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Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis

, 1995
ISBN: 9780802808615



Academy of Parish Clergy, Top Ten Books of the Year (1996)

Christianity Today, Number 15 on the Top 25 Books of the Year list (1996)

A topic unjustly neglected in contemporary theology, forgiveness is often taken to be either too easy or too difficult. On the one hand is the conception of forgiveness that views it mainly as a move made for the well-being of the forgiver. On the other hand, forgiveness is sometimes made too difficult by suggestions that violence is the only effective force for responding to injustice.

In this exciting and innovative book, L. Gregory Jones argues that neither of these extreme views is appropriate and shows how practices of Christian forgiveness are richer and more comprehensive than often thought. Forgiveness, says Jones, is a way of life that carries with it distinctive concepts of love, community, confession, power, repentance, justice, punishment, remembrance, and forgetfulness.

In Part 1 of Embodying Forgiveness Jones first recounts Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own struggle against the temptation to make forgiveness either too easy or too difficult in his thought and, even more, in his life and death at the hands of the Nazis. Jones then considers each of these temptations, focusing on the problem of “therapeutic” forgiveness and then forgiveness’s “eclipse” by violence. Part 2 shows why a trinitarian identification of God is crucial for an adequate account of forgiveness. In Part 3 Jones describes forgiveness as a craft and analyzes the difficulty of loving enemies. He deals particularly with problems of disparities in power, impenitent offenders, and the relations between forgiveness, accountability, and punishment. The book concludes with a discussion of the possibility of certain “unforgiveable” situations.

Developing a strong theological perspective on forgiveness throughout, Jones draws on films and a wide variety of literature as well as on Scripture and theological texts. In so doing, he develops a rich and comprehensive exploration of what it truly means to embody Christian forgiveness.

  • Proposes a way in which concerns about violence, vengeance, and bitterness can be better understood, articulated, and analyzed
  • Challenges the assumption that forgiveness does not involve accountability
  • Explores related topics including justice, repentance, and reconciliation
  • The Cost of Forgiveness
  • Therapeutic Forgiveness
  • Forgiveness Eclipsed
  • Characterizing the God Who Forgives
  • Forgiveness, Repentance, and the Judgment of Grace
  • Practicing Forgiveness
  • The Craft of Forgiveness
  • Loving Enemies
  • Is This a Story to Pass On?
This volume is both a thought-provoking challenge to the church’s current cultural captivity to what Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace,’ and a rich source of biblically sensitive material for preaching. Heartily recommended for pastors and other interested cultural theologians.

Calvin Theological Journal

Thoughtful and wide-ranging book. . . Altogether, this is a highly intelligent, theologically instructive, and deeply reflective piece of work.

Christianity Today

Refusing to divorce questions of theology and ethics from ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the saints, Jones offers a compelling argument for how Christians ought to think about the moral life. Moreover, he overcomes the tired distinctions of private/public, sacred/secular, by awakening the moral imagination to eschatological, transcendent possibilities. . . A much needed theological proposal for negotiating the recent discussion of forgiveness.

Theological Studies

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

L. Gregory Jones has served since 1997 as the 11th dean of Duke Divinity School, and since 2008 as the president and CEO of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. Dean Jones is widely recognized as a scholar and church leader on such issues as forgiveness and reconciliation, Christian vocation, leadership, and strengthening the church and its ministry. He is known for teaching that fosters students’ imaginations in connecting Christian faith to everyday life, for research that promotes interdisciplinary conversation, and for theological thinking that fosters transformative leadership, traditioned innovation, and vibrant institutions.


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