Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness (by Brian Zahnd)

I'd never before heard of Brian Zahnd. Possibly I never would have done, but for the fact that I regularly check Amazon for free Kindle offers in various categories. And, a few months ago, this book was available free, on special offer, in the 'Christianity' section. I downloaded it immediately and have been reading it, off and on, for a couple of months.

The theme of 'Unconditional?' is that as Christians we need to forgive. That's nothing new, of course; and, indeed, I found the book a bit slow-going at first. It starts with a prologue and then has a prelude pointing out how some evangelicals and pentecostals are far from forgiving... but my background isn't amongst Christians like that, so it didn't really hit home too hard. I've always understood that forgiveness was a prerequisite of our own forgiveness by God, so when early chapters in the book cite Scripture references about forgiveness, pointing out how crucial it is to the Christian faith, I read quickly, feeling glad I hadn't paid for the book.

To be fair, though, it was well-written, and clearly presented. To anyone growing up in a culture of unforgiveness or hate, I would imagine the early chapters of 'Unconditional?' would hit home quite deeply. I didn't disagree with anything the author said, just felt that I had heard it many times before. That's why although I read a page or two from time to time, it took a few weeks to get into the book fully.

Then, suddenly, it becomes quite thought-provoking. I was particularly struck when I read - what seems obvious in retrospect - that God's idea of justice throughout the Bible is about reconciliation, not vengeance. God cares about restoring relationships, and sees 'justice' as giving undeserved favour to those who are suffering, or impoverished in some way. Too often we assume that 'justice' is related to the modern concept of 'fairness' but as Zahnd points out, that's not what it means in Scripture.

So, overall I thought this was a good read. I would recommend it particularly to anyone who thinks that God is judgemental in the negative sense, or that the purpose of Christianity is to stand against 'sinners' rather than help bring people alongside Jesus and restore their relationships.

Since the Kindle price is now almost as high as the book price, I've linked to the book versions which can be lent out to other people after reading. There's a small group guide as well, although I've no idea how useful it is.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 27th June 2011

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