Confused About Forgiveness?

Several days ago we published an article by Dr. Adams on the subject of Forgiveness. It is the rare counseling situation, involving two people, where the subject of forgiveness does not arise early in the process. That blog is a brief summary of the information found in Jay’s book From Forgiven to Forgiving. When I was a pastor I had that article printed up as a tri-fold brochure and used it as a homework handout to counselees after I had taught them about forgiveness during the counseling session. You may copy the article and do the same if you reference Jay and the Institute as your source.

The main thesis of both the book and Jay’s blog is that believers are to forgive in the same way God forgave us in Christ (Ephesians 4:32). Nouthetic counselors understand this and are clear about some implications:

  1. Forgiveness is a promise that the issue is settled and will not be brought up against the other person again. It is sin to raise the issue again after granting forgiveness.
  2. While we desire to forgive (thus guarding against bitterness) forgiveness is granted only upon confession and repentance.
  3. Nouthetic counselors are not Universalists. God forgives only those who repent.
  4. Church discipline would not be possible if we have forgiven someone who has not repented.

While Nouthetic counselors are clear about these things it seems the broader “Biblical” counseling world is not. Recently the Biblical Counseling Coalition published a blog, which they later promoted in their monthly newsletter, that began with this:

Human forgiveness does not depend on the attitudes or actions of the offender. When in conflict, an offended person can (and must) forgive the offender, even if the offender fails to repent or confess their sins.

When the author received push-back from an interlocutor she rightly pointed out that “biblical writers are confused on the topic of forgiveness in part because of a lack of clarity about how God forgives.” Then, as though to further contribute to the confusion, she points her readers to a book by John MacArthur, an article in the aggressively integrationist Journal of Psychology and Christianity, and “anything Don Carson has written about forgiveness.”

Nouthetic counselors do not share the author’s confusion on the subject of forgiveness. Jesus clearly taught His disciples to forgive someone “if he repents” (Luke 17:3).  We are not sure why an author would write a blog dealing with an issue about which she is confused, but we are disappointed that the Biblical Counseling Coalition would contribute to the confusion by publishing and promoting it.

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