The blog era seems to have sanctioned the puzzling practice of reviewing books one has not read. (Note to self: What a great idea for a new blog! “A Review of Books I Have Not Read.”) So please note that this is not a review of R.T. Kendall’s new book, Totally Forgiving God, since I have not read same. (For a review of Kendall’s book by someone who admits he has not read it but wants to review it nonetheless, you can check out this piece by Sam Storms.)
Instead, I want to review Kendall’s concept of totally forgiving God, which he presents in two pieces that may save you the price of the book. First, there’s his Will You Forgive God? piece in Charisma Magazine. Second–and, in my view, preferably–there’s his live interview with DrAlvin.com, which, though clocking in at a lengthy 14:22, is really worth a full-length listen. You just have to hear the skeptical tone in Dr. Alvin’s voice as Dr. Alvin makes what to me is the achingly obvious point in the matter, namely, that someone who feels the need to forgive God is clearly not a person who knows God very well:
Dr. A: Let me ask you something. Just between me and you. We’re sitting here, you know, you got some ice tea, I got some lemonade. We’re just talking, OK?
RT: (Cautious.) All right…?
Dr. A: Now when a person tells me–
RT (Puzzled)–Are we on the air?
Dr. A: Yeah, we’re on the air. We’re on the air.
Dr. A: We’re just, we’re just–
RT: You drink lemonade on the air?
Dr. A: We’re just visualizing sitting talking, OK? Now if someone came to me and said, “I’m mad at God,” for me, that would let me know that they must not know God, because if they really knew God, they wouldn’t ask that question…. One thing I’ve discovered is that if you have an intimate, personal, one-on-one relationship with God, that kind of question–there’s no way in the world I would ever even ask God that kind of question, because I know the nature of God. So when a person’s upset with God, just between me and you, doesn’t that indicate that they really don’t have a one-on-one relationship with the true and living God?
Correct response: Yes. That’s exactly what that means. But RT Kendall disagrees, and, in the process, offers a peculiarly thin conception of forgiveness:
RT: You forgive God first of all by telling him what you feel, and you don’t tell the world… I draw an analogy between total forgiveness when we–we show that we have totally forgiven others who have hurt us when we don’t tell what they did; we only tell the Lord. And so, too, when it comes to totally forgiving God: Don’t utter your complaints to the world. Just say to God, “I don’t understand this.” Because he can cope with that.
RT: Totally forgiving God is something you’re going to have to do as long as you live. Never think that just because you do it once it’s over with, it’s dealt with. The truth is, as I teach, that total forgiveness is something that you’ve got to keep doing as long as you live. So in the same way we will always have things that we won’t understand, that we’ll say, “Lord, why did you let this happen to me? Why, when I needed you the most–or why, when I was trying to get so close to you, and I was praying more than ever, reading my Bible, going to church, and I lose my job, or I have this financial reverse, or my best friend betrayed me, God, you could have stopped that! It looks like you don’t love me.” The truth is, this is why we have to set him free, and let him off the hook, and we have to do this as long as we live.
But as Brauns notes in his excerpt from Caneday, there are two salient facts that are just awfully hard to square up with Kendall’s approach here:
- Forgiveness always concerns sin.
- God forgives confessed sin.
So unless God confesses a sin to you, you’d be out of line to forgive him. And if God does confess a sin to you, you had better double-check with whom you are speaking.
Kendall is fond of citing Jeremiah as an example of someone who voiced his complaints to God. (It sure seems like the news got out to the world, given that it got included in the Bible and all, so that would seem to violate Kendall’s first forgiveness dictum of not telling anyone else). In his Charisma Magazine article he says, “I do know that Jeremiah said, ‘O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived’ (Jer. 20:7, emphasis added).”
God, however, does not seem to be particularly eager to be let off the hook by Jeremiah–though he is quite gracious in extending forgiveness to Jeremiah for Jeremiah’s egregious thinking. Notes one of the commentators at the bottom of Kendall’s article:
Instead of asking Jeremiah to “forgive” God, the Lord instead told him: “You must repent of such words and thoughts! If you do, I will restore you to the privilege of serving me. If you say what is worthwhile instead of what is worthless, I will again allow you to be my spokesman (Jer 15:19)”
“The privilege of serving God”–that’s a powerful (and all too seldom practiced) attitude. Rather than letting God off the hook, let’s count it a privilege to be hooked to the God in whom there is no shadow of turning–and as Dr. Alvin suggests, let’s count it all privilege to get to know him better, regardless of the season through which he is shepherding us.
I agree with your assessment. I was given a copy of his “Unashamed to bear His name” and found equally disturbing concepts. The first half of the book was well written, brilliantly in places. Then, the second half, contradicted everything He had written earlier as He went off on his experiences that contradicted his knowledge of Scriptures and deciding to elevate them above the written word. He really puzzles me.
Good to hear from you, Pastor Dave! I’m not familiar with the Unashamed book, but I’ll make sure to add that to my Don’t Read list. 🙂
Eric, I reviewed Kendall’s book for the Gospel Coalition web site. That review is available at:
Great review, Chris. I especially appreciate the pastoral sensitivity and theological integrity of your insight, “Few would deny the need for Christian books that encourage those experiencing disappointment. But given the concerns outlined here, I would not recommend Totally Forgiving God.”
Thanks so much.
I haven’t yet figured out who is publishing my book in Korean. I have a copy in Korean, but I think it is at home. I probably just need to ask Crossway. I am not very good at doing searches in Korean.
If you’re able to check with Crossway, that’d be great. Or just send me a scan of the cover if that’s easier.
The publisher’s name is Mission World Library based in Seoul.
If you email me, I can get you the email of a contact.
Praying for Korea!