Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven: Community Practices for Making Peace

L. Gregory Jones, Célestin Musekura IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL November 5, 2010

Jones is professor and former dean of Duke Divinity School, as well as vice president and vice provost for global strategy and programs at Duke University. Musekura is founder and president of ALARM—Africa Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries—with significant involvement in eight countries of Africa. His PhD is from Dallas Theological Seminary. The book itself is the first in a series entitled Resources for Reconciliation, edited by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice in partnership between InterVarsity Press and Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation.

Written in personal, accessible style, Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven focuses on developing “practices and disciplines” among churches and communities in order to cultivate forgiveness and lead to peace between estranged and often hostile parties (p. 11). Three chapters are written by Musekura from his personal testimony of having lost much of his family in the genocide of Rwanda and his gritty, healing involvements in his home country as well as the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and elsewhere. Reflecting on Musekura’s experiences and the nature of forgiveness, Jones writes two chapters on practical guidelines to arrive at forgiveness and reconciliation on both personal and community levels. Their perspectives are different, candid, and harmonious, Musekura being the more theologically conservative, and Jones bringing decades of ministry devoted to this issue. Jones and Musekura interact in fruitful dialogue that deepens one’s understanding of Christian forgiveness rather than “the double temptation of cheap forgiveness and costly despair” (p. 43).

Several aspects of the book are especially engaging. Foremost is Musekura’s own struggle toward forgiveness through horrific family loss—a loss similar to that of millions of other survivors amidst the mass murders of Africa. Equally impressive are his efforts at teaching forgiveness that have on occasion led to his own imprisonment (even torture) but that have proven effective for many thousands in ecclesial, tribal, interreligious, and political reconciliation. He demonstrates that forgiveness means to “put on Christ” with a new heart, new mind, and new actions to embody God’s own forgiveness toward others.

As a pastor and theologian, Jones unpacks what he calls “the dance of forgiveness,” a phrase not meant to trivialize the difficult process of forgiving, but rather to evoke the Trinitarian relations of mutual self-giving (perichoresis). He sets forth six steps that can help readers work through forgiveness in their own lives, beginning with speaking the truth in patience and humility. Sometimes even believers have not forgiven themselves for their failures. Jones devotes an entire chapter to “Healing the Wounds of Memory,” whether they are personal, familial, racial, or national.

Both authors observe that the lives of many Christians do not practice the radical forgiveness demanded by Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. This is true for alienated family members, estranged friends, and social alliances that are sometimes aggressive and angry in a broken world. Writing against Christian “tribalism,” Musekura urges Christian communities to be on the forefront of “political forgiveness,” not cheap forgiveness, but “intentional commitment to relate honest truth-telling about the history of enmity with empathy, a commitment to restorative justice, and the expressed desire to repair broken relationships” (p. 118). Musekura’s organization ALARM has done much to heal the division between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and plays a major role in other African organizations in promoting truth and reconciliation.

A simple study guide for each of the five chapters helps make this a penetrating study for readers of all levels.

—J. Scott Horrell

January 1, 2012

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2012 vol. 169 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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