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Summary: Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? by Timothy Keller

Forgive (2022) proposes personal and community healing through genuine, wholesome, and compassionate forgiveness. The arguments in this guide will help you understand why Christian forgiveness could be secular society’s best remedy for relieving the offended, reforming the offenders, and promoting fellowship among humans.

Introduction: A step-by-step guide to giving and receiving forgiveness.

Deliberately or not, we go through life slighting, hurting, and harming people in ways we wouldn’t want others to treat us. We need to solve this very human tragedy. But how?

Do we forgive and let go or give the offenders what they deserve? When we punish, how much punishment is enough? What does reparation mean for the victim? Does restitution help them move on? Why do we place so much responsibility on victims when they’ve clearly been violated?

This summary to Forgive by Timothy Keller will shed light on these contentious issues from a Christian perspective. It’ll teach you how to tackle them in a way that’ll give you peace if you’ve been wronged. You’ll learn how to recognize and show compassion for your offender’s humanity. And you’ll discover a step-by-step guide to giving and receiving true forgiveness.

Book Summary: Forgive - Why Should I and How Can I?

What, really, is forgiveness?

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus narrates the story of a king who summons one of his servants. The servant owes the king 10,000 talents. Given that the average servant earned about one talent in a year, the amount in the parable was an impossible debt to pay. But the servant pleads for mercy and the king cancels the debt.

In simple terms, that’s forgiveness. When someone wrongs you, they owe you. When you forgive them, you cancel their debt, meaning you no longer hold it against them.

In contrast, the forgiven servant doesn’t show the same mercy when he meets a fellow servant who owes him the equivalent of a dollar. He chokes his mate and locks him up. The king is furious when he learns about this and locks up the wicked servant.

So must we forgive to be forgiven?

Not necessarily. You can’t earn God’s forgiveness. But if you don’t forgive, you really haven’t understood God’s idea of forgiveness. It’s a free gift that you haven’t earned but has to be paid.

The difference between Christian forgiveness and others is that Jesus paid the ultimate price for man’s sin. When we sin against God, we have to confess our sins, repent, and tap into that eternal grace that Jesus gifted mankind.

Now, you might say: “I’m not a Christian. Why should I apply this idea in a secular world?”

Well, because canceling someone’s debt has enormous benefits for everyone involved. First, it kills resentment on the part of the wronged person. Second, it offers the forgiven person the chance to change. If this happens, it cuts the chain of abuse.

We build a virtuous circle through which the offender has the chance to be reintegrated into society, which should be the ultimate goal.

If forgiveness has the power to heal the offended, reform the offender, and mend our relationships, why does secular society resist it?

The world resists forgiveness.

In 2006 a gunman shot ten Amish kids in a school in Pennsylvania. Five of them died.

To everyone’s surprise, the Amish families who had lost their kids visited the family of the killer. They said they forgave him and held no grudges against his family. They even sympathized with them!

Why is this kind of forgiveness rare even for less tragic events?

Many victims of abuse come under pressure to unconditionally forgive their abusers. Just saying sorry isn’t enough. There have to be consequences so that the abuse doesn’t continue.

Also, society often demands that the guilty person is publicly shamed and humiliated while elevating the victim to the position where they grant mercy. Again, this has left many people feeling wounded and poured more venom into our public spaces.

For others, there’s simply no reason to forgive a criminal, so they put pressure on those who try to absolve their abusers. The intolerance we see today for most offenses, major or minor, comes from two prevailing tenets of modern Western culture.

Primarily, we now value a therapeutic approach that puts individual interests over the common good. An outlook that prioritizes personal feelings places less value on mending family bonds and relationships. It’s hard to unite under universal values when everyone has their own version of the truth.

In the race to protect those we’ve identified as victims, there’s competition for who can display the most outrage at the least offense, leading to a toxic shame and honor culture that’s eager to acclaim its virtuous citizens but even keener to shut them down when they make mistakes.

For grievous offenses, it’s only fair that people demand justice, but how do these two seemingly opposing concepts come together?

Forgiveness and justice work together.

When former gymnast Rachael Denhollander confronted Larry Nassar, the physician who’d abused her when she was a teenager, she said she hoped his guilt would drive him to repentance and forgiveness from God, which he needed more than hers.

Here, we see forgiveness that doesn’t shy away from the crime. For Christians, compassion should come from the knowledge that the debt they owe was paid by Jesus taking their place and suffering their punishment.

When this compassion flows to a fellow sinner, it’s not in any way standing in the way of justice.

From Timothy Keller’s Christian perspective, God is a God of love and fury. He grieves when someone commits injustice and he gets angry when his creation is defiled and destroyed.

Christians should seek justice because it preserves God’s creation. They should also pursue it because it can help the perpetrator, and in cases where they repent, they have a chance to fix their relationship with humans and with God.

The same applies in a secular setting. Forgiveness is visionary in this sense because it aims at stopping abuse and planting seeds that can help heal the community.

So, the key message here is: Justice and forgiveness do not stand in each other’s way!

Now that you know what forgiveness is, why the world opposes it, and how it complements justice, how do you go about forgiving and receiving forgiveness?

Give and accept forgiveness.

We’ve heard the story of the unforgiving servant who wouldn’t cancel a dollar debt right after a $400 billion burden had been lifted off his back.

The size of his debt should be the size of our forgiveness, and since it’s unpayable, we should forgive endlessly. This doesn’t mean you should automatically take the relationship back to where it was.

In the spirit of justice, the offender needs to understand the importance of doing the work on themselves in order not to harm others.

But the main responsibility, according to Keller’s insights, lies with the wronged person to watch how they respond to the offense. Not granting genuine forgiveness will hide resentment in your heart. This bitterness will spring up to destroy you.

Your duty to yourself and your community is to forgive.

We’ve established the reasons for forgiveness, but how do you go about it?

Here are the steps you must take to forgive effectively.

First, identify the wrongdoing. When you pick this out, you have to tell the person so that they are aware of what they’ve done.

Then separate the act from the person. This allows you to connect with their humanity. You’re seeing their humanity, admitting your own, and if you’re a Christian, acknowledging that you too were saved by grace.

You’re not excusing their actions, which in this case will mean they simply did it because they were pushed by circumstances. To excuse isn’t to forgive because the inward debt hasn’t been paid.

The second and decisive action is to absorb the debt they owe you. Paying this inward debt means you’re taking the loss and forgetting about it. It probably won’t disappear from your memory, but you’re deciding you have taken the loss. When you do this, you have to release the wrongdoer from their liability.

Finally, you have to seek to restore the relationship. The goal of forgiveness is to restore fellowship. When we sin against God or man we widen the distance and strain the relationship. Reconciliation should fix those bonds so that we can live happily again.

We should support the wrongdoer’s efforts to change because by destroying the evil in them, we’re destroying the evil in us.

When we ask for forgiveness, we should be willing to admit our transgressions and do the work that’s needed to change. This involves building accountability structures that’ll keep us in check.

So when we’ve learned how to forgive, how many times should we do it? Not seven times, not 77 times, but as many times as possible. For Christians, there’s no matching the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

Christian forgiveness is different from classical thought.

What stops you from mugging an old lady walking down the street at night, clutching her purse under her arm?

Is it your honor or your empathy?

The answer to this question is the fundamental difference between Christian forgiveness and the classical approach.

The early Christians suffered persecution but still prayed for their enemies. The Greeks, Romans, and Anglo-Saxons who later adopted Christianity didn’t fully understand the idea of treating others as fellow sinners.

They maintained their honor cultures which saw certain acts as beneath them. Nobles wouldn’t steal because it would be a stain on their honor and that would hurt their inner pride. Taking the higher moral ground doesn’t count as forgiveness.

The Christian, on the other hand, would worry about the old lady, her safety, and how losing the money in her purse might affect the family members depending on her.

Aristotle proposed contempt for those beneath you. The Greek philosophers believed in a logical universe that valued perfection and the Greeks gods didn’t command unconditional forgiveness.

When these cultures adopted Christianity, a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible, a book that tells the story of forgiveness from beginning to end, led to campaigns like the crusade and undermined women, serfs, and those they considered inferior.

Christianity, on the other hand, assumes inherent dignity in humans that doesn’t have to be earned through good deeds.

Christian or not, we all have an intuitive sense of shared humanity that surpasses the evolutionary need for survival.

That’s why we all decry evil.


Forgiveness, in essence, is the canceling of another person’s debt. People incur this debt when they wrong you, but you can play your part in healing the rift by paying it inward. You also have the responsibility to approach the person to tell them they have wronged you, and if they repent, to pursue reconciliation and fellowship with them.

Wrongdoing creates a distance between the offender and the offended that requires healing. This is how you conquer resentment and stop the subconscious transmission of hurt to other people.

But forgiveness doesn’t mean a lack of accountability or forgoing justice. People who commit crimes must understand the consequences and repent so that they don’t harm others. Forgiveness is different from pride, honor, or taking a morally superior ground. It’s a supreme gift of love that we must give endlessly.


I have read the book [Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?] by [Timothy Keller] and I will provide you with a brief review of it.

Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? is a book by Timothy Keller, a pastor and New York Times bestselling author, that explores the topic of forgiveness from a Christian perspective. The book is based on a sermon series that Keller preached at his church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. The book aims to answer two questions: why should we forgive others who have wronged us, and how can we do it in a way that is genuine, healing, and liberating.

The book is divided into four chapters, each addressing a different aspect of forgiveness. The first chapter, The Challenge of Forgiveness, explains what forgiveness is and what it is not. Keller defines forgiveness as “a commitment to not seek revenge or retribution against someone who has wronged you, but to seek their good”. He also clarifies what forgiveness does not mean: it does not mean forgetting, excusing, condoning, or reconciling. He argues that forgiveness is both a duty and a gift: a duty because God commands us to forgive as he has forgiven us, and a gift because it frees us from bitterness, resentment, and self-pity.

The second chapter, The Basis of Forgiveness, explores why we should forgive others who have wronged us. Keller argues that the main reason we should forgive is because God has forgiven us in Christ. He explains how God’s forgiveness is costly, unconditional, and transformative. He also shows how God’s forgiveness enables us to forgive others by giving us a new identity, a new motivation, and a new power. He challenges us to examine our hearts and see if we have truly experienced God’s forgiveness or if we are still holding on to our guilt, shame, or pride.

The third chapter, The Method of Forgiveness, describes how we can forgive others who have wronged us in a way that is genuine, healing, and liberating. Keller suggests four steps to practice forgiveness: remember how much you have been forgiven by God, empathize with the person who has wronged you, substitute your anger with compassion, and pray for the person who has wronged you. He also addresses some common obstacles and questions that may arise when we try to forgive others, such as how to deal with our emotions, how to handle repeat offenders, how to seek justice without revenge, and how to restore trust and relationship.

The fourth chapter, The Power of Forgiveness, illustrates how forgiveness can transform our lives and the world around us. Keller argues that forgiveness is not only a personal matter but also a social and cultural one. He shows how forgiveness can heal our wounds, restore our relationships, break the cycles of violence and oppression, and create communities of peace and justice. He also shares some stories of people who have experienced the power of forgiveness in their lives and inspired others to do the same.

The book is written in a clear and engaging style that combines biblical teaching, theological reflection, practical application, and personal illustration. The book is also enriched by quotes from various sources such as literature, philosophy, psychology, history, and culture. The book is not very long or technical; it can be read in one sitting or in small sections. The book is suitable for anyone who wants to learn more about forgiveness from a Christian perspective or who struggles with forgiving others or themselves.

My feedback on this book is that it is a helpful and insightful book that tackles one of the most difficult and important topics in life: forgiveness. It offers a solid biblical foundation for understanding why and how we should forgive others who have wronged us. It also provides practical guidance for applying forgiveness in our daily lives and relationships. It challenges us to examine our hearts and see if we have truly experienced God’s forgiveness or if we are still holding on to our unforgiveness. It also inspires us to see how forgiveness can transform our lives and the world around us.

The book is not perfect; it has some limitations and drawbacks. For instance:

  • The book is not very comprehensive or diverse; it focuses mainly on one perspective of forgiveness: the Christian one. It does not explore other perspectives or traditions that may have different views or practices of forgiveness.
  • The book is not very interactive or engaging; it does not include any questions or exercises that may help the reader to reflect or apply the concepts or principles of forgiveness.
  • The book is not very original or innovative; it does not present any new or groundbreaking insights or ideas on forgiveness. It mostly summarizes and synthesizes existing knowledge and wisdom on forgiveness.

However, these limitations do not diminish the value or quality of the book; they are rather part of its scope and purpose. They reflect Keller’s style and intention as a pastor and author: to communicate the gospel message of forgiveness in a clear and faithful way.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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