(RNS) — Author and pastor Tim Keller begins his new book with a warning about forgiveness gone wrong.
Keller cites a famous parable found in the New Testament Book of Matthew, where a king forgives one of his servants, who owes a fortune and can’t repay. Rather than be grateful, the servant turns around and has one of his co-workers, who owed him a pittance, tossed in jail.
When the king finds out he is furious and revokes his initial forgiveness.
“We should not miss the confrontational nature of this parable,” Keller writes in “Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?” out Tuesday (Nov. 1) from Viking. “Jesus’ parable about forgiveness is not a feel-good story about people receiving God’s forgiveness and then eagerly spreading the love to others. Rather, it is a story about a man asking for forgiveness and then being utterly unchanged when he got it.”
The new book comes at a time when Americans are experiencing a forgiveness crisis, Keller argues, in part because the idea of forgiveness has often been misused, especially in religious circles. At times, he writes, survivors of abuse have been pressured to forgive those abusers and just move on. Or forgiveness is used to cover up the truth about the harm people have done to others.
“People have used forgiveness as a way of destroying the truth,” said Keller.
The longtime pastor in New York City, whose books have sold more than 3 million copies, believes forgiveness is not possible without truth. He links the term forgiveness with the idea of “repentance,” which he says has fallen out of fashion.
That term, he told Religion News Service in an interview, means being truthful about our shortcomings and misconduct.
“The word repent means asking for forgiveness,” he said. “If you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, you have not repented.”
Keller, who retired as pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in 2017, has remained active in recent years despite being treated for pancreatic cancer. He is currently undergoing immunotherapy, which he said has shrunk some of his tumors.
“It has given me more time,” he said.
Known for his conservative but nonconfrontational approach to ministry, Keller has come under fire in recent months by those who say his “winsome” approach to engaging with culture no longer works in such a polarized time. Keller told Religion News Service he finds such criticism puzzling. As an evangelical pastor in New York, he said, his views were often in conflict with the broader culture. But that was not going to stop him from acting like a Christian.