Review of “Forgiving and Forgiven”
Author: L. William Countryman, Harrisburg, PA
Publisher: Morehouse Publishing, 1998
Pages: 134 pp
RRP: $10.95 (paper)
The subject of “forgiveness” is rather in vogue these days, with a number of new books appearing from a variety of Christian sources, including the theological (David Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God), the pastoral (David Augsburger, Helping People Forgive, and Marie Fortune, Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us), and the Biblical (Pamela Cooper-White, The Cry of Tamar). To this growing literature must now be added the fine new contribution of Bill Countryman, professor of New Testament at CDSP in Berkeley.
Countryman manages to blend the three approaches mentioned above into a highly readable book which addresses forgiveness as both a spiritual and practical issue. The author offers four ways to cultivate forgiveness, each of which is designed to avoid the denial, re-victimization, simplistic platitudes, and guilt so typical of much of the older literature on Christian forgiveness. Forgiveness is defined as a responsive process rather than an act, deed, or obligation. Forgiveness begins with self-healing, including naming and expressing the anger which so often accompanies shame. As those seeking to forgive grow in their understanding of the graceful generosity of God’s love , their conversion of heart will with time lead them to join the extraordinary flow of love which characterizes God’s caring, a forgiveness offered to all even before they know it is needed. In this manner, Countryman presents a book which is both theologically and psychologically sound, the true meaning of pastoral theology. It is fortunate that the two fields are wed so well here, because they often are not.
What makes the book unique among the literature of forgiveness is the creative scope which Countryman brings to this subject. He speaks not only of individual forgiveness, but also of the opportunity for forgiveness within and by whole communities. He addresses the need of so many to forgive the church for the ways it has hurt them both intentionally and unintentionally. The text is sensitive to the complicated situation of the physically and sexually abused, insisting that those in violent relationships must extract themselves before healing can begin, and reminding the sexually abused of the value of anger which makes us strong, and the danger of anger which consumes and re-victimizes.
This book is not overly scholarly-for example, there is neither bibliography nor footnotes-though it does presume a relatively well-educated readership. Those already deep within the Christian tradition will find delight in Countryman’s use of familiar writers from the spiritual tradition, including C. S. Lewis, George Herbert, William Temple, and Alexander Campbell. The book is dedicated to two of the great Bible teachers of the Episcopal Church: Robert Dentan and Pierson Parker. The frontispiece informs the reader that an on-line study guide is available to support the use of this book in adult Christian education and in continued training for ministry and pastoral counseling.
Review by Philip Culbertson
Published in Anglican Theological Review 81:4 (Fall 1999), 757-758.