thoughts as a spring-board for some questions...those are always fun:)

You can find the full article here: Is Forgiveness Conditional or Unconditional?

He elucidates his thoughts in several sections... I'm going to quote for brevity (I encourage reading the whole article), but will try to stay true to the context and esp. the line of logic below:

Forgive as God Forgives
According to the Bible, our forgiveness of one another is to follow God’s model of forgiveness. We see this in several New Testament passages.
Matthew 6:12b “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13 “…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
In each case you’ll notice the little word as. We are to forgive as God forgives or in the same

manner as He forgives.

God’s Forgiveness Is Conditional
It is beyond any reasonable dispute that God’s forgiveness is conditional. God is not a universalist who chooses to forgive all men for their offense against Him. Nor does He offer forgiveness without expectation or condition. Rather, God forgives only those who turn to Him in repentance and who put their trust in Him. We affirm that God’s offer of forgiveness is universal, in that He extends it to all of humanity. But the reality of forgiveness is only for those who accept the conditions of faith and repentance. Proof for this assertion can be found throughout Scripture, but perhaps no more clearly than in 1 John.
1 John 1:8-9 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

God Does not Hold Us to a Higher Standard
Nowhere in the Bible do I find that God holds us to a higher standard of forgiveness than He does. If God’s forgiveness is conditional, and if we are to model Him, our forgiveness will also be conditional. Of course we will also freely offer forgiveness and we will pursue and long for the ability to extend forgiveness. We will seek reconciliation. But we will not forgive those who are not repentant. This makes sense when we understand that, in its fullest sense, forgiveness requires repentance.....
So there is my case. To summarize it simply: We are to model God’s forgiveness; God forgives conditionally; there we are to forgive conditionally.

Ok, so I one, applaud his logic. I am not trying to tear him down at all, just reflect and think on where his logic leads. Is this idea True? Is it true in my life? How do these thoughts reflect or conflict with other beliefs/doctrines of God. Again I encourage you to read the whole article; I don't want to be accused of taking out of context. Also the comments are always worth the read. Most people will agree with Tim, but some will not or will question him. There are some interesting comments, but honestly, people respond to quickly for me to try and bring them into a coherent conversation without diluting the material. Tim is a well written communicator, and has stated his case eloquently.

One interesting thing about logic is that a logic stream or thought, once a conclusion is reached, can also work in reverse. This is much like checking a math problem by going through it backwards....indeed the rules of classical logistics are mathematical equations. So is the reverse logic true? There are several ways to state it, I'm not sure which is best, but here's the gist: "because mankind is conditional in its forgiveness, and we are called to forgive as God has forgiven us, then God's forgiveness must be conditional as well!"

On the surface, that statement seems to make sense. It means that Tim has followed the rules of logic well and that the same conclusion can be drawn backwards or forwards. But "true/pure logic" also has to withstand questioning. Pelted with questions, I'm not sure how I feel about this thought pattern. I'll work from the reversal statement.

I agree, unconditional forgiveness is hard if not impossible for humanity. I don't like to say that, and would like to be proven wrong, but throughout history this seems to be a reality. However, simply because we are incapable of unconditional forgiveness, does that mean God is incapable as well? Either he is 1) incapable, or 2) unwilling.

It's hard for me to believe that God is incapable of ANYTHING! I also hate to think that there is something that I could do that a God whom I believe LOVES UNCONDITIONALLY would not forgive me unconditionally. This conditional forgiveness was very prevalent before the reformation, before battle, a priest or bishop would grant absolution to the killings they would commit. Absolution could be granted as a part of confession and penance, or be granted in advance before a sin was committed. This of course was not the ideal for absolution, but is a marked reality in our Ch. history. The deliverance of absolution was pivotal in medieval Catholicism and can be seen by the sacrament of extreme unction.
Most people don't believe that absolution can be granted by the clergy any longer, but that salvation and forgiveness of sin falls to God alone. One of the reasons for the change in pace was because of the doctrine of unconditional love that came out of the reformation. To this day unconditional love remains THE defining characteristic of the modern and postmodern view of the Christian God.

So, can unconditional love fail to forgive unconditionally? 4 main questions rise with the logic illustrated in Tim's post.1) Simply because man can't seem to forgive unconditionally, does that mean that man shouldn't or isn't supposed forgive unconditionally? I know that love and forgiveness are not the same, but in Christian thought they are tied together as inseparable. Just think of John 3:16
or John 15:12-- My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
or 1 John 4:10-- This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
or Luke 2: 27-- The greatest commandment (love God; love neighbor)

2) Can we truly love others as God calls us to if we practice conditional forgiveness? Tim speaks of reconciliation (which I think we both would agree) is a (if not the) major theme of the bible. I think we would both agree that reconciliation is found through love. So can reconciliation occur if the forgiveness is conditional, or (because of the conditions) non-existent?

3) What are the conditions of forgiveness? According to Tim's theology, God's forgiveness is conditional in this way: "God forgives only those who turn to Him in repentance and who put their trust in Him." Tim goes on to say that reconciliation can only happen if both parties are willing. But do both parties have to be willing for forgiveness to happen? What exactly ARE the conditions we can set around our call to forgiveness?

4) Is God's forgiveness truly conditional/limited? Tim states at the end how hard his truth may be to swallow. In the same spirit, I know this question is a scary one. It challenges the very fabric of Modern Christianity's idea of absolution. But it is a question that is being asked regardless of whether we like it or not. Many people are asking this type of question, because it makes God seem so small compared to a much bigger God that they see in the scriptures, in nature, in others, and in life in general! I agree that I am uncomfortable saying, "without a doubt God IS or IS NOT this or that." I don't believe that ANYONE knows completely all about God and how he does or does not work. That's what makes him God and us not! Many believe that boxing God in on things like forgiveness (even though much scripture can be quoted to support these closed ideas) does not free him to be God. Some have gone as far as calling this idolatry, because then it becomes a false and limited God that one is worshiping. I will say that there is scripture out there NOT being quoted that supports these ideas such as Rom. 11:28-32, Rom. 5:9-11, 2 Cor. 5:19, and most quoted Colossians 1:15-20.

Is God bigger than our theology? I am not claiming to have the right answer over Tim, only publically exploring questions that have come up in conversations, readings, speakers, music, well...everywhere. I apologize for using Tim as a focal point, but he clearly explains a theology that many hold and are challenging today. My point was not to pick on Tim. I respect Tim's views, and thank him for allowing me to use his blog post to pose some hard and challenging thoughts.

I would love to hear your thoughts. As always, they will be respected, for argument is not my goal, but conversation is!!


  1. From my friend Bill:

    I read the original article on forgiveness, yet disagreed with the author. Though he makes a good case for following God's example on forgiveness, he 'enters', as it were, God's example a step 'down the line' too far. 2 Tim 1:9 (& many other texts) tell us that forgiving grace has been ours from before the world began. God has always forgiven the sins of all mankind even before mankind existed. The cross symbolizes forgiveness 'once and for all'. In other words, God forgives us whether or not we respond. At the cross he forgave all sins 'past', present and future. If we followed His example we would forgive those who have died before they even heard our forgiveness, because our forgiveness comes from God who has always forgiven. We DON'T wait until a person is ready to apologize. Our forgiveness is full and complete whether or not they respond. That's what grace is. That's what God did.

    More: Like God, our forgiveness is never about 'if' we should forgive, but 'of course' we forgive. Forgiveness arises out of the same notion that loving one's enemy does. Anyone can forgiven a friend, but an enemy? Only a Christian who understands grace can offer true forgiveness to an enemy even though they may not accept it, and then love that person regardless of their response. This happens for 2 important reasons: (1) we know we are sinners too and that the sin we wrestle with may just be something different. But sin is sin and we must show mercy to all. (2) tit for tat doesn't transform others. Loving forgiveness is far more instrumental in changing another's heart. Thus it reminds us in Romans 5 that God loved us BEFORE we loved him. So, in summary, we ought to not hesitate to forgive another simply because that is how the Spirit in us moves - regardless of the others response.

  2. thanks for that Bill, A lot to think on... I love the dialog!

  3. Hi Justin - - I'm the guy that Justin quotes / interacts with . . . so, I tend to agree with his position. . . .

    Let me come at this from a different angle. Rob Bell has asserted that "hell is full of forgiven people (Velvet Elvis, page 146).

    Do you agree with Bell? Can a person be forgiven by God and still go to hell?

    I appreciate your tone and approach.


    I have a veritable plethora of forgiveness posts over on my blog.

  4. Oops. I meant, I am the guy that Tim Challies quotes. . .

  5. I noticed your Spiderman aspirations - - - this post may interest you:

  6. Chris,
    Thanks for your voice and willingness to dialog.

    I am weary about specifying what I agree with for 2 reasons:
    I don't want to come across as my theology/thoughts are the RIGHT theology/thoughts. I don't believe that I have a monopoly on the revelation and understanding of God. I don't believe anyone does. I honestly (and I just say this generally, I am making no judgements on you or Tim or anyone) but want to make sure that I don't ever come across as "my way is the right way" and do not want to alienate other's views on here. This is a free-thinking, and open questioning blog where people can do such a thing. I feel it is my responsibility to my readers to allow their voices to be heard, and most of my readers (that I know of) don't appriciate being told what to think.

    That comes to my second concern with what you would probably desire, (a "straight answer")... This post esp. was to invite questions and exploration of a good topic which was presented in a definitive format. I do not want to discourage questions by other readers, whether posted or not.

    So that's my disclaimer.

    As for the Bell thing, I am in assumption that you don't agree with Bell's ideas on forgiveness. That's completely fine, I disagree with Bell on some things myself. Please allow me to put that quote in better context for anyone trying to follow this conversation.

    "so this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling 'all things, in heaven and on earth, to God. (Col.1:20 insertion of reference mine)
    This reality then isn't something we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is t live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.
    God is retelling each of our stories in Jesus. All of the bad parts and the ugly parts and the parts we want to pretend never happened are redeemed. The seemed pointless and they were painful at the time, but god retells our story and they become the moments when God's grace is most on display. We find ourselves asking, am I really forgiven for THAT? The fact that we are loved and accepted and forgiven in spite of everything we have done is simply too good to be true. Our choice becomes this: We can trust his retelling of the story, or we can trust our telling of the story. It is a choice we make every day about the reality we are going to live in.
    And this reality extends beyond life.
    Heaven is full of forgiven people.
    Hell is full of forgiven people.
    Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for.
    Hell is full of forgiven people that Jesus died for.
    The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust.
    Ours or God's" (Velvet Elvis pp. 146)

    I don't wan to be irresponsible in my response, but the quote you picked out of context with Bell seems to say something far different on its own that was the author's intent.
    Rob is speaking about forgiveness being offered to all, yet we can chose to live as if we are forgiven (which in the next section he makes the case that this way is a far more healthy and productive way to live spiritually), or we can chose to live a life void of that reality.

    I would say I would side more with Rob than I do with Tim's assesment of forgiveness. But see, Bell is a hard person to pin down on his beliefs on salvation, Heaven and Hell. I have read all of his published works, listened to many of his sermons from his ch., read many articles and blog posts on him, and seen him speak on this subject. He leaves his statements so open ended sometimes I believe he does it so that people will explore these thoughts for their selves as well as not trying to alienate those that may be turned off by a blunt approach. A really smart and effective way to teach in this day and age. Why? Because for many people if I say something definitive like (as a POSSIBLE EXAMPLE), I don't believe in Hell, then those that do may not hear the real message that I'm trying to proclaim or teach because they have already discredited you. The truth is that simply because we may disagree with someone doesn't mean they don't have something from God to teach us!

    So, I lean more towards Bell's statement than I do what I posted that Tim said. however, neither construct in and of themselves capture my own personal theology. So I ask questions.

    Is everyone forgiven? Is forgiveness conditional? If so, how does that tie into the idea of unconditional love? How can this idea be constructed without diminishing the doctrines/characteristics of God like Grace, reconciliation, peace, justice, etc...

    The thing is that this issue ISN'T clear-cut. I think that Tim and you do a fantastic job of using scripture to back your ideas. My concern is the scriptures that aren't being used like the ones I bring up and the ones that bill (above) mention. (I think I mention the Col. passage, but if not Bell does).

    It's not that I'm out to discredit anyone or choose what scriptures I want to accept and reject others. I want to reconcile all these passages together, and that's not an easy task. It just shows that God's thinking and revelation are far beyond our doctrinal/systematic theological comprehension.

    I think personally, that God is more forgiving than we have traditionally thought or taught. I think we have unintentionally bound God into theological formulas in our efforts to better understand him throughout modernity. In an attempt to undo, rethink, question, and experience God on new levels, I try not to bind him into any one way of thinking, but continually look for him to be revealed each day in whatever way he is revealing himself.

    So, I know I haven't answered your question spicifically, but I'm not sure I have a spicific answer. I don't think I personally believe in a God who's forgiveness is conditional (and that "condition" by which we have can receive that forgiveness has changed throughout Ch. history; hence the comments in my post about past practices of absolution and penance). I don't think I can believe it because it then conflicts greatly with my understanding of God's unconditional love and esp. grace.

    So I leave it open-ended because I can't claim that I have some answer/revelation that others don't have, including you and Tim. I appriciate your views, and am sure that they are serving a greater purpose in your lives and ministry, but at this time they do not fit into my personal understanding of God.

    thanks for posting, I'll check out more of your thoughts and posts on the topic. I am very interested. Your feedback is welcome and appriciated. I have found blogging a great place for dialog, and am glad that you feel that you can add to this discussion. Please feel free to continue your thoughts on here!

    peace and love

  7. I meant to say at the end of Bell's quote, that I think I do see the benefits and diversity in which "reality" you choose to live. When I say one seems more healthy and productive, I mean that from both a minister's viewpoint and a psychological viewpoint.

    Living without the burden of guilt is a better way to live. Living a life of unconditional love is a better way to live. Living a life without thinking that "The gods are angry" is a better way to live, not just in a way that benefits the holistic self, but is also a better way to live that benefits the entire world. It allows us not to have to focus on ourselves as much, and it frees us to go about building the Kingdom of God. (sounds very Bellish I know, I am doing that on purpose:)

    I do agree with Bell's next section about "two realms". I think that Hell in the afterlife is open to debate (physical or metaphorical), and won't be resolved on this world (perhaps a wait and see approach?), but there are people living in hell today.... a physical hell on earth! That I can do something about.

    One of my best friends said this once, and it is a hauntingly true statement that comes from such a pure and authentic place in his life. He said, "I can't promise someone Heaven. That's up to God and his sovereignty. But I can do something about the hell their living in right now!"

    I think this is a great statement. Our belief in anything afterlife is based on faith, not on certainty! We may FEEL certian about our faith, but we can't truly BE certian. So I choose to teach that living by faith is a better way to live. Living the life Christ laid out for us is certianly a better way to live than not. Taking steps to acknowledge reconciliation with God is a better way to live. And living like you are forgiven, in my humble opinion, is a better way to live...not just for me, but for the world and all life as we know it.

    hope that helps and is more spicific, although riddled with holes that questions can poke :) I'm ok with that.

    thanks again!

  8. I, like you, don't see how God's love can be unconditional but His forgiveness is not. It doesn't make sense logically because, in my mind, forgiveness requires love on some level. If we're called to love our enemies and we don't have to forgive them for whatever wrongs they have committed against us, are we really loving them?

  9. a response from Joel to my comment on Tim's article on

    "As Mike Rucker said, I worry about boxing God in with our theology. To me, God seems so much bigger on this issue than the few verses you chose to provide a biblical foundation to “prove” your hypothesis.

    Justin, although I agree with Tim on the conditionally (is that a word?), I think you have a point. God’s perspective on forgiveness is necessarily more complete than our can be, and there are certainly factors that we don’t know.

    One thing that comes to mind is the nature of repentance. Is it really as cut-and-dried as we make it? I know there have been times when I wanted to repent and knew I should, but I couldn’t get any farther than “God, please make me as sorry as I should be.” (He did just that, in ways I really didn’t enjoy, but that’s another story.)

    If the Lord sees depths in our hearts that we don’t even know are there, He knows if we would repent if we weren’t so overcome by sin. It seems to me that He may well forgive in advance of our repentance, knowing that eventually He will drag us away from that sin and bring us to that point of repentance. We are bound by time and cause-and-effect; God is not. So by our limited lights, He may appear to forgive the unrepentant, but He knows better.

    Carrying on with this, maybe we are required to forgive in like manner, in the certain hope that repentance will follow if it’s God’s will. (Not that that obliges us to forget: if you steal from me and I forgive you, I’m still not going to trust you with my ATM card. That’s not unforgiveness, just prudence.)

    I don’t see anything in scripture that says that God is required to limit Himself to our limited understanding of forgiveness."

  10. Lots to think about there - -

    Again, I do appreciate your spirit. . . too bad, we can't just talk about it over coffee.

    You're assumption regarding my agreement with Rob is right (or disagreement better said). It's not my intent to quote him out of context - - even with the additional context (thanks for typing that in) - - I think the interpretation stands.

    But, ultimately, I think my underlying epistemology is different than yours, as you have alluded to.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to post. The internet, and the way it is changing dialogue, never ceases to amaze me.

  11. Other Chris,

    excellent question. A good example of sacrificing/vs. reconciling two tangent theologies.

    May I add, this thought, as a flawed human, its hard enough to love and forgive people sometimes. There are people in my life that I question if I truly love them, because I'm not sure if I have truly forgiven them. But deep down (Bible passages aside, but deep seeded emotion tied with common sense)I know that I must truly forgive them in order to truly love them. They may not DESERVE my forgiveness, or even want my forgiveness (perhaps that's the conditional part), but nevertheless, I feel forgiveness is the right response for all of us!

    I guess I will say this, although I don't mean it in a mean way. Forgiveness and love is hard enough without bogging me down or allowing me to justify my wrong actions or inactions by a conditional view of forgiveness. Again, I personally think that living a life of unconditional forgiveness is a better way to live.

    If I'm wrong, then my understanding of God is big enough to allow for that. I trust he will sort it all out:)
    thanks for responding!

  12. Chris Brauns,

    You are right, I think that the contextual thing didn't change what you were getting at, I just didn't want your comment to be misrepresented, misinterpreted and someone not read your comment because of that.

    Thank you for your spirit as well. It is always great to have differing thoughts and views represented so that people who read have plenty to think about (myself included). And please don't think that I'm simply dismissing yours and Tim's thoughts. If that were true, this post would have never been here:)

    You are right that I think our views of epistemology differ. But to me, that's ok. It doesn't change the fact that we are both brothers in Christ.

    I have had people get on here with a mean spirit and attack, i am gracious and thankful that we can disagree discussionally and with civility.

    Please, if you continue to have any other thoughts or comments you would like to make, don't hesitate as the discussion continues:)

    I agree wholeheartedly with the connectivity of this um.. internet thingamajig. It has and will continue to revolutionize the world, and hopefully, Christianity through mediums such as this! But, I have to admit, the coffee talk is a lot easier better tasting the the the computer:)


  13. Justin, you've given me some solid stuff to chew on here. Being Catholic, though, I think I ought to set the record straight on this:

    This conditional forgiveness was very prevalent before the reformation, before battle, a priest or bishop would grant absolution to the killings they would commit. Absolution could be granted as a part of confession and penance, or be granted in advance before a sin was committed. This of course was not the ideal for absolution, but is a marked reality in our Ch. history. The deliverance of absolution was pivotal in medieval Catholicism and can be seen by the sacrament of extreme unction.

    Even with Catholic sacramentalism, absolution can't be given in advance of the sin, or even in advance of repentance. The scenes you're thinking of where the priest gives absolution before battle is a totally different animal. What he's doing is kind of streamlining the confession process because the men are in imminent danger of death. He's taking it as read that each individual is sorry for his sins, and giving absolution on that assumption.

    That kind of echoes the conditional nature of forgiveness as well. The absolution isn't valid if the recipient isn't repentant, or at least sorry because he knows he deserves damnation. God knows how penitent he is, and how capable he is of repentance. The priest doesn't need to know.

    The Last Rites work similarly. They're actually three sacraments: anointing, absolution and communion. (In fact, extreme unction isn't called that anymore because it had gotten away from its intended purpose, which was healing.) They're often administered to someone who isn't conscious, but God knows the person's heart so thoroughly as to know whether he would repent if he were physically able.

    I would say in any case, whether it's through sacrament or direct prayer, that the condition is so light as not to constitute a condition in any real sense. What I mean is that forgiveness is given to anyone who wants it, and only withheld if it's rejected. (Or if it would be rejected, and God knows infallibly if that's the case or not.)

    Sorry for the long-windedness. :)

  14. Hey Joel,

    glad to have you. Please know that I meant nothing against Catholic practices. I know that absolution in advance was never the intention. It was misused and abused my people within church history. And unfortunately, I think the same thing has gone on in modern protestant culture. Doctrines and beliefs that we've held sacred have been completely construed and misused. Fear tactics using ideas on hell to get someone "saved" is a good example that I know my baptist heritage has been notorious for.

    I completely agree with you about the conditional sacramental practices, but the fact that even catholicism has been more open on the forgiveness issue (as you mention) without the ties is very much worth noting!
    You say that forgiveness is given and given freely in your tradition. I truly wish that the evangelical traditions would remember that part of their heritage.

    So now the question is (and I think this is where Chris Brauns was going with his question to me) is if forgiveness is given freely by God, and there are NO conditions attached, what does that mean. Does that mean even those who would (in your own words) reject that forgiveness still receive it. I go back to my illustration in my own life of people I need to forgive. If I truly forgive them, do they need to accept it for it to become valid? Or is it that I forgive them, and they are forgiven whether they like it or not?

    I don' ask that question to be a smart@$$ but I think it is a genuine question that many people are asking. It was actually the MAIN question that drove this post. because it is a point of contention between a lot of Christians, specifically the Evangelical tradition (of which I grew up) and the Emerging Church/Postmodern thought. But even in mainline denominations this question is floating around out there, tearing churches and bodies apart trying to answer it. I don't think its a coincidence that Chris and Tim are talking about this, it is a timely issue of the Christian faith. This is why I put up Bill's response on the top.

    I don't know where Catholicism as a whole stands on this issue. Any clue into that I would find interesting and informative. I say that because your personal view may not necessarily be your tradition's view. I know mine doesn't line up with certain Baptists.

    Please, don't apolojize for being long winded, did you read my own responses?:) Thanks for your words, and for clarification...The more diverse ideas and backgrounds who participate in these discussions, the more informative, challenging they are for each of us. Thanks for sharing my friend. your words have meant a lot!


  15. I want to stress that my position is that all those who profess must have a disposition of grace towards all -- we must offer forgiveness. But, when a person accepts the gift offered, then forgiveness actually takes place.

    See Ken Sande's quotes or Lig Duncan's on my blog in the quotes post:

    A Christian cannot defend bitterness and vindictiveness.

  16. To be forgiven by God means the pardon of sin, ergo,saying that God forgives unconditionally is universalism.

  17. Thanks Chris for your clarification on your position.

    Here's Ken Sande's quote:
    "When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God . . . By his grace you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you . . .

    Granting forgiveness is conditional on the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person . . . When there has been a serious offense, it would not be appropriate to [make the promises of forgiveness] until the offender has repented."

    and Ligon Duncan:

    "This is a question that many Christians have never thought through. I think that Christians who have themselves harbored unjustified bitternesses and have been unforgiving in places and in ways that they should have been forgiving, often when they are confronted with and gripped by the radical teaching of Christ on forgiveness, out of sorrow for their own sin, read Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness in such a way that they understand it to mean that forgiveness is an automatic obligation in every circumstance, irrespective of the repentance of the other party. And, again, I think that that is a mistake. I believe that forgiveness always has in view reconciliation, and reconciliation is always two-sided. So if there is not a repentance corresponding to a forgiveness, then very often there is an impossibility of reconciliation. I think that whatever we think about forgiveness, forgiveness is a component to what is a larger picture, and the larger picture is reconciliation. And reconciliation is necessarily two-sided. Consequently, I think it is important for us to talk about both forgiveness and readiness to forgive. There may be circumstances where a reconciliation is impossible, but a readiness to reconcile can still be present with a believer. Consequently, I would want to make that distinction when I was counseling a believer who was in a circumstance where there was not a present possibility of reconciliation of the relationship. Instead of telling them that they need to forgive or they will become bitter, I think I would rather say that you need to be ready to forgive and not to be captured by your bitterness."

    I want to say that logically conditional forgiveness makes sense, but then again, sometimes our logic may not match up to God's logic, or as is usually the case, God calls us beyond our human logic and tendencies. For instance, I would argue that consumerism as a philosophy makes a lot of logical sense, but in terms of the Christian calling, is often at odds.

    So, I'm not sure I can agree with forgiveness being a 2 part process as Ken mentions, but I can def. see how human reconciliation requires more than one step.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. I would make one statement though, simply because this seems to happen a lot.
    Your statement: "To be forgiven by God means the pardon of sin, ergo,saying that God forgives unconditionally is universalism."
    is one of those blanket statements that bother me.

    God's unconditional forgiveness does not necessarily automatically jump to universalism. There are many things that would need to be said and believed before that thought could be labeled universalism. Many evangelicals think there is only an either/or view of salvation. That is not true. There are several areas in between on that spectrum. (I say evangelicals simply because that seems to be who I hear say it a lot). It's true that the statement about God's unconditional forgiveness COULD lead to universalism. But not necessarily. Another view is "Inclusiveism" as an example.

    Sorry, not trying to call you out on that,Please know that. I just want to be sure that people know that there are other options besides exclusivism and universalism. Most of the time universalism is defined as "that which does not adhere to exclusivism." That's simply not true. If you disagree with that, then that's fine, but there are other theological "options" (for lack of better term).

    thanks again for your comments!Your statement: "A Christian cannot defend bitterness and vindictiveness." has given me pause...something for me to think upon(I like challenging statements like that.) I can neither refute or agree with it at this point. Thanks for the reflectional material. Also Duncan's ideas on reconciliation will take further exploration. thanks for pointing them out!


  18. You're a fun guy to blog with.

    Fair enough. I accept that and don't mind being called on it. There are other positions as you mentioned.

  19. Ditto on the fun!!! I'm having a blast with this topic! I usually give every comment some "thought time" for my own spiritual benefit. My motto, rake in as much as possible, think over it, pray over it, and then take what God leads and politely dismiss the rest knowing that just because it may not work for me doesn't mean its not an important revelation for someone else.

    Thanks to all of you!!!!

  20. Please know that I meant nothing against Catholic practices. I know that absolution in advance was never the intention. It was misused and abused my people within church history.

    I didn't think you were running Catholic practices down. I've actually never heard of any case where absolution was given in advance of a sin. (Indulgences, yes, but that's another animal.) However, there have been a lot of times when the sacraments have been abused, especially in the time leading up to the Reformation, so I guess it could have happened. It wasn't lawful if it did, though.

    If I truly forgive them, do they need to accept it for it to become valid? Or is it that I forgive them, and they are forgiven whether they like it or not?

    That's not a smart-elbow question; it's a very cogent one. It seems to me that there's a difference between "valid" and "effectual" in this case. If you forgive, you've done what you were supposed to do. That's valid forgiveness. If the forgivee doesn't want your forgiveness, then it's of no effect on him. The effect that obedience to God's command to forgive has on your own soul remains.

    What do you think?

  21. Joel,

    you said: "It seems to me that there's a difference between "valid" and "effectual" in this case. If you forgive, you've done what you were supposed to do. That's valid forgiveness. If the forgivee doesn't want your forgiveness, then it's of no effect on him. The effect that obedience to God's command to forgive has on your own soul remains.

    What do you think?"

    What I think is that you are spot on at least with the way I feel about it. You actually opened up a new set of ideas. Forgiveness as obedience! In that sense, IF forgiveness is conditional, then thre would be times where we couldn't obey the commands to forgive!

    I think of:
    Mark 11:25-- And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

    Luke 6:37-- "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

    John 20:23--If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

    Mt. 6:14--For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

    I also think about Chist's command to forgive beyond what the Jewish law required (7x70), and the teaching about not approaching the alter with unresolved anger in your heart.

    Perhaps true Reconciliation in relationships is a whole different matter that DOES take both parties....still thinking on that one. But If we are to obey God, then it seems pretty clear that there are not contengencies placed on our forgiveness. No lists, no codes, no scenerios (didn't Jesus come to rid us of all the overwhelming laws/lists?)...Just do... how simple is that?

    thanks for your thoughts again joel. I'm gonna keep thinking on what you said, but beautifully done!


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  23. matt,
    I saw the original post. It made me laugh. you could have left it, I wouldn't have deleted it... either way....

    Thanks...I think:)